What aesthetic comes to mind when you think of band merch? Perhaps it’s the old-school look of seminal bands of yore like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac. Or maybe you get visions of ‘90s and early 2000’s hard rock band tees with skull motifs and spiky wordmarks— here’s looking at you, KoRn! We’d wager that illustrated anthropomorphized objects and food doesn’t come to mind.
But such is the aesthetic developed by the indie rock band Frankie Cosmos’s synth and guitar player, Lauren Martin. The NYC-based multi-hyphenate creative is a classically-trained visual artist who studied painting at the National Academy of Design before pivoting to the Fashion Institute of Technology. While at FIT, Martin found her way to Frankie Cosmos, where she began developing the band’s aesthetic through the merch she’d design and then screenprint.
Now, Martin is going after her freelance illustration design career in full force, wracking up an impressive client list that includes Apple, Adobe, and The New York Times among many others. Her joyful, distinct style is more of a fully-realized universe of smirking egg yolks and mischievous, cherubic meatballs that has charmed brands and the public alike. The playful visionary was kind enough to step away from her trusty iPad for a while to answer a few of my questions about her work and life below.
How would you describe your illustration aesthetic in your own words?
I always find it so hard to describe my own art! I think it’s playful, colorful, influenced by old cartoons, but also influenced by my fine art background. It’s a combination of all my artistic pursuits up until now. I guess it is really a representation of myself!
Where does your unique illustration style come from? How did that develop?
In a way, I think my current style is most similar to how I drew as a kid. After high school, I studied fine art, and was doing mostly portrait painting, and I just didn’t feel a connection to that sort of work. It wasn’t until I started designing and screenprinting merch for my band that I started to channel some of that childhood artistic energy. My work became a lot more playful, and I think it’s continuing to get looser and weirder with time.
Why is anthropomorphizing food and objects so interesting to you as an illustrator?
For so long, my focus was only on drawing people, and it began to feel stifling. It felt easier to let go of what I thought my art should look like when I decided to anthropomorphize food and objects— less pressure or something.
Do you have any favorite client work that you’ve done? Which projects are you proudest of?
I feel really lucky to be able to say that there are almost too many good projects to choose from! But I really love my ongoing collaboration with Uniqlo— they give me so much freedom and really trust me. I also loved doing the visuals for Summerstage— it was so cool to see my work in Times Square, and on the Subway, and plastered all over New York. I felt iconic.
How do your music and visual arts practices inform one another?
I think I really honed my illustration skills while doing the merch for the band. And I’ve always been a visual thinker, so I think I approach playing music in an illustrative way, if that makes sense. I think the illustrations I made for the band matched the music, and the songs informed the color, vibe, and subject matter.
Is it hard to juggle being in a band with being a working visual artist? What has that process been like for you?
It’s changed a lot over the course of being in the band. When I first joined, I was in my last year of college and immediately went on tour after my last day of school, so I didn’t have time to start a personal art practice outside of school and outside of music. It really took until five years later, in 2020, when all of our tours were canceled for me to start to really pursue making my own work and really take it seriously. I recently started transitioning away from touring full-time to focus fully on my art.
What experience do you hope viewers of your work have when encountering it?
I want to make people feel good, feel nostalgic, laugh, and connect.