Fun

It’s a Jungle Out There!

It’s a Jungle Out There! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every year the village of Garderen (Netherlands) is proud to be home to Zandsculpturenfestijn. It describes itself as  ‘Europe’s most beautiful sand sculpture park’  and has won several regional tourist awards. As well as sand sculpture, the outdoor part of the exhibit also features wooden carvings, and Simon was invited to contribute again this year.

Simon working on his exhibit – easily identifiable by his Stihl clothing!

The theme for the year (‘Journey Round the World’) gave a LOT of scope for the artists to create natural wonders, architecture, people and animals. The artists who were there at the same time as Simon though all focused on nature, and created animal carvings. Animals make up the majority of Simon’s work at the moment, but as this wasn’t a commission where he had to replicate one specific animal, he decided to stretch himself and try something a little different, inspired by one of the indoor sand pieces.

The exhibit that inspired him was a huge jungle scene with lots of different animals. Simon set himself the challenge of creating something similar which would feature lots of different animals. The result? A hollowed-out seat (or throne) featuring not one or two animals, but 34!

The finished Jungle Seat

The finished Jungle Seat

Simon had a few ideas, but the decision about the final piece was settled by the piece of wood itself! Nick Lumb of Acorn Furniture (where Simon began his carving work) recently said that one of the enjoyable things with working with wood is that you never reach the end of learning about it. Other materials behave a specific way under a specific set of conditions. However, wood is different every time – you never know fully what you will get  until you begin to cut. In this instance, Simon discovered some defects in the centre, so decided to hollow out the timber, and so the ‘seat’ concept was born!

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke at Zandsculpturenfestijn

Two more angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Creating 3d, realistic animals like this is no easy task. Simon had to find a way to create depth when the piece of wood didn’t allow for large, dramatic shapes. The effectiveness of the piece is all down to deep relief cuts to create the shapes of the animals and foliage, with much more shallow cuts and markings to create the outstanding details, such as the smile in the eyes of the sloth, or the slightly grumpy crocodile as well as the varying textures of fur, feather and scales.

Close up of the sloth and crocodile in the Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the sloth and crocodile

Much as we love them, photos of all 34 animals would be a bit much for one blog post. Why don’t you take a look at them here and let us know your favourite? You can also watch this video (posted below for those who can see it) to see Simon’s own explanation of the seat too!

 

 

 

 

Three Wise Dragons

Three Wise Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint!

This past week has featured more of Simon’s dragons being installed in Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. They will eventually be surround by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment – their ‘home’ is still being built around them, and in a few weeks they will be the perfect addition to a holiday selfie!

 

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

 

As well as the sleeping dragon bench, we have three lovable dragons: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – a Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure are more familiar to you than these characters! Although the saying itself can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century, it was actually a 17th century wooden carving of the monkeys that launched the characters into the renown they have today, so it seems fitting not only to have a dragon version for Wales, but to continue that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

 

Sleeping Dragon Bench

 

‘Hafan Y Mor’ can be translated as either ‘sea haven’ which makes it an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina. If you happen to be enjoying the area, why not tag us in a photo of yourself with our Three Wise Dragons, and let us know which one is your favourite?

Spring it On!!!!

Spring it On!!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, it was the first day of Spring this week and that means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays, even if we haven’t quite caught up!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sun shining, walks in the park, nature bursting into new life, and all the cute and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms, and even those wet, rainy days seem better as the newly budded blossom on the trees and the touch of colour of daffodils and tulips springing from the ground remind us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week as well as (hopefully) some inspiration for your own gardens!

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst keeping it realistic (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised, so what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate (anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!!) which means we also can’t help but think of Easter, and the ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny! As carving in a material like wood lends itself beautifully to garden ornaments, woodland trails etc, it’s no surprise that Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends, whether real or imagined…..

Our teams are also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’, and if you’re anything like us, are only just starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter, and beginning the preparation work that will pay off in summer when it’s all organised and in bloom, or in Autumn when you reap the harvest.

If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, or after cleaning up, find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, why not consider commissioning something unique from us?
Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up.

