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Originally published Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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A very fine line: Artist turns her room into her canvas

Shantell Martin, a London-born artist whose line drawings adorn the walls of private homes and companies, has made her room in Brooklyn her canvas.

The New York Times

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"I didn't actually decide to do the whole room at first," said Shantell Martin, contemplating the freestyle line drawings that cover all four walls and the ceiling of the room she rents in Brooklyn.

Initially, she said, she planned to limit herself to part of one wall, a section under a chest-high, black-slate mantel, where there might once have been a fireplace: It was ideal, she decided, because it was self-contained, like a frame.

"I thought maybe that would just be enough," Martin, 31, said. "But it's never enough."

A London-born artist whose stream-of-consciousness drawings adorn the walls of private homes and companies like the trend consultancy PSFK, Martin is also known for live performances in which she makes drawings that are digitally projected and set to light and music, events that have been staged in a variety of venues, from the Museum of Modern Art to nightclubs in Tokyo.

"She draws on everything," said her friend Sarah Strauss, a founding partner of the design firm Bigprototype. "At dinner, she's drawing on the napkin, then the table, then her hand."

So when Strauss, 35, and her partner, Holly Hobart, 34, invited Martin to move into the top floor of the 1890s brownstone they own in Bedford-Stuyvesant, it was understood that she would draw on the walls. "It seemed natural we'd let her have this large canvas on the top floor to do her thing," Strauss said.

They made just one request, Martin said: "Don't touch the hallway."

Martin, who has lived in New York for three years, bouncing around between sublets, moved in last year. She pays $800 a month for the run of the floor, which includes a living area, a laundry room, an office, a bathroom and a 160-square-foot bedroom furnished almost entirely with things given to her by friends.

And while her drawings have crept out of the bedroom, onto the laundry room walls and onto large wooden boards and sheets of vellum in the office, she has been true to her word: The only evidence of her work in the hallway is a smattering of colorful Post-it notes with the words "why" and "here" written backward or upside down.

The genesis of Martin's wall drawings can be traced to a Moleskine notebook she acquired shortly after completing her degree in graphic design at Central Saint Martins, the London art school. The book had accordion-style pages that unfolded to a length of about seven feet. Using a fine-point pen, she began drawing on one or two panels at a time. Then she found herself jumping around the spread, enjoying the challenge of filling the gaps in between as much as she did making the small-scale drawings.

Eight years and 24 accordion books later, she looked at that first section of wall in her room in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and realized it didn't feel finished.

So she continued drawing above the mantel. And then that seemed incomplete unless the drawings spread to the right.

Finally, taking a $2 black medium-width Staedtler Lumocolor in hand, she spontaneously lapped the room in one swoop, making a continuous, free-flowing line along three walls.

"Then it was like the accordion book," she said. "I thought, 'Now I've committed."'

The drawings Martin has done so far, she said, have used up about 25 pens, which she buys in bulk from Blick, and a couple of weeks' time, spread out over the last year.

Most of her work involves an element of impermanence, so this project represents a shift, but a welcome one.

"This is my first place where I feel settled," she said. "Everywhere else, I felt like I was renting a room."

She added, "Now I can make my own space."

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