University of Pittsburgh
Studio Arts

Suzanne Townsend Martinez: Finding Balance Where Art and Science Meet

Suzanne Townsend Martinez

When Suzanne Martinez (A&S ’01), gives advice to current students in the Department of Studio Arts at the University of Pittsburgh, she gets straight to the point.

Don’t settle for what comes easily to you. Get out of your comfort zone.

Lest you think she’s spouting empty rhetoric, consider what Martinez learned firsthand during her time at Pitt. She entered the University with her future clearly outlined.  She had chosen Pitt for both its location (far enough from home but not too far; in-state to help keep tuition bills in check) and its excellent pre-med program. Like her father, she planned to become a doctor. But, ironically enough, it was her physician father who convinced her to take the path less traveled.

“My father encouraged me to take art classes, because I had always been creative and he saw a talent that should be nurtured,” recalls Martinez. “I began taking studio classes on the side and soon decided that I would pursue a dual degree (studio arts and biological sciences) because my love for art was just as strong as my love of medicine.”

The path less traveled wasn’t always easy for Martinez. First of all, there was the simple fact of logistics. She had to take a minimum of 18 credits every single semester and between 12-15 credits over the summers to earn her two degrees in just four years. That didn’t leave a lot of free time in Martinez’s schedule, so she came up with creative solutions.

“I looked for ‘fun’ within my class work. For example, one summer I studied abroad in Paris for two weeks, earning four credits for touring every art museum in Paris and immersing myself in the French culture. I also spent another summer camping in Northwestern Pennsylvania, earning credits for studying ecology at Pymatuning (Laboratory of Ecology),” she explains.

She also sometimes found it difficult to readily switch between her two polar-opposite degree programs. “It could be quite frustrating during finals week to have an organic chemistry final on the same day that a drawing was due for my art class,” says Martinez. “Sometimes, it seemed like I never quite fit in with either crowd.”

But, then she found a field that combined her love of art with her love of science—medical illustration. (They were all “nerdy artists” too, says Martinez.) From that point forward she began preparing for this niche field, which, as she quickly learned, was ultra-
competitive.  At the time Martinez applied, there were only four programs in the U.S. for medical illustration (today, there are even fewer), and each program accepted a mere
two-15 students per year.

But, Martinez's hard work paid off. She was accepted into the MS program in biomedical visualization at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and earned her degree in 2003.


Suzanne Townsend Martinez As usual, it’s another full day for Martinez. She rises early (5 a.m.) to pack her husband’s lunch and get him off to work, and then uses what little extra time she has to grab a bit more shut eye, check e-mails, or just ease into the day. By
7 a.m., Violet (Martinez’s five-month-old daughter) is up, so she feeds and plays with her until the nanny arrives at 8. After a walk with her two active Golden Retrievers and a quick shower and breakfast, it’s time to begin the official workday from her basement office.

As senior creative manager at InterbrandHealth, Martinez is responsible for a creative team that implements branding deliverables for health care clients (a list that includes high-profile pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, and health systems). Martinez travels all over the country to meet with her clients, giving creative presentations.

This week is no exception. While on a quiet day Martinez is able to conduct most business via her basement telecommute, that’s not the case four days out of five during this hectic week. Tuesday, she gets up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight to New York City for a presentation. She’ll fly back home late that night. Wednesday, she’ll get up at
5 a.m. to drive across the city of Chicago for a four-hour presentation, and Thursday
and Friday, it’s back to NYC. She will get back home by 9 p.m. Friday to relax over the weekend, regroup—and start over again come Monday.

It’s a chock-full schedule, but Martinez wouldn’t have it any other way. After grad school, she quickly rose up the corporate ladder. Her first job was at Torre Lazur McCann (part of McCann Erickson group), a pharmaceutical advertising agency in downtown Chicago where she worked as a production artist (the person responsible for preparing computer files for print).While it wasn’t a creative role, Martinez put in her time, and learned “a ton” about production and print—a skill set she still uses today. She was also lucky to find a mentor within the agency who gave her the opportunity to grow into the roles of designer and, eventually, art director. In the process, Martinez got to bring her art and biological sciences training to bear.

“I became responsible for the development of customized art work that was used to win new business for the agency,” she says. “And, I also began translating the science behind our clients’ products for the rest of our team so they could create meaningful and relevant advertising campaigns.”

Martinez next worked for a medical education company, but found that, while the work was very relevant to her training, it lacked the opportunity for creative expression that she’d enjoyed in the advertising world. So, when she had the chance to join InterbrandHealth brand consultancy in 2006 as a creative manager, she jumped at it.


Push yourself.  Don’t just do what comes easily. 

Martinez does live her advice. She pushes herself daily to think creatively for her clients, to juggle work and family and travel, to take time to mentor current Pitt studio arts students, and to continue her oil painting, something she relishes as a purely artistic outlet.

Do constantly push yourself to do something better and more meaningful. Consider everything you enjoy as an opportunity to be creative.

These nuggets of wisdom aren’t just Martinez’s advice to today’s up-and-coming student artists, they’re her life guidelines.

As she says: “Art is everywhere and there is a place for it in almost any field. You just have to embrace it and be willing to teach others about its value.”