As a young child at Arroyo Vista Elementary School, Jimi Martinez discovered the power of art.
Struggling to fit in among his peers, Martinez found sanctuary in drawing pictures of characters and scenes from his favorite video games such as Mortal Kombat and Doom II.
“I didn’t have a choice, drawing is what I did best,” Martinez said this week during a chat with the Review. “At the time, I didn’t feel like I had a real voice. I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t popular — I was just a short kid and I let it hinder myself. The only device that could gain me any kind of footing anywhere was that I could draw.
“A lot of times when I couldn’t speak, that’s what I used to do the talking for me. After seeing people react strongly to my drawings, that’s when I realized the power of art and the impact it could have.”
High school proved to be a game-changer for the young artist, who was forced to step out of his comfort zone of video-game drawings and into the world of fine art. At South Pasadena High School, Martinez signed up for Advanced Placement Art with Mrs. Thurber, who challenged him to become a better artist.
“The moment I entered her classroom, my jaw dropped,” Martinez recalled. “It was like an art gallery with all of these beautiful paintings. It changed my perspective, and I realized that I needed to operate on an entirely different level as an artist. When she saw people who had potential, she would get on them and push them to become better. I was determined to show her what I was capable of. I ended up earning a 5 on my AP portfolio.”
After graduating from high school, Martinez attended Pasadena City College for several years.
“I knew I wasn’t going to a four-year college,” he said. “I didn’t want to become a doctor or lawyer. I considered art as a career, but still lacked confidence in myself at that point. I took any art classes that I could at PCC to help me to understand everything that was out there. I was still trying to figure out my purpose.”
During this time, Martinez also worked as a youth counselor at SP Kinesthetic Kids in South Pasadena, where he discovered his other passion: educating and mentoring children.
“Working with kids gets you motivated because they look up to you and I learned a lot in communicating with them,” he noted.
Martinez was eventually accepted into the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where he majored in Illustration and Design. After graduating with a BFA with honors in 2013, he found work as a freelance illustrator and started doing commissioned work. He participated in a variety of different animation projects for Uproxx, an entertainment and popular culture news website, including their popular “In Theory” series, which has generated millions of views.
Martinez was also commissioned to draw several cartoons for a national highway project, and most recently he was hired by Amazon to create 31 watercolor paintings in four days for a video to promote the television series, “Good Omens.”
“A typical watercolor painting takes about 10 hours to complete,” Martinez noted. “But I had to finish each one in about two hours—it was quite the ordeal. I had to binge watch the show and then they filmed me painting the different characters in the series.”
In his spare time, Martinez enjoys creating what he calls “killing time art,” which are pop surrealist portraits that he paints of celebrities and beloved television characters such as Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory.”
“When I’m in-between projects, I like to make fun and goofy art pieces for myself,” he said. “A lot of them are just weird ideas I have. The celebrity portraits are the most fun to do and people connect with them.”
Martinez’s work has been displayed in various galleries around Los Angeles such as The Hive, Copro Nason Gallery and Sugar Mynt Gallery. Sometimes he exhibits at conventions such as Comic-Con, DesignerCon and WonderCon, where he sells prints of his work to fans.
“Social media has played a big role in promoting my art,” Martinez said. “There’s something very gratifying about sharing my work on Instagram. I’ll get likes from people around the world, sometimes as far away as Kazakhstan or Mongolia.”
In the past year and a half, Martinez has taken up a new hobby: creating Plein Air paintings of various locales in his hometown of South Pasadena. He fell in love with the medium when he signed up for a class, and enjoyed traveling to different places such as Pismo Beach to paint scenes.
“I’ve painted a lot of the parks in town, including the Arroyo,” Martinez said. “There’s no place that makes me happier — it’s very nostalgic for me to go down there and paint. I’m trying to work my way up to central South Pasadena. My goal is to start doing more Plein Air paintings of architecture, because there are so many beautiful buildings in town. It takes me around two hours to create one piece, and I try to paint one or two every weekend. I keep my paintings for the most part, but sometimes local children will come up to me and ask for my paintings—I never say no to them.”
Martinez is also a substitute art teacher at local art schools such as Ming Creative Art Academy in Arcadia, where he provides instruction in topics such as animation. He also teaches private art lessons in drawing and painting — some of his pupils were previous kids he worked with back at SP Kinesthetic.
“I find that education is an art form in and of itself,” he said.
“I love helping young people gain confidence in their ideas. I work with enough of them to see how smart and intelligent they are. When you’re meandering at a young age, it encapsulates this feeling where you don’t know what to do or how to get anywhere, and it feels like everyone around you is perpetually moving.
“I think this is where art can save your life. You just have to keep drawing or practicing your chosen medium until something sticks. You need to put in the work, be confident in your ideas, and that’s when things will start working out for you. If I can play even a small role in helping the next generation realize their true potential as artists, then I’m all for it.”