Artist Feature: Marta Torres

by Nisha Btesh August 03, 2019

Artist Feature: Marta Torres

Tell us about how you became the woman you are today. Where did you grow up? What moments in life have influenced your character most?

I grew up in San Salvador, El Salvador. The smallest country in Central America. Most of it is a very conservative culture so it’s easy to stand out. It’s definitely hard at times because there isn’t a lot of support towards the arts or unconventional products but it makes you be even more creative and push the boundaries of what people are used to.  

What has influenced my character the most has probably been the struggles of an artistic career in a country like mine and the struggles of being an entrepreneur. I think I’ve learned a lot from my experiences and it has helped me grow. I’ve also had great mentors first in high school, an art teacher that really believed in me, then in college an architect that encouraged my way of thinking even though it went against the traditional norms of Architecture schools in El Salvador. I think along the way they taught me to believe in myself and that there was value in my work and what I had to say. 

Finish this sentence. I never leave home without my… 

Sketchbook. 

Tell us about the exact moment or period in time when you realized you were born to create.

I started getting into many art courses when I was in high school and around that time I realized it was what made me happy and it just made sense. For me creating and also having fun with my personal style is my form of expression. It also became a creative outlet to create some happiness in a country where sometimes there’s a lot of bad things happening. 

For me it helped that I had a very creative family, even if they didn’t understand my medium specifically at first, they always understood this need to create and explore. It also helped that they always knew I was an artistic person, I remember my parents letting me draw all over the walls in our first house and instead of scolding me, encouraging it. Even though at times they didn’t completely understand what I was trying to do even as an adult, they always knew and respected how art was a part of who I was. 

I don’t really know if there was an exact moment but I know I used to be very afraid to be different, to express myself but as soon as I let that go my work also started to evolve and I can’t imagine myself not doing something creative. 

Tell us a little bit about what drew you to your medium. Did you choose to work with said medium or did it choose you?

I think my main medium, handbag design, chose me. I always wanted to be a fashion designer but there wasn’t a fashion design career in El Salvador. I studied Interior Architecture, kept designing clothes in my free time and then I got the chance to work with a very talented handbag artisan, from there I started designing bags. All my design background at that point helped me to have a different approach to making bags and I fell in love with the idea that a handbag can be anything that holds your day to day objects. 

I’ve been so lucky to explore with my designs and see them come to life, and later see how my clients make them their own with their outfits. I think that joy when someone sees my bags for the first time they get excited in how they’re going to wear it is what makes this medium so exciting. 

My other medium, interior design, chose me but in the way that it was what I could study at the time, at first I hated all the idea of being an architect because all my references to it growing up didn’t feel like something I wanted to do (my dad being a structural engineer and my mom being an architect) but I soon realized that there was much more to it. I fell in love with architecture and interior design during college and I got excited with the idea of transforming space, what surrounds you and the effect it can have on people. I’ve always liked art installations and spaces that make you think or feel. Right now I just do a few freelance interior and furniture designs but it’s definitely a medium I’d love to explore more. 

A lot of women believe they need formal training in order to succeed as a female Artist. What’s your take? Did you have a formal education or are you self taught? 

I studied Interior Architecture and took some courses in illustration before that but my final medium was self-taught, a lot of it I learned during the process. I think formal education does help because it gives you the basic techniques, but there are many things you can learn by yourself or find others that can help you. I know there are many aspects of my line of work that I’m still learning about. For me, Architecture taught me about proportions, measurements, and aesthetics that can be used in many design mediums. 

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

Believe in yourself. 

How do you define your creative gig? Full-time career or side hustle? Explain why you’ve chosen one over the other. 

I’ve been full-time for about a year, I just do a couple of interior design freelance jobs from time to time. For me, it makes more sense to put all of my energy into my business and help it grow, especially when it’s a very small business and I have to take care of different aspects of it. 

What is the message you're sending into the universe with your work? Why do you feel so strongly about said message?

