Monday, 27 February 2012

How does an artist work?

We asked artist and designer Judith Martinez some questions about her work.
Here are her answers. Do you have a question for her? Post it in the comments section and she'll answer it for you.

What inspires you?

I get inspiration from many places, most of them not related to other artists, this way I can try to come up with fresh ideas and not versions of what other people have done.

I love old things – photographs and letters in particular. I am like a bowerbird and collect lots of objects that might be useful in an artwork. I recently bought a selection of antique Russian clock faces and parts that are making their way into my collages. They vary from tiny little cogs and wheels to large alarm and mantle clock faces. I am using them in a series of collages where I combine printing, antique letters and the clock parts to compose images.

I have a box full of photographs that are over one hundred years old. I love to use them in collages and often wonder about the people in them.

It is very important to store these objects well as they are like special treasures. I believe in nurturing my collections as they are always very kind to me in return and offer lots of inspiration and ideas.

Colour is necessary to me. I love seeing how nature creates her own colour palettes – have you ever noticed a sandstone cliff against a bright blue sky? The colours work perfectly, highlighting and complementing each other to perfection. When I see things like this, I think, if it works in a real setting and creates a lovely harmony then it will most likely work in my own art. Flowers are another example of successful colour combinations as are birds and butterflies.
a variety of collage/mixed media work made form old book covers, vintage bird postcards, a little found seahorse and butterfly (I never kill anything!), keys… and other things from my collections

My garden is the perfect place for this research, and a bushwalk can be a great place to discover new colour combinations. Don't dismiss muted and lighter colours as they can be beautiful as well – there are many shades of white, for example, something as simple as an eggshell or a sheet of paper can vary from cool to warm white and carry within it blues and yellows.

Reading is another great source of inspiration. I see beautiful images in poetry, prose and song lyrics. So words are very important for my visual artwork.

Beautiful things inspire me simply because they are beautiful, animals in particular, but sometimes accidental beauty like a wall that has been painted many times and you can see the layers of colour, wallpaper or lettering coming through.
I believe in taking time to observe these things – have you ever noticed a little plant coming through the cracks in the pavement? The rainbows formed on the road after a storm? A cat’s furry paws? Small insects changing colour to match the plant they are hiding in?

If you stop and look at all the things around you, beautiful or not, I can guarantee you will find inspiration – for your art or your story writing, or simply to have better conversations with other people.

Where do you work?

I work at home. We have turned the spare room into my studio, but I also spill out onto the kitchen table and living room occasionally.

I have completed courses at the National Art School in Sydney to use the printmaking equipment for screen printing and etching. I don’t have access to etching presses and screen printing facilities often so I have to have a very good idea of what I am doing to get the most out of my time there.

I think the best way to describe my workspace is to show you.

I am looking forward to having a studio built in the garden later in the year. I will send you photos when this is done! Designing the studio has been lots of fun, I am currently talking to the builder who is going to make it. I think the best part of having a studio will be being able to leave things on a table as works in progress and not having to pack them up because it is dinnertime.

What types of materials do you use?

Paper, paper and more paper! For drawing, printing, cutting up, origami (Japanese paper folding art) and collages.

a paper swift (swifts, swallows, willy-wag tails and house-martins are my favourite birds) made by cutting out a bird shape on black card and painting the detail with white and grey paint. I am hoping to give him a big family and do an installation.

I use traditional art materials such as paintbrushes, pencils, gouache and watercolour (types of paint), special Japanese starch glue which is very good for collage (even if it takes a little bit longer to dry), thread for stitching (I use red thread in most of my work) and shellac (a special varnish that is very good for making things look old).

Vintage materials such as photographs, musical scores, lace and other fabric, book covers and pages (sometimes a book is old and the pages are a little torn, I believe in giving these old books a new life and using them for collages and origami).

a portrait of one of my favourite girls on the planet! I used 1960s paper and fabric flowers and pinned them on a water colour portrait 

Who are your favourite artists and why?

Spanish children’s book illustrators from the 1970s and 80s, Maria Pascual and Juan Ferrandiz. They are part of my childhood and their drawings have amazing detail and skill. I always wanted to look like one of their characters.

French cartoonist Sempe for creating warm and whimsical illustrations – their simplicity is disarming.

