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Marc Martin

Studio Visit

Melbourne illustrator and artist Marc Martin is a quiet achiever.  He has authored and illustrated four beautiful picture books (and has another on the way soon), and has amassed a back catalogue of commercial illustration work which is SO seriously impressive. His clients include Monocle magazine, Wired magazine, The Financial Review, The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Readings, Hitched Magazine and various festivals.

Much, though not all, of Marc’s work is influenced by nature.  His work often depicts lush tropical flora and fauna, and with its hand rendered textures and meticulous detail, Marc’s work often channels creatives of the modernist era – Charley Harper and Bruno Munari count amongst his many influences.

We recently visited Marc at his colourful Carlton studio.

9th January, 2015
Lucy Feagins
Friday 9th January 2015

When I first started this blog way back in 2008, I covered a lot of illustration. I have always been such a huge fan of anyone who can draw of paint… to be honest, I think that might be where this whole website started. To me, art and illustration is like conjouring something from nothing – a form of magic.

SO, I’ve been following the work of incredible local illustrator, artist and book maker Marc Martin for some time. Marc is a quietly prolific creative – and a driven self starter. I remember when he launched his very first self funded and self published book, ‘A Forest’ way back in 2011, which was soon followed by another self initiated publishing project – ‘The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Pocket Companion to Exotic Animals’. Both these beautiful books were quickly snapped up and republished by Penguin Books, with whom Marc went on to publish another illustrated book, ‘Max’, last year. THIS year, he’s got another exquisite book due out again in March.  It’s called ‘A River’ – a few beautiful sneak peeks can be seen on his Instagram!

Though book making could be called his first love, Marc is also an in-demand commercial illustrator, represented by The Jacky Winter Group in Melbourne. His lush, layered illustrations have been commissioned by clients including Monocle magazine, Wired magazine, The Financial Review, The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Readings and many, many more. They form such an impressive body of work when viewed together – PLEASE do check out his website for many more examples, because we’ve really only scratched the surface here…!

Tell us a little about your background – What path led you to becoming an illustrator, and to creating the style of work you are currently making?

The journey to becoming an illustrator has been full of surprises. Originally I studied graphic design at RMIT, but I always knew that the graphic design industry wasn’t quite right for me. In the periods between graduating from university and becoming a full-time illustrator, I also studied sculpture, social sciences, furniture making, and started (and closed!) a design studio.

I was always looking for something more than just client driven design work. Throughout my 20s, some friends and I had been working together on various publishing and arts projects, which led to us starting our own small-press publishing house called Erm Books. This gave me the confidence to start making and illustrating my own books, and eventually led to Penguin Books Australia discovering my work.

In the last couple of years I’ve been predominately writing and illustrating my own picture books, as well as doing a mix of editorial and commercial illustrations. My training in graphic design still influences my illustration work today, however I’m continually battling between the ‘learned restraint’ and principles of graphic design, and the creative freedom and fun that illustration allows.

What influences the style of your work?

A lot of my earlier illustration work has strong design influences, so people like Charley Harper, Saul Bass, Bruno Munari and anything from that modernist era has largely informed my aesthetic.

Lately, I’ve been trying to loosen up my style and focus less on design principles and geometry, and more on subtleties in texture, pattern and colour. Illustrators from the 60’s and 70’s are still a large influence; M. Sasek and Dahlov Ipcar are two that spring to mind. Some contemporary illustrators that I admire are Jon Klassen, Blexbolex and Laura Carlin.

Part of making a good illustrated picture book is the ability to tell stories, and books I read as a child have also shaped the way I write and illustrate. Jenny Baker and Maurice Sendak are two author/illustrators that nurtured my imagination and gave me the creative spark to make picture books.

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?

When I’m starting an illustration, I’ll usually have an idea of the medium I want to use before I start on the artwork, but I also like to experiment with different mediums as well. Lately I’ve been working a lot with gouache, paints and pencils. I often find that the tests and ‘mistakes’ I make whilst experimenting can later develop and inform the finished artwork, so it’s good to be open to new ways of working. I never throw out any of my sketches, paint tests or samples – you never know what use they’ll have later on.

If the illustration is for a commercial brief, I’ll usually send a pencil sketch of what I’m thinking to the client, and see if there’s any feedback from that. Most clients will usually have a few minor changes, and that’s all part of the process. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really great people along the way, and I find the best clients are the ones that trust the artist in their ability – mutual understanding and trust makes for a great working relationship.

