Bridging the Gap Between Art and Science with Christine Martell

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Growing up Christine wanted to either be a chemist or an artist and her strong love for both art and science began to pull her in two different directions. Christine didn’t think she could have a career doing both, but that’s only because her career didn’t exist anywhere else yet. She was meant to do what no one else had done before.

When Christine looked more into the job of a chemist and discovered how sedentary and monotonous the job was, the path ahead became clear. However, at the time she had no idea her strong right and left brain would work together to bring about her life’s calling. 

That she would one day take her love for artistic expression and use the scientific method of trial and error to create a whole new way of communication and expression. That she would be the first of her kind and pave the way to helping children and individuals learn in a way that makes sense to them, a way that allows them to see it’s okay to learn a different way. That nothing is wrong with us if we can’t fit in a box because we’re all made the way we were supposed to be.

After finishing art school, Christine dove headfirst into entrepreneurship, opening a small shop with some friends and selling homemade jewelry. By dipping her toes into owning a business and selling her art, she learned through trial and error (big left brain energy) how to bring her dreams into reality. And then, she got started.

Christine is highly accomplished, as someone who will always do what it takes and pivot over and over to ground her aspirations. From writing grants for community art projects (which we discuss below) to creating and founding VisualsSpeak, a method of self-expression through collage that engages meaningful connection which is now used around the world. 

Christine Martell is a jack of all trades as she never stops learning and finding new ways to make a difference in both her community and the world. This interview was one of a kind, the type that will warm your heart. Christine is a pioneer, and it’s a privilege to share her story.


How did your love for art begin?

Christine: I grew up in a family where my grandmother, my mom, and all of my aunts are crafters. I grew up learning how to knit, crochet, draw, and all that stuff. My grandmother had beautiful penmanship. And so, she helped me learn how to write when I was young. There was all this art stuff around me all the time.

VisualSpeaks Case Study 365 days of hearts

Why does that art medium textiles speak to you?

Christine: I think it was innate because I started working with all of the textile mediums when I was young, but I had no idea I could major in it. I was in a class my freshman year, and I was trying to make spider webs because I think spider webs are the most amazing things. I kept trying all these different things, and the professor said to me, “You are a textile major.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Oh, trust me, I know these things. You’re a textile major.” Then I looked into it, and I had no idea that you could major in something that people in my family did for fun. And I didn’t realize many industries come from that. My connection to textiles is innate.

VisualSpeaks Case Study textile image

As a jack-of-all trades in the art industry, what is your favorite thing to do or make?

Christine: Well, I always go back to the textiles, and the work I’ve been doing most recently is all textile machine embroidery. It incorporates photography, printmaking, and different things like that. Even in my work that I love, I still incorporate multiple media and different kinds of approaches. 

I have this belief that I want to be competent in every media I find, because then when I have an idea, I can execute it. I have this thing about having a broad set of technical skills so that the skills aren’t what’s driving the imagery and the work. This way I can execute any concept and idea in whatever is the most appropriate medium.

Even though I have a degree and I’ve taken lots of courses, I’m still constantly learning. And I  believe I can learn something from everybody. 

I think it’s so important being an older artist to continually learn from younger artists because there’s just so much in different perspectives and life experiences. It just helps keep my viewpoint broad and keeps my curiosity and all those things that are important to drive the artistic vision.

VisualSpeaks Case Study making textiles image

How did you get started teaching art in the community and at schools?

Christine: Other than my art degree I also have a degree in education. I have always loved teaching and it was something I had been doing for a long time about 15 years before I went back and got a degree in it because I wanted to learn more and get better at it. 

I was doing a lot of in the training industry, along with corporate and nonprofits. And then eventually it came around to teaching at the schools. I taught all ages from two-year-olds through seniors. I have a passion for people, it doesn’t matter how old they are, it doesn’t matter what phase they are in. 

I love meeting people where they are and seeing how I can collaborate with them in some way to have a creative experience.

I love doing community based events because you get every age group and you get families together.I love working with multi generational groups because there’s something magical when kids and adults and families work on projects and do things that are creative together. It’s just kind of another little piece of magic that can happen.

VisualSpeaks Case Study kid's engineering activity image

What are some benefits that come with merging art and science like you do when working with kids?

Christine: It’s about helping all students access learning. Oftentimes in schools the learning is geared toward a very particular kind of student. And all these other amazing students might be what they call kinesthetic learners, they learn through their body, they learn through action. And they can fall through the cracks. Then these kids define themselves as not capable, or they’ll say things like they’re not good at stuff.

And actually, I often find that’s not true and they are capable of learning if they are given an avenue to learn through. I find that the arts can reach a lot of kids that get missed in their regular every day kinds of learning. 

