Marta Spendowska channels color, line and texture in watercolor. She is a Polish, US-based illustrator, a licensed surface pattern designer and web designer working in the United States under her name for Illustration and PolishLab for web design.
A self-taught artist, she comes from a creative family, but never imagined living as a professional artist full time. So she dropped this dream in her teens.
She attended a few universities, studying Journalism and eventually graduating with a Masters in Management and Marketing in Poland. After working in a dead-end job, she decided to leave her life behind and hop on a plane to the US. Having experienced America while completing an internship in Atlanta, Georgia her senior year at University, she knew it was the place to follow her dreams.
“I sold my first painting in Atlanta (GA), sitting on the pavement, across from the Whole Foods. That was the moment when I realized how possible it might be to pursue my life as an artist in the US.”
She’s been interviewed online and offline, sells her prints on her website, and works with commissioned portraits. She features her work on the Directory of Illustration, is a member of the American Watercolor Society and Wisconsin Visual Artists, and exhibits her work in galleries.
What are your goals?
My work is not conceptual. It’s strictly based on the beauty of people or shapes. My hope and goal is to move you, inspire you by the pure allure of the person’s story behind the painting and the magnificent nature of watercolor.
But I don’t have a specific definition of beauty. I’m mostly interested in contrast, distortion, sadness, runny colors, mistakes in drawing, personal tragedies, kitsch. My work is sometimes uplifting, sometimes melancholic, other times abstract, but always emotionally engaging, or so I hope. I want to engage, bring the viewer closer to the portrayed person and ask, “who is she and why is she [sad, lonely, upset]?” I like to bring to life that person and his/her story.
I work almost exclusively in watercolor and I truly believe that the nature of my style and how I’m able to engage the viewer is based on this unexpected, fluid medium.
Why watercolor ?
Combined with my own personal style, the unexpected, impulsive, capricious nature of watercolor visually grabs the eye like no other medium—and keeps it there, curiously eager to follow the next swish of the brush. The intimacy of watercolor expresses the rush I feel toward the things we all experience every day, no matter who we are. That rush? You’ll see in my work. And more importantly, you’ll feel it, too. You can try to paint in oils transparently, you definitely can use acrylics for a watery look, but you will never achieve such transparency and spontaneity as you would by using watercolors.
What are you working on now?
Even though I’m attracted to landscapes and I paint a lot of flora for my licensing work, I feel the happiest while painting portraits. There are currently two streams of work. One is commissioned portraits and the other one is a self-initiated work of — as I call it — tragic geniuses. I’m exhibiting five pieces right now, all women, all writers, a few suicidal poets.
It’s actually interesting, because I am quite a bubbly person, but I paint sadness and melancholy. I’ve always been attracted to tragic geniuses of poets, writers, thinkers, and painters for as long as I can remember. The constant struggle to express their spirit and intellect, their curious souls, the gripes of their heart, and the complications that result has dramatically influenced the way I see the world—and the way I express it through art. The more layered the personality of the person the more I want to paint her.
What inspires you?
Literature, especially feminist literature, it built my confidence and my womanhood. In the current pieces I want to bring those women back to the public eye, because some of them are just forgotten.
Furthermore, I hope you to feel the loneliness—and what’s behind it—of the portrayed person. And, ultimately, what that means for us all.
Lots of people have heard about Max Ernst, but not as many know who Leonora Carrington was. So I paint her, to remember her, bring attention to her work. Actually I always paint with a book on the side, or—in case of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, I was listening to their own poetry readings on YouTube. It’s a surreal feeling and I like to think they watch me painting), sitting on the puffy comfortable cloud, not bothered by the world’s demeanor anymore.
I’m also very inspired by fashion, particularly by the recent Lanvin campaign and the rise of the wrinkly models, as they call it. I do loooove painting old people.
Movies are also very important to me. I watch a lot of European films, probably just because I’m Polish, but recently I saw so many movies about WWII that I just can’t paint another pretty, pristine fashion girls. There needs to be a story.
At the end, it’s just simply humbling to bring to life that special person and his/her story.
Because with every new story, we come a little more alive ourselves.