Travis Millard is a really chill guy. He’s a gangly, bearded man who lives with frequent collaborative artist and girlfriend, Mel Kadel. The two share a home deep in a pocket of Echo Park, a wooded area full of small cottages that have been an artistic alcove for years (home to such varied talents as Ernest Hemingway and Devendra Banhart). It’s obvious their space and the surrounding environment is inspiring, not to mention somewhat magical.
Travis has come a long way to get to California. He’s originally from Olathe, Kansas, where his father was a traveling salesman and his mother was a stay-at-home-mom and artist. “She did some crafty, tole painting kind of things especially when she was pregnant with me and my brother,” he said, “She did a ton of painting. I don’t remember her painting all that much around the house but she painted a shitload when she was pregnant with us.” His mother was an integral part of his artistic progression, as she encouraged he and his brother to draw (even if only to keep them busy).
In high school, Travis worked with teacher Pal Wright, who was known for also working with octogenarian artist Elizabeth Layton. Wright would play “college like mind games that drew a lot out of you,” he said. The two were prone to fighting a lot; however, that seemed to be more fuel for artistic fire.
He ended up attending Kansas University to study graphic design, illustration, and print making, but didn’t really have an idea of what he was going to do with it. “After school, I kind of hung around Lawrence, Kansas. I played in some bands and I got into making zines in the later school years,” Travis explains, “I think zine making did the most for me, taking my stuff to the next level, getting it out in front of people. I guess I started doing that to get my weird little comics out my sketch book.” Travis’ friends really liked them and they started to get something of a following.
“At that point, I started sending them out to some places–magazines, record labels that I liked,” he explains, “I got published in Bunny Hop magazine, did a record cover for some friends of mine in The Get Up Kids–those were kind of the first two publications I had been involved with since I’d never really seen my things in print.” Travis did more work for publications like SLAP Magazine and eventually made went to New York where he showed some places “a weird portfolio.”
“Through Bunny Hop, I got a call from Spin asking to do their back page,” he told us, “I did a comic for them for about a year, which afforded me to move to NY. I lived there for a few years and I just got mega-broke. I had been doing a fair amount of illustrations, but I was also doing art and trying to show that. It just dried up. No one was buying my stuff and I wasn’t getting jobs.”
Things would happen and fall through, he mentioned, but nothing was particularly consistent. This went on for ten years or so and taught him a great amount of patience and how to deal with slower times. “I don’t get quite as freaked as I used to because there’s lots more I want to be doing,” he expounded, “Those are the times I just dive in and don’t think about what I’m doing.”
Los Angeles didn’t even come into the picture until an opportunity was introduced to him by a childhood friend who invited him out to a two acre East Los Angeles compound. “The city was totally foreign and I was in east LA where there was no where to walk,” he said, “At first thought I made a big mistake and I was kind of torn on whether I should be here or back in Kansas.”
“I felt like I was in this weird foreign land…but it’s totally magical to me,” he said, as we sit on his porch under the shade of trees and succulents, “I grew up in the Midwest and with New York winters and all that shit–I’d never really been around palm trees and these plants and fruit trees. It felt like I was in a strange paradise. I’d be driving down the 10 at one in the morning with my windows down in the middle of January: it was unfamiliar and exhilarating. Moments like that really made me feel strangely like I was falling in love with this place I ended up in.”
Los Angeles was also incredibly unexpected to him, in the sense that it was the opposite of what he imagined. “I thought it was this vapid wasteland that I had no place being in,” he detailed, “And, then, I came out here and discovered all these different pockets. When I would hear people bag on it, I’d start to defend it. You can really be anything you want to be in this place. You don’t have to be on Rodeo Drive to be in LA. I really think it’s true in any place that you will find pockets of people you relate with wherever you are. I think, for me, I started to feel a change from the nature in the city, honestly. There’s way more peace in this place.”
Having so much nature around is the complete opposite of his experience in New York. “I lived under a train,” he said blankly, “It’s so loud. And it would push my walls down. Here: it’s birds and peacefulness.” He said that New York also seemed to constantly pull you out of your apartment, because your place is so small and noisy and–well–unwelcoming. Here, it has fostered a lot of work because you don’t want to leave your place.
Travis was “the brokest [he’d] ever been” but Los Angeles welcomed him with arms wide open. “The first day that I got here, my friend was like, ‘We already have your Cheers,’” he explained, detailing the place in question was Echo Park’s Little Joy, “I walk in and it was like I had this built in group of friends. We all had mutual friends from Kansas and New York and they were like pals of mine I’d never met before.”
Little Joy is an integral part of Travis’ Los Angeles story. “Later in the week, I got a job there,” he said, mentioning that the manager there also was connected to Kansas. The job there afforded him opportunities to share his work–in the bathrooms. “I did an installation in Max Fish in New York and a couple in Kansas,” he said, “My friends were like, ‘Dude: you have to paint the bathrooms in Little Joy!’ The manager was like, ‘Yeah, yeah: paint the bathrooms. But I really need someone to wash glasses.’ So, I washed glasses and got promoted to bartender and basically pulled beers.”
Travis worked at Little Joy for around two years and is where he met Mel: “Sometimes, if I’d get really fired up, I’d work it out where I’d come in early and paint all day. One Sunday, I was painting in the women’s restroom [until we opened] and Mel walked in. And, it wasn’t like I was in the toilet, but I was in the powder room. Girls were walking though and were, mostly, freaked out some guy was scribbling on the walls. But, Mel gave me this pretty cool eye and then showed up in an art show a week later.”
The Little Joy bathroom became Travis’ sketchbook of sorts and introduced him to a lot of people in the city: he was in such a high traffic area–people started to notice him. “I got fired from almost all of [my jobs] for drawing on the job or politely asked to move on, where they’d tell me, ‘You’re really great at drawing–but a bad employee,’” he laughed, “Little Joy loved that I did drawings and, as long as I poured beers, it was fine. It was encouraged.”
Travis’ work started to get bigger and led to him being featured in magazines and doing several shows. “I did a show at BLK/MRKT in 2003,” he said, “Some people from Vans were there and saw my stuff and wanted to know if I was interested in creating a shoe. It was a big deal for me because skateboarding was something I was into since I was a kid,” he explained, “Being able to do something like that was really exciting.” The opportunities kept coming, as Travis went on to create a number of decks for Foundation Skateboards, Bueno, and most recently Creature Skateboards.
Travis prides himself on being a free agent of sorts, making his own opportunities and taking care business himself–literally. “I like handling the calls,” he explained, “I think that’s why people come to me because they like that they can deal with me personally. It’s hard to take everything you hold dear and trust in someone else to handle it.”
Travis personifies the idea of hard work and the “American dream.” He’s gone from the Midwest to the big city and has managed it all himself. He’s the kind of person who always succeeds because he works his ass off, while remaining cool and chilled out the entire time. Travis is living the new all American fairytale–which takes place in Echo Park.