top of page


Francis Martin 

I am a very lucky artist, the people around me have encouraged me to find my own voice and supported me when I have not been sure of myself. If  I  have tried to do work that would just fit in or please the market they have let me know.  I have had a few careers as you will see but I am now set on a course that should see me through to the end. 

 I was born in Islington when it was still a little village on the outskirts of London.

(Pic 2) Grange School Ikeja.

I was brought up in Nigeria in the 1960’s during the civil war. Imports were limited and that included  children’s literature, all I can remember were a Topsy and Tim book   and a book about  marine dinosaurs . Occasionally we got  UK comics  which i adored. Though I was n’t aware of it I was introduced to the work of Leo Baxendale creator of Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids.  I came back to the UK  in time for the 1970s via an extended stay on a farm in Ireland. To my surprise I found out that I was bottom  of the class in  almost everything except for a bit of creative writing. I would like to say that I shone at art  but I was pretty average (some people might say what’s changed?)  but I did enjoy the art room and the people and teachers who hung out there.   In 1978 I went to The Hayward Gallery’s ‘Dada and Surrealism  Reviewed’ exhibition.  At that point I decided to  go to art school.I was accepted  at Liverpool Polytechnic to do sculpture. It turned out that that was not my forte. Like a lot of students I just couldn’t make sense of the so called high brow art scene . It was meant to be radical and  world changing but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was trapped in a conversation  with itself. There just wasn’t anything within the academic art world   circa 1980’s that I could connect to. So I did what any self respecting art student would do and started  a rock band . This took most of all my focus for the next ten years. I did continue with some artwork I designed  record covers and made comics. 

(pic 3) designed  cover of first Half Man Half Biscuit record.

I was in two bands The Mel -O-Tones and the Walkingseeds.

(pic4) The Paradiso Amsterdamn

 I  did five John Peel sessions on BBC Radio One, toured around Europe a few times  went to New York to record two albums We were  briefly The Fall’s favourite band and were accused of inventing ‘grunge!!!’ 

(pic5) Grunge

In 1989 our German tour reached Berlin the day the wall came down and a band called Nirvana  was shoehorned  on to the bill. Eventually we  got very tired and I went off to get a job with a regular pay check. I kept up the art getting some cartoons in Private Eye and The Guardian and doing comics. When I became a Dad I was introduced by my wife  to children’s picture books which I think I enjoyed more than my daughter. The Madeleine Stories by Ludwig Bemelmans, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’  by Maurice Sendak, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle and The ‘Tiger who came to Tea’ by Judith Kerr.  were highlights  A seed was planted,  so after a decade plus of working in adult mental health I jumped ship when I heard about the MA in Children’s Book Illustration Course  at Cambridge. I put together a portfolio  and got accepted. 

(Pic 6) Back to School

I think that if I had realised how far off  I was from being an illustrator I  might not have jumped in so vigorously. I was already into my fifties and I was going to have to completely overhaul my approach to drawing . The first module of the MA  involved intensive  observational drawing sessions. There was no more hiding behind gimmicks. Initially my artwork looked worse than it had done when I started but I did feel that I was on a creative journey and I felt ok  about stepping back in order to achieve work which in the long run was more satisfying. I was   introduced to new (to me)   amazing artists , André Francois, John Minton, Beatrice Alemagna  and my favourite John Burningham.  Being surrounded by young talented artists and receiving  insightful criticism from the tutors wasn’t always easy but it stopped me getting complacent . After college I managed to get a book deal with a major publisher. Unfortunately they said my artwork wasn’t quite right so another artist was brought in to illustrate my book.  That was a disappointment but I accepted it as I was glad to get started in the business.In 2017 I was  awarded the SCBWI conference scholarship. which paid for me to attend the conference and meet publishers and agents.  The feedback and encouragement helped me keep going.. I was still putting together stories and concepts that ranged from the terrible to the amazing. My artwork was developing and I felt like I was getting my own voice and understanding what I would like to do. In 2018 I was accepted on to the ‘Picture Hooks Mentoring scheme’ in Edinburgh  with five other artists.

(Pic 7) Mentoring

The team  involved were really adventurous and pushed the participants to take chances in order to  produce imaginative  artwork for children. I was paired with Chris Mould  a successful and original illustrator who’s support and advice pushed my work to another level.  He noticed that I was doing quite a lot of text which I used as a guide for my artwork. Chris suggested I keep this in. At the end of the scheme all the Picture Hooks participants and their mentors had their work exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

(Pic 8) Scottish National Gallery 

 I must confess that having my work in such a prestigious venue  meant so much to me. This lead onto me getting a lot of publisher interest I got an Illustration in the Sunday  Times Illustrating a short story by Candy Gourlay 

(Pic 9)Sunday Times

 I was commissioned to illustrate a book by the independent publisher Little Doors  called ‘Pinkie and Boo’ written by Chae Strathie.  The process was really positive we were able to work together  and push the story and get the text and the images working together. The book is out now and whatever happens I feel like a I have piece of work that I am really proud of  under my belt.  

(Pic 10) Pinkie and Boo.

bottom of page