Art seems to come effortlessly to artist Shantell Martin. Her spontaneous, performance-based drawing style is striking, made in the moment, and has influenced so many other creatives in her space. She’s collaborated with brands like Tiffany & Co. and Puma, not to mention game-changing artists like Kendrick Lamar. She makes it look so easy — almost hypnotically so — but that doesn’t imply she hasn’t worked hard for her success. In fact, that’s exactly how she makes it look so easy:
“You get to a point where you can work spontaneously, where you can work intuitively, where you can work with a stream of consciousness, but it’s only built on a strong foundation of practice,” Shantell told us.
It turns out, though, that not everything is natural for Shantell. Take YouTube, for example. She’s stepped into an entirely new medium with her burgeoning channel and it turns out there are plenty of new skills to learn from the ground up. Luckily, new challenges are her place of comfort. That’s why we thought it’d be fitting to chat with Shantell about her experience on YouTube. She had great insight to share on getting started, why subscribers don’t matter, and how you can extract your own creative style. Here’s Shantell:
Shantell Martin: It’s funny, because I look back on my work from 10, 15, or 20 years ago and in many ways, it’s very similar. What it isn’t now is extremely detailed. It isn’t angry. It isn’t as compact or condensed. But, you can look at my much older work and still see that it is mine. There are still characters or words or themes that have been there. You think, as an artist, you change or evolve, but there is also an underlying kind of fingerprint or foundation that follows you throughout your life.
I’d say it’s more about extracting than uncovering. I feel like we all have our own styles and identities inside of us and we’re able to extract them through these different mediums or through these difference creative platforms. For me, it was performing in front of audiences, because I found that if I'm drawing in front of an audience, I'm essentially putting myself in a position where there's no time to think about I was drawing. There would only be time to just draw.
The more I did that over time, I got to see patterns appearing. I got to see recurring shapes, and faces and words appear. I think it was really that part of my career that allowed me to extract my style quite quickly over a short period of years, perhaps. I say a short period of time, I'm still there a few years. But I do believe we have our style, we have our identity, and we have our creative fingerprint. It's just that some activities or some crafts allow you to extract that.
It’s something like a stream of consciousness, but that term can be deceiving because it implies that perhaps you’re not thinking about what you’re doing or that there’s no plan. You get to a point where you can work spontaneously, where you can work intuitively, where you can work with a stream of consciousness, but it’s only built on a strong foundation of practice.
Well, just think about the alphabet, right? It’s just 26 letters and if you look at words on a page they all look the same because they’re made up of the same letters and those letters form words. From a distance, all words can appear the same, but once you understand language — you don’t even need to fully understand it — you notice that there’s so much variety and there’s so much difference in something that’s profoundly simple at the same time.
Yeah, totally. It’s basically about tricking yourself into situations where you’re, perhaps, under a time restriction. I think that’s why creatives are the world’s best procrastinators because we like putting ourselves in that moment where we don’t have to overthink things and we don’t have time to even consider trying to be someone else other than ourselves. So, I think with different mediums, coming from writing or directing, I think the more you can put yourself in positions where time is a restraint, you’re able to see more of yourself in those moments.
I also think it’s important for those creatives to take time to reflect and look at what they’ve done in the past, to sort of extract the things that are recurring or the things that are repeating. I think we ignore signs of ourselves within our work, sometimes. Even if you’re a writer, what are some of the themes that you’re writing about? What are some of the things you’re interested in that keep coming up? Sometimes people ignore those things.
That’s certainly how you do it. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, we tend to ignore these true signs. I think the things we keep going back to inherently kind of tell us who we are.
There aren’t a lot of visual artists or fine artists on YouTube. I think that’s because the industry has an air to it and YouTube is so accessible that people may feel like they are cheapening their art by putting it on the platform. For me, it’s the reverse.
Why wouldn’t you want to put something like art or creativity on something that is so accessible like YouTube? It’s really important to expose the process of art. A lot of artists get scared that they’re going to give away the magic if people see how the work is created. But, I really think it’s the opposite. I think you allow people to be more connected when you expose the process.
It’s important to see more artists on a platform like YouTube, to have an idea of what our lives are like. Also, I’m just interested in trying new mediums and learning new things, challenging myself.
It’s really important to expose the process of art. A lot of artists get scared that they’re going to give away the magic if people see how the work is created. But, I really think it’s the opposite.
I think it’s a tough tool. I’m a strong believer in whatever medium you try, as long as you bring your authentic self to it, it’s going to look like you, feel like you, and sound like you. But, then you try something like making videos on YouTube and you’re faced with all of these things that you’re just not fluent in, from recording to editing and getting good sound.
All of these things can get in the way of being able to really express yourself in a way that you want in a video. So, it’s been a little bit frustrating and limiting because I can’t do all of the things I want to do yet. I’m also aware there’s a learning curve, so I don’t want to rush it either.
For me, it’s just about consistency. With anything, I think the most successful people in the medium are the people who are consistent. It’s easy for people to try it and find out it’s actually quite hard to put a video up every week or every month and then they give up. It’s all about consistency. It may not feel like it now, but I know in a few months I’m going to look back and think, Oh, I have grown in this medium and I’ve only been able to do that because I’ve been consistent with it.
I started my vlog series and I’ve managed to put up like 29 of those videos. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a four-part miniseries about my life, which has taken a lot of work and a lot of time. It feels like a risk because I’m taking all of this time to jump into a project that needs a lot of work. So, for me, consistency isn’t necessarily about how many videos you keep putting up, but more about how I can keep challenging myself.
I’m not in competition with anyone besides myself. I think if you start to pay attention to other people or compare yourself to things like subscribers then it’s just going to stifle you creatively. Why would you even begin doing that? It’s more about creating things that have good intention behind them, making stuff that people are genuinely curious about, and making something even a handful of people could benefit from.
I think years from now no one is going to ask how many thumbs up you had or how many subscribers who had. They’re just going to ask if you had a good career. I’m also coming from a little bit of a different time in a sense because there weren’t those qualifying factors. I’m fortunate that I don’t feel the pressure that younger people have. If they don’t have subscribers, they don’t feel like they have a good channel. You shouldn’t use that to qualify the quality or the intention behind your work.
I just don’t really pay attention to numbers. Of course, I look at them, but they’re not a driving factor. I think I’ve always been that way, even looking back to school, I didn’t check what my results were because I didn’t really care. I put in the work, I did what I wanted, and I did what I could. Beyond that, what else matters?
Images courtesy of, in order, Roy Rochlin, Shantell Martin, and Anton and Irene.
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