Once I’ve moved onto the finished illustration, I try to do as much of it as I can by hand, and only move on to the computer if it needs any cleaning up or colour adjustment. Sometimes it can be really difficult to know when I’ve truly finished an illustration, as I always like to add more and more detail. I like to have layers of meaning within each illustration, and I try to create works that people can appreciate at first glance, but which also grow and take on new meaning the more you look at them.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I’ll normally start the day with a quick breakfast at home and then a bike ride through Edinburgh Gardens and into the studio. Usually I’ll start by checking emails and doing a bit of admin before getting stuck into illustrating, but lately I’ve begun to experiment with different ways of working – I’m finding that not checking emails until after lunch is a great way to get focused on the tasks at hand, before getting bogged down by emails and paperwork.

At lunch, I’ll either make my own sandwich in our shared kitchen, or pop down to somewhere like Wonderbao or Don Dons near the studio. If I need an extra boost, I’ll grab a coffee across the road at Queensbury Pour House.

The afternoon is usually filled with more work, and then it’s back home around 6.00pm for a home cooked meal and some chill out time.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

1. I go to Brunswick Bound and The Little Bookroom regularly for inspiration. Flicking through picture books, graphic novels and art books helps keep my art fresh, and makes me want to become better at what I do. It’s always inspirational to see what others are doing in similar fields.

2. I also listen to a lot of podcasts while I’m illustrating. One of my favourites at the moment is Great Lives from the BBC. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the lives of a variety of people, from explorers, scientists, writers, artists and musicians.

3. I like going out to Heide every few months and seeing what new shows are on. There’s always something thought provoking, and it makes for a great bike ride from the city.

4 Brain Pickings blog is a great way to get creatively inspired and learn a little something too.

5. I use Instagram to catch up on some of my favourite artists and illustrators both locally and internationally. It’s a great way to see what other people are working on, and their works-in-progress.

Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment? 

Melbourne is blessed to have so many talented people living here and contributing to the cultural community, and I’m lucky enough to count some of these people as my friends and peers. Local street artist and printmaker Tom Civil paints incredibly beautiful murals that stop me in wonder. Painter Brad Rushbridge’s work is intricately detailed, sometimes unsettling, and mythic in its imagery, and contemporary artist Gabrielle De Vietri work always challenges and questions the viewer.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I’ve just finished my next book, called A River. I think it’s a pretty special book and I’m very happy with how the illustrations turned out. The cover is pretty stunning too – it’s printed on a wibalin cloth and the whole thing is embossed. I can’t wait to share it with the world, and I’ve already started leaking some sneak peeks on Instagram!

What would be your dream project?

I think I’m working on my dream project right now – I’ve just been commissioned to illustrate the cover of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling for Penguin UK & US. I remember reading the stories from The Jungle Book as a boy, and being fascinated with the world of Mowgli, Rikki Tikki Tavi, and Kotick the white seal, so it’s pretty special to be able to revisit those stories and share my own vision of them to new audience.

I’d also love to have the chance to work on something larger in physical scale, like a mural for a building or foyer – hopefully 2015 will bring some exciting opportunities!

What are you looking forward to?

There are so many things to look forward to this year! I’m having an exhibition and book launch for A River at Lamington Drive in April, and I’m launching an interactive game/story app for tablet devices that a friend and I have been working on for while. But most of all, I’m looking forward to working on my next book.


Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I’ve recently moved to Westgarth after living in Brunswick for many years. Whilst Brunswick has its charms, Westgarth’s proximity to the Merri Creek, its riverside bike paths, and leafy streets have won me over.

Where and what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Addict Food and Coffee on Johnston St, Fitzroy does delicious breakfasts. Every time I go there I’m overwhelmed by the flavours and presentation of each dish – they really go the extra distance to make sure every meal is something special.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

A typical Saturday involves going out for breakfast, usually at my local café, Mixed Business. If it’s the 3rd Saturday of the month, I’ll usually go down to the Fitzroy Market on Napier St and hunt around for some clothing or bric-a-brac. It’s one of the cheapest markets for clothing, and consistently has good wares.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Yarra Bend Park is a fantastic place to go for a picnic. It’s got great views of the city, the Yarra running straight through it, and there’s no shortage of birdlife to keep you entertained.

Melbourne illustrator Marc Martin in his studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email