In the latest edition of our Meet The Maker series, we meet sculptor Brendan Rawlings, runner up in Axminster Tools' Carve it Up competition in 2023.

Where did your carving journey begin, and what inspired you take up carving specifically?

Zen Wood Design started in my head a few years ago whilst living and working in Dubai. I ran a successful fitness company in this competitive, fast paced city, but I often felt that there was a piece of me missing. When my family and I returned to Devon in the summer of 2017, it was hugely apparent what that was, nature. The same nature that every human being, not only has the right to connect to, but I believe if health (mental and physical) is to be maintained, is a necessity. Nature feeds the soul and heals us to the core so working in it and with it has been an enlightening experience and I am now all the more grateful for making the decision to return to the green and pleasant land.

I started my journey into art in January 2019 when I made a driftwood shark for my brother in law. After the image was uploaded to Facebook I quickly had 20+ commissions and so Zen Wood Design was born, and I immediately started working full time and haven't looked back since.

Brendan Rawlings
Brendan Rawlings with his sculpture 'The Boy', his entry in Axminster Tool's Carve It Up competition 2023

Who or what inspires your work?

I’m inspired by nature and the human form. It’s hard now to fit the art I love making most in and around commissions, but that’s when I’m at my happiest and most creative. I find figurative work and carving human faces a challenge and one that inspires me to get better. I still feel like I am new to all of this and haven’t quite found my style. Sitting quietly in nature allows ideas to flow the easiest and often get gifted inspirational ideas from the ether when I just stop rushing and stay still.

There are some amazing inspirational artists that I follow online. Bruno Walpoth is an Italian wood sculptor who produces sensational figurative wood sculptures that look very life like, and certainly an inspiration to a non-trained, self taught guy like me. I love looking at historic sculpture too, from Michelangelo or Di Vinci. The scale and accuracy of their work is mind blowing considering it was done hundreds of years ago.

How important are the materials you work with?

Sustainability is important to me. I want the world to stay as beautiful as we all remember it, so that our kids and grandkids and their grandchildren can experience the bountiful beauty that this planet has to offer. I feel we have a moral and ethical obligation as the dominant species on Earth to protect the ecosystems and micro ecosystems on this planet by not putting ourselves first, but the planet first. If you think of how since all of us were born, all we have done is take from the planet. We plunder its resources, finite resources if we’re not careful; they will eventually run out. We need to take responsibility as individuals to not just take, but to also give back. Clean the beach, plant trees and source wood responsibly.

I only used reclaimed wood or drift/fall wood in my artwork and woodwork, and make a monthly donation to one of the UK's leading charities who plant new trees.

What is it you enjoy most about your craft and making?

The first thing that struck me when I started making consistently was how meditative the creative process is. No matter what problems are present in your life, if you start carving or making something, anything, it’s surprising how quickly those problems disappear from your mind and I love that freedom. The name Zen Wood Design was born out of this realisation. When you make things, there is a legacy that you can leave behind, something that could be around for hundreds of years if not longer.

I enjoy gifting handmade pieces too, whether to friends or family or charities, giving something handmade comes from the heart, something you have sacrificed your time (arguably the most precious resource of all) to make for the recipient, that’s a real gift.

I also love the whole crafting community. I’ve recently been part of a couple of collaborations that have meant working with other creatives. It’s great to meet others who share my passion for creating. It only serves to inspire you more and great way to learn things too.

What tools do you use?

I have added to my arsenal over the years. My top tools to use are my Axminster Tools bandsaw, plethora of chainsaws, die grinder, Dremel with Saburr Tooth attachments, file sander and all of my Arbortech tools and attachments. I now have all of the Arbortech tools, which I’ve slowly built up over the years. They are so robust and are a real asset to my small business. I use most of them daily and love it when they bring out a new product. They're an innovative company with real woodworkers at their heart, so it’s always exciting to to test out new products. I was lucky enough to test the new Turbo Scraper, which is a great new offering. It is great for detailing and taking out big lumps of stock too.

How do they help you with your craft?

Having started a business from scratch, there was a sense of urgency to make money from what I was making. With power carving, it really does speed up the carving process exponentially. It allows me to make faster and therefore sell faster too. They also allow me to perform on site cree carvings with accuracy and speed.  And I can run them off of my solar set up, making it all eco friendly. My Axminster bandsaw is the Axminster AW HBS450N. It’s built like a tank and I’m pretty sure is bomb proof! It’s a workhorse that helps me shape things quickly. It has never let me down and I love it.

Brendan's creative process

Watch Brendan Rawlings carve a 5ft feather using Arbortech Tools in our Woodworking Wisdom video.

More about Brendan Rawlings and our makers

For more about Brendan and his work, visit his website

Read more from our Meet the Maker series on our Woodworking Wisdom blog page.