PODCAST- Christy Martin
Christy Martin, is the amazing illustrator who completed the images for The Dead Lawn Incident.
We are so glad that we meet Christy through a friend of a friend and that she was able to assist us with this book.
Christy talks to us about the pros and cons of Freelancing and how she manages to fit into each day all her commitments and what to do when things don’t go to plan.
If you would like to read instead the transcript is below.
DYAN: The first question that I’d like to start with was one that I would hope that you would find relatively easy to talk about. Something you’re very passionate about is getting into the creative process. So describe how you get into the creativity process and the tools you use, where you work, set hours. How does your day look?
CHRISTY: Yeah absolutely. All right. I am a designer as well, but illustration is what we will look at today. But concerning the process of illustration and relating it to the text, I find, especially when you’re dealing with a book, you need to read it and let it sink in. You might find that you may need to read it a few times and then you end up pulling out certain things that make sense to illustrate. You get a really good relationship with what’s going on in the text and you can almost figure out what the author was trying to illustrate. You can see an illustration. So there will be a best fit for someone to pull out, particularly if it’s dealing with something that is quite worthy, but it’s a long sort of book. Once I figure out exactly what’s going on, I start getting to the story draft, just figuring out exactly where I envisage all of these illustrations going, just quick sketches and that sort of thing. Then it follows a relatively new process from there – getting some image research and finding some inspiration as a drawing reference to bring it to life a little bit more. And then once it’s in a certain stage and is approved, you can start the detail because you’re nearly there. A good drawing is happening. Then the end stage of that would be to colour, and further detail the image. It’s really lovely to see other people’s take on some things as well. I really enjoy just reading the text and letting it sink in. In terms of setup, as well as tools that I tend to use, the book I’m working on for you, The Dead Lawn Incident, is done digitally. So it’s a bit different from what I’ve done up to this point. I’m a bit of newbie to digital. I hadn’t really approached it a lot in the past. I’ve got some new tools to use as well. So I think it will be quite a learning experience. When I work on something digital I’ll work at my desk with all of my equipment, but traditional Illustration I tend to be perched somewhere more comfortable. I find a spot, so if I have an easel or something I have to work with, I tend to go somewhere where can I fit it, or maybe the dining room table or something like that. I do need to get a proper working studio happening, because it tends to get a little bit busy at times. In terms of getting setup and getting working is always at night the moment. That’s mainly dictated purely by having a son and looking after my son in the daytime and so night is when I’ve got time to do it. But luckily, I tend to work best at night anyway. Just as well. So in terms of tools, as a traditional illustrator, you grow up with the pencils. That’s my natural sort of area, where I tend to pencil things in. There’s my great love of watercolours. I wash stuff in and then dry brush it, which is basically like painting. So it’s like having a 2-haired brush and sitting for hours and hours. In terms of digital, I’ve got this lovely Cintiq, which is a fabulous new technology. It’s quite a large tablet with a screen that I can draw onto with a stylus. It pretty much acts exactly like a pencil. It’s a very natural way of doing something digitally. I’ve got Sketchbook Pro and Photoshop. I have a wide range of tools as well. I can really make things look very natural in terms of pencil work and paintwork. There’s a lot to choose from there. So it’s just really great to be able to do that, particularly if there are lots of changes and things, it does make some of the process a little bit quicker. If you do need to change things, it’s not a case of redoing an entire illustration, which is really ridiculous. I’m sure that illustrators of the world would probably find that an advantage. So that tends to be it and that’s what I’m working in.
DYAN: As you mentioned, it’s probably a bit of a double-edged sword in the sense that you know you can change it, because sometimes it means you go, ‘Oh that’s ok, I’ll just rub that out later.’ So you’ve got to be careful not to be too, ‘Oh well, I’ll do this and then I’ll go back.’
CHRISTY: Yes, that’s right. I know that as a child, art teachers say, ‘Don’t worry about mistakes, just keep going, do another one, don’t rub it out.’ Because it’s good to see how far you have come with something. It sounds like what you were saying, it’s a similar idea. ‘Oh no, you know, I’ll just get rid of that, that won’t be going anywhere,’ but it could have actually gone somewhere. But yeah, it is handy. Like you said, that’s a double-edged sword there.
DYAN: Yeah. It would be interesting, as I think of some artists to have moved into a digital era with things. So I’ve still got to pull out my pen and paper at times, because you’ve got to have that making mistakes, because some of the best things happen out of those mistakes.
CHRISTY: Yeah. The temptation is always to go straight to a computer because it’s easier in some ways. But you really can’t beat the feeling of doing something on paper, it’s quite different. Being on the computer, you feel a little bit removed from that. So yeah, obviously it’s so much nicer in a way or at least for you to do some Iive drawing and sketching otherwise I do think it’s a bit too dependent on something that will fix the issues that you’ve got.