19th Century Botanical artists Harriet and Helena Scott. Sometimes it is hard for women to succeed in certain fields dominated by men, but the Scott sisters didn’t let that stop them. Sadly, they experienced financial hardship during their lifetimes – but that is just another reason why I admire them. Some people believe so much in what they do and what they love doing that they don’t do it to be rich. They experience a different sort of wealth, a richness that comes from knowing that you are creating something beautiful.

Joseph Cornell for his shadow box art. Now, he was a real bower bird!

I love Japanese wood carvings for their saturated colour, but mostly for the patience that goes into creating such beautiful work. A skill I need to learn and nurture.

Russian collage artist Kurt Schwitters. He used anything he could get his hands on to make collages – bus tickets, coasters, magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper.

But most importantly, Mr R Waller, my high school art teacher, because he showed me how to create collages and mixed media and encouraged me to think outside the square. The skills he taught me are the ones I have used the most in my life.

When you have an idea, how do you begin working on it? 
I do most of my creative thinking while I am out walking or having a coffee (always carry a notebook with you!).

I wish I could see all my ideas through to completion. But sadly this doesn’t happen. I have lots and lots of notebooks with ideas that hopefully will come in handy one day. A good example of this is my etching ‘the sardine purse’. I did a portrait of myself crossed with my cat, Possum, over five years ago and left it in a sketchbook. I found it one day when I was preparing for etching class and thought it would make a nice intaglio print and developed it into an edition.
'The washing never dries in here' and 'The Sardine Purse'

I also discuss creative ideas with my husband, Craig. He is a writer and has very good ideas.

"Bunny Boy' A portrait of my husband Craig as a bunny.

We try to help each other out with our work and hope to work together on some projects in the future. He and I developed the Not So Scary Monsters characters together over cups of tea and biscuits – we’d love to hear which ones are your favourites and why, so we can develop them further.


  1. Thank you, Judy, for these descriptions of your work and ways of working. It's very illuminating to hear how you make all those bits and pieces into such beautiful things. The Russian clock faces reminds me that when I was a little boy, younger than ten, definitely, a broken clock somehow came into my possession. I took it down the side of our house into the shadows by the dripping pipe from the water heater, a cool and secretive place, and smashed it open with a hammer to see what was inside. I found lots of little cogs and springs, things of many different shapes and forms. This was fascinating, but also disappointing. I had been hoping for greater revelations than this, and now I couldn't think what to do with the smashed-up clock. If only I'd had a Mr Waller to teach me about collage.

    1. hello Stephen
      Imagine if you had found an army of little people who worked the mechanism of the clock. They would have been so upset with you as you blew their cover!

      I still have to work out the best way to secure the clock parts together and on the photos. At the moment I use glue and thread, but I am hoping to find a more sophisticated method. Perhaps I should get in touch with a clockmaker.

  2. beautiful work¡¡¡¡¡¡ i love it¡¡¡¡¡

  3. Lemonade Learner 129 February 2012 at 00:09

    My favourite monster is the Poodle Twins Emma and Gemma. I find Craig bunny funny.

    1. Hello LL1
      I think Craig finds it quite funny that he is a bunny as well.
      What animal do you think you would be if you were a hybrid in one of my etchings?

      Maybe we should make Emma and Gemma have an adventure!

  4. Lemonade Learner 229 February 2012 at 00:11

    My favourite monster is Clementine the Wardrobe Monster. My cousin's name is Clementine.

  5. Hello LL2
    If you like Clementine, you will be happy to know Craig and I are working on a story for her. Maybe next time we see each other we can show you the drawings and see what you think of them?

    I hope your cousin Clementine doesn't mind that she shares her name with a very fashionable (but not scary) monster.

  6. What a great post. I love Judith's work - so evocative of times lost and sureal dreams. I've been reading a lot of novels set in Victorian times lately and the work brings those natural history collectors and ink prints to mind. I love the wardrobe monsters too. In fact I think I want that party dress!!!

  7. Hello, I loved reading about your creative process and love your beautiful work too! My little girl Clementine laughed at the Wardrobe Monster - I think she has found a kindred spirit. And her older brother Ted enjoyed seeing himself as a Usual Suspect.

  8. This is a wonderful interview. I love all the answers, and I LOVE the art here. I was feeling a little sad, but now I feel happy. I'd like to see more. Where can I see more?

  9. Lemonade Learners19 March 2012 at 01:48

    Hello Jaclyn,
    You can see more of Judy's artworks at We should have made the link more prominent! The first mention of her name is a hyperlink to her site, but we'll add one at the end of the post. Thank you for visiting.