When I go into schools and I do residencies, the teachers will say, wow, I never saw that student that way before. And that’s when I feel like I have just really done my job. 

Many people learn a little bit differently. And if you can present a science project or a math project with art, and that art piece grabs the student, then they can easily learn the math and science. All because they are engaged and they’re using something they feel they’re good at rather than something they are bad at.

Many people learn a little bit differently. And if you can present a science project or a math project with art, and that art piece grabs the student, then they can easily learn the math and science. All because they are engaged and they’re using something they feel they’re good at rather than something they are bad at.

VisualSpeaks Case Study Stem project image

Where does the inspiration for the out-of-the-box engineering and STEM activities for school-aged kids come from?

Christine: Well, a lot of times it’s just about problem solving. It’s just taking the method of problem solving and applying the artistic method to that concept. So, it’s taking a strategy and then a method, the methods is how we get to the strategy, and remixing them. 

I do get some ideas from Pinterest and places like that. And I often will make boards on Pinterest for teachers and students to give them ideas and inspiration. It’s like a puzzle that I’m putting together. When I get hired by a school I’ll meet with teachers and all the teachers will tell me what they are teaching while I’m there. 

Then I take their content, whatever project we’re doing, and I put them together. It might be printmaking, and then I will take those printmaking ideas and I will create a project that teaches their content. It’s like a recipe. I have the ingredients and I know that what I’m trying to make, then I just have to come up with the steps that get from where this is to where that is.

Can you explain what VisualsSpeak does, and how it makes art more engaging?

Christine: VisualsSpeak came out of me going back to graduate school when a professor called me into the office and said “You have to stop all this creative stuff. That is not what we do here. All we do is write linear papers.”

It was one of those like, the skies opened, the lightning came down, and I probably turned red because I got so mad. I felt like she was telling me that my reality was no good. I think she noticed how upset I was, and she said, oh, it’s the only thing I know how to grade. And I thought wow, that’s all you know how to do? That’s all you’ve learned through all this advanced education? 

So I decided I was going to do something that helped the world of education, training, and development. I was going to make a bridge to the art world. 

The rest of my graduate program was going to be all about visual communication and learning how to create tools that would open up this pathway so things could be utilized from the art world into the professional world. VisualsSpeak is a tool I developed from that graduate program. Originally it was a set of 200 photographs used to deepen conversation. And now it’s used across the world in all sorts of different kinds of learning, training, therapy, and coaching. 

Basically, you are asking somebody a question, or a group of people a question. It could be, what do you want to happen in the next five years. And then they select photographs, and they assemble them like a collage. Then they talk about the photographs and it totally changes the nature of the engagement because it’s activating different channels in the brain. One is verbal, one is visual. And if you access a concept through the visual side first and then talk, it’s totally different than if you go through the verbal side.

Instead of people telling me the stories they already know, which is what happens when you say, who are you. You’ll give your name, rank, and serial number. But if I ask who you are and I have you assemble photos, you’ll tell me about your beliefs, values, assumptions, and give a really deep story. 

It accesses the ability to tell really meaningful stories, and then when people tell meaningful stories to each other, magic happens. Teams work better, people engage with their companies differently. It changes a lot of different things. And now I have other products like icebreaker sets and things like that for both individuals and groups. 

It’s basically about changing communication to create a ripple. I like to design something that then goes out in the world and has action beyond me. 

Now I have thousands of people around the world who use these tools, and they are out making a difference in people’s lives every day, and that really thrills me.

VisualSpeaks ice breaker kits image

How did you first discover that when people put collages together that it created deep and meaingful communication and connection?

Christine: Well, I had some indication because I’d been teaching people to make collages, and I noticed that my students would talk about what they were doing using deep stories. And so I thought, oh, there’s something there with that.

Then I developed a testing method. I was in graduate school, and I had access to all these professors and people who knew how to do structured testing. And so I started by laminating 10,000 photographs from books and magazines, then I put them into 98 categories. 

Then I had hundreds of people go through this process with me. And basically, I just asked them to make these collages. And then I didn’t even engage with them, I just asked them to do it and tell me stories while I took notes. 

Eventually, I learned how to optimize their experience. I learned what worked best. And then once I did that, I understood the quality of the photographs because that makes a big difference. And then I spent a year photographing with a business partner and a couple other photographers. And we found the images that work the best and then created the project and tools. It was a long process, it took me two years to do it. 

With such a wide range of projects and jobs, what has been your favorite you’ve done, whether individually, in the community, or at a school?

Christine: I did this piece probably five years ago, it was called For Everyone. And it was on the side of the library about diversity and inclusion. It’s a printmaking project that we blew up to 80 feet long. Then I asked the community to come and sign on the sections of it in their native languages.It says “for everyone” in the 16 languages that are spoken in our city. 