DYAN: So you’ve got to balance it. You gave me your bio, you talked about how you fell into your profession.
CHRISTY: That’s right. It’s funny for me. I think my earliest memory of doing drawing was in primary school. I found that I finished my reading comprehension and stuff really quickly, and then the teacher would need me do something else. So they would say, ‘Decorate the page’ and so I would illustrate what I’ve done, and decorate the page. The more elaborate they became, the more stickers and stamps I would get. So it was quite an impression, as you can imagine, for a seven year old child, to think, ‘This is quite good actually.’ It kind of developed from there, getting encouragement from teachers and family, like my parents. I think I was, at the time, quite hyperactive, and it was a good way to settle me down. To just sit down and do something. They saw I had interest in it. So I started doing comics and characters and eventually, I got to be better. I got into drawing the pets and Landscapes and things around the house and that sort of thing. I think my parents were really integral in encouraging that aspect of it. Whether or not at first they thought I had any talent, they thought it was a good thing to do. I was obviously enjoying it. So they would buy lots of art supplies and things because it’s sort of educational as well. They put me into a watercolour class when I was eleven through the local TAFE. I think being around the older artists, people with a lot of experience, people who were amazing at what they did, I think it does have an effect on the way you perceive what you could do, and also their encouragement. There was an exhibition and, in the small country town [LAUGHTER]. So it was not something that everybody did. It was pretty cool really. It snowballed from there.
DYAN: The fact that your parents saw that and then got you to leverage from it is a real skill in parenting, which you’re learning to discover at the moment.
CHRISTY: Yes, that’s right. Exactly. Yeah it is. It’s very good. I’ll always be grateful to them for encouraging it. I suppose, depending on what you expect your children to like, not all parents would have been on the ‘art train’ possibly. I was also pretty sporty. So there was always sort of a pull between the two things. But I really loved art from quite early on. That continued into different areas as I’ve gotten older.
DYAN: It’s interesting that that foundation is built. I think sometimes we forget how you actually need a number of years practicing ideas and thoughts until you can get to this stage where you go, ‘Okay, now I’ve seen I can do all that, I’m ready to step things up to this next challenge,’ or moving to the tablet and saying, ‘I have done these things, now I want to push myself to these new boundaries.’ How can I apply that, not just to illustrations, but also to the other processes? It becomes even things like, ‘How do I record my child’s journey through life with me?’ which you’re doing with sketches.
DYAN: And how that intertwines into so many components of who you are. You never say, ‘Here’s me at work, here’s me as a mother.’ They’re all intermingled.
CHRISTY: Definitely. Absolutely. I think as well getting your kids involved early on it’s really good to let them see you do your work. So what you do when you’re not with them as well, you know when they are in day care or at school. Really be involved in their interests. We’ve been going to the art gallery since my son was in a pram, and he couldn’t even see the art. That’s sort of thing, where this is what I like and I really love and I think really shows them who you are. You’re not just ‘mum’ cialis stripes. You’re not just … you know. It’s more of a rounded kind of thing. I can definitely see that as a parent. It’s nice to be able to get out.
DYAN: Keeping the balance. With your work, what would be your favourite and least favourite components?
CHRISTY: I think the thing that I love the most is, this is probably more when I’m working traditionally, how you get the experience of being completely absorbed in it. It’s almost like an out of body experience, very occasionally. You get that kind of sense of, I think, a lot of people call it ‘flow.’
DYAN: Mihaly, can’t say his last name. (Csikszentmihalyi.)
CHRISTY: Yeah. It’s kind of like the weirdest kind of feeling. That you are involved, just so involved in it, in what you’re doing. Especially at the start of the project, you’re getting all these sparks and visions that come up immediately, if you’re a visual person, you tend to see it. If someone mentions something, you’ll have an immediate vision of something. That’s sort of the initial plans and the most exciting part. The rest can be sometimes a little bit of a grind, but not too much when it’s an enjoyable project. There is always an element that you’ve kind of gotten past the super exciting part and now you have to finish.
DYAN: The grind.
CHRISTY: Yeah, that’s it. Getting through that and seeing something that you are really proud of is really wonderful, particularly if you have put a lot of hours in, a lot of effort. Particularly, I find the dry brush watercolour to be that way with massive projects. I do them really small because they take so long. Once it’s done, it’s really quite an accomplishment. Something unique with an illustration too, I think every illustrator or designer is coming from a specific place. Everything you do and then hand on to somebody else is the product of your years of experience and your education, your life, as well.
DYAN: Your personal view of the world is imparted. And your personality comes out in that work.
CHRISTY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.
