Pen & Ink Drawings…
Saunderstown artist sets the scene for festival


By Doug Norris/Arts & Living Editor


Bruce Martin, Artist

Bruce showing the illustration he made for the 2005 Wickford Art Festival.

SAUNDERSTOWN – As a child in Warren, Bruce Martin used to sketch the woods and buildings he saw out of his attic window on the cardboard that came with his father’s starched shirts. Then he grew up, raised his own family, carved out a career in sales and marketing, rarely picking up a pen to draw again until he retired.

Now Martin, when he’s not golfing, gardening or playing with his grandchildren, spends his days primarily working on commissioned pen-and-ink drawings of private homes. He also will sketch local points of interest, putting them on T-shirts and beach bags for tourists. But this weekend, at the 43rd annual Wickford Art Festival, Martin’s work will be seen throughout the village, draped from the shoulders of festival-goers and staff.

His design of a sailboat was chosen as the winning entry for the Wickford Art Association T-Shirt Contest.

“I like trying to reproduce something as close to its original form as possible,” Martin said. “Pen and ink is a medium that allows you to do that.”

Martin said that he returned to the one medium he’d always loved after retiring from a sales and marketing position with the Whirlpool Corp. in 2002. While he never pursued any formal training in drawing, a knack for design and detail was cultivated throughout his life.

“My grandfather and father were both lithographers,” he said. “I hung around in print shops, worked at an advertising agency. I was a production manager. I remember going over my accounts to advertise in Yankee magazine. I saw a little ad, one-inch deep: ‘I will do pen and ink drawings of your house and send you note cards.’ I’m 68 now. That had to be 45 years ago, but that little ad always stayed with me. What a great idea, because you’re appealing to someone’s ego.”

When a well-heeled couple treated the Martins and some friends to a lavish weekend retreat in celebration of a wedding anniversary, he struggled to come up with an appropriate gift in appreciation. His wife suggested that he draw their house. When it turned out well, he mapped out a future in pen and ink.

“I like detail,” he said. “I’m not the kind of artist that could have a monkey run through wet paint and sell it for 50 grand.”

A visit to the studio of North Kingstown pen-and-ink artist Marge Vogel was another turning point. Her work inspired Martin. She helped him improve, gave him ideas on how to market his work and sponsored his membership into the Wickford Art Association in 2002. He became a juried member last year.

With a home studio and a niche drawing private homes, Martin stays busy throughout the year.

“One of the first things I did, when I started, was to make those note cards,” Martin said. “Some people don’t even care about the original drawing. But everyone loves those note cards.”

Martin picks up commissions at the art festival and by word of mouth. Sometimes he’ll also find something that he knows he can sell. On a recent trip to Block Island, he took pictures “of every inanimate object on the island.” Then he drew Southeast Light.

“Pen and ink is almost a lost art,” he said. “But I’ve just always enjoyed the high degree of detail it allows. As opposed to brushstrokes, I can do 40 pen strokes. When I did Southeast Light, I didn’t miss a brick.”

Martin said that the work never gets routine because “every house is different and every person you’re doing it for is different.” He also added that he’s learned to never say never.

“I used to say I’d never do the Towers, because so many people had done it in so many different mediums,” he said. “It was even done with a roller.” But then Martin saw a photograph taken from the south side of the Towers by Eliza Griffin 83 years ago.

“It had an old Tin Lizzy coming underneath,” he said. “The casino in the background, deck on the right side and cupola. Before those were restored, nobody else had that in their version of the image.”

The winter holidays can get a little crazy, particularly when you’re in the note card business, but Martin said he doesn’t mind, and he’s not worried about finding subjects.

“I’m never going to run out of houses,” he said. “This is a labor of love. People are paying me for something I love to do.”


Copyright 2006 South County Independent. All Rights Reserved.

Reprint of article in South County Independent 7-7-05

Photo: Michael Derr/ courtesy South County Independent


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