Sitting in her home studio, painter Charlotte Fung Miller seems to have everything within reach: rolls of rice paper piled in a cupboard, water colors and brushes gathered on her counter and two wide windows looking out into the trees around her house.
“When I get started (painting), it’s a ritual,” Fung Miller said. “I say ‘What should I paint and what type of rice paper should I use?’”
Charlotte specializes in traditional Chinese brush painting.
“Chinese painting is not like western-style painting; it’s very quick,” Fung Miller said. “There’s no sketching ahead of time … It’s all with the brush: you draw with the brush, you use the angle of your brush, the side, the tip … all kinds of different ways of loading the brush with paints to get the shading.”
Fung Miller grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she attended traditional American schools during the day and Chinese classes in the evening. During those evening classes, she learned traditional forms of Chinese calligraphy. As a pre-med major at the University of California Berkeley, Fung Miller began taking classes in Chinese brush painting.
“I took lessons in Chinatown from professor Lui-Sang Wong in a little alley in Chinatown. Very nice,” Fung Miller remembered. “A Chinese brush painting lesson’s very different from Western Style: You sit around a big table. He painted. He didn’t talk. We didn’t talk; we just stared at him paint … and then you saw what he did and you came in the next week … and you present to him what we painted. He’d correct it and he’d start another lesson.”
While studying at UC Berkeley, Fung Miller met and later married another student named Bob Miller. When Miller was accepted into medical school in his home state of Wisconsin, Fung Miller came along. Fung Miller was working at a laboratory in Madison when she entered one of her paintings into an art show.
“I won second prize!” Fung Miller said. “I said ‘Oh, I can’t believe this! I love it! I love doing art! I’m switching my career!’”
In the years since, the art shows and awards have added up. Fung Miller and her husband now live on the shores of a lake near Mukwonago. That closeness to nature has been critical to Fung Miller’s work, she said.
“(Chinese painting) is based on Taoism. You learn from nature; you don’t destroy it,” Fung Miller said. “Living in Wisconsin made me have all these colors, the autumn colors: bright reds, yellows, golds, greens, browns, even a little purple.”
Fung Miller has also passed on her love of painting and other arts to her adult children Kimbirdlee Fadner and Matthew Miller. Both Fadner and Miller have developed their own styles of painting, and the two have also formed their own band called De La Muse.
While her children pursue their own artistic careers, Charlotte Fung Miller’s career as a painter continues.
“I’m never bored with my artwork, because I have so many different subjects,” Fung Miller said.