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Gillian Martin Contemporary – Retro Illustrator

June 15, 2020

Good Morning everyone, (or evening depending where you are!)

I just wanted to say a huge vote of thanks to those Fishink readers who popped over and bought something from me at @fishinkblog on Instagram at the weekend. The Sale of my ceramic work and Illustrations went well and I’m very grateful for their support, I still have pieces to sell so if you fancy a new treat for yourself or a present for a friend’s birthday etc then pop over and have a browse. (www.instagram.com/fishinkblog).

So onto today’s wonderful offering of smile making illustrations.

I came across the retro / contemporary work of Illustrator Gillian Martin on her IG account here, and through our messaging and likes of each others work. She also purchased a brooch from my @fishinkblog account… I think it will become clear why she selected this one : )

When did you first start to get interested in Art ?

I can’t remember ever not being interested in art, it has always been central to my life. My parents were both very creative and my brothers and I grew up drawing painting, and making
stuff! My pocket money was usually spent on a new sketch book, still one of life’s greatest pleasures! At school I was that kid who hid in the art room at play time! I always planned to be an artist, once I discovered I could be an illustrator I had a plan!

You can buy a Print from King and McGaw and she has a quirky humorous style for magazine and journalistic work.

What training did you have to prepare you for the work you are doing now, did you always want to be an artist ?

I did an illustration course at Maidstone College of Art (as was), Gerald Rose was the course leader. It was the only purely illustration degree in the country at the time. After that I moved up to London. In those pre internet years, I used to drag my A1 port folio around to meetings with actual magazines editors and publishers. It was very exciting to see my illustrations in various magazines, and eventually hundreds of books (mostly educational publishing), and products. I spent a lot of time at the Tate Gallery and the National, among others, also The British Museum
and V&A were great places to spend a day drawing. Having a part time job at the Tate gave me the opportunity to study the collection at close quarters. I lived in London for about 20 years before relocating to Scarborough. We moved over to Canada in 2009, but I’m back in Scarborough now.

Here’s a range of tins Gillian decorated for Mr English Breakfast with Elite Tins (@elietgiftboxes)

You have a very distinct style to your work, does this come from a love of all things 50’s and 60’s like myself, or just an interest in contemporary styles ( as the retro look is everywhere right now) ?

Deciding at that point, to make a fresh start, I decided to take some online courses (mostly with Lilla Rogers) and started licensing some designs, joining Yellowhouse Art Licencing Agency a few years ago. I’m glad you think I have a distinctive style! I would say there has always been a bit of a Mid Century vibe to my work-it’s sort of in my DNA, absorbed since childhood, and the illustrated books I used to pore over, and the things my parents had around the house.

They both had similar taste, and liked ceramics and certain colour schemes. I remember black jugs with yellow insides, black spotty vases (I still have a few things) Hornsea Pottery and slab pots! My Grandad also encouraged me a lot, and made me feel like a ‘proper’ artist. He was an amateur painter and we used to work together in his attic studio. I can still smell the oil paint and turpentine! We lived in Hull, so used to go to The Ferens Art Gallery at weekends. Over the years I have become more passionate about Mid Century Art and design in general, I just
love it! In my teens I was introduced to the wonderful John and Myfanwy Piper ( at a school event ) I was a bit star struck, but they were so kind and encouraging, the encounter had quite an impact on my awareness of style.

Which artists would you say have an influence on your work and who’s work do you currently admire ?

There are SO many artists that have influenced me, and whom I absolutely love! It’s hard to pick just a few, but here goes… Apart from John Piper, Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Bawden, Ravillious, Lucien Day and John Minton … There are also lots of others – John Maltby, Ben Nicholson, the Provensens, Edward Ardizzone, Joan Eardley, Stig Lindberg, Ben Shahn, Le Corbusier, Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon – to name but a few. Rosemary Vanns as I mentioned earlier, really has that midcentury feel going on, and has recently
been doing some experimental work, also Melvyn Evans, Simon Laurie, Elaine Pamphilon, and lots of others.

Does your use of imagery come from living near to the coast ? Birds, fishing ports etc ?

I’m not sure why I enjoy drawing birds so much! I think I found a way of representing them that felt unique to me, and worked with where I wanted to go in terms of style. They are endlessly fascinating aren’t they in their various shapes and colours, but mostly it’s about the lines I think. I have always been drawn to the sea, which has I think had an impact on subject matter.
Boats, seagulls, beach huts, the shapes and textures of the landscape. The geology of this area is fascinating too, and I love to collect fossils, and interesting rocks and
pebbles. One of my prized possessions is a large piece of Whitby jet which I found a couple of years ago I do feel very lucky to live here-there are some great walks, in all weathers!

How do you start the process of creating new work, does it evolve naturally or is it a case of assembling parts to make up the whole ?

A new image usually starts as a pencil sketch which I then scan into Photoshop, where I can play around with different colour ways, and create some texture for that ‘printed’ look. I like to collage samples either sourced or created on paper and build up layers. Recently though, during this lockdown period we have all been going through, I’ve been
experimenting with actual printing techniques! So far I’ve done some mono printing and Lino, and plan to try screen printing next.
I’m interested to see where this takes me.

I’m quite obsessed with Instagram, and love to discover new artists and see what people are working on. Pinterest is also a very useful tool for reference gathering, and visual inspiration.
I recently bought a print from Rosemary Vanns, one of my favourite contemporary artists, which combines screen, mono, and linoprint all in one image, I love it! The last exhibitions I saw were Picasso and Paper at the RA, and Ivon Hitchens at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham. Both are among my favourite artists. I also visited the Henry Moore rooms at the AGO Toronto last year, he is always a great source of inspiration for me.

Where do you see your work heading in the next 5 years… ?

I intend to print and paint more, see where that takes me, and perhaps explore other markets. Maybe collaborate on a range of household wares, ceramics, bedding, throws, wall art etc… It would be nice to have some of my work in museum and gallery shops. I have been meaning to open an online shop for ages now, that is something I intend to do in the very near future.

I love these fresh bouquets and still life ensembles.

If you couldn’t be an artist right now what else would you like to do ?

If I couldn’t be an artist, perhaps I could be an Art History lecturer, or an art and book conservator!

Gillian kindly put together some sketches and revealed how she works them through to final illustrations. Fascinating to see the process.

Birds and Fish everywhere and I love them all.

You can even license a design through her agent Sue Bateman at Yellow House Art Licensing. Thanks again Gillian for all your contributions to this post, it’s been lovely catching up with you, I hope one day after all this crazy time we get to meet up in person, I’m sure we would get along well.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 15, 2020 6:39 pm

    great artist! thank you!

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