20 Minutes with Martin Preston

Monday 9 July 2018

Artistic since a young age, Martin Preston has been carving for around 15 years. His love of art remained a hobby while he pursued his keen interest in the sciences professionally, and he now creates sculpture in both wood and bronze. His first commissioned piece in bronze was for a bust of the novelist and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. He lives in Dorset with his wife and two children.

How did you start carving?

I started carving in the early 1990s. Back then, I used to paint botanical watercolours and my wife's mother suggested that I might like to try carving. I bought a piece of lime from my local wood merchant, chose a hand as a subject so that I would never be without a model and began with a couple of mortising chisels.

Why do you carve?

I've always drawn or made things. Recording and translating the things I see is just an integral part of who I am. Carving appeals to me for the naturally warm and tactile properties that wood brings to a sculpture – properties that bronze doesn't have. Carved pieces seem to draw people in. Something in the nature of wood makes them want to get in close and interact in a way that they don't with metal.

How did you learn your skill?

Anything I know about carving has been learned through trial and error. When it comes to practical skills, I've never been shy of trying something new. I like to think that you don't really know what you can't do until you've failed, so why not have a go?

What inspires your carving?

Things that I see around me. I'll see the attitude in a flower or catch a fleeting pose in our collie and something inside says “that would make a nice sculpture.” Some of these moments persist and some fade, but all of them get stored up somewhere in the subconscious to later inform something I am creating.

What are you currently carving?

I am working towards a series of two or three figures where I will carve the figure in wood and combine it with a lot of detail cast in bronze. I am hoping the contrast between the clean lines of the figure and the complex detail in the bronze will make for a pleasing effect.

Which tool could you not be without, and why?

I have a lovely 2mm, yew-handled J. Addis & Sons straight chisel. It's not the most useful by any means, but I'm very fond of it. It has an elegance and balance that appeals to me and I can still pick it out on the bench when I am carving without my glasses on!

What is your favourite style of What is your favourite style of carving to do, and why? I like to carve naturalistically and in the round. I also like to finish a piece so that the grain is really brought into its own. I always think that it's a sin to carve wood and ignore the reason wood is so beautiful.

Whose work do you most admire?

The pre-Raphaelites are a great favourite of mine, especially Waterhouse. I am also in awe of some of the great Italian marble carvers. I remember seeing a statue by Michelangelo – there was just something about a hand lying against a leg that made me stop and think, “I'd like to do that.”

Describe the view from your workshop

My workshop is in my attic and so commands lovely views over the beautiful Dorset countryside. I have a window looking south through oak (Quercus robur) trees and across fields to the Wessex Ridgeway and another looking north towards Sherborne across a farm with a typical patchwork of small high-hedged fields and oak woods. As I write, this year's lambs are frantically racing around the field in the late spring sunshine.

Who would you most like to carve for?

I am delighted to carve for anyone for whom it brings pleasure. Keats said that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” To create something that someone else finds beautiful is pretty special, irrespective of who they are.