We hope that whatever the start of Spring has looked like for you, that it’s one that, just like the season, is full of new life and hope.
As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Although most of our carving is done by Simon O’Rourke, we have affiliates who work with us on certain projects that we can also recommend if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features one of those projects: The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant is a former quarry, which is now a forested area run by local communities, local to us here in North Wales. It features woodland trails and a children’s play area, and is of particular interest to conservationists because of the unusual Bee Orchid which can be found there.  Our work is found in a few different places, and visitors are actually greeted at the entrance to the park by ‘Stanley’ – a previous carve of Simon’s. Whilst it’s a privilege to be able to travel and see our work in places around the world, there is also something special about a local project that enables us more easily to see people enjoying it over the years.

Stanley greets guests at the entrance ***

The brief for this project was to construct a play area and fort within a palisade for families to use, which would also reflect and portray the wildlife on the site. The bulk of the job was completed by our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes over nine days in Spring 2017 , and was constructed using part of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  Not only did this provide an affordable and easy-to-access source of timber, it also ensured that the build is totally sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

This then left Nathan with one day for detailing – the sign, carved weaponry, and the dragons on the see-saw. After all, what’s a fortress without some weapons?! These are all historical weapons such as bows and arrows and swords, which is in keeping with the historic aesthetic of a fort, and not only looks great, but helps encourage and inspire imaginative play in the children using the area.
In asking him about the project, Nathan reflected that “Thankfully the weather was unusually kind for the time of year and the work, whilst being ‘intensive’ went according to plan” – something that is never guaranteed carving at this time of year, and that we are ALWAYS thankful for when it happens!

Nathan’s weaponry detailing on individual posts in the fort*

The second phase was completed in January of this year, when Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and welcoming ladybird seat –  further reflecting the local wildlife, and creating a rest space for families to pause and enjoy the environment or watch their children play.

Bee totem pole and ladybird bench*

If you happen to be in the area, why not tag us in your photos? It’s lovely when a project is both beautiful and functional, for us to be able to see it being used and enjoyed.

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

 

Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver, and has worked for/with us for just over 10 years, over many different projects ranging from when we were just a tent in a frozen field to the current set-up! He can  currently only be commissioned for work through Tree Carving.
Daniel is a gifted carpenter and has worked with us for four-and-a-half years. He specialises in high quality, bespoke work and especially enjoys making and installing kitchens and doors, and creating furniture in its organic form. He can also currently be contacted through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website

A Very Wooden Valentines

A Very Wooden Valentines 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

After a January seemed to last forever, February is finally here and that means love is in the air! Or at least, all things pink and glittery are!
Whether you view Valentines Day as a romantic celebration or a money-making Hallmark Holiday, we thought you might enjoy some of these ‘love’ themed creations from Simon, and maybe be inspired for some of your own gifts for loved ones, whether for Valentines, birthday, anniversary or even a wedding.

Beauty and the Beast

 

For many of us, Disney was our first introduction to romance, and Beauty and the Beast has enthralled and entertained since Celine Dion first sang ‘Tale As Old As Time’ in 1992. We often get asked about the colouring in this sculpture. It was actually accidental (steel in the log) but has really grown on us, and as the wood weathers, will make for a stunning rustic look in a few year’s time.

 

 

These elephants in love already warm our hearts, but will take on an even more whimsical, fairy tale look when the magnolia behind them is in full bloom! Designs like this are perfect to make something more personal and romantic out of a practical/functional gift like this bench. Ideal for that fifth (wooden) or ninth (willow) wedding anniversary!

 

Photo used by permission of Abbi Photography

 

If it’s going to be a wooden gift, it doesn’t just have to be a sculpture. Last year our friends wanted something truly unique and personal to them, and commissioned these wedding rings for their colourful autumn wedding. Jewelry is a classic gift for a loved one, and if the source is something meaningful to you like a tree from your favourite park or a first home, how much more special!

 

Custom wedding rings and ring stand

 

Whether you spend Valentines Day with a loved one, friends, or going solo, we hope you enjoy the day and feel loved and appreciated – and find plenty of discount priced chocolate in the days that follow!!!!!

Wedding rings and bouquet photo supplied by and used by permission of Abbi Photography

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information

 

It Takes a (Lego) Village

It Takes a (Lego) Village 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

What could the well-known proverb in the title and Lego possibly have to do with tree carving?!

Well, it’s our privilege and joy both as a company and in our personal lives to be able to share what we have, and use it to help, support, sow into, and encourage others – whether that be with time, energy, or finances. In the past Simon has auctioned off various carvings and the gift of bespoke carving to order for a range of charities including local hospices and national charities. This week we were excited to pop over to England and plant a Lego tree which represented our donation to The Big Lego Brick Hospital fundraiser for a new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Read on for the full story……!!!

