Lauren martin gives us life

NYC illustrator creates a joyful cosmos by animating the mundane

All images courtesy of the artist

Imagine a land where strawberries have legs and flowers have faces. Whether candle, plant or egg, Lauren Martin’s characters give us hope

Lauren Martin puts the planet on a pedestal by finding inspiration in the everyday as much as the awesomeness of nature. Born and raised in New York City’s Upper West Side, the illustrator, designer and musician loves to make us – and herself – laugh.

This interview is part of a TOPIA series in partnership with Face This. The Dutch charity brings together street artists with Indonesian school kids to turn children’s drawings into merch to support their education. Read all the interviews.

Her anthropomorphic work is upbeat, and she says that it’s inspired by the seventies and silliness. It has even been described as if “Peggy Olson (Mad Men) inevitably dropped acid”.

In fact, she does silly so well that her work has been published in the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and New York Magazine. You may have also spotted her work thanks to brands like Nike, Uniqlo and Gap.

Lauren pinpoints the moment she became a highly-sought after artist as the exact point when she stopped worrying about whether her art was cool, and started making work that she really liked. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

When not drawing, Lauren collects curiosities – pieces of ephemera like shells, rocks and trinkets – which she thinks of as “having little personalities”. So it makes sense that she gives life to these inanimate objects, as well as the Earth itself.

The artist is also part of the band Frankie Cosmos where she plays synth and guitar, and design and prints all the band’s merch. So that makes her a triple threat: illustrator, musician and fashion designer.

This month, Lauren joined forces with the Face This Foundation to drop a series of bright and bold ‘T-shirts for good’ – created in collaboration with the drawings of Indonesian school children from the Duduk Atas school, in the mountainous area around Senggigi on the island of Lombok. Proceeds help fund their education. We asked the artist what inspired her playfulness and about her love of painting eggs.

Q&A: Lauren Martin

Let’s start at the beginning. Did you always like to draw? 

I grew up in New York City on the Upper West Side. I was always very creative and loved to draw and paint. When I was four, my cousin moved in with my family while she attended SVA (School of Visual Arts) and I would watch her do her drawing assignments and draw along. She realised I had a natural ability and told my parents they should sign me up for art classes. So I did. I started weekend classes at the Art Students League and have been drawing all the time ever since.

Is there one drawing that you can recall from your childhood?

Yes! There is a drawing I made in one of my classes at the Art Students League that stands out. It’s a self-portrait where I am underwater in a swimming pool with goggles on. My mom actually just got it framed recently. Art has always been my calling. I love that I get to express myself every day.

Can you tell me about how your painterly background works with the digital process. 

I start by sketching some ideas, and if I don’t have a concrete idea, I just sort of sketch until something emerges. It depends on whether I’m drawing for fun or if it’s for a client. My background is in painting, and while my process for digital is a little different, in both mediums I experiment until I see the path I want to go down. 

Can you pinpoint one of your artworks that means the most to you and what art with a message represents in your journey?

I think my ‘Staying in is Far Out’ design from early in the pandemic was a turning point in my artistic style. It was the first drawing I made where I felt that I communicated my real vision. My voice as an artist became much clearer at that moment.

Season 02 of TOPIA is The Egg. What inspired your butter knife poking an “over-easy egg” animation?

The egg animation was made during the early part of the pandemic when I was feeling a lot of anxiety and like my bubble had burst. My life was changing, but I was trying to make the best of it.

What has been the most surprising outcome from your work?

The most surprising outcome has been my silly drawings resonating with so many people! And getting such nice feedback about what comes from my imagination.

And biggest challenge?

Finding the balance between my creative side and my business side. I’m not a naturally organised person so I have to work extra hard to tap into that side of myself. Having an agent has significantly helped with that aspect!

How important is it to you to bring joy with your work?

I’ve always felt that I want to bring people joy and make people laugh with my art, and knowing that my art has the capacity to make others happy fuels my creative drive! Knowing that I’ve made even a tiny difference in the world – or in one person’s day – by doing what I love makes me want to keep going.

What is one thing you do regularly, a simple ritual or hack that brings you joy or elicits a sense of self care? 

I love to play tennis to clear my head and have fun. I find it’s essential to have a hobby that has nothing to do with my work.

If you had to look at one artwork only until the end of days, what would it be – and why?

Oh it’s too hard to pick one! But any work by Mark Dion because there would be some much to look at. I’m inspired by the natural world, food, old cartoons and comics, and by artists like Milton Glaser, R. Crumb and Steven Shore

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Do you have tips for non-artists to cultivate their inner child?

A lot of what holds us back from being our full selves is the fear of judgement. So creating a safe space for yourself to explore your creativity is so important. Just create without worrying if your art is good or bad. Try your best to have fun. Playfulness is so important to me. I don’t really like to take myself seriously and most of my art is just playing around and trying to make myself laugh. I’ve always had a sense of humour with my artwork.

You designed an artwork by using some of the Indonesian kids’ drawings by Face This. When you received the drawings, what was your first reaction?

I love the cause and was really impressed by the kids’ talent and creativity. A lot of the drawings seemed to depict their family or friends, flowers and animals. They are all really observant of the world around them. I picked a drawing by Zulhandi because I loved the mountains and palm trees in the artwork – I felt like I could see a narrative emerging. I had never collaborated like this before so it has really opened me up to the idea of more collaboration in the future.

What’s next? 

My band Frankie Cosmos has just released an album and I’ve got some cool illustration projects in the pipeline.

Lastly, we are creating a playlist for TOPIA. What is the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on Earth?

‘I Saw The Light’ by Todd Rundgren.

Now enter Lauren Martin’s World of Good

The artist’s tips of outrageously good people to follow

  1. @ruan_van_vliet – an incredible Dublin-based illustrator
  2. @fuchsiamacaree – another wonderful Irish illustrator friend who inspires me
  3. @pomme_queen – William is an amazing photographer and urban forager who documents fruit trees around New York City

What’s so good about this?

Creativity has a transformative power for children of all cultures. The Face This Foundation works to empower Indonesian schoolchildren to “design their own future”. Lauren Martin’s artwork is available on tees, sweaters and tote bags. All pieces are available to buy online. Check out more of the artist’s work at laurenmartinnyc.com and @laurenmartin_studio.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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