In the realm of illustration, there exists a luminary whose narrative transcends mere brushstrokes, weaving a tapestry of resilience, creativity, and unyielding passion. Meet Marty, a visionary artist whose odyssey unfolds like an epic saga, rich with trials and triumphs that have shaped both her art and her spirit.

Marty’s artistic voyage is a testament to the power of perseverance and determination. Inspired by the golden age of illustration and the timeless works of masters like Howard Pyle and Norman Rockwell, Marty embarked on a quest to carve her own path in a landscape dominated by tradition and whimsy.

But Marty’s journey is more than just a tale of artistic pursuit; it’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Despite facing physical challenges brought on by a neurological disorder, Marty refused to let adversity dim her creative spark. Instead, she embraced her disability as a catalyst for innovation, exploring new mediums and techniques to continue her artistic expression.

Whether she’s crafting cover art that encapsulates the essence of a story or breathing new life into timeless classics, Marty’s indomitable spirit shines through in every stroke of her brush.

Prepare to be inspired, captivated, and moved by the story of an artist who defies limitations and embraces the boundless possibilities of imagination…

Marty, your artistic journey sounds like an incredible adventure. What inspired you to delve into illustrating adventure stories with adult characters in a market dominated by whimsy for children?

Marty: I’m old [and as Arnold said in “Terminator Genisys,” “I’m old. Not obsolete”]. Judging by your photos [always a risk], you are not old enough to remember when the primary difference between children’s books and older people’s books was a lack of sex and bloodshed.

Often, the books were simply labeled “Literature.” In the Golden Age of Illustration, generally before color printing, illustrations for literature were created by Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and many more. I grew up reading adult books and books aimed at younger audiences that came with illustrations. “Children’s books” didn’t really exist as a genre. As with life, adults and children share the same planet [or further out, in science fiction]. The sharing is no longer without borders.

Your goal is to revive the market for adventure illustration in children’s literature. What motivates you to persist in pursuing this improbable goal?

Marty: Stubbornness, mostly. The stated goal is somewhat facetious. So far, there is no track record that encourages the idea. I do not particularly like boxing, but I enjoyed the “Rocky” movies. Rocky is just too stubborn to quit. Some ‘magic’ [or Grace, or …] has happened at this point in my life, where I have been contacted regarding my work, totally out of the blue.

This opportunity is something that I could not have planned. I finally canceled my subscription to Children’s I don’t do cartoons, and 95% of the images on the website are cartoons. I don’t dislike cartoons; a lot of them are quite clever, and some are moving. My brain does not think in cartoons. My wife is fascinated with Studio Ghibli at present. Wonderful stories.

My brain does not work that way. There is a scene in “The Wind Rises” that I pointed out to my wife as to what I’ve worked to achieve for all these years. A hospital in the forest area at the base of Mount Fuji. Patients on a deck, in sleeping bags on lounge beds, in shaded two-dimensional cartoons. The background is painted and looks almost like a photo.

Your dedication to honing your skills for a decade is commendable. Can you share a pivotal moment during that period when you felt your artistic abilities truly flourished?

Marty: To be honest, I did not set out to spend a decade ‘rehearsing.’ It just took that long. Almost as long as this narrative… I don’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. I have pieces of paper from elementary school that have stick-figure drawings in the margins. I studied drafting in high school; for Spring terms, my drafting instructor assigned Technical Illustrations—presentation drawings showing how a finished product will look. I ‘found’ my life goal.

However, no one suggested researching colleges for what we thought we could be. I went to the college where my cousin was; I could not handle the idea of being at a college where I knew no one. The college I chose did not include Technical Illustration. My choice was between Art and Architecture. “Starving Artist” seemed like a bad choice. I did not want to design houses, neither did I want to starve. Five years later, I had a degree in Architecture. I had been at a drafting table for seven years by that time; and I never wanted to be an architect. I convinced my Dad [who had been a contractor] to let me build him a retirement house. Every day at lunch he came to the house site and yelled at me for what I did wrong.