There’s something about diversity and inclusion being celebrated. That has been one of the pieces that has touched me the most and it’s still up. There’s just so much about it, so many layers to it. 

I wrote a grant to do the project. And I got to use this cool, it’s like vinyl, but it’s like a sticker on the building. So I didn’t paint it on, I stuck it on the building. And it’s removable which is super cool. 

So it showed me a material that enables us to do temporary installations on outdoor walls and there’s even a version that you can drive on so you can do it on  pavement. So I discovered this cool new technique. There was a lot of learning, a lot of people involved in it, and it was just a great project.

As someone who is carving out their own career and following your passion, what advice would you give to someone wanting to leave a 9-5 and follow their own passion?

Christine: You have to be realistic that you’re not going to go off and just be an artist, you are starting a business and you have to have business skills. I think many people are surprised at how much time we spend marketing, doing all of this other stuff, and how much isn’t about making art. 

It’s not unusual to spend 50% of your time marketing. But also you have to have the skills to run a business, you’ve got to have a business structure, you have to have a separate bank account. 

And then the more skills you have in all of this other stuff, the better off you’ll be. Can you build a website? That takes a whole other set of skills. Can you create graphics? Do you have some simple graphic design skills? 

The more media skills you have, the more technical skills you have on the computer particularly, the easier it’s going to be for you to run your business. There’s this idea that you get discovered and everything works out. But it doesn’t for most people, there’s a few gifted people who that happens for, it’s just like in the music industry. 

When you think about all the people you know that play music and how few of them are making bazillions of dollars, the same thing happens in the art world. Of course, we see the people that are making the bazillions of dollars all the time. And it’s not like that for everybody. 

You can make a living as an artist. I’ve made my living as an artist my whole career. You just have to be realistic about what being an artist is, it’s about being a creative entrepreneur. 

You need the entrepreneurial and creative skills to make it come together and replace an income. And remember you have to pay for your health insurance, your social security, you have to make sure that you are keeping back 20 – 30% of everything you make for taxes because that can get you at the end of the year. 

You have to be willing to spend money on things like accountants and lawyers. It’s about going in with your eyes open. I never say don’t do it. But I do think it’s very helpful if you already know how to make money from whatever it is you’re doing before you jump off the cliff. Because I see very talented people who have beautiful art decide they’re going to become artists and they don’t learn how to sell the art before they take the jump.

It’s a mindset piece about knowing that your work is worth it, as well as constantly changing methods for how to sell. It’s just like social media, it’s always shifting, Nothing is the same as it used to be with people engaging with the world differently since the pandemic. We’re all kind of redefining together.

VisualSpeaks Case Study textile print image

Why did you decide to start using Tailwind?

Christine: I love Tailwind because I can batch work. Marketing can take up 50% of your time, who wants to spend that much time? When I’m in my creative space, I guard my creative time. I like to immerse. I like to spend hours and just really get in the zone and Tailwind enables me to not have to think about Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest every day. I can get into a headspace where I can set everything up and let it go. 

That was initially why I started using Tailwind. 

Tailwind has gone through a lot of iterations since I’ve had an account and it just keeps getting better and better. It keeps giving me more tools to spend less time which is fantastic. I feel like they understand how difficult it is for small businesses to have to do all the stuff. And so, the product keeps changing in ways that serve me better and better.

What has been your favorite feature on Tailwind?

Christine: Scheduling. But some of the new stuff is cool too. Being able to do some of the graphics in Tailwind is awesome! It saves so much time. Now that you can integrate more accounts, that’s fantastic too because I’ve had multiple accounts in the past. And now you can see the whole picture better with this latest update which is helpful because it’s so easy to get scattered as a creative entrepreneur. Especially one that is doing a lot of different projects.

You are creating tools that help our accounts look more professional. 

And lastly, what’s next for you and your career?

Christine: Right now, I’m working on taking my surface pattern designs and pitching them to companies. I’m looking for licensing partners and stuff for that work I’m doing. And then after that, I want to get more into teaching again. I miss teaching. I want to get more online classes and things like that going.

I’m mainly just trying to decide what to teach. Because once again, I do so many things, so that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

Where you can find Christine and VisualSpeak

Were you as wowed as me?

Want to see what Christine is up to? Check out her website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

And if you want to learn more about VisualsSpeak, you can visit it’s website and see what products and services are offered. And don’t forget to check out Christine’s About page to see all of her incredible accomplishments!

Until next time, friends!

Christine wanted to change the way educators taught by bringing art into math and science. Come read how she crafted her career to do just that!

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