Nancy Martini

Interviewed by Barbara Sueko McGuire

When Nancy Martini was in the third grade, she remembers being the worst artist in her class. That’s because she’d given up drawing.

“I remember kids making fun of me and feeling very awkward,” she says. It wasn’t until the seventh grade, at the encouragement of her science teacher, that she began sketching again. “He made me believe I could be an artist because I had thought it was this special talent,” she continues. “It’s not. He was right, it’s a matter of repetition and practice, and I didn’t stop from there.”

Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find Nancy, who is originally from Chicago, exercising her well-honed artistic talents in Miami, Florida. There, in addition to creating her own mix-media pieces that employ upcycled and reclaimed materials, Nancy works part time an art director for a small advertising and marketing firm.

Sunday Salon touched base with her this summer, as she put the finishing touches on a sketchbook that will eventually be a part of the Art House Co-op Sketchbook Project 2011.

Barbara Sueko McGuire: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

Nancy Martini: I was always a creative child—I invented a lot of products, just crazy stuff, and I’ve always designed thing. A lot of times I had sketchbooks full of designs because I just had to get them out of me.

Art is a different way of expressing yourself. I’m very shy and it’s very hard for me to get in front of a crowd and talk, so I channel those words and expressions through my work. I’ve tried many times not to do art but it’s just something I have to do.

Barbara Sueko: How did you get your start working with reclaimed materials?

Nancy: I began working with reclaimed materials because I have three children and I’ve always volunteered in their schools because art funding has always been cut. I would go in and help do a fun project, but because I didn’t have the money, I would collect supplies from around the house and let the kids go crazy with whatever material I had. I started to see that you don’t need a lot of money—you need creativity.

By working with reclaimed material I hope more so to create a conversation than a masterpiece of art. I want my work to open ideas about green initiatives more than I want to sell a piece of art. I want my pieces to stand together and would love for them to travel so that they can spark inspiration. I realize that with a lot of art that is made from reclaimed materials you can tell what the pieces are, whereas with my work you have to really look for what’s reclaimed. Often, I have to explain it. People don’t understand that the base of my work is plastic bags, that I use soda cans for the color.

You need imagination to understand my art. I think it helps that someone might look at it not get it right away. It’s not something black and white. Some times I do have to explain my pieces, but once I do it makes people think.

Barbara Sueko: Could you describe what you mean by “explain?”

Nancy: Well, for instance, I have a piece called Be Thankful, and when my son saw it he said, “Is someone going to eat her head?” Really, it is about the idea that you have be thankful before anything else. If you just take things for granted and you’re not considerate of others or thankful for what you have, then how do you go from there, especially in relation to the environment? You have to be thankful for the ocean, for the clean water—you can’t just leave your litter everywhere. You have to be thankful for the park you’re at—if you’re thankful for it you’re not going to destroy it.

There’s a lot to the pieces I create and I want people to think about the messages and talk about them. That’s why my latest collection is called Lesson from the Dinner Table. It conveys those ideas from the dinner table that stay with us because you’re with your family. We all know what’s right or wrong, but because we’re not thankful we don’t necessarily care. We have to try to teach our children all these lessons.

And that’s another big part of my work—I may not make a difference in a lot people’s lives but I hope I make a difference in three people’s lives—those of my children. If you make a difference in some way, then that seems to ripple. So that’s what I’m hoping for.

Barbara Sueko: As an artist who normally creates larger pieces that are part of an even larger collection, what inspired you to participate in the Sketchbook Project?

I had a discovery that I need deadlines. I am programmed with my work as an art director to have deadlines, and so when I learned about the Sketchbook Project I realized I wasn’t sketching everyday like I should be. I saw that it had a deadline, thought it was an interesting opportunity, and so I signed up.

I really looked at the Project as a way to get me to sketch regularly. I picked my theme, Inside Outside, and I was thinking about doing opposites of some sort, and then the oil spill happened and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I ended up creating my book based on inside and outside the real price of oil. I thought about the idea of how what happens in the oceans affects those of us on land. A lot of people don’t see the ocean that way and so I wanted to express my thoughts about the Gulf Oil Spill. And the spill is still going on, so I don’t know where we go from here.

Barbara Sueko: What influenced the creation of your pages?

A lot of it was from the Miami Herald. I started cutting out things of the newspaper and then I started to read more blogs and I thought, “How much do I know? How much of this is political?” I wasn’t trusting exactly what I was reading about what was going on because newspapers have to make money, they’re a business. So I stopped with the clippings. I do believe they are an honest newspaper, but I just thought that there might be more to the story. I realized it’s my sketchbook, no one’s paying me to do it, so I can do whatever I want.

I started researching more in the Internet and there’s a helicopter pilot who created some films and I was inspired by the videos of him and what he had to say, as well as the photos regular people were taking. Also inspiring were these social networking groups that got people out to protest in a peaceful way. I think we need to continue that. With social networking we have an opportunity to make a change and make a difference—each day there’s something new.

Barbara Sueko: What message or messages do you hope your Sketchbook conveys?

For me, I think that when you protest in an intelligent way more people listen. I like the idea of somehow protesting in a quiet way, and my sketchbook is quiet and makes people think. They can either do something and take it from there or not. But they can’t look at my sketchbook and say something negative. I’m not hurting anyone, but I am getting my point across and I’m moving people to make a change.

Ultimately, that’s the way I like to approach environmental issues—through my art. I’ve always lived this way not thinking I would be “environmental,” but through a series of people who I’ve met and things that have happened, I’ve come to this point and it’s been a good journey. I’ve really enjoyed it and I don’t regret anything.

Learn more about Nancy and her work at


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