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Shantell Martin

99U Conference 2020

99U Conference Speaker Spotlight: Shantell Martin on Sparking Conversation and Joy with Art

The prolific artist on what gives her purpose and drives her creative impulses.

What does it mean to be a creative? This year’s Adobe 99U Conference is an examination of “The Creative Self.” When we set about curating speakers, we looked to people taking an individualistic approach to their work and careers. Ahead of the event, we’re asking them how they nurture their own creative selves.


Artist Shantell Martin’s large-scale line drawings have an impulsive, joyful quality that draws the audience into her creative process. She has exhibited her work at The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts and the Museum of Modern Art, collaborated with Puma on multiple projects, and joined forces with Kendrick Lamar for a multimedia live performance at Art Basel in Miami. By embracing new platforms and forging creative connections outside the art world, she has made a point of defying expectations of what it means to be an artist. She spoke to us about what guides her creativity and gives her motivation. 


Q. When do you feel most purposeful?

A. When I’m creating work that inspires connection, empathy, and conversation.


Q. How would you describe your creative voice?

A. An indescribable force within me that gives me joy and guides me closer to my most honest, fearless self.


Q. What are your most important work/life boundaries?

A. I’m still figuring that out but something I’ve always made a priority for is sleep/rest. That’s very important to me and my work.


Q. What is your ideal creative environment? What are the circumstances that let you thrive and do your best work?

A. It varies but where I can hear myself and my thoughts and [otherwise] disconnect always helps.


Q. Describe a creative breakthrough that’s had a lasting impact on how you approach your life and work.

A. Knowing how important it is to let yourself say no to things—and being able to trust my intuition on why I do the work I do and why I don’t do the work that I don’t do.


Q. For this year’s 99U Conference, we have invented a menagerie of “creative specimens,” each with a unique personality. Which one do you identify with the most?

A. It’s funny because I identify with both Communicatorum Claritus and Purposo Careerus equally.

[Ed. Note: With its talent for collaboration and communication with other creatures, the Communicatorum Claritus has no known enemies in the creative kingdom. Not easily distracted from its path, the Purposo Careerus’s productive career span is driven by a primal inner purpose.]


Hear from Shantell Martin and more creative specimens at the 12th Annual Adobe 99U Conference, June 3-5, 2020 in New York City.

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