As I See It

Armed only with a Japanese brush pen and fine Italian paper, Australian illustrator Matthew Martin takes on the world.

One day in 1980, while I was hitchhiking across the United States and Canada on my first travels outside Australia, I packed up my camera and mailed it back home. I’ve never traveled with a camera since, but I’m never without my sketchbooks. I have become a compulsive drawer of pictures. For about the first decade of my travels, I did most of my drawings at the end of the day, recollections of things seen or experienced. Gradually that changed. I found I enjoyed drawing what was right in front of me more. (I suppose it seemed like an escape from the making up of cartoons, my professional pleasure for the past 27 years.) I draw more people than places, sly drawings, just far enough away from the subjects that they might not notice. Cafés are good. So are park benches. Buses and trains can be tricky. I pick up art materials wherever I can: pink and blue fabric dye made from shellfish in the market of the Moroccan fishing town Essaouira, a flimsy notebook from a hardware store in Portugal, or drawing books made in Egypt of the finest Italian paper sold in the fabled art supply shop Sennelier on the Quai Voltaire in Paris. My favorite drawing implement, in my pocket always, is a Japanese brush pen (also from Sennelier). I draw in any manner that takes my fancy—licking my finger and poking it in the fabric dye in Morocco, for instance, to do a little finger painting. There are times when I just can’t seem to capture what is right before my eyes: The mountains to the west of Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai in Thailand look pathetic and pale in my colored-pencil drawing. The famous view of Ile de la Cité from the Pont des Arts, the footbridge over the Seine, seems pretty ordinary in my drawing. Yet when I sketch that view from memory, the romance of Paris—for which I am a complete sucker—manages to come through.