Lesley Martyn | Interview | Drawing From Observation
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Interview: Lesley Martyn

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Getting to Know Lesley Martyn

1. Tell DFO a little bit more about yourself

my husband and I own a small farm in the Eastern Cape where we run Nguni cattle and a small flock of Mutton Merino sheep.

I work part time for my previous company - a game reserve in KZN - doing the books and I also work as much as possible on art commissions and building up my art portfolio.

I love my life - I have a huge variety of things to keep me on my toes so I am never bored!

My first attempt at drawing was when I was about 5 I think and I drew cats all over my Granny's hall wall. I loved drawing in my spare time as a teenager but never took art at school and then stopped drawing for many years until the end of 2017. I saw a short course offered by wildlife graphite artist Vincent Reid and decided this is what I would like to do to de-stress and find my creative side again.

We persuaded Vince to carry on with his weekly Saturday morning classes and I was hooked. I then took up coloured pencil drawing in May 2018 and have never looked back!

I grew up in Zimbabwe until the age of 14 when we moved to South Africa. After school I studied at Rhodes and got a degree in Industrial Psychology, although looking back I wish I had pursued either a career in the Arts or Animal Studies.

I wanted to explore my creative side after having spent many years not doing anything. I felt a need to do something and also wanted to de-stress from my current job. So I signed up for a short course with local (at the time) wildlife artist Vincent Reid to learn his graphite pencil techniques and I was hooked.

I spent a lot of time in my 20's traveling as I was in the travel industry and I also lived In the UK for a time. I love learning about different cultures and seeing how people live all over the world. Exploring beautiful scenery is what attracts me the most to travel.

2. From an art perspective: What are your biggest weaknesses?

I think my biggest weakness is comparing my self to others who are further into their art journey than I am and finding myself not living up to my own expectations. I tend to be a perfectionist so always find fault in my own work and worry that It isn't good enough.

3. Be bold – tell us: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I would like to become more well-known as an artist and also be a part of helping coloured pencil art in South Africa get taken more seriously as a fine art medium rather than seen as "colouring in"!!

4. Out of thousands of artists in SA, why should people appreciate your art?

Especially when I am doing pet or people portrait commissions, I like to feel that I put my heart and soul into a piece and really try to depict that in my drawing. Particularly when it is a memorial piece that I am doing for someone, I try to find the "soul" of the subject and make it come alive.

I like making people happy with my art. Sometimes I get so attached to my drawings, I find it hard to let go at the end.  I aim for realism but with my own style.

5. "What do you like about being in the creative industry? / What do you enjoy about using your creative talent?"

Being creative makes me happy. I love becoming so completely absorbed in a piece that I lose track of everything around me.  When I have completed a commission (especially that of a beloved pet or person) I love how it has the ability to make someone so happy to receive it.

That is truly fulfilling. I love to draw with a purpose and for my subjects to be meaningful.

6. What do you consider to be your biggest creative achievement??

After less than a year of drawing, I was asked to write a step-by-step article for South African Artist magazine (which also included a Faber Castell competition!!) and I also had my portrait of 'Skabenga' the Oyster Box cat featured on the cover of the issue.

I have also won a number of international online awards for my art in the past year and have had my art featured in 2 US colour pencil magazines which I am very proud of especially as I am so new to the medium and there are so many talented artists out there.

7. Tell us about the last time a client, family or friend questioned your art or creativity. Elaborate on what happened.

Initially "feedback/criticism" can be de-motivating but it can also depend on who it is coming from.  If it is from someone more experienced than you, then look at what they are saying objectively and see if it is something that could improve your art.  Sometimes, criticism comes from a place of misunderstanding or ignorance. 


Ultimately you are the creator and you know what is in your heart when you are creating your piece so stand strong and believe in yourself and your art but don’t be so arrogant that you think you cant improve on what you are doing!! Everyone is always learning and improving In their journey!

8. When working on art "describe your definition of done."

I don’t think I ever feel like I am completely "done" with a piece!  I often put it away for a few days and then bring it out again and look at it with fresh eyes and tweak it again. But you have to learn sometimes when to let go and this has been a big step for me.

9. When creating, what kind of work environment do you like best?

I'd ideally like to be able to get my "day jobs" out of the way before tackling my art so that my head is clear and focused and not thinking about that invoice that needs paying or that horse that needs feeding!!


No distractions are ideal but that doesn’t always happen so I have learnt to work around that by creating windows in my day where I put aside certain hours for farm work, computer work and my art (oh and the housework……..!)

10. Define your creative/drawing style?

I draw in a realistic style but I do like to be able to put my own personality to it.  I like bright vibrant colours and detailed backgrounds and would like to explore this more. 

Artists that have inspired me in my journey so far include Vincent Reid (graphite), Karen Hull, Lisa Ann Watkins and Bonny Snowdon (coloured pencil)

11. What can we expect from you in the near future?

I'm still trying to grow my art business and get my name out there so hopefully one day I can fulfil my dream of being a full-time artist!!  My commission work is growing and when I don’t have commissioned pieces on the go I explore different techniques and papers to create my work on.

Ideally I would also like to promote coloured pencil as a medium to be taken seriously in South Africa as it is still relatively new on the 'fine art' scene whereas it is growing and quite big in other countries now. 

12. What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Research artists who inspire you - follow them on social media, watch YouTube videos, and join like-minded societies. I follow a large number of international coloured pencil groups on Facebook and this helps with Ideas, sharing of tips and resources and ultimately helps you grow as an artist. Don’t be scared to ask for advice.

Many artists are happy to help new artists and share their knowledge. Go on courses, enter competitions, put yourself out there (it isn't easy to self-promote!!), and stretch your comfort zone!!!