Watches are often compared to art. And a fine mechanical watch is a work of art. Just gaze into the exhibition case back of an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch and you’ll see what we mean. British born, Canadian based, artist James Martin has taken this fascination to a stunning new level and kindly agreed to be interviewed by the WatchGecko Magazine in November 2022.
Richard: James many thanks for taking time to chat to the WatchGecko Magazine. Let’s start at the very beginning, how did you become an artist and what medium do you use?
James: Thanks Richard. Ever since and early age I have had a pencil in my hands. I’ve always been fascinated by drawing and before long began to explore the more technical side of the medium which ultimately led me to watches. Today I use Staedtler graphite pencils from 2H to 9B. It’s also worth mentioning that paper matters. When I used cartridge paper the paper didn’t hold much of the graphite. So I swapped to hot press paper and it holds the graphite much better which allows me to create deep matte blacks.
R: And how did you come to draw watches with this sort of photo-realism?
J: It’s like a default for me when pencil hit paper. I could see different ways to do it, maybe impressionism or going crazy with colour. There are so many ways to interpret a watch movement. Whatever I do I like to bring my own style to highly detailed movements.
R: What was the first watch you ever drew?
J: My first drawing was about seven years ago and it was of a TAG Heuer 1500 Series.
R: Is any brand more difficult than another?
J: Omega to be honest is the most difficult. Especially the “No Time To Die” bracelet. It involved so may repetitive ovals. I’ve done some art for Armin Strom which was incredibly difficult. They have some fantastically detailed designs on dials.
R: Talking of complexity, how on earth do you prepare for such a complex drawing as the Omega calibre 321?
J: I use a grid technique. You take a piece of paper and grid it off into equally sized squares. Then you draw a centred circle. Then in those squares you start building the drawing from there. Especially with the 321 I had to walk away several times. Its so difficult to get everything where it should be and just the slightest variation can throw the whole thing off. I spent 63 hours drawing the 321 and at least 7 hours of that was prep.
R: Are you looking at the movement in front of you? Do you actually have a dismantled Speedmaster there?
J: I am just looking at a photograph online as its more practical as I can zoom in to details. It would of course be amazing to have the movement there also. I would be over the moon with that (no pun intended)!
R: How long does an average drawing take? Let’s take for example your work which shows the front and back of a Speedmaster.
J: That was done back in 2019. Probably 50-60 hours as it was not too detailed. Strange story though, the longer you spend on a picture the more you almost start to hallucinate and begin to see things moving. My face is only a few centimetres from the page and I swear I have seen hands moving in the corner of my eye. As it looks more like a picture your mind starts to take over. That’s normally my cue to stop and take a break!
R: You have completed a few in colour?
J: The colour is achieved by the use of F&C Polychromos pencils. It is hard to get the colours accurate. I mix colours and its just trial and error to get, for example, a Pepsi GMT bezel right. I started with a layer of light red, then a colour called “brick”. Maybe 5-6 reds to get the right colour.
R: Where can people buy your incredible art?
J: My art is for sale on my Etsy page. I’d like to have my own site but I just need to fund that properly so, for the moment, its just Etsy. I also have a YouTube site where you can see the work being created.
R: What's next and can you be commissioned?
J: I am working on a 410 El Primero movement. I’d love to draw anything connected to JLC like the Reverso. Old or new. Perhaps a sunburst or degrade’ dial which is not as hard as you may think to re-create in black and white. Yes I can be commissioned either by a company or an individual.
R: James thank you so much for your time and access to your art. We’d definitely like to stay in touch and keep our readers informed of new work you are doing.
J: Many thanks Richard. I will definitely let the WatchGecko Magazine see my latest works.
Of you are interested in buying some of James’ wonderful art please follow this link to to his portfolio and shop. A perfect present for the watch lover in your life. JamesMAillustration - Etsy UK