“I didn’t know that working as an artist was a viable option,” recalled the spectacled illustrator, Martcellia Liunic, on the journey that led her here. The artist, whose work is known for vividly bright hues and fluid, playful doodles, credits her grandfather for her artistic discovery. Watching him devote his days as a retiree into drawing was what introduced her to the therapeutic effect of art, which made her grow fond of the craft. “It just looked so relaxing.”
It was this memory that Martcellia sought sanctuary in during her time working in a marketing agency up to the mid-2010s. Worn out from client projects, she spent her evenings doodling, putting on paper the animated characters that fill her imagination. Little did she know, they would evolve and take off in 2015.
That year, during Kopi Keliling’s Catalyst Market, Martcellia sold the first collection of what would come to be Liunic on Things, the illustrator’s brand of wearables and accessories. “It was all black and white—as I didn’t have the proper drawing tools yet, just pens—and I only had a month to prepare. But then people loved and bought my work, which gave me the confidence to make the jump. Things just fall into place ever since, all organic without a plan.”
“I’ve always liked pink, and that’s the colour I usually start my drawings with.”
She takes on a similarly unplanned approach when she draws, following her artistic sentimentalities as she weaves colours into a compendium of bright-eyed animals, flowers, clouds, and clashing patterns. “I’ve always liked pink, and that’s the colour I usually start my drawings with,” told the artist. “I used to be afraid of playing with colours because I’m mostly self-taught. I started with contrasting blue and red, then on to primary hues before finally mixing it up with other palettes. In the end, I just follow my feelings.”
In the past year or so, the artist has begun to explore out of her spontaneous doodle trademark, creating a new body of work that is more deliberate in style: bright shades of pink and red combined with similarly striking backgrounds like checkered patterns and eye-catching shades of blue—unveiling remnants of her initial exploration with colour.
The inspirations behind Martcellia’s popping creations come from many sources: films, songs, established artists like Yoshitomo Nara and even her beloved dog, Bailey. But perhaps one of the biggest influences behind her seemingly irregular style is the work of French painter Henri Matisse. “Discovering Matisse’s work made me realise that art can be fluid and not restricted by the boundaries of realism,” she spoke with lasting wonder.
Looking at the cheerful characters her illustrations embody, some might mistakenly expect the same temperament from the artist—an assumption which Martcellia would quickly deny. “I’m not a cheerful person at all. I draw them to cheer me up.” And indeed, the effects can be felt by those who witness and enjoy it. “People would approach me and say that my illustration is a mood-booster. Seeing how my work, which is personal to me, can also affect others personally—that’s what makes it all worth it.”
“I’m not a cheerful person at all. I draw them to cheer me up.”
She refers to her daily grind: most of her waking moments are spent in her studio, juggling the management of Liunic on Things, working on client commissions, and lately, producing NFT. On the last one, Martcellia hesitated to say much on the controversy of the digital platform, giving it the benefit of the doubt for its youngness. But on a personal basis, she finds NFT to be an empowering tool; it has given her more control over her work by way of royalty and provided her with a new avenue of income. “Don’t mistake it as easy money though,” she quickly noted. “Finding a collector is a lot of work.”
Despite her hectic schedule, Martcellia still finds time in the day to unwind with personal projects, where she would explore other mediums through which she can express her reflective musings to avoid burnout. Gouache and digital arts are her bread and butter, but she has also dipped her toes in watercolour, acrylic, clay, collage, all the way to rubber linocuts; most of these she keeps unpublished, tucked into the corners of her studio for her private enjoyment.
Ultimately, Martcellia’s fascination with the creation of art and the comfort she gains from it remains true, even when it has become her full-time occupation. Reflecting on the meaning of her craft, the conclusion is simple: “Art is healing to me.”