World-renowned physicist Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. As human beings, we have the unique ability to be transported to worlds beyond our wildest dreams thanks to the magic of books and storytelling. The son of two publishers, Martin Tomsky was enamored by the fantastical books of his youth and creates his own gorgeous stylized lasered woodcuts inspired by those tales.
Growing up in a “very arty bookish household”, Tomsky had always loved fantasy since he was a child: “The defining moment for me was when my sister read me The Hobbit when I was around 5 or 6 years old and instilled in me a love of fantasy, and a mild obsession with dragons which only stopped in my late teens”. He’s always enjoyed drawing as well, seeing it as a form of escapism through the process of creating worlds, which is what ultimately drives all fantasy work, he says.
After he finished university with an illustration degree, Tomsky obtained a job at a model shop while working to build up his portfolio. It was there he found out they had a laser-cutting workshop, which caught his attention as a way to reproduce his drawings in a new and exciting medium. He eventually got a job in the workshop and learned everything he needed about laser cutting and different jobs for various clientele.
Having desired to be an illustrator for large portion of his life, Tomsky has developed his own unique storybook style inspired by a combination of artists and styles including M.C. Escher, Hayao Miyazaki, Jeff Soto, as well as other historical artists, illustrators, comics, graffiti, character designs, and computer games. Storytelling is the most important aspect when it comes to his work, and oftentimes he likes to tell a whole story with one single image.
All Tomsky’s designs start off as hand-drawn scribbles in his sketchbook which are then developed and annotated until a working concept is made. Next, each design is drawn in detail, usually at the same scale as the final piece. That is then taken and scanned into his computer where he’ll redraw them manually on Adobe Illustrator to refine the design, arrange the layers, and figure out the coloring. From there, the piece is separated out into different sheets for cutting, and the wood is prepared. Then, he runs his designs off Corel Draw and sends them to his Trotec laser cutter, and finally assembles and finishes each piece by hand: “The process can take anytime from a week to a couple months depending on how large and detailed the piece is, and how busy I am”. The most challenging part of producing his pieces is drawing up the vectors, he says, “[it’s] by far the longest and most tedious part of the process”.
When it comes to designing his larger, more intricate pieces, Tomsky says they require “lots and lots of planning”. He may draw a design at three different scales, adding detail each time: “The more thoroughly I plan a piece, the better it turns out and less likely it is that anything will go wrong when I put it together”. Along with his natural-colored woodcuts, Tomsky has several pieces that he’s gorgeously painted by hand: “There is a time for natural tone or dark work and there is a time for colorful work, it just depends on the job and what you are trying to say. I enjoy making color work but it’s significantly harder to design and assemble so I tend to stick to natural color tones when I can”. The first piece that he’s colored was a gift for his now-wife’s 30th birthday several years ago. It’s a lovely one-off fantasy work entitled Lizz Quest.
When asked how he stays inspired throughout the creation of his art, Tomsky explained he’s never really had problems when it comes to generating ideas or inspiration: “It’s my habit to continually look at everything around me to find any elements can be used in my own work. Of course there are off-days, but I always write or sketch my ideas and I have a long list of things that I haven’t had time to make for times like these”. He went on to say that inspiration is only the first stage of the design process. He believes there’s no need to be inspired the majority of the time, “as that’s when you need to knuckle down and make the work!” In fact, being too inspired, he says, can be a hindrance as it can distract from getting any work finished.
Although Tomsky primarily makes his pieces for himself, he says he decided to share his art with the world because “if you want to make art or anything creative for a living, people need to see it”. He believes that art should be shared and made for everyone to see. He loves drawing and making things and knows it’s how he wants to spend his life. While some may see artistry as a special gift, Tomsky is the opposite: “I don’t think it’s a special gift or any kind of higher purpose or meaning, I worked hard to get where I am because I enjoy seeing, making, and thinking about art”. Something that has always struck a chord with him was a piece of advice once said by a friend: “The difference between an artist and someone who likes to draw is that the artist will continue to draw even if it stops being fun”.
As for advice when it comes to laser engraving, Tomsky believes “it’s always best to have a decent idea of what kind of thing you want to make before jumping straight in”. Ideally, he says, “something with a particular purpose or aesthetic to aim towards. Plan ahead, sketch out your ideas, and just have a go to see how it turns out! Your first go is rarely ever perfect so take it as a learning experience and refine your design/ideas from there.”
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