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Q&A With Cumberland-Based Illustrator Alex Maertz

Q&A With Cumberland-Based Illustrator Alex Maertz

Alex Maertz is an illustrator whose whimsical work draws on themes of nature, play and animals.

Her pieces, often done in pen or pencil, uses simple shapes, patterns and colours to convey a feeling that connects people to the greater natural world. In Alex’s art, humans and animals coexist harmoniously; at times, at times, animals appear with human qualities and show up as the central figures in a piece. We caught up with Alex to learn more about her process, her inspiration, and some fun facts about her dog Roo.

You’re based in Cumberland. Did you grow up there? If not, what drew you to the Island?

I grew up in North Vancouver. My husband and I moved to Cumberland last October after a weekend visit in the summer. It’s one of those magical places that instantly feels like home. We were both drawn to the Island lifestyle.

How much—if any—did growing up on the West Coast shape your career as an artist, illustrator and designer?

Growing up on the coast totally shaped my career. My childhood was spent hiking in forests and swimming in oceans, lakes and rivers. Everything I create is influenced by the beauty of the natural world. 

What sparked an interest in art for you? 

My whole family is very creative—my dad makes custom wood furniture and jewellery; my mom’s a painter and web designer; my aunts and uncles are painters, illustrators, and photographers. Art has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Tell us about your transition into becoming an illustrator.

After high school, I jumped into a business administration program at a local college. I quickly realized that a life of spreadsheets wasn’t the right path for me. After that, I was en route to becoming a horticulturist. I truly thought that was what I wanted to do, but over the years, something shifted. I suddenly felt the need to create. I’ve always drawn and loved looking at illustration books and magazines, and listened to podcasts on how to become an artist and illustrator. Finally, I decided to apply for the IDEA program at Capilano University—it changed the course of my life. It took many years of meandering, but I found what I love to do. 

You say that you instinctively draw on nature as an inspiration and a guide. Are you concerned about the fate of our natural world? How important is connecting people to nature through your art?

It’s heartbreaking to hear bad news every day about our natural world. I’m always trying to find the most sustainable practices for producing my work and love aligning with companies that do the same. Connecting people to nature through my art is the main reason why I illustrate. 

What can we learn from nature as a society?

Whenever I’m feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, I take a walk in the woods. Nature is slow, grounding and calming. It teaches us to move with awareness and to enjoy the small things. 

Besides nature, what else gives you inspiration? 

Female athletes, particularly female soccer players. I don’t draw them very often, but I constantly feel inspired and empowered by them. I love the equal pay movement that’s happening in professional women’s soccer right now. A few of my favourite players started an amazing clothing and lifestyle company called re-inc—they are breaking norms and challenging outdated beliefs. 

You predominantly illustrate, but do you experiment with other mediums?

I love to experiment with collage and paint (with inks, gouache and acrylics).

What are your favourite projects to work on?

Projects that help with environmental conservation, and also children’s books. 

What’s your favourite spot on the Island to visit, and why?

Tofino. It is such a magical place, and even though I’m pretty bad at surfing, I’m obsessed with the sport and the amazing women who do it.

How do you make space as an artist to develop your craft?

It’s hard with a full-time day job, but I usually spend an hour or two after work on illustration projects for clients and use the weekends to experiment and develop my own work. The hours when there are no limitations is when I feel I make the most progression. 

How do design and art shape our daily lives?

Design and art are everywhere you look, from the architecture of buildings and Instagram ads to beer labels and store signage. Dieter Rams once said, “Good design is as little design as possible.” Most people don’t walk around and point at all the things they see on the street and say, “Look at that amazing design!” All works of design and art evoke emotional responses, even if it’s bad. Good design makes our lives easier. Art can bring joy to our daily lives and can be a form of therapy and freedom.

Who is someone on the Island you’re inspired by?

There are so many talented people on the Island. Angie Roussin, who started Piña Styles in Ucluelet, has been a huge inspiration for many years. She was a big reason why I wanted to take the IDEA program at Capilano University. Laura Prpich, of Caribou Creative in Courtenay, is a wonderful human who designs the most beautiful branding. And my parents, who own Yonder Wood in Yellow Point. They are so creative and innovative.

Do you connect with other creative people? How important is to you to surround yourself with like-minded individuals?

I love connecting with other creative people. In-person connections are my favourite, but I also love to reach out to other artists and illustrators on Instagram or by email. They always have wonderful stories and insight. It’s very important for me to surround myself with like-minded individuals, but I also like listening to people with a totally different perspective. It keeps it interesting!

Any advice for someone pursuing a career as an artist or designer on the Island?

You don’t have to live in a huge city to make a living as an artist or illustrator or designer. If you work hard enough, you can find work anywhere. There is a quote by Rumi that I’ve screenshotted and pinned many times that reads “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Keep following the things that bring you joy.

Finally, give us three fun facts about your cute dog, Roo. 

Roo is afraid of flies (she will hide under the bed if there’s one in the house), she snores really, really loudly at night, and her paws smell like Doritos. She is truly the best dog ever. 

Check out more of Alex’s work online or give her a follow on Instagram.

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