My message is basically that you should have fun with what you wear, to explore colors, shapes. Also, that an accessory is what you make of it and you can express yourself in any kind of style you have. It’s sort of empowering to just be you. As I mentioned before, in such a conservative society that isn’t very inclusive it was important for me to find my voice and my personal style was a huge part of it, that’s what I hope for other young people and to just be themselves in any way. I think we can all use a little joy in our lives and I hope my bags have that effect. 

Give us three of your favorite/ most inspiring things right now. Could be a book, a food, a destination, a song, a person, etc. 

Song- Con Altura- Rosalía. 

Fabric- Colorful faux fur. 

Artist/Painter- Hilma Af Klint

What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a female artist? 

I think at first my biggest challenge especially studying Architecture was being taken seriously and not being judged by preconceived notions of the way I look or dress. Sometimes you’re not taken seriously in job interviews or by teachers just because you dress in bright colors or have an odd color hair and they might think you’re not very good at what you do, I was told too many times to just change my hair color, to change the way I dressed, to be more “normal”.

There were many times I had to prove myself and it took them knowing me and knowing my work was good to see me differently. It’s shocking that this even happens in “artistic” careers but it does happen. I think a lot of women in our generation are changing these notions of how you’re “supposed” to look or act so it’s a challenge and it can be very discouraging at times but I think it is improving. 

What do you know for sure? 

I know I always want to create. 

How do you stay motivated? What does your daily routine look like?

I stay motivated by watching series that make me inspired, I like to read about any artistic medium, I try to make time for my own projects like designing my own clothes and dressing up. My daily routine varies but the main activities I have to do are responding to messages, supervising our workshop, going to meetings with the NGO I work with, El Mercadito, which helps other creative entrepreneurs from El Salvador, and the best days are the ones where I’m designing a new bag and resolving all aspects of it. That involves sketching, taking measurements, testing materials, and making prototypes. 

If you had to give a 30 min. speech without preparing to an audience of 1,000 what would it be on?

Color palettes. 

What is your biggest focus and/or goal in your career right now? What plans do you have for yourself 1,3,5 years from now

I want to get more into furniture design, it’s something I’ve always loved but I don’t get to do as much, I love designing bags but I would also love to expand and explore other mediums. This year I got to design a set for a show that’s coming out in August and I would love to do more of that kind of work. 

My goals right now are mostly making Martania grow outside of El Salvador, we’ve broken many boundaries in our country but it’s still a small country and I think our product has the potential of growth elsewhere. Last year I started our online shop and we’ve been selling the bags and sending them individually mostly in LA, San Francisco, NY, Florida and we’re so grateful for our international clients but a big al for us would be having stockists and our bags in different stores around the world. A few months ago we expanded our workshop and we’re able to produce even more which is exciting because now we’re able to supply a greater demand while still maintaining the handmade quality to our bags so I really hope in the next years we have more opportunities for expanding Martania elsewhere. 

What’s the most difficult financial hurdle you’ve had to overcome while running your business? Get specific! 

For me, it was balancing the expenses and the profit I’m making. As the business is growing I have more employees, more expenses, so balancing all of it at times it gets overwhelming. It’s also hard being a designer and having a small business and trying to figure it all out by yourself so it’s good to ask for help from people that know of the business areas you don’t. 

Big or small, what’s the single best money making tip or piece of advice you can share with up and coming artists? 

I think the best tip would be to ask for help from people around you that know about these subjects, most of us aren’t taught the business side of creative gigs in school and have a hard time resolving money issues. For starters I think it’s good to document everything, even if you’re just starting and at first you don’t think it will make a difference, because it’s important to keep track of what is happening with your business. 

What specifically gives you the most anxiety when it comes to talking about money? Explain.

I think I’m still figuring a lot of things with money and I think it happens a lot with young creatives. Probably what gives me more anxiety is thinking how long will it take to grow my business and how to get greater economic stability. 

Finish this sentence. I find myself most inspired to create when I am… 

Listening to music. 

Name 3 of your guilty pleasures. 

Grey’s Anatomy, too much coffee, memes. 

If you had to give a 30 min. speech without preparing to an audience of 1,000 what would it be on?

Color palettes. 



Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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