The Art of Layers: Martin Tomsky’s Laser-Cut Stories

Martin Tomsky, from Illustration to Laser-Cut Wood Art.

Martin Tomsky is a London-based artist known for his intricate illustrative relief pieces made from laser-cut, stained plywood. Tomsky’s childhood was heavily influenced by books, shaping his narrative-driven art style. After graduating from Camberwell College of Arts, he transitioned from traditional illustration to creating complex, layered artworks that combine decorative and narrative elements. Tomsky’s laser-cut artworks feature interwoven threads that narrate intricated stories through varying tones and depths, making each piece akin to precious gems or jewellery. His creations are visually striking, merging artistry and precision in a way that transports viewers into dream-like worlds or imagined places. His work varies in size, from small items to larger, bespoke pieces, each hand-assembled to form an organic object that merges craft, illustration, and sculpture. Tomsky’s art exemplifies the creative potential of combining traditional techniques with contemporary technology.

Martin Tomsky’s official website, Instagram, Facebook, Etsy

From illustrator to laser cutting wood sculptor? What inspired you to start using this technique as your main form of art communication? How did you become interested in this kind of sculpture?

After studying illustration and university I got a job in a model shop that specialises in architectural modelmaking. There was a laser cutter in the workshop and around the store where examples of models showing the different techniques and materials used to make them. One particular model was a contour model made from sheets of laser cut cork, traditionally used to show hills and elevations on architectural models. I loved clean lines and dark, almost graphic, edges and thought my drawing style could translate well into this. My initial thought was to design frames for my illustrations, telling a different story around the picture. When I eventually got a job in the workshop, I learned how to use the laser cutter and designed a very simple series, The Loneliness of Charon, as a test piece. I uploaded this on DeviantArt, thinking nothing of it and the next day I had over two hundred thousand notifications from likes and comments! It was around the same time that I got repetitive strain injury in my hand and wrist from trying to meet a tight illustration deadline which meant I could no longer draw in the way that I used to, so I pivoted entirely to making laser cut art which was easier on my hand and getting a much better reception.

the loneliness of charon
The Loneliness of Charon © Martin Tomsky

What do you enjoy most about the process of creating your artwork? What was your first piece of layers of laser cut about? What did you learn from it? What did it mean to you?

What I like most about designing this kind of work is that there is a very distinct step by step process that allows me to refine the design naturally as I go.

My first piece was The Loneliness of Charon, a simple four part design made from mdf and walnut depicting the solitary life of Charon, the boatman that delivers souls to the underworld from Greek legend. I learnt pretty much how to make my craft! Before this I had never made a picture from layers of material, the technique I used then is pretty much the same as what I do now, just much less refined! I’m not sure where the idea came from exactly, I had illustrated Charon in the past and thought his existence must be lonely so I drew it!

Avid Reader 3
Avid Reader © Martin Tomsky

What are the most difficult challenges you face while creating a new piece? How do you develop ideas for your new sculptures? Can you take us from the very first concept to the finished art product? Do you sketch and draw out first or with you plan them on digital tools?

The biggest challenge when designing something new is that you never really know how it’ll come out right until you’ve finished putting it together. You get a decent idea from sketches and digital images but you never know if it’s any good until the very end. All my ideas start out as loose sketchbook scribbles, these usually come while doodling or during the process of creating other designs – I quickly jot any ideas down as soon as I can so I don’t forget! After deciding what to make, I create a very rough sketch to get an idea of the overall shape and basic contents of the design. From this I create a detailed sketch, getting in all the details that I will use in my final piece. This is then drawn out again but digitally as a vector design where it is refined, balanced and finally separated out the layers for cutting and assembly.

Delicious Melon 1
Delicious Melon © Martin Tomsky

– How long does it take you to complete one of your sculptures? What role does technology play in your process, particularly with laser cutting?

It can take anywhere between a week to two months to complete a design depending on the amount of detail. These designs would take considerably longer to design using traditional methods and impossible to make without technology. I often sketch on my tablet, design on my desktop pc and obviously all the layers are cut using a laser cutter.

Are lasers and the design software similar or did you understand from your own experience that there are differences in qualities?

Laser software is very simple compared to CAD design software such as illustrator, Corel Draw or AutoCAD. All you’re doing is telling the laser how fast to cut, how much power to use and where to do it. There are a million things to learn in CAD, it definitely helps to have a strong understanding of the design software before attempting laser cutting.

Fox 1
Fox © Martin Tomsky

How does everything fit together? Do you use glue or adhesives or everything is held together with the tension?

All my pieces are glued together using high quality wood glue, larger pieces will have supporting screws hidden away if they are particularly heavy.

Some of your works feature the colors of the raw material, while others are colored. What is the balance with color between the projects you create for your clients and your personal inspiration?

I would say around 50/50, some clients want colour while others prefer a natural tone. In my own work, I started out in mainly natural woodtones as it’s considerably simpler to design but more recently I have been including pops of colour in many of my designs.

In your artworks, we can see recurring subjects such as nature, animals, and skeletons surrounded in a kind of mandala, which evokes spiritual geometries via association with life after death, etc… How do mythology and/or spirituality influence your way of creating?

Two of my biggest inspirations are fantasy and the natural world. I’ve always loved animals, plants and nature but I never really drew them much until I started creating works from layers of wood. Making animals from wood simply made sense and the skeletons came partly from a love of the macabre but also from the fact that they just look great in this medium – the layers of wood give an almost fossil-like impression as if it had been dug away from layers of earth. I have always been obsessed with Fantasy literature and mythology, magic and spirituality are a big part of that. Anything that can bring a little magic into the real world interests me, whether it’s spirituality, occult, mythology or nature itself.

RSI © Martin Tomsky

Is any of your artwork related to a moment that marked a significant point in your life? Could you share with us the story behind it?

Honestly I don’t think so, for me my art is a celebration of the things I love rather than a reflection of my personal state. The closest I’ve come to a self reflection is Repetitive Strain, in which I used my own hand for the reference and illustrates how I feel with my RSI but even here it wasnt from an urge to share my pain but from a love old anatomical illustration. 

I read you were also Inspired by the relics of your parents’ past as Czech publishers and book smugglers. Due to your skills, have you ever thought of creating a pop-up book laser cutting wood sculpture (of course short story or intricate with unexpected surprise…)?

While I would love to do something like this, this kind of work is more of an engineering challenge than a design one and I absolutely do not have the skills required to design this! Perhaps someday I could collaborate with a paper engineer to make one.

Campfire 2
Campfire 2

Photos courtesy of Martin Tomsky

Last Updated on June 27, 2024 by retrofuturista

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