Early on in Shantell Martin: A Life in Lines, a 360-degree video produced by Skillshare, the artist is standing in front of a blank canvas at the 3 Howard Street gallery in Manhattan where she had a solo show called Gone this past June, showing onlookers how she starts every drawing with a single line. “This initial line for me is the DNA. It’s the structure. It’s the foundation of the drawing. It’s what holds it all together,” she tells her audience as she works in front of them.
While some artists prefer to labor in private and have little to say about their art once it goes out into the world, Martin is eager to work in public and show people how she creates the black-and-white drawings that she has become famous for. “Why are we here if it’s not to share? We live, we share, then we die basically–not to be too morbid. If we’re not here to share, or if we’re not here to be open, then, for me, what’s the point?” Martin tells Co.Create.
The British artist, who currently lives in New York City and travels the globe talking about her work and her process, has created two classes for Skillshare–one on discovering your creative voice, the other on digital drawing in partnership with Paper by FiftyThree. “I’m interested in technology. It’s something I want to use more,” which–aside from her desire to connect with her Skillshare students and others–is why she agreed to be the subject of a 360-degree video produced by Elliott Curtis and Bill Antonucci, who run the Experimental Content team at the online learning community.
“I think for many people 360 is something that no one really knows what to do with yet. People are just exploring and experimenting. I like that. I like that it’s almost a little bit spontaneous. I think it relates to my work,” she says. “Unlike a normal film camera, no one is behind the lens, so you don’t really know what you’re capturing specifically. You put this ball of cameras in a space, then you press go, and it records.”
Martin, a visiting scholar at MIT Media Lab and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, also indulged her interest in technology earlier this year, participating in Autodesk’s Pier 9 artists in residence program from January to June in San Francisco. In addition to a small stipend, Autodesk provides the artists–a mix of talent including engineers, robotists, and architects–access to their machinery, software, and staff. Martin went into the residency with the goal of creating something simple that would have a profound impact on how she creates art and came out of the experience having made a 3D-designed-and-printed tool kit. “I made seven tools, and each tool allows me to draw with a different setup–basically, the tools allow me to draw with multiple markers or different thicknesses of markers at the same time,” she explains.
Back to the low-tech world, Martin’s coloring book for adults, Wave: A Journey Through the Sea of Imagination for the Adventurous Colorist, was published last May while she was taking part in Autodesk’s high-tech residency. “We have to call it an ‘adult coloring-in book’ because adults need encouraging to color in. They need permission to color in,” Martin says, “whereas children will just color in.”
Martin encourages adults to tap into their creativity, though she finds many are afraid to do so. “If I talk to or address a bunch of adults, one of the first questions I ask is, ‘Can you draw?’ It’s always amazing, probably 5, 10% of people–even in a creative audience–will put their hands up and say they can draw. It’s bizarre. How can you not do something as an adult that you could do as a two-year-old, three-year-old, four-year-old, five-year-old, six-year-old? Of course you can draw,” Martin says. “It’s just somewhere along the line, probably when you were 11, 12, 13, that thought of, ‘You can’t.’ ‘And someone else can’ was put into your head.”
Dismiss those negative, self-sabotaging thoughts, and create, Martin urges. “For me, it’s very important the skills that we can get from this activity of working from our head to our hand. That could be as simple as doodling, or writing, or drawing. It doesn’t have to be drawing in the idea that we think of like a still life, or something that’s perfect. It just has to be you making honest marks,” she says. “I think that through that practice we learn a little bit more about ourselves. We’re able to relax. We’re able to be creative. We’re able to kind of flex those muscles in our minds.”