An Eye for Art: Oil painter Ona C. Martin started art late, prefers the look of the old masters

Ona Martin is pictured with her paintings on exhibit at Offtrack Art Cooperative and Gallery in Westminster.
Ona Martin is pictured with her paintings on exhibit at Offtrack Art Cooperative and Gallery in Westminster. (Lyndi McNulty)

When Ona C. Martin, an artist from Mount Airy, was a child, she was told by her art teachers that she was not creative, so she concentrated on vocal music instead.

Martin did not begin painting until she was 30 years old. Her husband gave her a small oil painting set for Christmas.


“After some research, I decided that I needed to take lessons,” she said. Martin decided to take private lessons from artists who have studied at the Schuler School of Fine Art (schulerschool.com).

Martin attended Penn State University and majored in Biochemistry. She has spent her entire career as a research scientist. Now that she is semi-retired, she has more time for her art. Martin also shares the work of taking care of an old dairy farm dating from the 1880s between Westminster and Mount Airy, where she and her husband have lived on for 30 years.

Martin still takes lessons in a studio class from David Zuccarini (traditionliveson.com) at Howard County Center for the Arts (hocoarts.org). She likes the camaraderie of the classes and shared interests. According to Martin, the other students are supportive and the art critiques are also helpful.

Martin paints only with oils. She prefers the look of the old masters paintings. Martin’s favorite artists are the old masters such as realists Vermeer and Rembrandt.

One technique she uses that was used by the old masters such as Hendrick Terbrugghen (1588-1629), Frans Hals (1580-1666), and Jan Steen (1626-1679) is the use of Flemish Maroger medium. Maroger medium is mixed with oil paint which give it a rich luster and makes it more spreadable.

“I love the results it gave me,” she said. “I like the luminosity of the paint layers. I paint in layers from back to front, developing the entire painting at once. I do not isolate areas. It keeps everything cohesive. You are not focusing on one thing.”

“I like the challenge of composition followed by the challenge of execution. The composition is primary. I don’t bother painting if I do not have a good composition,” she said. She paints from her own photographs.

Martin enjoys painting things in her environment. For example, Martin sees beauty in old tins, kitchenware, glassware and china. She also paints farm scenes, flowers and gardens and trees. Many of her paintings are so realistic, they are considered trompe l’oeil, meaning to fool the eye.

She is also very interested in old frames and uses them for her artwork. She finds them in attics and shops. The frame often dictates the subject. Sometimes she does a painting and finds a frame.

Martin’s husband renovated a hog pen on the farm. It is now weatherized, heated and air-conditioned and has south facing windows, perfect for painting. It is only 50 yards from their house. It is now called Hogpen Art Studio.

Another type of art she does is what she describes as “fun garden art.” She has a mammoth collection of old glass and china which she assembles into towers or sculptures and bird feeders. Martin likes the sun glistening on them. She has a metro rack in her studio that is packed full of boxes of vintage glassware. Each one has a theme. As with her paintings, the glass sculptures are composed well. For example, a theme might be “Alice in Wonderland” and include a teapot, plates with hearts and a rabbit.

Martin participates in the members shows held at the Carroll County Arts Council, the Howard County Arts Center and Laurel Art Guild. She has been a vendor at some local craft fairs as well. Martin participates in the Holly Fair at Reisterstown United Methodist Church. She also participated in the annual Mayberry Mill Christmas Show held in a pre-Civil War grain and flour Mill.

Martin is currently working on a painting of her cat looking through a window at sunrise.

Ona Martin is an associate partner at Offtrack Art Co-operative and Gallery located in the historic Liberty Building at 11 Liberty Street in Westminster (offtrackart.com). Her show titled “Preserving the Past” went on view Jan. 1 and will be up through March 1.


Martin takes commissions and can be contacted through her website at hogpenartstudio.com. Her email is ona@hogpenartstudio.com.