When he brought a salesman around, I was great… I learned what I thought my Dad would teach me, from a retired Navy Sea Bee, whose son I hired to help with getting the house out of the ground… I’m sitting in what used to be my parents’ dining room. I still did not want to be an architect. I started working for a building contractor; five-plus years later, I was CEO of a design/build corporation that I ran into the ground.

I tried architecture. I was right, for all of the previous years. I started having health issues from stress. For the years ahead, I would be making drawings that I began in elementary school. The City of Portland was in need of a Building Plans Examiner. I talked my way into the job, assuming that I would be trained in doing the job. The Bureau of Buildings assumed that I was trained. I dealt with aversion to people, learned where to find answers in the Building Code, and thrived for 14 years.

While I was in construction, I ‘adopted’ a sister, a couple of years older than I was. She needed a brother; I’d always wanted a sister. Her family had a history of cancer; she had just lost her brother. A few years later, she acquired her family’s history of cancer; hers was her liver. With some friends, we sought out a way that a woman with a 12-year-old son and no insurance could find a new liver. A very few months later, the sky opened up [literally] and her story made the front page of the Living section of the New York Times. The wife of the Governor of Colorado wrote a column about her for their paper, and she was featured on CNN. My ‘sister’ was near death when she received a donated liver.

She’s still older than I am. A few months after all that, my appendix ruptured [this can happen, from stress]. I arrived at the hospital the day after the rupture. I woke up around a week later. I had used up most of my leave time with the City while the ‘Sister’ stuff took place. I had to go back to work, even though my surgeon warned against it—I no longer had an immune system from all of the antibiotics. He was correct; I contracted every virus the citizens of Portland brought to the Permit Center. I was finally ordered to go to work; go home, go to bed, every day until I felt better.

During this time, my wife suggested that I draw, rather than doodle, while on the phone. Thus began, in earnest, my decision to be a full-time illustrator. I copied Norman Rockwell, every day at lunch. I found photos of Indigenous leaders in books, started drawing faces. I sent drawings around the country to art shows for several years. Eventually, some of the drawings became paintings…

Marty, your illustrations for historical novels like “Oregon At Last!” are both informative and engaging. How do you approach capturing the essence of a historical period through your artwork?

Marty: “Oregon At Last” was my first children’s book. I was the third choice for the agents working for Scholastic Books. I know that because they tactlessly included a color print with two other illustrators’ data crossed out… Years before, I had been to a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators [SCBWI] convention and had a review of one of my paintings by a very well-known illustrator. He told me that my work was good, but why did I work so large—I’d never have time to meet deadlines. He was correct. OAL was made with graphite renderings, colored with my computer.

The last illustrations were rushed. I learned later that OAL was being published in a 5th-grade curriculum. When the curriculum was purchased, they would find OAL. Scholastic did not market the book by itself, in Oregon, or anywhere else… OAL started with movies, as many/most of my works do. Scenes from westerns, video turned into prints for reference. Research on wagon trains, prairie dogs, the Indigenous Peoples.

The story is written from the perspective of a girl who is traveling with her parents to Oregon by wagon train. My family had a cabin near the Mount Hood National Forest. I grew up hiking around forests that my cousin [the one I roomed with in college] found while working for the Forest Service.

The recognition you’ve received, such as the 2023 Terravarna Talent Prize, is impressive. How do such awards fuel your passion for adventure illustration and storytelling?

Marty: Being candid, and what will not look good in print, awards [and I have many] that do not lead to more opportunities to illustrate stories are merely facts, in my sometimes ungracious brain. Part of this feeling is from working with organizations that ‘promise’ to bring in more work for me because they are so effective in the world of art and illustration, who don’t do what they ‘promise’.

They gladly take a lot [in terms of my income] of money for showing my work, but it clearly isn’t a venue that is worth the cost. For the last few years, I have entered contests [whatever other name they use] in hopes of getting prize money. I am a Commercial Artist. During the COVID Lockdown, I decided, after 40 years, to stop trying to convince Building Officials and/or architects to think differently regarding Building, Zoning, and other Codes. That work always required an illustrator.

