Martin is a self-taught freelance conceptual and fine artist. He has clients in publishing, music, commerce and entertainment and also takes private commissions.Software used:
Currently hard at work on what he describes as “a religiously questionable death metal CD cover,” Martin Bland conjures up a digital wonderland of a very particular nature. His work is not exactly gothic, or even dystopic, it’s about a personal vision of where he thinks we’re all heading: “I do have post-apocalyptic tendencies,” he admits. “I’m not one for the fancy colourful visions we’ve been fed of future life. It’ll be a lot more gritty and more subtle than what’s expected.” This future is largely conceived in the dark. “I think best at night.”
His astonishingly rapid rise from being a novice to a freelance concept and fine artist for the music, entertainment and publishing industries has been faster than anyone would take to do a degree. Martin taught himself all he needed to know to produce the impressive images on these pages. But Wacom gets a nod of recognition too – Martin only returned to illustration three years ago when he got a graphics tablet as a well-chosen gift. “I’ve never looked back,” he smiles.
Martin had in fact been drawing from an early age. “I did a lot of pencil work until the age of about 16, when the social life took hold,” he recalls. It’s a common pattern, but those early years meant his artistic basis has always been there. By the time the question of a career was on the table, Martin’s illustration skills had been gathering dust for a while so he started out in the printing industry. “I went from lithographic printer through to print manager in 10 years,” he says. Although it wasn’t a true calling, it did entrench a few worthwhile values: “Attention to detail, composition and colour sense.”
The return to the fold began recently: “I only really got back into it when I got the internet seven years ago, through the weird world of chat rooms.” It started innocently enough, with the creation of animated GIFs, but before long Martin was onto the hard stuff: “Via web design I got into digital art.”
So what brings about the somewhat eldritch tint of these future visions? “I’m not entirely sure,” confesses Martin. “I tend to paint what’s deep-seated in my imagination, so I usually surprise myself with what comes out.” He elaborates: “It’s how I’m viewing current events and my own fears of the future. They tend to tell a story of how I’m feeling.” So there’s an element of catharsis in there. “With the exception of family portraits, it’s been that way from the beginning.” And anyway, it’s not like these images are actually offensive, not to anyone with the slightest grasp on reality. What matters is being honest. “It’s more about morality,” offers Martin. In other words, don’t do things you think are wrong, or at least questionable. “But skulls and blood, twisted metal images of demons are nothing out of the ordinary, it’s what concept artists paint every day.”
This clear sightedness and the simple quality of his paintings are what make Martin’s work brilliantly effective. It’s not the rose-tinted future we’re often fed, it’s a world where there might not be a happy ending, just like the real one. “I tend to put out imagery of realistic scenarios rather than painting a shiny spaceman or an elf. Escapism just doesn’t do it for me. I like to imagine worlds people can truly connect with. I want people to see parallels.”
Martin’s visions relate to common experiences: “Things aren’t sugar coated and brightly coloured, they have an edge. I like to explore those edges. The world’s political climate as of the past few years has been kind of ‘on edge’. Those fears have a natural tendency to slip into what I’m doing. Having a child amplifies your awareness of things too.” The process of translating the world into paint is as old as mankind, but Martin’s process is amplified by working without using any reference images. “What I paint comes directly from my imagination,” he adds.
Martin is self-taught, but he doesn’t see this as any kind of disadvantage: “I have to work a little harder, but all the information I need is freely available online. It’s a matter of applying myself and having the drive to get better every day.”
And if you love it, as Martin so obviously does, it isn’t a chore: “I’ve only been painting for three years, so I’ve come a long way in a short period, but I have a hell of a long way to go, to get to where I want to be.” A man needs goals, ambitions. Formal training is certainly a good thing, but it doesn’t preclude the success of other avenues, Martin accepts. “I’m glad to be an example that the little guy can do okay too.” And he’s doing better than okay, as the images here show. It’s hard to believe they are the product of just three years' practice.
“The best advice I can give is to practice, figure things out yourself, sketch like there’s no tomorrow and explore the wealth of information the internet has to offer.”
As with much of his work, for Apocalypse, Martin didn’t really start with a conventional sketch – it was more of a voyage of discovery: “I start digitally, working on forms and planes rather than lines. I build up an image as I go, blocking in shapes and finding forms in there to work with,” he explains.
“I usually have a base painting done in around an hour. It won’t usually change much apart from being more refined at the final stage.” So is that because of a very clear vision or large amounts of practice? “I ‘speed-paint’ at least one hour a day, sometimes packing in 10 images. This is like gestural drawing, only cooler. I don’t usually even save the results.” This is the stage at which the raw material is generated. “If it doesn’t look great after an hour I scrap it and move on. Sometimes I come out with some nice imagery that I work on further.”
Posting these images online as they develop has kept Martin’s development on-track. “I post alongside a lot of big guns in the concept art industry every day and see how they all work, from sketch to final, on some major projects. That’s enough to make me humble.”
Perhaps it is because Martin has moved from hobbyist to pro so quickly that he is philosophical about the whole career thing: “I haven’t thought that far ahead to be honest, I just take it one day at a time.” He doesn’t lack ambition though. “I’d love to work on a sci-fi blockbuster, something huge so my kid can brag at school!” Martin has been approached by an agent after pitching a story idea to a Hollywood studio. But he’s understandably reticent: “It’s just at the planning stage.” This would have been the first information you’d get from a lot of people, but not Martin. For that reason alone you’re inclined to believe his idea would make a good film.
Martin assures us he’s “excited and passionate enough to follow it through some day.” For now though, it’s had to take a back seat to commercial work. “I seem to have been in demand recently so I haven’t had the personal time to put into it.” That’s something he’ll have to get used to.