This Santa Ana Wildlife Artist and Muralist Creates Homages to Nature

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Jonathan Martinez, 29, puts his art to work raising awareness of endangered animals and sparking a love of art and nature in inner-city kids. He has partnered with the National Wildlife Federation on its #SaveLACougars campaign, and his art has appeared throughout Southern California. A proud product of Santa Ana Unified schools, Martinez recently partnered with the district to complete a mural near downtown Santa Ana and plans to lead more art demonstrations for students in the future.

I didn’t really know I could draw until I was 17 or so. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching art shows on PBS—Bob Ross, obviously, and this lady who would paint plants. When I was at Fullerton College, I just randomly took some art classes because I didn’t know what else to take, and that started the whole thing. We had to do a project, a series of paintings that were consistent, and I decided to do it on bears. That’s how the whole focus on wildlife started. I started learning about all these animals that are endangered or soon will become endangered. So I decided to focus my work on trying to spread awareness of these animals.

I was heavily influenced by street art and graffiti artists I looked up to. That’s how I got into murals. I wanted to learn to spray paint the way they do. Now it’s my favorite medium to work with. It’s so much faster than painting with a brush. Once you know how to use it, it’s a very versatile medium. You can do hard lines, soft lines; you can do a lot of different effects. It’s just a matter of figuring out the little tricks of how spray paint works and using different tips to your advantage. Once you’ve blocked everything out, all the background, the base colors are laid out on the wall, then you start getting into the fine details; that’s what I like most. When the animal is taking shape and coming to life, that’s my favorite part of the process.

Even now, I wouldn’t call myself a professional artist. I’ve only been doing this for 10 years. It feels like a long time, but compared to the masters like Matisse—they made art their whole lives. They never settled; they always knew there was more to work on.

Something I love doing is actually learning about the anatomy of the animal. If I know I’m working on an animal, like a mountain lion, I’ll grab an anatomy book about it and learn the basic muscles when it’s standing this way or that way. (But) the best thing you can do is see an animal in person, moving around, so you get that sense of how they move. Working from life is the best. I’ve seen mountain lions in captivity, up close. Now I’m working with the National Wildlife Federation; they go out and tag them to keep track of them. I hope I can actually go out with them and see one and get some images, too, and create some artwork out of it.

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