Martine Bertrand – “The costumes have a meaning when they are in motion”

April, 2017
Reading Time
5 mins
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Image © The Interviewee

We talk to Martine Bertrand about costume design, children’s drawings, and alien languages.

This week Creative Chair is in Montreal, Canada, where we’re talking to Martine Bertrand.

Martine is an artist who has applied her talents to many things, including designing costumes for the stage and the alien language used in the multi-award winning Arrival (2016). Additionally, her art has been the feature of numerous solo exhibitions in cities around the world.

We caught up with her to find out more about her approach to art and the story behind the Arrival language.

You can find out more about Martine Bertrand on her website.

In what movement or genre would you place your art?

I had a big conversation about this subject with a friend who’s a famous comedian in Canada and also a fan of my work. He describes my genre with one word…”Timeless”.

Grande galerie de petits personnages 2016

How does your approach differ when creating your most recent pieces, compared to your costume design work?

When you work for ballet it’s a team effort; you have to work with the choreography, sets, light, music …

…it’s very very powerful! … I love dancers, and my goal is to make them forget about the costumes.  I want the dancers to feel as if they are not wearing anything. The costume and dancer need to become one! I have always had a lot of freedom in my creation.

“I need to create to feel good”

Martine Bertrand

The costumes have a meaning when they are in motion. It’s my big pleasure!!!

When I paint, I’m with myself and have even more freedom. I paint what I want, what I feel!  I travel a lot and its a source of inspiration for me. I need to create to feel good. I’m a happy person!

Costume Design

Let’s talk about the alien language designed for Arrival. What was the process and, how do you feel the resulting designs solved the brief?

For Arrival, it was a surprise because I was not expecting to do this project. The production designer was facing the problematic of the language design as he was not happy with what had been proposed to him.

He asked scientists, linguists, graphic designers, etc. without any significant results…I proposed to try it myself …I love challenges! I read the script and had littles chats with Patrice Vermette…he said: “NO HUMAN, IN A CIRCLE, CURSIVE, WE DON’T KNOW AT BEGINNING IF IT’S A LANGUAGE OR THREAT”.

I used ink on paper to create the logograms…and did it by instinct, like the way I create costumes and paintings….not too much thinking like de Sumi painting.

The 65th 366 Award goes to Martine Bertrand for her outstanding creative work.

Martine-Bertrand Logogramme Arrival

Patrice like’s it very much! He screamed “EUREKA!!! My Hairs go back!!!!!”  Denis Villeneuve approved it, and I had the contract!


I made 15 different artworks and Patrice Vermette and Aaron Morrison, the brilliant graphic designer coded and played with them and created over 100 words…  That’s how it became a language that actually works!

Your son created Hannah’s drawings in the film. Has he seen the film, and, how does he feel about his art appearing in this widely-acclaimed movie?

Yes, my son Arnaud create Hannah’s drawing … I’m proud!

One day Patrice arrived home and asked our children Lili and Arnaud to make a couple of drawings for the movie. Arnaud s drawing was approved by Denis Villeneuve and ended up in the movie.

Arnaud had forgotten about his art work before he saw it again on the movie screen …he had stars in his eyes and Lili was so proud of him she gave him a big hug, and it turned to a big family hug.


And finally, if you died and got reincarnated as a song, what would that song be?

Casta Diva by Maria Callas

Casta Diva"
Casta Diva (1958)
Maria Callas
Play on Apple Music
Play on Spotify
Play on YouTube
What began as a fun question to end an interview, has now become a wonderfully eclectic collaborative playlist by 161 people (and counting).
Martine Bertrand
Our Forest