96: Shantell Martin – How To Find Your Unique Path As An Artist

Creativity, Full Time Hustler, Hobbyist, Mindset, Money & Business, Personal Growth, Podcast, Weekend Warrior

“Because I didn’t fit in and no one pressured me to fit in, I could be different and I could do art.”
Shantell Martin

Hey guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO, the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

I have been a fan of today’s guest ever since I met her at the Summit Series last year, and I’ve really wanted to have her on the podcast. I’m so glad she was able to join me today. Shantell Martin is a visual artist who gets commissions from all over the world. You’ve probably seen her work on murals, installations, and even cars. She draws on everything.

And her work is distinctive. She is fascinated by simple lines and the different shapes, images, and characters these lines can create in the spontaneity of the moment. Shantell loves doing live performances of her art, where she creates her pieces in front of an audience.

I admire Shantell for the beautiful art that she produces. I also admire her for her message — which we talk about in detail in the interview. In short, Shantell’s work comes back to two things — one question and one idea: “Who are you?” and “You are you.”

“I just kind of had this barrier where I just thought, ‘Well, there [are] so many people out there in the world that draw and do it really well or create or paint that do it really well. What gives me the right to think that I can do that?’ And it took a really long time for me to realize that, ‘Oh wait, if I do that thing that I really naturally liked to do, and I’m going to do it … it’s going to be mine.’ And it doesn’t matter if other people do it and they do it to a really high standard. What they can’t do is they can’t do me.”
Shantell Martin

I love that idea. No other artist can do you. Let’s dive into my interview with Shantell to discover more about her personal journey to become a working artist and how you can find your own unique path.

Who Is Shantell Martin?

Shantell Martin is a visual artist born and raised in Thamesmead, England. Growing up, Shantell was insatiably curious, but she quickly discovered Thamesmead — made uncomfortable by its racism and homophobia — was not the ideal place for Shantell and her career to flourish.

After finishing school at Central Saint Martins, Shantell embarked on an adventure — she moved to Tokyo, Japan. It was there, in Tokyo, that she discovered her passion for creating art live.

“… I accidentally started to create a career as a VJ — visual jockey. And what that means is I was doing live … digital drawings to DJs, dancers, [and] musicians. … I discovered that when you put yourself in a position where there’s an audience watching you, you have this pressure to do something, and there’s no time for you to think, plan, or hesitate because … the audience isn’t going to wait around for you. And what I realized that that does is it puts you in a position where you’re super vulnerable … because in that position you don’t have time to be anybody else.”
Shantell Martin

Eventually, Shantell moved to New York, where, unfortunately, digital art as she had done it in Japan doesn’t really exist. So, she found new avenues down which to pursue her art. She began creating murals and collaborating with museums, institutions, and even scientists and coders to create new work and continue reimagining the way we use lines in art. You can check out some of Shantell’s work on her website, and you should — it’s truly innovative and inspiring.

And all the while, Shantell has remained true to her message. Today, she advocates the phrase, “You be you.” She has a passion for creating art that causes her audience to smile and grow in their identity. I know this interview will inspire you, so let’s dive in.

Who Are You? You Are You

As creative people, we’re all on a very unique and deeply personal journey. We put our hearts and souls into our work, and therefore we put ourselves on display to the world. That kind of vulnerability is challenging — even more so when we’re not confident in our identities.

Shantell Martin is on a mission. She fundamentally believes in the beauty and power of the individual. She’s continually striving to discover the truth of who she is, and she has been since the beginning of her career.

“I wrote out the question, ‘Who are you? Who are you?’ … I’m consciously or unconsciously asking, ‘Shantell, are you being you? Are you being true? Are you on that right path?’ And the more I saw this, the more I started to understand that, wow, it’s not really about who you are, it’s simply about those first three letters, which are W, A, Y — way. We’re all trying to find our way in life.” 
Shantell Martin

It’s true. We’re all trying to find our path. And the only way to do that is to constantly ask yourself, “Am I being true to myself? Am I living the life that feels aligned with who I am?” And from there, just continue always creating yourself in each moment.

When you become confident in who you are, you have the opportunity to celebrate that person. And that celebration allows you to create your life and create art with confidence and joy.

“So we’re all here trying to find our way, but what are we trying to find our way to? And then the second phrase is, “You are you,” and the first three letters of that are Y, A, Y. So it’s quite simple. … It’s a celebration of self. It’s an understanding of who you are.”
Shantell Martin

When was the last time you honestly just said, “Yay!” and celebrated yourself? How are you showing up for yourself and your truth — both in your life and in your art? I want to encourage you all just to keep striving toward that place of celebration because that’s the only way to find the right and true path for you as an artist.

How Do We Make Progress?

So how do we truly make progress down that path? Or do we? Shantell has an idea that as a human race, we might not be making very much actual progress, but rather we’re just changing the way we look at ourselves.

