In 1975 Mart de Houwer found the time to focus on her art. She attended the City Academy in Genk. She studied sculpture under Raf Mailleux and Ivo van Dyck. Ceramic art was taught by Piet Stockmans with whom she developed a close friendship. A large influence on her work was the artist Ado Hamelrijck. Hamelrijck, an accomplished artist in his own right, taught visual arts. De Houwer was greatly inspired by his artistic approach, seeing art as the result of an active and spiritual process.
After an initial hyper-realistic period, with many landscapes in paint and naturalistic ceramic sculptures, De Houwer found her calling with drawing. Paper and pencil became her signature medium. She actively researched this medium and reduced a drawing to its most elementary form: the line. Perhaps inspired by the endless rows of pine trees in the surrounding forests, her early works are composed of consistent re-petitions of line patterns in a minimal-looking visual language. These black stripes, horizontally or vertically placed next to each other, filled large sheets of paper and canvasses.
Mart de Houwers artistic approach, combined with the labor intensity of her work, set her apart from any other artist from that time. In 1980 she was awarded the Belgian Silver State Medal for drawing. Subsequently her work was bought by the Belgian government, the Provinciebestuur, Vlaamse gemeenschap, Provincie Limburg, the CIAP Hasselt and the Bokrijk museum.
In 1982 CIAP, the Society for Cultural Information and Recent Drawing Cabinet in Limburg, held Mart De Houwers first exhibition. This is one of the rare moments Mart de Houwer showed her work to the public. And with success. Soon she was picked up by local media labeling her work as Fundamental Art. Newspaper Het Nieuwsblad compared in an 1982 article her to Hugo Duchateau (1938), another artist from Limburg and one the leading representatives of Belgian Fundamental Art.