DYAN: That’s one of the things that I’ve loved with working with you and with the other illustrators. As you’ve seen, I’ve just said, ‘Hey, here’s the manuscript, you tell me your ideas.’ Because the way that you distil that information from your own personal experiences onto the experiences that are in the book just creates a whole new series of ideas and designs. So it makes it a great outcome, because we’ve not come from the same place. We’ve come from different places and then we’ve mixed here in the middle and then come out with a new product. So the favourite part of your work is having that moment when all the ideas just explode and then you’ve got the downward hill for a little bit because you’ve got to actually plant all the ideas in all the right places. And then you see it in your head and then you draw it on the paper, some of it you say, ‘Oh that doesn’t look so good,’ and then tidying those things up, and then finally getting back to, ‘Now I’ve got there.’ It’s about the fact that even though there’s a downside, there’s going to be an upside when you get to that end point. So it’s keeping the faith and the stamina that you can’t stop once you get those ideas. You’ve got to capture them, work hard on getting them down and then finishing the product and coming out the other side. That probably comes into the biggest challenge you face professionally. It’s that creative space, physically making sure it happens and getting into that end.
CHRISTY: Yeah absolutely. A lot of that is just time. Particularly with freelancing, it’s different from working fulltime. You do tend to have set hours and that’s what you do. Freelancing is probably a bit odd because, particularly for me at the moment, some work I do outside of home, but majority I tend to do at home. So it’s kind of separating work from home. That can be quite difficult. You’re constantly thinking, ‘Oh I should really do that?’ Sometimes it sort of becomes this issue. ‘Should I be working? Should I be playing with my son? Should I be? What should I be doing exactly?’ And then it may be juggling several projects at once. It’s something you have to do. So financially, I have to keep a lot of balls in the air, trying to do different things with people and prioritising those, and not becoming exhausted by the whole process. One of the major things I also have difficulty with is saying no to something. Something comes up I say, ‘Oh yes, I can do that,’ without actually thinking about it. You just get pressured and overwhelmed. You just have to work through it. Sometimes it’s not possible to do that. But I tend to put pressure on myself to do it. So just making deadlines. If you don’t make one, I get cranky with myself [LAUGHTER], all that sort of thing. I know that things happen, because life is unpredictable. It’s just finding time is the thing, probably, figuring out how to approach everything without going insane [LAUGHTER]. Having those down moments, that tends to be it really.
DYAN: I know what you’ve said there. Certainly the professional life mixes in fairly strongly with the personal life. When you walk in the door to your house, are you walking into your office or are you walking into your home? That can be a huge challenge. Because you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, I haven’t prepared dinner, but I’ve also got this deadline due in two hours. How do I manage this? Like I’m going to have a screaming child on my hands. Also these clients are going to ring me and yell at me. So what do I do here? What do I do? Okay. We’re getting sushi and I’m going to work now. I’m going to eat.’
CHRISTY: Yeah. Sometimes, it really is that. ‘Okay, panic stations. Something has got to go.’ So yeah, definitely.
DYAN: I think that it’s also a hard balance. There is a lot more pressure now being a mother, being a person who generates an income, and being everything for everyone else as well, which probably comes into that ‘yes/no.’ You don’t want to say no to anyone. I read the other day, you might like this one, ‘When you say no to someone, you say yes to everyone else.’
DYAN: So that makes you feel less bad when you say no. Because now you know you’re saying yes to everyone else.
CHRISTY: Oh yeah, that’s right. There’s always one little thing that I could probably do if somebody asked. But yes, it’s kind of getting to the point where you do ultimately drop a ball if you’ve got too many in the air, I’ve discovered, particularly since I’ve been doing freelancing in my home for three years now, since Griff was born. That’s what I’ve always done. Random freelancing. It’s always been in my own time, I guess, because it’s all after hours for normal people. My night time is really my work time. It’s quite an odd kind of world to live in, that time of night when you’re trying to work. So it’s something I refuse do too much, although I did study. I’m still finishing up my Master’s Degree.
DYAN: No pressure.
CHRISTY: Yeah, no pressure at all! That’s definitely a challenge.
DYAN: Yeah. Balancing the parenting and the dynamics is going to change soon anyway because your baby has grown so much, and before you know it, he’s going to be at school, and then that’s going to be a different rhythm again. It’s just these iterations that you have, because they’re just so full on when they’re first born, and now at three and a half he’s very independent I imagine.
DYAN: You can tell if you’re not paying that attention to the children, as they feel due. You can see it in the way that they react and then that can affect you. When you go to do work at night, that fizzes around in your head and then you’re going, ‘Oh those ideas, what were they, I’m trying to think about what I was meant to do there, and then planning tomorrow. I want to make the next day a better day for my child because I didn’t do what I should have done today, because I was doing this.’ So it’s these jigsaw puzzle pieces that keep moving on you and you say, ‘Hey, stay in one spot.’ As Griff gets older, things change there as well with his demands and ‘How can I meld in what I want to do to get inspiration with him?’ The art gallery is an awesome idea because you can say, ‘Hey, let’s go on an outing,’ and then you’re still having that opportunity to absorb and research. But like you said, you’ve still got that got to do that hard work. That downward slope.
