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Martin French

About the Art

My professional practice has been focused on taking symbols from daily life and reworking them into images potent enough to strike passing audiences with an experience of aesthetic and intellectual encounter. I've been especially fascinated by how an individual artist's unique vision, when developed and honed, can be at once exclusively personal and yet widely transcendent. This fascination with the expressive and communal paradox inherent in artistic development is what led me away from a career as a design director to start my own illustration and design practice. Its contours and questions still energize my development and practice as a visual communicator.


Thankfully, my disciplinary fascination happens to overlap with what has turned out to be vital professional practice—namely the need for the modern visual communicator to find ways of distinguishing their images in a hyper-saturated visual market. That quest isn't, of course, something that ends with a degree or an award. On the contrary, its ongoing, evolving challenges form a large portion of what we refer to as professional practice. How does a visual communicator remain savvy and able to read culture? How does a visual communicator retain a vision robust enough to start or redirect zeitgeists rather than being conformed to them? As I engage with these tensions I'd like to think my images could have worked in 1909, or again in 2099—the point being that their appeal depends not on tapping the hype of contemporary culture, but, almost the reverse, on stripping away the hype to offer up an image conveying a timeless appeal. 


My move to Portland in 2006 motivated me to explore and apply these ideas through projects aimed at connecting with the city, most notably, the formation of the Illustration Department at The Pacific Northwest College of Art. My hope for student development in and through cultural engagement is the pedagogical extension of my ambition for my own work. I am seeking to deepen the unity between my own professional practice, artistic voice, and cultural involvement. I am energized by seeking greater rigor, expression, risk-taking, and clarity in my work. Naturally, my general teaching philosophy reflects that kind of ethos: I want students to experience my classroom as a laboratory where processes, ideas, and historical/cultural backdrops are live-wires, highly-charged and dynamic elements through which we can better understand, better share, and better tell, our own stories. What's more—and this is core to my overarching goal for myself and my students—I want the classroom to be a place where we learn how to press ever deeper into that powerful personal/communal paradox that a well-developed vision and a highly-sensitive mind can come together and create.

About Martin French

Martin French is an illustrator, designer and educator based in Portland, Oregon. His distinctive style, an interplay of marks, signs, and symbols spanning a diverse media context—has been recognized internationally for its dynamic visual exploration of life and culture. His images have won awards from the leading visual communication organizations across the United States, including Gold Medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles.


Martin’s studio practice relies on traditional drawing in various dry & wet mediums combined with digital composition and design. This emphasis in maintaining a balance between two forms of art making gives Martin’s work an unusual sense of dynamic life. His command of the human figure and all its nuances as a tool of communication is central to his work. Color, texture, and his use of space consistently build a stimulating context for his energized imagery. 


Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Martin has a BFA in Illustration from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. He spent 8 years as a designer and design director at Microsoft before launching Martin French Studio in 1996 while based in Seattle. 10 years later Martin moved to Portland where he designed the BFA program in Illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). He is currently Dept. Head of Illustration and an Associate Professor teaching classes in Drawing for Illustration, Visual Thesis Development, and the intersection of Design & Illustration.

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