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In the Studio with Shantell Martin

Drawer, artist, big kid

Shantell Martin lives and breathes her aesthetic—like all creatives should, right? But no, you don’t understand: she wears it, she surrounds herself with it—she is her aesthetic. Luckily for her, her art is great: crisp lines, both intricate and broad, tell humorous visual narratives that often end with a smiley face or birds flocking toward the horizon. She’s exhibited at MoMA, held Ted Talks, worked with brands like Nike and Lane Crawford, and (arguably her career highlight) had a cameo on Gossip Girl. Right now she’s teaching at NYU and working on her many, many fun projects. We got into her Chinatown studio last week and asked a few Room Anatomy Qs.

Hometown: Good old London town!

Day job: Drawer, artist, big kid

What are you currently obsessed with?
Seeds, making my own animations, the idea of drawing on a series of swimming pools, and the questions Who Are You and Are You You and sometimes You Are Who.

Black and white makes you feel: Nice and calm

So what’s going on in your world right now?
I have a solo show opening at MoCADA in April; a group show at Brooklyn Museum in October; my Are You You egg that is apart of the Fabergé big egg hunt, which launches April 1st in New York City; I’m a resident at ITP/NYU this semester—so I’ve been there a lot recently, I also teach a class there called Drawing On Everything; a couple of book ideas; and customizing PLAYMOBIL toys. Oh, and I’ve also been drawing on a bunch of different lights from FLOS.

How long have you been here?
Since June, so almost a year.

How many studios have you had? Have they all looked similar to where we are now?
I used to use a room at home, which is now my home office but I quickly out grew that and moved to a studio in the city, across from when I am now. The previous tenants were always making spices and the smell never went away—it started to drive me a little crazy. I then was lucky enough to find the space that I’m in now in the building across the road. So FREE in total!

Describe the room’s vibe, for those who can’t experience if first hand:
Nice, bright, and kool

Our favorite thing in the space is definitely the sign by the door, or maybe the fridge. What’s yours?
The light, I have a giant skylight

What is this space missing?
Storage. Under my table has officially become where I store everything.

What do you listen to while here:
I mainly stream a bunch of mixes from SoundCloud, for example.

Do you ever not know what to draw? If yes, how do you curb drawer’s block?
I never really know what I’m going to draw: I follow the flow of the pen, but sometimes the mind of the pen goes blank or blacks-out and in these cases, if I’m doing a live drawing performance, you will probably see me start to draw spirals until the block goes—it never lasts longer than a few seconds

What does your apartment look like?
My home was on the cover of the New York Times in 2012, so a lot of people have seen it. It’s kind of same same but different—it’s still very black and white, with lots of drawing.

Tell us the story behind:
The airplane model: This is my second plane. The first was a present from my girlfriend I had wanted the plane for so long, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I was so happy to come home to this giant wrapped box one day to find out she had sourced it for me. I customized the plane, which I would not want to part with. A collector of mine saw that plane and commissioned this one from me. The drawings on it are very free and fun.

The You Are Who light piece: I designed and had these made in 2012. At home is the Who Are You piece, the more personal, subtle questions and in my studio the You Are Who piece, the industry question. Their location fits the pieces.

The white jeans hanging in the corner: So, these are a pair of one of one 3×1 jeans. They were my favorite pair of jeans, when I got them they were raw denim so super stiff and I remember that I couldn’t really get anywhere fast in them, but they slowly wore in and became super comfortable and I would rush around all over in them. Feeling a little nostalgic for that feeling of not being able to move fast in them and by default having to slow down, I put layers and layers and layers of white paint on them to make them super solid again—so now they are my slow down jeans. If/when I put them on I’m forced to slooooow down.

The piano keyboard: This is a new addition to my studio. I was back home in London recently and went to visit my grandmother. For some reason, I asked if she still had the keyboard that I used to play on when I was a kid. She said, “Sure, it’s in the cupboard” and yes, it was—wrapped and in the box! I brought it back with me to New York and now play on it when I want a break or to clear my mind.

The bottles sitting on the top shelf: In 2011, I did a show called “Message on a Bottle,” where I rescued over a 100 bottles, cleaned, painted, drew on, varnished, and then sold them to the locals of the area that I was in (Rosemary Beach, North Florida). It was pretty successful and in an area where it’s hard to recycle stuff, so I felt like I was helping do a little recycling myself.

The chairs: I bartered for these a while back from a small drawing for these chairs. I drew all over them and now they wait quietly for guests to come sit on them.

The illustrations on your laptop: I’ve been drawing on my laptops for years—I got this new one recently. New laptops feel really naked to me and I have this instinct to want to cover them up. That’s what I did with this one, I just wrote spontaneously on it.

Photography by Meghan McNeer

Stay tuned for part two of this piece—we get OCD with Shantell for an Organize the Chaos. Pippa@sousstyle.com