San Leon artist finds his muse in the low tide
Every now and then, you might see Jason Miller and his young daughter picking up pieces of wood and sticks along the riprap and shorelines of San Leon — gathering as much as their arms can hold, filling plastic buckets, then carrying their find back to their golf cart or truck.
These washed-up items from Galveston Bay eventually will become art when Miller’s muse nudges him to create sea life, mythical creatures, land animals, furniture and lamps.
His San Leon garage/workshop houses ample inventory, stacked according to size, length, width and texture. Some pieces already are a vision in Miller’s mind, while others are just awaiting their new form. A table saw, nail gun, jigsaw, hammers, bottles of glue, containers of screws, wire and even coat hangers are his tools of the trade.
“I scout around for wood mostly in the winter, because it gets too hot in the summer,” he said. “I prefer the inlets and coves, because they catch everything, like the tiny pieces that resemble claws on a bird’s foot. With the big pieces, I often have to drag them several blocks or just cut them up to get them off the banks of the shoreline.”
Miller doesn’t overlook driftwood containing screws, nails or metal scraps, and they’ll often wind up in one of his sculptures.
“It’s amazing how strong the water is, how the sea softens up a piece of wood, yet the grain pattern is still there,” he said. “Tree trunks, limbs and broken pieces of furniture can be incorporated into a sculpt.”
His 20 or so sculptures, thus far, include a mermaid, several birds, fish, crabs, turtles, an angel, longhorn and a kraken, the legendary giant squid-like sea monster in Nordic folklore.
“I keep some of my abstract things — those made of found objects combined with industrial elements — but I sell the majority of sea life,” Miller said. “People see them and want to buy them, because I design things from a different perspective, like my pelican diving downward with a fish in his mouth, and the mermaid with her right arm held high above her head.”
On average, one piece will take him about a month to finish, he said.
“Fish are harder to create because you need small, smooth pieces of wood,” he said. “Birds are less complicated because it’s easy to make their feathers.”
Growing up outside of Houston, Miller was always drawing during his free time, he said. He took a couple of art classes in college, but it wasn’t until he moved to San Leon a few years ago that materials from the sea got his attention.
Green parrots have recently caught his eye.
“When I first saw them, I thought I was seeing things,” he said. “I want to do a sculpt of them next, even including their nests.”
There’s one aspect about driftwood that always intrigues him, he said.
“When I find them, I always wonder where they came from,” he said.