I happen to know a guy… This might not have been one of my greatest ideas. I had a fairly steady [small] income. Taking a step back, the awards are an affirmation that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. The illustrations do make a valuable statement—more people liking what I do.

Winning the Greatest Creators Cover Competition in 2022 must have been thrilling. How do you think your artistic style contributed to making your work stand out in a competitive field?

Marty: This is another example of something coming out of the blue. I did not seek the organization out; they contacted me. Much like this opportunity. My “Canticle of the Sea [Wooden Boat]” was featured on the cover of an industry I don’t really understand. “Canticle” wins awards. The painting of “Canticle” that I mention above—’why do you work so large?’ is the acrylic painting I made in the latter part of the last Century [old, not obsolete].

“Canticle of the Sea” is a text found in the Apocrypha, Biblical texts that are recognized by the Catholic Church, but not by the Protestant Church. I was associated with an Arts group that was based in a group of Catholic Sisters in a suburb of Portland. Having given up on acrylic airbrush painting, I decided I needed to remake the same painting in a digitally colored graphite rendering. It took a long time. It‘s a lot more detailed.

Being named Artist of the Decade in 2020 is a remarkable achievement. How has this recognition impacted your perspective on your artistic journey and future goals?

Marty: The Circle Foundation for the Arts has been gracious, and I have received several awards from them. None of them show up on their website any longer. I know that they have been on their website, in the past, for a time. “Artist of the Decade” is a title; the group from which my work was chosen is not a huge number. The award is a validation, it is a recognition of my work. It feels ‘wrong’ to say this award [it is after all, an interview; and I’m not running for office] doesn’t have much meaning, but for me, where I am on this day, it simply is a signpost on a marathon.

Your artwork is not only visually captivating but also emotionally resonant. How do you infuse meaning and emotion into your illustrations, particularly in projects like “Small Moments—Greatest Meaning”?

Marty: This was the title of a one-man art exhibition, another thing that ‘came out of the blue.’ The title came from the venue. All of the images in the gallery/assembly place were my graphite drawings. Including “Proud Family” below. When I was doing exhibitions, I would usually make something new to display. “Proud Family” came to life in a motel on the Columbia River, and its first showing was at this exhibition. My drawings were always portable. I believe I have a Creator. I don’t consider myself to be ‘religious.’ I left the Evangelical Church during the Pandemic.

The church I’d served for a decade or more listened to a guy with orange hair and bronze makeup, rather than the Centers for Disease Control, and they had a very strange view of a man with a very low standard of morality—contradicts most of the behavior they teach their young to have. My goal is always to infuse meaning and emotion into my work; I put part of who I am into all that I do. Sometimes the ‘magic’ works. A lot of the time it doesn’t. There are images that I’ve created that seem to be something that was flowing through me, rather than being by me. One that always comes to mind was for a “Hiroshima Diary”—a cultural narrative written by ‘ordinary’ people who experienced a horrible situation. I did not get the chance to finish the book.

There was a deadline that was unrealistic [again, the third or fourth contacted]. I publish it every year on Facebook on the bombing’s anniversary, and it is permanently attached to my “cover image.” I have not yet watched “Oppenheimer.” A long time ago, I watched a Japanese film called “Black Rain”… Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the firebombing of Tokyo. We in America are not taught about this atrocity. The US destroyed the largest city in Japan—left only ashes; and then decided to nuke two others. The US lost a large part of its Pacific Fleet, and a Naval Base. A lot of people died. The people in Japan, who were nuked, left only their shadows on buildings.

Marty, having your work as a part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Biblical Art is an incredible honor. Can you share the story behind “Proud Family”/“The Story of Esther” and its significance to you?

