Illustrator & Musician Lauren Martin // Interview

Lauren Martin is an illustrator and musician who grew up in New York City‘s Upper West Side. Her optimistic, 1970s inspired work uses anthropomorphized food and flowers to create upbeat scenes with humor. Her initial foray into art as a career path began at the National Academy of Design in New York where she studied classical figurative painting under a few different mentors. She then switched to Textile/Surface design, getting her BFA in that focus from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

While sudying at FIT she realized that she loved screenprinting and working in a more illustrative style. Towards the end of her time at FIT, she joined the band Frankie Cosmos and used her screenprinting knowledge to design and print all the merch for the band and once she graduated, she began her career as a touring musician, touring internationally playing synthesizer and guitar

Her time spent touring and traveling allowed her to gain some familiarity with art scenes happening around the US and Europe and broadened her idea of what her art career could be.

What are you most proud of at this point in your life?

I used to suffer from horrible stage fright and the thought of playing music on stage in front of people made me feel ill! So when I was asked to join Frankie Cosmos I almost said no but with the encouragement of the other members of the band and my friends, I finally agreed.

It wasn’t an easy transition, and I definitely didn’t lose the nervous feelings overnight but after years of touring, I was able to convince myself that I wasn’t nervous, I was excited! I would tell myself that every night before getting on the stage I would go the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror and say: “you’re not scared, you can’t wait!

I realized that so much of the fear that I felt was because the feeling of being nervous and being excited feel really similar and it was up to me to decide which narrative I wanted to go along with, so I chose excitement and I’m so proud of myself for that.

What is the line that connects your art with music?

I’m not sure if there is a super clear line between my art and Frankie Cosmos, but my art is definitely influenced by music in general. I’m often inspired by lyrics, especially when I’m making artwork that has text. I’ll often take a concept from lyrics I’ve heard and put it into my own words.

I’m an incredibly visual person, so I often imagine songs visually, or at least I can easily imagine what images connect with a song for me.

I’m also very inspired by memory, and what little memories arise when you hear a song. My first memory of music is listening to “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees in the back of my parents old giant Buick La Sabre driving in Manhattan when I was probably 3 years old.

So much of my art has to do with nostalgia so perhaps in a Proustian way, I use song lyrics that stir up memories for me to evoke emotions.

Your work has a positive spin to it, often with empowering quotes. What inspires you to create this type of work?

Thank you! I would say that my positivity is a relatively new thing in my life. I definitely didn’t feel very positively about the world and about myself a year or two ago. I started to shift my mentality after going to therapy and realizing that so much of how you experience the world has to do with the mentality that you approach reality with.

I began to choose to approach the world with excitement rather than fear.

That really changed things for me. I also try to provide myself and do things for myself that make me feel good each day, for example, I like to wake up early rather than sleep in, I like to bake bread, I like to buy fancy shower gel and paint my nails — all those little rituals really add up for me.

Your illustrations often feature objects and plants with cute faces. What about this?

I love collecting little items and trinkets and I always thought of them as having little personalities so it made sense for me to start giving life to these inanimate objects. When I was touring, my boyfriend (who plays drums in the band) and I would always find places to go in every city and town where we could collect pieces of ephemera and shells and rocks. I have bags and bags of all the things we collected on tour and many things are displayed around our apartment.

I feel such a connection to all of these little items so they feel like they’re alive to me. Some of my favorite things include a tiny starfish from Cape Cod and a box of licorice gum from the airport in Turin.

Do you recall your first try with Procreate and how did that look?

My first try with Procreate looked soooo different from how my art looks now! It took me about a year of just playing with it to understand exactly how I wanted to use it. My initial drawings were very simple and abstract and from there they evolved to have a lot of texture, with a somewhat airbrushed look. A lot of the earlier drawings, if you scroll back to the beginning of my Instagram feed, were just drawn with my fingertip in Procreate Pocket while I was in the car on tour — so they needed to be pretty simple since the car was always bumping around.

It started to evolve over time to include food I was eating on tour, or scenes I saw from the car window. I eventually invested in an Ipad pro and Apple pencil and that really helped changed what I was capable of doing in a digital format. I had a lot more control and I was able to change my drawings from more abstract and simple to more detailed and real. 

Which of your projects has been most important to developing your personal style?

The first illustration I made that felt like I had made a shift towards my style was the “Staying in is Far Out” shirt that I made in Spring 2020. I really felt when I drew that, that I was onto something. I had been feeling for a while that I needed to make a shift towards making art that meant something to me.

For a long time, I just drew things that looked nice to me without really thinking about it. I feel that “Staying in is Far Out” was the first time I made art with a message and once that clicked for me, it became a lot easier to conceptualize what meaning I could inject into my art; my voice as an artist became much clearer at that moment.

I think that the emotional toll of the pandemic helped me realize that my artwork could say something important.

I think the gravity of the situation moved me to create something that could help people get through this and know that it was going to be ok. It was also a message I needed to hear, I needed to remind myself that this was an opportunity for growth and rest and reflection and also a duty to stay in to protect others.

Which zodiac sign are you? Do you think that your sign/birth chart influences your work?

I’m a Cancer sun, scorpio moon, aquarius rising! So I’m super emotional, super creative, and a bit hard to get to know.

I definitely use my art as a way to reach out to people. I’m so shy so using my art as a tool to express myself feels written in the stars for sure.

I sometimes feel frustrated with how independent and internal I can be. I really don’t need other people around to be completely entertained and content. But there’s a part of me that feels sad that I lack the warmth that I feel I need to embody my ideal version of myself. I’m working on fighting my aloof personality to become more engaged with other people, but it’s hard during a pandemic. Hopefully post-pandemic there will be more opportunities for me to be more open with people. 

IG: @laurenmartin_studio
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