Born in Chicago, Illinois on July 10, 1916. Provensen moved to Los Angeles in 1936. While studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, he did model design for Walt Disney until 1942.
During WWII he served in the Photo Science Laboratory of the U.S. Navy. After the war he and his artist-wife Alice Twitchell moved to New York to collaborate on book illustration and design. There was a remarkable similarity to the couple's early histories. Both were born in Chicago, Illinois, and both moved to California when they were twelve. Both received scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago, and both attended the University of California, though at separate campuses. After college, Alice went to work with Walter Lantz Studio, the creators of Woody Woodpecker, and Martin took work with the rival Walt Disney Studio, where he collaborated on Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio.
Tony the Tiger originally appeared in 1952, designed by children's book illustrator Martin Provensen and voiced on television by Dallas McKennon.
The pair met in 1943 when Martin, working as a creator of training films for the American military, was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio. They were married in 1944 and resettled in Washington, D.C., where they worked on war-related projects. Following the end of the war, they moved to New York City, where a friend assisted them in finding their first job, illustrating The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. In 1952, Tony the Tiger, designed by Martin, debuted as a Kellogg's mascot. Following that, they illustrated several Little Golden Books such as The Color Kittens, and in 1982, they received the Caldecott Honor Medal for their illustration of A Visit to William Blake's Inn, by Nancy Willard. They were further recognized just two years later, when they received the Caldecott Medal for A Glorious Flight, the story of aviator Louis Blériot, the first man to fly solo across the English Channel. The Provensens have been on the New York Times list of the Ten Best Illustrated Books eight times for such classics as Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm and An Owl and Three Pussycats. In all, the couple wrote and illustrated more than 50 books.
Provensen died in Staatsburg, New York on March 27, 1987.