Proud Family: I am an immigrant son. My Mom was born in Norway. My Dad’s paternal grandparents were Swedish. His maternal grandparents probably arrived in Eastern Oregon after traveling on the Oregon Trail. Those born in Scandinavia came here because of famine where they lived. My Norwegian ancestors came from a small island in a fjord. All four adults in the drawing are from different countries.

There are a lot of members elected to office in this country who would probably tear up the drawing if given the chance. People fleeing their own country because they are not wanted, not willing, afraid for their lives, come to America because of the stories they have heard about the poem on the Statue of Liberty. “It was 1865 when Frenchman Édouard de Laboulaye proposed the idea of presenting a monumental gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. An ardent supporter of America, Laboulaye wished to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence as well as celebrate the close relationship between France and America.

He was equally moved by the recent abolition of slavery in the U.S., which furthered America’s ideals of liberty and freedom.” The Story of Esther: I really don’t remember my motivation for making the image. Probably for the local chapter of CIVA-Christians in the Visual Arts—the Catholic Sisters mentioned above. Esther is a beautiful young woman from the humble Hebrew people, being raised by her uncle Mordecai after the death of her parents. Esther wins an extended beauty contest to become the next wife of Xerxes, the King of Persia. The painting is based on archaeological information about the Persian Empire, stone carvings dating back to Biblical times. A lot of architecture.

Illustrating classics like “A Scandal In Bohemia” and “The Gift of the Magi” showcases your versatility. How do you approach breathing new life into timeless stories through your illustrations?

Marty: I grew up with these stories. Sherlock/Arthur Conan Doyle invented forensic medicine and changed the world. The Gift of the Magi was my first expedition into literature. The young woman in the story, “Della” is modeled after the daughter of good friends—somewhat different face. “Jim” is based on Jimmy Stewart. I chose monochrome because of the time period of the story—when the world was in black and white. My first journey into “A Scandal in Bohemia” was in the early 2000s. I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes since childhood. I was hired to illustrate a Korean version of the story [who knew…]. They sent me the English text as well as its Korean equivalent.

The Korean version was made from graphite renderings colored with my computer. As usual, my deadline was unrealistic, but I finished on time—just not as well as it could have been. The 2019 version used a ‘however long it takes’ method, a new version reflecting my new ideas about what I want to accomplish. All of the furniture comes from period photography from the period—largely from auction portfolios. Faces created by gaming software. Period clothing as well. The King who is shamed by a woman has orange hair. I suppose the life that I bring to the stories is because I am the publisher and editor and illustrator. I chose these stories because I admire them. These days, I approach fictional accounts as if they really happened. Kindle uses one of many jackets for “Scandal”—when I look for it, it’s always the wrong jacket. Computers are not all that Intelligent.

How has your faith influenced your artistic journey?

Marty: For me, life only has meaning because of the Creator [I generally don’t use the God word—too many definitions]. There was nothing, philosophically, in my life during my first two years of college. With the exception of Marcus Aurelius. I came there as an Existentialist [everyone has to make their own choice] and began suicidal ideation at the end of my second year.

I think I was born depressed. Or I was born somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I have very few memories of childhood. I was very self-focused. I don’t know that I had any reason to draw—creatively—before being Found. Drafting is a different thing—somewhere in the ‘work’ box. Learning how to imitate life with a pencil is an entirely different proposition.

Your work on “The Wolves of Yellowstone” for the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s online tour is intriguing. How did you translate the essence of Yellowstone into your illustrations for the electronic field trip?

Marty: Judy and I finally went to Yellowstone, a number of years after the ‘Wolves’ project. We went when there was still some snow on the ground, and fewer people. Had a great, slow car ride among a herd of bison. We were obstacles on the road, heading in the same direction… I was surprised as to how much of the Park I recognized from all of my research. I was either contacted by the Foundation people, or I responded to an ad somewhere. I really like some of the illustrations I made. One of them [a very small one] will be in the next issue of Vanity Fair UK.

