Spotlight: Martin Tomsky

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Spotlight: Martin Tomsky

Let this artist transport you into Game of Thrones or the London underworld with just a few layers of plywood

By Mindy Kinsey 

Martin Tomsky is what you might call an extreme wood artist. Born in South London, he started drawing as a child, eventually graduating from Camberwell College of Arts. Now, he uses a laser cutter to create sweeping narrative pieces in multi-layered plywood. I got to chat with Martin about his process and what led him to pursue this line of work in the first place.

Q: You used to be an illustrator. What drew you to wood? What inspired the layers?

A: My initial exposure to laser cutting was through architectural models (I was working in a model shop that specialized in these), and the wooden ones in particular have this beautiful, graphic quality where each wooden component is outlined by the burnt edge. When I saw the contour models that used flat layers to build slopes, I realized that my drawing style, which was essentially made of shapes built up to make complex designs,
would translate well into the laser cut
medium. Wood was the obvious choice; it’s affordable and long lasting, each piece is unique, it can easily be stained or painted, and it’s a very forgiving material to work with, unlike acrylic or paper.

Q: How did you learn the laser and accompanying design software? (What kind of laser and software are you using?)​

A: I got a job at a laser cutting studio, where I learnt all the ins and outs of laser cutting. I already knew Adobe Illustrator before working there, and now I have a basic understanding of Corel Draw and AutoCAD as well. I mainly use Adobe Illustrator for all my design work and Corel Draw to send the final designs to the machine.

Q: Do your designs originate in the computer, or do you start with sketches?

A: All my pieces start as very rough scribbles in my sketchbook. These are then drawn out by hand at a life-size scale and then scanned into the computer, where
I manually redraw the whole thing in Illustrator. This three-step process allows me to continually refine the design as I go along. All my laser works are essentially drawings that have been brought out into the real world.


Below is a gallery of Martin’s work. For more, visit tomsky.co.uk

Mouse LizzQuest Stag Beetle Treasure   Gathering Shadows 
London Below Mounted Fish  Squirrel in Leaves  Bathhouse

Q: The designs are so complex. How do you know when to stop?

A: When it starts to look a mess! It’s easy to get lost in a design and keep adding detail. I often have to take a step back and simplify. The challenge for me is always balancing out the simple areas with areas of high detail.

Q: For all the whimsical nature of the designs, there are dark themes—skeletons, demons. Please talk about your inspiration and the evolution of your ideas.

A: The reason why I draw is purely escapism, to create worlds, characters to inhabit those worlds and make stories that bring them to life. My two biggest sources of inspiration are literature, particularly science fiction and fantasy, and the natural world.

Books are the ultimate form of world-building; they suck you in and for a while you are fully enveloped in another place and time. My favourite authors include Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, China Mieville, Ian M. Banks, and Philip K. Dick. These authors (and many others) write books with fully realised worlds and huge leaps of imagination, the kind of books filled with ideas that I wish I’d thought of and inspire me to draw.

Nature is the obvious source of inspiration when it comes to world-building. I’ve always been fascinated by animals since my childhood. Growing up on David Attenborough documentaries, I love all the complexities in form, seeing how it all works (inside and out) and how it all comes together—the evolution of species and the environments they live in.

It’s a cliché, but I find myself drawn to darkness. I have always loved monsters in fantasy books and had a soft spot for Gothic literature (especially Lovecraft). There is something in the harsh reality of the natural world that appeals to me. Skeletons appear again and again in my work. I love drawing them and my interest is almost scientific, but when it boils down to it, I think they look great in wood. The layers and coloring give them an almost fossilized feel, making them a little bit like specimens in a natural history museum.

Q: For the how-to folks among us, what kind of wood are you using? What materials do you use for color? Do you use regular wood glue or a special concoction?

A: I mainly use birch plywood but occasionally I use MDF too. I find good quality PVA style wood glue is the best, and for colouring, I use paint and stain depending on the job.


About the Author

Martin Tomsky lives in London, England, and creates a variety of layered designs inspired by books and his own imagination. For more of his work, visit tomsky.co.uk.


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