Interview with Visual Artist Marty Coleman – Part 2

August 28, 2009 at 12:16 am 3 comments


He MAKEs Absorbent Art:
An Interview with
Visual Artist Marty Colema
Part 2

Read Part 1 of  Marty’s Interview

MC_NapkinDad150In Part 1, Marty Coleman spoke of his artistic roots and artists who have influenced his work.  Marty also shared some of his thoughts on his own unique approach to the creative process both in his art and his life.  This approach led him in some surprising directions, one of which was the creation of his “napkin art”…


JW:  Marty, can you talk a little bit about being The Napkin Dad?  I love the story of how you came to do this.

MC: The Napkin Dad Daily started out as funny doodles on napkins that I put in my daughters’ lunches in middle school and high school.  I combined my love of ideas (via short quotes) with my love of drawing cartoon creatures.


I found it fun and relatively easy to do each morning as I made their lunch so that is what I did.   I found that not only did my daughters like them but their lunch table-mates liked them as well. That made me think about how they could reach a wider audience via a book or some other way.

mc Ellamc antsavalanche_sm

When I unexpectedly got the first year’s napkins back as a gift from my middle daughter on Father’s day I was very moved.  I continued to draw them for another 4 years until my youngest was done with high school.  You can read the full story here.

A few years later I started posting them to my flickr site. A while after that I made a blog where I would post one every day, The Napkin Dad Daily.  I got a great reaction and a small following as a result.

I am an Obama fan and when he won the election I went into my napkin archives looking for one that expressed how I felt. I couldn’t find one so I drew my first new napkin in 4 years that morning.  I made up the quote ‘America the Beautiful is Beautiful Today’ with a drawing of Obama raising his hands in victory.


That drawing got noticed by Time Magazine and published in the ‘Person of the Year’ issue.  As a result I started to draw new ones when news reporters came to interview me and wanted to see me drawing.  I found I wanted to respond to what I was thinking about now instead of just posting drawings I had done many years before.

Marty Coleman's Napkin Art in Time Magazine

Marty Coleman's Napkin Art in Time Magazine

The publicity led to me creating a self-published book titled ‘The Napkin Dad’s Book of Absorbent Ideas’ which I am selling on my website.  I am also in negotiations now with a publisher about a larger book of the same title.  I also have coffee cups, note cards (coming soon) and t-shirts that I am selling.

Getting this commercial endeavor going has been a new and fun addition to my professional life!

JW: Marty, do you feel that you have a spiritual element in your work?  If so, how would you define it?  How has that element evolved over the years?

MC:  I have an ethical/moral element to my work, but I wouldn’t say I have a spiritual one.  I think about ethical issues, I discuss moral dilemmas and I ponder deeper meanings in life.  These things naturally come through in my artwork and writing.

My drawings at my Napkin Dad Daily blog are all about lessons for humans to learn. Many are about those deeper ideas of life, love, mortality, hatred, emotion, evolution, time, etc. My blog commentary revolves around what I am thinking and learning and what I hope others might learn.

In much of my photo-collage artwork I am combining portraits of people with words and images that bring up questions about age, beauty, self-perception, ego, purpose and value.  I use story telling in some, brief and obscure comments in others to cause the viewer to consider the moral and material world both they and the subject are living in and how their perception of it may be close or far from each other’s reality.

"IN Theatre": The reporter Sharon Phillips of Fox23, with a brother far away.

Marty Coleman: "IN Theatre": The reporter Sharon Phillips of Fox23, with a brother far away.

I sometimes see ‘spiritual’ as a code word in creative arenas for soft, ethereal, other-worldly images or sounds.  It looks or sounds ‘heavenly’ but it is just a human association, different from culture to culture.  It isn’t really any more connected to a spiritual realm than any other sound or image. It just coincides with a human feeling about what the spiritual realm is like.  It is still in the physical realm with sound waves and light reflection.

Marty Coleman: Spontaneous Is

Marty Coleman: "Spontaneous Is"

True spirituality for me is grounded in the material world, as odd as that sounds. The reason I think that is that no matter what you believe theologically you can’t become your religious ideal without doing it in the physical world.

You have to think with a physical brain, pray with it as well. You have to do the good works of your spiritual ideals with physical hands and feet.  You have to say the good words with your larynx and voice box and it comes out as sound waves into another person’s ear drum.  It is the physical that allows the spiritual to have life, in other words.

Spirit Being with Wings in the Center of America

Marty Coleman: "Spirit Being with Wings in the Center of America"

That is why my artwork is mostly focused on questions of life on this planet, even if I mention an extra dimension that we cannot fully grasp.

JW:  You know, everything you just said above says to me that there is a deep spiritual foundation to your work.  I think we just say it differently.

A spiritual teacher of mine is fond of reminding me that we have eyes BECAUSE we see – and not the other way around.  So, we have hands, feet and voices BECAUSE we communicate and give expression.  Perhaps we can say that we have brains BECAUSE we think, reason, receive inspiration and pray.  The outer material world is therefore an objectification of what already is – what already lives as idea in consciousness.

