The Woman Behind the Lines: British Visual Artist Shantell Martin

Shantell Martin in front of one of her stream of consciousness drawings. Image courtesy of PopTech


Martin drawing on a volunteer. Image courtesy of PopTech

Shantell Martin, a 34 year old British visual artist, has made a living by “drawing on everything.” Her expressive, black and white line drawings have landed her a variety of prestigious gigs, included live performances at the Museum of Modern Art, a feature on the Jimmy Kimmel Show,  the cover of the New York Times, the list goes on. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin via email about her drawings, experiences working in a variety of countries worldwide, life as VJ, and more. Check it out below.


Culturs: You truly do draw on everything, from people to cars to walls to clothing. Of all the surfaces you’ve drawn on which was the most challenging or exciting?

Shantell Martin: I’ve been a long time fan of drawing on people. It’s always different, plus I enjoy watching my lines and words walk away from me.


How old were you when you began these stream of consciousness drawings?

The spontaneous drawings style started after I had lived in Japan for a while and accidently became a VJ (Visual Jockey) creating live drawn illustrious to DJ, Musicians and dancers. As I was creating work like, there was no time to think and this really helped me build up practice in just allowing the pen to flow.


A still from one of Martin’s VJ shows in 2008, Shantell Martin x 2UP (APPUAPPU) at Test Tone Vol. 30

How did you “accidentally” become a Visual Jockey?

I was asked to do some live drawing at an event. As my drawing at that time was pretty small I decided to keep that scale and draw under a camcorder and connect the camera to a projector. The projector screen was behind the band and for the first time I created live drawn visuals that were reactions to the band playing. I really enjoyed this process of creating live, the fact that you have no time to think about what you’re creating, you just have to create. I did this a bunch more and eventually started to work digitally using a drawing tablet connected to my computer drawing to DJ’s, dancers and Musicians.


Martin drawing. Image courtesy PopTech

It is my understanding that you grew up in London, spent some time in Japan, and now work in New York. Can you comment on how other cultures have influenced your work?

It’s almost like I have had three creative life times.

London – Escape. I drew as a way to tune out what was going on around me, I wasn’t a super happy teenager or young adult and drawing helped me focus on something.

Tokyo – Self Discovery. Here I found out that I wanted draw and create for the rest of my life. I was pulled into this world of music and visuals. My pen and paper work became very detailed and small in scale, while my newer digital work, became very bold and colour and interactive.

New York – Refinement. Now my work is almost like a language of lines, words and recurring characters, mostly black and white leaving space for discovery.


You also grew up as the only multiracial child in a primarily white household. Has this experience influenced your work in any way?

Yes and no. I would not be who I am if it was not for how and where I grew up. It did teach me to be confident and secure in being different. It also taught me that as soon as you walk out of your home people will project what they see you as being onto you.

sm_quote1_1Can you elaborate on this statement? Is there a particular experience you had in mind that made you come to this conclusion?

When at home with your family, you are just family. You don’t even think about race, class, background, education etc. But as soon as you step into the world outside of the family home when people see you or interact with you they generally have their own assumptions of what and who you are. These assumptions are made up from people’s very own experiences and biases and most of the time can be completely inaccurate.

A drawing by Martin. Image courtesy of PopTech


Can you talk about these stick figures that seem to permeate your work? What is their importance?

There are two types of stick figures in my work. The “Hard Workers” they push lines, pull lines, support and hold the drawings together and then there are the “Lazy Ones” who just hang out and have fun. I enjoy drawing stick figures. I meet a lot of people that tell me that they can’t draw that all they can do is a stick figure and I say great me too; lets collaborate.

If you are interested in learning more about Shantell Martin, be sure to check out her official website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. The stick figures are fascinating, because they not only represent something that anyone can do and go back to the very basics of art — pure representation — but they also obscure all the details we get so worked up over, such as color of skin or gender or anything else that obscures our humanness.

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