CHRISTY: That’s right. Yeah. It’s a hard thing to find that balance and make it work for everybody involved. Definitely.
DYAN: It’s always, you do what you can at the time and know that moving forward, and you’ll reflect back and go, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so crash hot,’ but at the time, it was the right idea. So it doesn’t matter that what I did then doesn’t work now. It worked then, so I’m going to keep moving forward with this. As you said, with the ability to do freelancing and also be there for your son is a huge advantage that you couldn’t otherwise do in another circumstance. So it’s all worth it in the end.
CHRISTY: Oh absolutely. I meant to mention, the challenges, the freelancing, I find it a very different way to work, a lot of the time, it does give enormous freedom in some ways, because you do get to spend time with your child, which you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do if you’re working fulltime. I feel quite lucky actually that I’m in a profession that allows me to do that. I definitely wouldn’t complain too much. It is very good, and I’m kind of able to pick and choose what I do and when I do it. That’s a really lucky position to be in. All of the things that I get cranky about now, in later years I will say, ‘Oh wow, it’s really worth it to be able to do it that way.’
DYAN: Yeah. I think it’s hard sometimes to reflect on that in the moment, especially when you’re tired and your child is screaming and stuff, because you’re like, ‘And why did I stay here today?’
CHRISTY: That’s right.
DYAN: You go a month later, I was glad I could do that, at that time, as much as I was in a bad mood that day, but I don’t remember the bad mood now. So now I’ve moved forward and that’s been great.
DYAN: So one of the other items that I had in the list was a crazy fact about you that epitomises who you are. It’s actually a really hard question. I didn’t realise how hard that was.
CHRISTY: Yeah. Everything that I do, it’s extremely not crazy. I’m a fairly straightforward sort of person. Probably the only thing that’s really a bit different about me, is because I’m kind of a bit of a dichotomy or duality, and it reflects in the illustration and design as well. A lot of the design that I do is really simple; I really like things that are really graphic. But I also love beautiful traditional work, and finer work and lovely things. Beatrix Potter is one of my heroes. Her beautiful, lovely sweet work. While I love doing work to classical music, I also love when I go for a hard run to listen to blaring progressive metal or heavy rock. I find that genre of music very empowering and motivating, fist pumping. Nobody really believes me when I say I really love that music, it just doesn’t look like me and it doesn’t reflect how I outwardly project to the world. So I suppose if anything that would probably be it. This idea that I can appreciate music in many forms. I suppose if you’re judging a book by its cover there’s a lot more going on than you might otherwise suspect.
DYAN: I think that the difference there also is you’re functioning in such different parts of your brain when you’re using that. You’ve got to take space away from that creative part of your brain at times. Otherwise, it feels like it’s going to implode. So I’m going to let someone else smash around in there for a little while so I can have a rest. [VOICE OVERLAP] [LAUGHTER]. Increases the heart rate, get the adrenaline going.
CHRISTY: Exactly, that’s right. Good music to run to.
DYAN: Top three tips. One of them was working through it. Once you’ve got the idea, the vision, you’ve then got to execute it. So you’ve got some hard work ahead of you, but know that there is an end in sight, and then you’ll get a result there. The other thing was freelancing. It’s something that you’ve really enjoyed over the last three and a half years. I think from that, balancing commitments to your family as well as to yourself in such a way that works for you personally is a really high priority, because then everything else flows out of that. We’re not going into the mad music. I think that the other thing there would be getting your mind in the right mindset for the tasks that you’ve got at hand. So, when you pick up your tools, when you get to your tablet or you get to your sketchbook or you’re at work, that you move into that zone in such a way that everything else is blocked out and you get into that flow, so that once you can get there, things happen. Anything else you want to add?
CHRISTY: Oh gosh, not really. I think you can say definitely the work is treated extremely well. Yeah. That’s really the main point to get across, particularly being a freelancer and how that forms the way parent and the way you work, and how all those things end up jumbled up together. Trying to retain a sense of separation of that, and to set some sleep.
DYAN: Oh no, you don’t need sleep.
CHRISTY: [LAUGHTER] It’s funny to work to the wee hours of the morning, going, ‘I’m doing this, my son will be up at six.’ So that’s something I would definitely encourage. Limit your hours. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get in that zone. But if it’s a struggle, there are times to stop.
DYAN: That was my third one. Learning to say no, that ability to know when to stop, which is sometimes at two o’clock in the morning when you’re going, ‘I’ve just drawn the same thing four times.’
CHRISTY: Yeah, that’s right. In fact, not really knowing what you’re doing is pretty much when to stop.