Planting our Lego tree on the model Clatterbridge

 

A chance encounter last year led to us running a  fundraiser for Clatterbridge Hospital from our workshop in North Wales. They are building a new Cancer Centre in Liverpool, and have been running a scheme where people can sponsor things like bricks, flower beds, benches and even figures of staff, to help build a model hospital out of Lego, which is a copy of the actual hospital which is currently under construction.
With half a million bricks and an army of builders, the Lego hospital itself is something worth checking out! When it’s finished it’ll be just under three metres long and almost two metres high. It will taken around 1000 hours over two years to build, and will hopefully have raised £500,000 for the Clatterbridge charity by the time it is completed. If you look closely you will find over 100 rooms with chemotherapy clinics, radiotherapy machines, toilet blocks, kitchens, lift shafts, MRI scanners, and more, including 150 hospital beds! As an artist, and a team that loves creativity and ingenuity, we can’t help but be impressed! OK, and let’s be honest, aside from the artistry and engineering, nobody ever really outgrows their appreciation of all things Lego!

Comparison of the lego construction with the current build as of 17/01/19

 

Our fundraiser itself was held just before Christmas, and we opened the doors of our workshop and welcomed people for mince pies, cake, tea and coffee. They had the opportunity to wander round the workshop and see works in progress as well as completed pieces, and even got to have their photo taken with a dragon! With donations and the raffle, we raised around £250, which enabled us to buy a tree in the model hospital.

One of our youngest visitors exploring the workshop – photographed with Groot and Hemlock the Dragon

 

Jo, one of our team at the fundraiser where she was able to share about the great care she has received from Clatterbridge staff with some of the other guests

 

It’s always a privilege to be able to contribute and invest in something which will play such a vital part in the lives of others. This fundraiser took on more meaning for us though, when we realised that one of our team (Jo) here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving has often been taken care of on a Clatterbridge ward! And so, it was an even greater privilege to be able to go this week and plant our tree, knowing that we are investing in something that not only benefits and serves the wider community, but directly impacts and helps one of our own team and friends.

Jo pictured with two of the nurses who have helped look after her recently – thanks to Leanne and Aysha who are not only awesome nurses, but were still willing to take a photo for their patient at the end of a shift!

A huge thank you to those who came and visited the workshop and donated to the fundraiser. Every little helps, and whether it be investing to get a facility built, or walking alongside those who will need to use this hospital, it really does ‘take a village’, and we are thankful for ours!

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS

A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more (it was attributed to J R R Tolkien for a long time), but it seems it still holds true that there is just something about a dragon story which captures imagination, and keeps being retold – especially here in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 7th century!

Having shared already that the year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, last week saw us working on a dragon sculpture which was carved on location in beautiful North Wales: ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon).
Even in process, our latest dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, and since then we have been overwhelmed by the positive messages we’ve received, the volume of shares online, and the number of people choosing to re-tell the story of this carving. Even the Daily Post  and BBC reported our story! We’re grateful and humbled by it all, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

THE COMMISSION

Several years ago, a 200 year old oak split, and half that fell was lying across a rock.  Sometimes in carving, we find the tree and sometimes the tree finds us! In this case it was the latter. The type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter meant this was a piece of timber begging to be carved! The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 

 

THE CARVE

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. It was carved entirely on-site which also meant a good work out, as we had decided to create a ‘full dragon’, which meant carrying pieces up to use for the wings and legs! With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

THE FINISHED PIECE

The finished sculpture is about 25′ long, and overlooks the road. With its craning head and open mouth, it looks like a guard dragon, roaring over those who would seek to enter its territory! Although it is on private land, there are a few public footpaths nearby for viewing, and it is visible from the southbound A5 between the first and second exits.

VISTING THE DRAGON

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s in a bit of a tricky spot to stop for photos. We’d love for you to see him in person, but encourage you all to do it safely please! For exact location and tips for parking, please visit THIS POST on our Facebook page (it’s public, so you don’t need Facebook to see it).

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and to those of you who have also shared photos – it’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces.

PS For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have one of our dragons come to you? Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for shows, weddings, parties etc, and is always a big hit!

 

Photos of Y Ddraig Derw at night are taken by local photographer Derfel Owen and used with permission