Muralist and artist Emanuel Martinez's career was lit decades ago by a matchstick

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Like most street artists who grew up in Denver, Emanuel Martinez started painting as a youngster on the street -- and outside the law. "I started my first mural when I was thirteen, in a school for juvenile delinquents," he says. "That was more than fifty years ago."

And hundreds of pieces of art later. Today Martinez lives in Morrison, and you can find his work in Colorado as well as in other states and countries. In fact, Martinez just returned from a small village in Belize, where he and the community worked for three days to create a community mural -- his favorite kind.

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"This poor community of Esperanza were quite excited to have me down there and be engaged in the mural process," says Martinez. "My favorite part about being a street artist and creating art for the community is the appreciation the people show. Especially encouraging is the sense of ownership that the participants have in the process of creating art."

For Martinez, the creative process began when he used charcoal from burnt matchsticks to draw his first piece in his solitary-confinement cell as a teenager.

His paint of choice is now acrylic, and he has also branched out to sculpting. Having no formal training, Martinez does what comes naturally to him. He feels the art and finds inspiration from the world, city and people around him -- which is why he likes creating community murals.

"Art is all I do for a living," Martinez says, whose work can be found from Albuquerque to Texas to Colorado Springs and even Breckenridge. "Most of them I got paid for, but I have paid my dues and still do occasional volunteer work like what I am doing here in Belize."

In fact, Martinez has created an organization known as the Emanuel Project to help bring art into the lives of high-risk youth. Growing up as what would be considered a high-risk youth himself, Martinez understands the importance art can play in a child's life to give him or her a positive outlet.

This August, Martinez hopes to do another community mural as part of the Emanuel Project.

One of his favorite community murals, "La Alma" (pictured below), is located on the side of the La Alma Rec Center in Lincoln Park.

"La Alma is my favorite mural because it was community-generated [and] -painted and has become iconic to the west Denver area," Martinez says. "It is the epitome of what a community mural should be."

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