“I’m kind of obsessed with this idea of what progress means as human beings. Because if you read literature or you watch these old movies, and you’re like, ‘Wow, we’re still as people having the same struggles with relationships and with tribes or racism …’ Does progress really exist or are we just changing the scenery?” 
Shantell Martin

As artists, I think we have to acknowledge that our work may not change the world by itself, but it can impact our audiences and create small changes. If we’re open to being vulnerable and we confront the ideas and issues that are important to us through our work, we will “rock the boat,” to use Shantell’s words.

“I give … this analogy. … I’m in this little green rowboat … and I rode to the center of this gigantic lake. … And once I’ve stood up in this boat, … I start rocking and rocking and rocking … And what happens is these ripples start to appear, and these ripples get bigger and bigger, and they move further and further away from me … The thing is, if I stop rocking, what happens [is] the ripples disappear. … You keep working, and you keep rocking, and you keep creating … and you keep trying to prove and be a better value of yourself.”
Shantell Martin

I love that analogy. When you create art, you rock the boat. And when you rock the boat, your work flows out from you and creates ripples in the world. And ultimately, those ripples come back to you in the form of more jobs, money, and other things. But if you stop rocking — if you stop creating — you stop sending out ripples. You stop impacting other lives, and you stop receiving opportunities to continue rocking.

That’s why it’s essential to create every moment. You have to work, strive, and keep trying to matter what. Your work may not be the thing that helps us dramatically progress as a human species, but it will help you progress on your unique path. And who knows? You may impact some lives along the way.

How to Build a Business Around Your Art

In addition to talking with Shantell about her personal journey, I was excited to talk to her about some of the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of creating a business. As entrepreneurs, we know the struggles of being financially dependent on our art, and I always like to ask guest artists how they build careers out of their passions.

First of all, while Shantell went to college for art, she says that formal education may not be necessary for aspiring creative entrepreneurs. The advantage school does give you, however, is significant networking opportunities:

“It depends, but you meet really good people there. … I don’t know if they teach you much. … If I were young again and considering [going] to college as a creative person, I would also consider taking that money that I would spend on college and starting my own studio.”
Shantell Martin

The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages to studying art in a college setting. You meet good people, and it’s good to spend time fully immersed in your work. But it can also be helpful to hit the ground running early and just start creating. You really have to feel out what’s right for you.

Once you’re starting to get work as an artist, Shantell strongly recommends finding someone who can help you with contracts. Knowledge of the kind of legalese that you find in contracts for commissioned pieces doesn’t come naturally, so it’s extremely useful to have someone in your corner who can help you avoid being exploited.

“… Everyone out there will tell you, ‘This is a standard contract that you should sign.’ And you know what? There’s really no such thing as a standard contract because the standard contract is going to have a load of stuff in there that doesn’t even relate to you … or isn’t even relevant to the current project that you’re working on. It’s stuff that basically takes away your rights as an artist.”
Shantell Martin

Find someone who can help you with the legal and technical side of your business. That way, you’re free to work on your art and create beautiful pieces without worrying about your artistic rights. Investing in someone is worth the money — they can prevent you from running into a whole host of problems.

Be a Creative Alchemist with Shantell Martin

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes.

Shantell Martin is an amazing Creative Alchemist. She has a magical ability to alchemize art that inspires and informs while maintaining her calm and easy-going personality. I want to acknowledge her for the incredible work she’s putting into the world — for the ripples she’s making on the lake. I know she’ll continue rocking her little green rowboat, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities come to her next.

As always, I asked Shantell what it means to her to “live inspiration.” Here’s what she said:

“I would just say we’re trying to live our lives. … I think when you find a place where you are honest with yourself, and you find a place where you do what you love, that naturally helps inspire yourself continuously and people around you.”
Shantell Martin

It’s so true. When you grow into confidence in your identity as a person and as an artist, you naturally live inspiration. You inspire yourself, and you inspire others — you create ripples. That’s how great art, great businesses, and great moments are created.

Thank you so much for joining Shantell and me on this episode today, guys. If you loved it, please leave me a good review on Apple podcasts. And If you have any particular takeaways, please share them with Shantell, @shantell_martin, and me, @nickonken. I love to hear what you all are enjoying about this show!

If you want to connect even more with Shantell, definitely check out her website. There, you can check out a ton of her fantastic work and see what institutions she’s collaborating with. I recommend looking at it next time you need some inspiration!

Thanks again, everyone. Until next time, keep creating every moment.

I’ll catch you later —

Nick Onken

“Does progress really exist or are we just changing the scenery?”
Shantell Martin

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How she was allowed to be different [6:00]
  • What inspired her to go to Japan [7:45]
  • Why you have to believe in your art [10:00]
  • What is a visual jockey [11:30]
  • How her live work is inspired by her environment [15:00]
  • What experiments she has been doing lately [17:45]
  • How to make money with your art [22:00]
  • Why “You be you” is her brand’s mantra [25:50]
  • What makes her question her art [31:10]
  • What her book is about [34:00]
  • How she thinks about the lines of her art [39:15]
  • Her perspective on art school [45:50]
  • The importance of hiring the right people and contracts [48:50]
  • Why you shouldn’t wait for anyone or anything [55:40]
  • How technology is influencing art [56:40]

Links mentioned:

Connect with Shantell Instagram | Twitter | Website

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