Illustrative genius Joe Martin, A.K.A. The Memoirs makes Sartorialee the latest subject for one of his iconic iPhone finger paintings


  1. Rubinacci Forest green Casentino Ulster Coat, £850,
  2. Chambray shirt by M. Bardelli Milano
  3. Scarf by Drake’s,
  4. 9.5cm burgundy Silk-Grenadine tie by Turnbull & Asser, £135,
  5. Cream corduroy Gurkha trousers,
  6. Urban Commando boots, The Rake X Gaziano & Girling, £1,505,
  7. Swirling a glass of Cabernet Franc, ‘Les Charmes’, Domaine Charles Joguet, Chinon, Loire Valley, Bottle €24,
  8. Holding Nikon DSLR camera,
  9. The Chesterford London Tan, Handmade in England, Luxurious Bridle Leather Suitcase, from £4,995, Swaine Adeney

Sartorialee: I first came across The Memoirs on Instagram and was immediately enamoured by the beauty of your illustrations. I’d never met you but was struck at how life-like your portraits are. To then discover they are created by finger painting on an iPhone is quite extraordinary. Talk me through how you first got into this medium…

Joe Martin: Thank you for your kind words, it’s been quite the journey I can tell you. To be honest, I find it far easier to communicate and express myself visually than verbally. Art in all it’s wondrous forms. I soak up as much as I can from the natural world to help tell the story and as technology has advanced so much over the last decade or so, one naturally explores what can be achieved I suppose. I transferred into the digital art world aged around 16 when it started to click what could be achieved. I often wonder what past artists would make of it all and as lonely as it has been at times in my life, I am grateful for having a creative outlet; if only for myself! 

S: You’re keen for digital art to gain more recognition in the wider art world. Tell me why you feel so passionately that it’s taken more seriously – and what led you to believe that it currently isn’t getting the plaudits it deserves.

JM: Digital art is very much here to stay. I personally feel that we are not yet there where we can celebrate traditional and recognised art right alongside digital art. It’s not yet considered to be a serious and fully exhibited medium in my opinion. Living in an accessible and digital age it’s time to showcase the vast talent out there today in galleries both on and offline. Imagine The National Gallery for example, showcasing the very best digital art in the world as a permanent fixture. It’s not just about bringing digital art into the real world however, for me, it’s ultimately about connecting the art worlds together and making masterful work current again. Well done to institutions who are embracing it and indeed championing the way forward. There’s a long way to go. 


S: I have to say you have a most refreshing commissioning process. As an Art director myself, I’ve worked with a lot of illustrators over the years. Your brief to me was ‘choose anything you’d dream of wearing that you might not ordinarily be able to afford’. You then went on to ask me for my vital stats such as shoe size, collar, chest and waist measurements. Tell me how you then go about using these stats to formulate your illustrations?

JM: Well, you and I both love our sustainable fashions and I feel it important to have all the information I need moving forward. Whatever it may be, a landscape, portrait or nebula for example, being fully informed about what you have to work with is a must. So taking your measurements and outfit requirements, enables me to build a thorough file on how each piece is constructed and tailored to suit individual needs and requirements. Usually working alongside tailors, I’m keen to make the process as collaborative as possible. Portraiture for me nowadays is not just about capturing one’s likeness, understanding an individual’s form and observing their nuances etc, but about pushing beyond what even they would expect to see. Pushing myself also, I think personal growth is a must right?

Above: Joe Martin self-portraits in a number of guises, including top right: resplendent in Gieves & Hawkes and bottom left: Edward Sexton

S: How long did my portrait take to complete? Generally speaking, do you spend hours at a time working, or smaller chunks throughout the day? And where do you do the majority of your work?

JM: Commissions are very structured, under normal circumstances. On this occasion however I had to juggle multiple things at once so it took a little longer than expected, working as and when I could. It’s been quite the year thus far! Time spent usually depends on the brief set, but I do prefer to keep a healthy work life balance, rather than locking myself away and working into the early hours. I learned the hard way, that’s just not sustainable. Mental health is a huge priority of mine these days. So for me personally, having a conducive workflow in a conducive environment to get the best out of me is a dream come to fruition to be honest with you!

S: What makes your illustrations stand out from the crowd in your opinion?

JM: They’re a piece of me. I’m fortunate to work with people who are now friends from around the world and I take each piece to heart. So for portraiture, I would first hear one’s story, why one would wish to be depicted. This instantly makes for a collaborative process. The same applies to commercial work too. I wouldn’t ever say that I’m a “do-er”. If the brief isn’t on point and the message doesn’t ring true, I’m more than happy to collaborate and push to make something that everyone can be proud of. Most briefs start out as what I call gut reactions anyway. The discussion between parties should always be as open and fluid from the outset. Approving and locking things down early on, allows the practical work to breathe and gives the artist all the time they deserve. Deadlines don’t exist, I prefer a journeys end. 

Joe Martin self portrait wearing Ede & Ravenscroft

Digital art is very much here to stay. I personally feel that we are not yet there where we can celebrate traditional and recognised art right alongside digital art.

Joe Martin, The Memoirs

S: What are the most important aspects of a portrait in your opinion?

JM: In my opinion a portrait should tell the story. Whatever it might be, it could even be a paragraph hinting at more. For me I see truly great portraits as time noted. I could talk forever about colour and composition, light and symbolism etc, but I do believe that the best portraits are fairly humble in their technical prowess. There’s no need to shout if the world can hear you clearly after all. For anyone out there who is genuinely interested in the artistic approach and doesn’t know where to begin, I’m more than happy to explain my own process in more detail. If anyone would like a commission too but wishes to learn more do feel free to get in touch (see below -ed). 

S: Who would you most like to receive a commission of a portrait from (eg. an individual, publication?)

JM: Genuinely, anyone who has a story to tell. I do truly believe we are walking stories and if I can help illustrate a page or two, then consider me thoroughly satisfied! I’ve worked in various industries in the past all over the world and have met many colourful characters. The notoriety doesn’t bother me, we are all the same in so many ways of which we choose to ignore. My last portrait, whilst working in the film industry, shows Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in The Dictator. Riding a tiger, holding an RPG in one hand and the head of Albert Einstein in the other – so much fun! 

Joe Martin self portrait, wearing Huntsman

S: What is your day job?

JM: So I’m currently working with Swaine Adeney Brigg at the moment. I consult creatively across the board generally but with Swaine and indeed their revived Pendragon arm, which some of you will remember, we are celebrating all things sustainably handmade. I also consult voluntarily too. The Whole Man Academy plays a fantastic role in encouraging personal growth in men. Mental health is a huge part of my life and having gone through my own ordeals first hand, I’m keen to do what I can to help.

S: You too are a fellow menswear enthusiast. Have you always been into clothes and who do you think influenced you?

JM: I’ve always loved dressing well. I think growing up in the North of England, the youngest of three, in a hand-me-down environment, truly influenced me to own my own outright. If I had to pick individuals however I’d probably say Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire. There is something to be said for apparel and indeed the ever-evolving role it plays in our daily lives; for all genders. Culturally I feel, now more than ever, that influence is an incredibly fluid and transient thing. All that being said however, we do love quality don’t we? It has to be well made and for most, economical. I do believe that the age of fast fashion is coming to end and I would rather invest than ‘make do.’

For digital portrait commissions, contact Joe Martin:
Via DM on Instagram: @thememoirs
or by e-mail:


Joe Martin is offering free portraits to key workers and frontline staff tackling the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. Joe has produced a special #portraitsforheroes