If you know me, you know that I’m passionate about art. All kinds of art. I love being floored by work that conveys an emotive response or inspires me to think beyond my world of possibilities.
Lily Mae Martin’s work does just that. When viewing her incredible, highly technical drawings, I become both lost in the detail and enamoured by their complex totality. For this last “Australian Women in Art” post of 2016, Lily Mae was kind enough to answer a few burning questions, uncovering that, for her, it’s all about drawing, drawing, and drawing.
What in your personal life influenced you to pursue a creative career?
A timely question as this has been on my mind of late. I think there were a few things that led me here. I’ve always drawn, always written, always been interested in the dexterous arts. I think drawing outdid the rest because it allows me to be expressive but also hide a lot within it. There are a lot of things I try to work through with my art, and drawing is very safe for me. It keeps the hands and mind busy.
It’s also very accessible. I’ve been making my way through this world largely on my own since I was just sixteen, so I never had much opportunity in the way of money or support. I work with pen and paper, and although now it’s fancy hot-pressed paper and Micron fine-liner pens, I was also happy with the backs of forms and cheap ballpoint pens.
Your work is incredibly fine, detailed drawings. How did you arrive at this medium? Have you, or do you, explore other media for your creativity?
Drawing is (mostly) immediate. I just want to sit down and make work. I have other passions, such as printmaking and oil painting, but these require a lot more build-up and planning and space and time, and I don’t have that space and time. I'll get to those things one day, but for now, drawing is what works for me. I’ve been working for so long creating my style and setting little challenges for myself within this medium. And there is still so much to explore!
Harkening back to my admiration of printmaking, and especially etching—that’s what I try to replicate within my drawings. Building up shape and tone with tiny little lines is so very captivating for me. Of course, I see this as an ever evolving thing. Once I feel I have mastered drawing and detail, I’ll probably undo it all and get abstract and expressionist. My thinking is, if you know all the rules, you can break them. Being skillful and disciplined has always been very important to me.
Seated Nude, by Lily Mae Martin, 2016. Ink on paper, 75 x 105 cm.
Were you ever discouraged or have you had setbacks that derailed your creative passions? What are five favorite things that keep you focused, optimistic, and motivated?
Yes, very much so. Five things that keep me focused, in no particular order of preference, are:
- I love drawing.
- I feel good when I’m drawing.
- I want to master drawing.
- Drawing makes me happy.
How do you manage your time and creative output with children and all that entails? Do you think having children has contributed to your work?
Not very well, but I keep trying! I have to prioritise it. If I don’t, I am not a very nice person—and then I start baking too much and it all gets very upsetting! But honestly, I don’t have a social life and I don’t make it out to events much. I just can’t do it all. It took me a few years to accept this, but once I did, I became a much happier and more productive person.
There is a lot of pressure to do and be everything for everyone, especially as a woman. But stuff that, I say. I love, love, spending time with my kid and my husband, and I love drawing. Beyond that, there isn’t much time for anything or anyone else at the moment. It may change one day, but childhood only happens once for my little one, and I intend on enjoying it and making it as magical as I can. The world can wait.
Having my child has contributed to my work in that she’s reminded me of the wonder and joy in the world. She stands in my studio and says things like, “Mummy, no one can draw like you,” and it’s the best. She was drawing before she could walk. I wouldn’t wish the art life on her, but I definitely think that the joy and problem-solving that come with creating are powerful things for humans to have in their lives, regardless of whether it becomes a career or hobby.
Lily Mae Martin in her studio. Photo by Gene Hammond-Lewis.
Do you think there is a gender imbalance in Australia’s current contemporary art system? Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female artist? If so, what was the scenario?
For sure. There’s a gender imbalance across all aspects of life, so of course there is in art as well. I feel it keenly. I think the most obvious thing is that male artists get all the air-time, the wall space, the praise. It just does my head in when men—and women—do not check their unconscious bias. Sometimes I want to jump up and down and yell, “WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?”
Do you feel that Australian female artists have fewer resources and lack crucial financial support to go into making and producing art?
Most likely. I mean, my experience is that the few residencies I would have considered won’t allow children to go. The reason generally given is that they want the artist to have alone time to create something. That’s all fine and great if said artist has a wife, or family support. But considering that I am the wife with no family support, it isn’t very helpful.
One time I did apply for a grant—and even paid someone to help me put it all together—but the weekend before we were going to submit it, the grant was cut and no longer existed. So, really, are there any resources for anyone?
Where do you find inspiration? Do you have advice for other creatives on how to be inspired?
I find inspiration everywhere. I find it on long, long walks, and while traveling, reading, and learning about history and science. I like to watch animals and birds, and the way kids negotiate their conflicts. People-watching at the supermarket or the gym, or on long train rides and in cafes, also inspires me. Looking at art is inspiring, but I tend to draw from other things in life to bring into my work.
I think to get inspired you need to find the joy, and you need to want to explore and enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it? Fame and glory are the wrong reasons to commit your mind and time to anything.
Lastly, what is the best advice you have ever been given?
When I announced that I wouldn’t be drawing again, my grandmother—may she rest in peace—said, “Well, that’s just silly. You have a talent; don’t waste it.”
She also berated me for getting stuck on what was trendy, and praised my skill, though she noted that some of what I make is “repugnant.” She was a true gem of a woman.
Lily is represented by Scott Livesey Galleries in Melbourne.
Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist, and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.