Terry Martin is an Australian wood turner. He was interviewed in Beijing on April 13, 2013. Here is his story…
I started woodturning in about 1983. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was 1983. I was a professor at the time. And school I was teaching had a lathe. And nobody knew how to use it. So I decided to try. Then I fell in love with woodturning at that time.
A woodturning writer
One day, after I became a wood turner, my wife said to me, “You know how to write, and you know how to turn wood? Why don’t you write about woodturning?” And that was 1991. She was right. I never thought of it. So I listened to my wife, I wrote a story for a magazine. And in 1992, my first story was published. And I was very excited about that. In fact, I got some money for it. So I was very happy. So I continue to write. Then I found not many people are writing about woodturning, almost nobody in fact. So there was no competition, I could do anything I wanted. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. Now 25 years later, I have written almost 300 magazine stories for 13 magazines in 7 different countries. I have written 3 books. I have written I don’t how many catalog access for exhibitions and everything. So maybe I wrote more than anybody ever about woodturning.
The most important thing in woodturning is simple curves, a good line. If you can cut a good line, you are a good wood turner. But you have to practice, so what you see in your mind comes out in your hand. When you control the tool, that’s the hard. It takes years, and years, and years, and years, to get that immediate control of the tool. But then you can do more after that.
You know, when you look at a piece of art, or a piece of craft, you know immediately if it’s good or not. Maybe you don’t know why, but you know. Oh, that’s looks good. And usually it’s because some balance and harmony. Harmony of the shape. Harmony of the line. If you try to do too much, it’s not good.
When you are not sure what to do, stop. Then if you are not sure what to do, it’s enough. In that way, you find harmony. And for me, this is really strong in my work.
I understand the importance of light and shadow. Without shadow, there is no light. Without light, there is no shadow. Yin and Yang. For me, that’s contrast, dark/light, rough/smooth, big/small. This is the contrast. So in my pieces that I made, always you find some contrasts, a piece of dark, and a piece of light, a piece of rough, and a piece of smooth, together. It is contrast.
So, simplicity, harmony, balance.
The wood is speeding on the lathe. The power comes from the lathe, not from me. The machine provides the power. So I am free to move. If I want to make a shape like a wave, I move like a wave. And I have a wave shape. If I want to make a shape like a flower, I move like a flower. And I make a flower. So the immediate feeling I feel this and it goes from me into the wood. And there it is. It’s difficult to describe.
If you are turning wood. You move the tool with your whole body, not just with your hand. If you are a good wood turner, you move your whole body. And you move slowly. And it looks and feels like Taiji, I think.
When the tool is sharp, and it is good wood. You can hear this beautiful sound…You know you have the correct cut. And the shaving is coming off. You saw beautiful shaving coming off. And there are like ribbons, like feathers, like hair. They are flying in the air. And you know, I am doing it well. I am doing it well. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be good. It’s very difficult to explain. But the feel is good inside, when you do that.
The first thing, the strongest inspiration is the trees. Because wood is not just material. Plastic is a material, steel is a material, glass is a material. But wood is a piece of tree. And tree used to breeze, and tree used to grow. When the wind blows, a tree moves. So it’s a living thing. Those other materials are not living things. Stone is dead, glass is dead, plastic is dead. But wood is a living material. And even after you cut down the tree, it still moves. In wet weather it’s bigger, in dry weather it gets smaller. For me, always I look at the trees. I like to say, this is a piece of tree, with respect for the tree.
Wood once was a living tree. People feel that when they touch wood. So when you cut a piece of wood, you are cutting through the life history of tree, from the beginning of its life to the end of its life. And you share that experience of the tree. I think we all feel that inside. So now people want to show their creativity, I express myself through this work.
My family is the reason why I can do it. Because my wife supports me in everything. Without my wife, I could not do this. Sometime I had no money, so she paid for everything. She never complained. She never criticized me, never. Always she said, “You do what you want to do”. And my daughter, she grew up her father with woodturning, since she was a baby. She saw woodturning. And she understands very well. And recently, we start to make pieces together, so I make the woodwork, and she does calligraphy on my woodwork. I am working with my own daughter. So that’s respect for my family.
Suggestions for the beginners
Practice, practice, practice. Every day, practice. Because even if you understand something, your body has to remember how to move. And when your body remembers, then it happens. So sometimes the movements is not simple, you have to go up and down, in and out. It’s like any skills, the more practice, the better you get. So don’t give up, and practice, practice, practice. And enjoy, enjoy.