Meet Brendan Rawlings, a driftwood artist based in Woodbury, Devon, who began his artistic journey in January 2019 after creating a driftwood shark for a relative. The idea for his now business Zen Wood Design, came about a few years ago while residing and working in Dubai. Managing a thriving fitness company in the bustling city, he sensed a missing piece within himself. Upon returning to Devon with his family in the summer of 2017, Brendan realized that the absent element was nature, a fundamental connection that he believes is not only a right for every individual but a necessity for maintaining both mental and physical health. Recognizing nature's ability to nourish the soul and promote healing, Brendan finds working in and with nature to be an enlightening experience. He expresses deep gratitude for the decision to return to the green and pleasant land.
Rawling, as an artist, finds immense satisfaction in transforming a neglected piece of wood into a captivating creation that captures the essence of nature.
Exclusively using reclaimed or fall wood, he consistently donates monthly to a leading UK charity for planting saplings.
Burn, baby, burn...
Man Vs. Gorilla - This striking Gorilla sculpture sits proud at over 5ft tall (including plinth)!
A sculpture crafted from the trunk of an oak driftwood, it emanates a sense of strength, self-assurance, and a celebration of living in the present moment.
A special sculpture that evokes fond memories of immersing yourself in a good book.
How did you get into working with wood? I have always loved woodwork, so I started to mess around in the garage making stuff. When my brother-in-law expressed an interest in a driftwood piece in a local coastal shop window (his birthday was coming up), I thought I'd try and make it for him. Luckily, it turned out to be better than the one in the shop, and when he posted a picture on Facebook, things blew up, and I had 20-plus commissions straight away. I started Zen Wood Design that week and have been doing it ever since! For the first few years, I used driftwood only, but when demand exceeded my supply, I started using local timber too. I considered importing driftwood from other countries where it's more abundant, but that kind of went against my eco ethos, so I chose responsibly sourced local wood instead.
What inspires your creations? My work is inspired by all sorts really. I love the thought of a sculpture connecting with someone on an emotional level and making them feel a certain way. As well as the fact that a lot of my sculptures will still be here even when I'm not. I love figurative work and am inspired by athletic forms of the human body. Accurate figurative work is also one of the most challenging things to make from wood, and I like to challenge myself and learn from mistakes. Nature also inspires me. One of my favorite things to do is make a driftwood sculpture and photograph it on the beach where I found the wood. There's something beautiful about that.
What would you tell your younger self starting out on your artistic journey? I've changed careers lots of times, from playing professional rugby to working in recruitment in the UK and Middle East, to then moving to Dubai and setting up my own fitness company, and now I'm working as a sculptor. I feel that I landed on the art thing precisely at the right time and had to learn certain lessons in the other jobs I performed first. My previous careers have shaped my values and philosophies, and I'm not sure if I hadn't had the marketing and sales experience gained from doing other roles that I would have been able to sustain myself financially as a full-time artist. If I were to do it all over again, I'd probably do things very similarly. My advice to other young artists, however, would be to follow your heart, find your niche, and study at least an online course in marketing.
What is your favorite Arbortech tool and why? My favorite tool from Arbortech is a toss-up between the TURBO Plane and the Contour Sander. The TURBO Plane is the boss for taking out loads of stock quickly but is so versatile. I can smash a hole in a piece of wood with it or use it lightly to create a sanded-looking finish. The contour sander, however, is a really good tool for getting into the nooks and crannies in a piece and always surprises me at just how good a finish it creates. Again, it can be used with a low grit to efficiently sand an area that looks way too big for it to handle but also on a high grit for finer parts of the project.
If you were a type of wood, what would you be and why? If I were a piece of wood, I'd probably be a Macrocarpa, aka Monterey Cypress. They grow large like me but are fairly soft in the middle (and on the outside after Christmas), ha ha. It's also my favorite to carve and smells amazing.
To learn more about Brendan and his craft, vist:
Get the latest news and exclusive offers