MC: Your comment harkens back to Plato’s cave and the idea that we are living and existing in a cave with shadows and impressions of what is out in the sun.  That we ‘see through a mirror darkly’ to quote the Apostle Paul. It is a theological and scientific exploration that is going on full blast in our world, something I enjoy investigating.

JW:  Me too!

Marty, I would love to know if you listen to music while you create? Does music influence you?  Finally, who or what do you listen to?

MC:  I usually do not listen to music while I do my art work.  I have a lot of writing with my napkin drawings for example.  To have any music with lyrics in the background is distracting to my own verbal thoughts and writing.  Music without lyrics is less distracting, but I still find I prefer silence most of the time.

JW – I am exactly the same way. I could never study, read or do much of anything with music going on because I would (and will)  just stop and get into the music.

MC: Music does influence me a great deal.  I get inspired, motivated, pushed, emotional and happy listening to it.   I don’t see it being a direct influence on my artwork, more just a general life influence.

I love story telling and so those musical genres that have that focus are my favorites.  Broadway musicals, in particular West Side Story, Rent, Oklahoma, The Music Man, Jesus Christ Superstar, The King and I, Damn Yankees, Camelot.

Marty Coleman: Truths and Things I Made Up About These Women #7

Marty Coleman: Truths and Things I Made Up About These Women #7

Country music, in particular the folk side of it, appeals to me a great deal.

JW:  It seems natural to me that you have such a love of story telling in music.  You  have such a deep sense of  “story” in your art.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, are a few of my favorites.  ‘Jubilee’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter and ‘Wonderful World’ as sung by Louis Armstrong are my two favorite songs.

Then of course all the oldies from the 60s and beyond that I can sing every lyric to at full blast in my car, those I like as well!  Can’t forget the 80s music we danced to at Eulipia either.   LOVE those!

JW: Absolutely!

Marty, before we close here, I want to ask you a couple of James Lipton’s questions from  his show, “Inside The Actor’s Studio”:

What profession would you choose to do if you weren’t an artist?

MC:  If I weren’t an artist I would like to be a lawyer or politician. Unlike the general cliché that people talk about, I have very high regard for both professions and think most of them are doing a good service in our country.

JW:  What profession would you NEVER do?

I would never be a person who builds sewers. Not because it is a dirty job, I don’t mind that part. But because you do all this very exacting work that deserves some recognition and then it is buried in a hole in the ground and know one ever can see your expertise and excellence. It is the ultimate example of your work being buried and forgotten.  I am way to egotistical to do that with my work!

JW:  Any summary comments?

Thanks Julia for finding my art and me a subject worthy enough to be talked about in your blog.  I have the greatest respect for all the incredible courage and discipline you have had, the perseverance you have shown and the love you have for your art.

JW:  Thanks Marty.  And thank you for giving us a look through your amazing kaleidescope of  forms, colors, stories, images and ideas.

Read Part 1 of  Marty’s Interview

MC_StatesandStagesAbout Marty Coleman

When I asked Marty to supply me with his bio, he jauntily referred me to his site.
I’m glad he did!  Here’s what Marty tells us (abridged) in his own words:


  • I have 2 degrees in art, a BA and a MFA. I emphasized printmaking, drawing, and photography.
  • I taught Beginning & Figure Drawing, Design & Color, and Art Appreciation for 9 years at the college level.
  • My work started out in grad school as photo-realist drawings. I liked the photos better by themselves so I started doing photography and photo-collage on its own.
  • I continued to draw and paint, but from live models not photos, with imagined narrative imagery behind the portrait.
  • I also started doing some commissioned photo-shoots; black and white portraits and figures.
  • I left teaching and went into computer art. I moved, along with my family, to Oklahoma to get my first job in that industry. I created Educational CDroms for kids, and that led to Internet Design.
  • I stopped creating large scale works or exhibiting my work during an 11 year period in which I worked and helped raised my 3 daughters. I did, however, continue to create a large amount of artwork on a small scale, including the napkins.
  • When my youngest graduated from high school, my plan was to re-enter the art world as a practicing, exhibiting artist, which is what I am now doing. I am currently a full time independent artist, photographer and web designer. MAKE Studio is my business.
  • In 2006 I fell in love with and married a wonderful woman, Linda. With the support of her and my 4 daughters (added an exceptional step-daughter in the marriage) I am continuing on my chosen path.
  • That is what this is ‘about’.” Read the whole story!


Entry filed under: Art, Inspiration, Inspiratus, Inspiratus Interviews, Inspiring Sites.

Interview with Visual Artist Marty Coleman – Part 1 Inspiration Infusion: Mr. B and His 5th Grade Chorus

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kaitlin  |  August 28, 2009 at 12:23 am

    I’d seen some of his napkin art before, but never the photo collages. he’s an interesting, talented and versatile artist. great interview!

    • 2. juliawade  |  August 29, 2009 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Kaitlin,
      I agree — Marty is very interesting and versatile — he has A LOT to say! Thank you for visiting Inspiratus!

  • […] Read Part 2 of Marty’s Interview […]


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