The story is about a brother and sister who come to stay with their grandparents, just outside of the Park. He is a former Park Ranger; she is an artist. In the middle of the story is a slide show by the grandfather at a meeting hall, about the wolves that Yellowstone is bringing back to the park to help deal with the overabundance of elk, with no predators.

Ranchers adjacent to the Park were understandably very concerned about the wolves and their cattle. I read somewhere in the not-too-distant past that from the Park’s perspective, the project was a success. Habitats were returning, and foliage was growing without being eaten by elk; small mammals had come back to the Park.

More recently I read about people demanding the removal of the wolves. I was given a script to illustrate, maybe 93 illustrations if I filed them correctly. Most of the illustrations were adding an illustrated component to a photo. The Wolves portion was merely a ‘stage’ for the video to fit into. I ‘rebuilt’ a 1940s Roadmaster roadster for the Grandfather. I found photos from a wrecking yard and digitally painted over them. Also designed a custom motor home, and a stone ranch house for which I have the end product but lost [bad saving] the components. As to how, I immersed myself in Yellowstone Park via the internet, and probably asked questions of the Park staff.

“Rainbows and Other Promises” features your cover illustration. How do you approach creating cover art that not only attracts readers but also encapsulates the essence of the story within?

Marty: My first illustration contract. A long time ago. The story is about Alzheimer’s. And a granddaughter. Presumptively, I read the story a few times, so that I could find visual clues in the text. The size of the book was given to me, so what I could show was limited by outside constraints.

Being chosen for American Illustration 39 in 2020 is a prestigious accomplishment. How do you navigate the balance between staying true to your artistic style and meeting the demands of a given project?

Marty: “mushrooms, 30-40 feet high” is from Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” an exhibition that I think was in London, called Amazing Adventures. Prehistory designed by the text. I had two others in the exhibition, and I think I submitted more than the one image selected for AI39. Dinosaurs! For better or worse, my style is fairly limited from my perspective. What you see is what I do. I treat the context of the text as if I am looking through a window. Sometimes the background is central; other times the people are central.

As a freelance commercial artist for over 40 years, you’ve navigated the changing landscape of the industry. What advice do you have for aspiring artists seeking longevity and success in their careers?

Diversify Your Skills: Learn to see images all the time, regardless of the medium. Whether it’s 2D or 3D, the same principles apply. If you’re capable of creating images in different media, keep doing it.

Balancing Passion with Practicality: Find a day job to sustain yourself while you pursue your artistic career. Remember, your career is more important than indulging in distractions like video games.

Embrace Change: Understand that circumstances will change, and adaptability is key to long-term success in the ever-evolving field of commercial art.

When you are painting, how do you feel?

My emotional state while painting depends on whether I’ve solved a problem or created more. External factors like financial stress can skew my perception of my work’s quality. Over time, I’ve learned to be less critical of myself and appreciate the creative process.

If you could collaborate with any author, living or deceased, on an adventure illustration project, who would it be and why?

Without a doubt, I would choose Norman Rockwell. His storytelling style resonates with me, and I’ve always admired his ability to capture the essence of everyday life in his illustrations.

What’s your go-to quote when lacking motivation?

I find motivation in Steve Martin’s words: “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.”

What destination is at the top of your bucket list?

While travel has become challenging for me, I once found solace in helping communities rebuild after disasters. Reflecting on past adventures, I realize that sometimes, the most meaningful journeys are the ones taken to mend what is broken, both within ourselves and in the world around us.

Dive deeper into the world of Marty’s illustrations and let her unwavering spirit inspire your own creative pursuits. Follow House of Coco for more incredible stories of passion, perseverance, and the power of imagination. Join us as we celebrate artists like Marty who continue to redefine the limits of what’s possible.


Northern girl Laura is the epitome of a true entrepreneur. Laura’s spirit for adventure and passion for people blaze through House of Coco. She founded House of Coco in 2014 and has grown it in to an internationally recognised brand whilst having a lot of fun along the way. Travel is in her DNA and she is a true visionary and a global citizen.

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