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Face of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke in Poulton Hall gardens

Monkey Puzzle Ent Tree Sculpture

Monkey Puzzle Ent Tree Sculpture 1920 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Simon spent the week working in the grounds of Poulton Hall, Bebbington. Thankfully the weather cooperated, for this outdoor project! Over four days of carving Simon transformed a monkey puzzle tree into this fantastic Ent tree sculpture…

ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke. carved into a standing monkey puzzle tree outside poulton hall

Um, what’s an Ent Tree Sculpture?!

For those who are wondering, Ents are one of Tolkien’s literary creations. So this week’s sculpture would have fit perfectly in the literary fan art blog we posted a few weeks ago! The Ent feature in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and are also one of the oldest races of Middle Earth. Ents are shepherds and protectors of the trees. They are tree-like in appearance and take on the appearance of the trees they guard. Although we don’t often think of a ‘tree person’ as being a fearsome warrior, “Their punches can crumple iron like tin, and they can tear apart solid rock-like bread crusts.”!

front view of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

So, why an Ent tree sculpture?!

The choice of an Ent has a special story…
The sculpture is in the grounds of Poulton Hall, which belongs to the Lancelyn family. It’s actually been in their family since the 11th century! The current owner is the son of author Roger Lancelyn Green who was part of ‘The Inklings’  during his time in Oxford. The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who would meet at The Eagle and Child pub each week. They praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Many members of the group became prominent authors, including none other than JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis. The owner’s relationship with these authors and his passion for fantasy literature is evident throughout the grounds.

blue plaque stating roger lancelyn green lived in poulton hall, bebington

The Poulton Hall Gardens

There are several different gardens at Poulton Hall. They are open a few times a year, always in aid of a charity. Each has the distinct character of the owner at that time. The entrance to the walled gardens is intended to make you think you are entering a world of make-believe, and even includes a wooden sculpture by Jim Heath of The Jabberwocky!

This historic link with Tolkien and the property already having the sense of a fantasy garden meant a literary fantasy character was a natural choice for this latest addition. While there are lots of options, characters like the wizards or animal protagonists in Narnia are all well known and frequently depicted. The Ent not only fit the literary-fantasy theme but was also much more unique. It has the benefit too of blending more naturally with the surrounding gardens than other human or animal subjects. And so, whilst an unusual choice, the Ent is perfect for Poulton Hall.

Face of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke in Poulton Hall gardens

The Character of the Ent Tree Sculpture

As the Ent is moving, talking fictional beings with personalities, it was important that Simon first decide who this Ent is before he started carving. These all inform the pose, texture, expression – and more – of a sculpture. In this case, Simon was carving a Monkey Puzzle tree, and so Aracaurius the Ent was born! The name comes from the Latin name for the tree: aracauria Araucana. Aracaurius the Ent tree sculpture is 5m tall and has an affinity for the local wildlife. There’s a fox, a rabbit in his hand, an owl perched on his left hand, an angry stoat, a squirrel, a woodpecker, and a hidden mouse!

the fox at the foot of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

The fox at the foot of the Ent

 

Squirrel in the trunk of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke

The squirrel peeping out from the leg of the ent tree sculpture

Depicting a Monkey Puzzle Ent

One of the features we mentioned of the Ent, is that they take on the features of the tree they protect. In this case, a monkey puzzle tree. The monkey puzzle tree is an evergreen with long, spiky branches. Simon captures this in the long vertical cuts down the length of the Ent.

close up of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke, focusing on the rabbit in its left hand

Close up of the rabbit and the long vertical texture that suggests the long spiky coniferous branches of the monkey puzzle tree.

Monkey Puzzle trees also have a distinctive, leathery, pointy leaf. Simon has created variation in the texture of the ent tree sculpture by creating patches where the leaves are growing. This also hints at the evolutionary transformation of the Ent where it gradually takes on more and more of the characteristics of the tree it is guarding.

 

rear view of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke, showing the leaf and trunk detail

Rearview of the Ent showing the monkey puzzle leaves

A Face That Tells a Story

An important part of anthropomorphising objects is the face. There have to be believable details that blend the object/animal with human features. A glimpse at the face shows that this gentleman is an older Ent, with wise eyes, and a hint of compassion.

ent sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

More Details

It’s amazing to think about the number of details that go into creating something like the Ent tree sculpture. For example, look at the shoulder. That ‘point’ makes all the difference in convincing the viewer the Ent is a ‘tree person’ and not human. Drop that shoulder, and it immediately becomes ‘too human’, and less organic. The arms need to have enough irregularities to appear as a branch and not a human arm.  Attention to details like this as well as the phenomenal texture are what makes this Ent so striking and convincing.

And speaking of details, we have to share the rest of those animals hiding about the Ent’s person!

woodpecker and owl in simon o'rourke's ent sculpture

View of the Ent showing the woodpecker and owl

The Process of Making the Ent Tree Sculpture

As always, it is fascinating to watch Simon at work. On this project the Stihl MS500i did a LOT of work! It’s a meaty saw with the best power-to-weight ratio on the market, and the simplest operation. It’s perfectly suited to arboriculture or sculpting large pieces of timber. Although a 5m Ent may not be what what Stihl had in mind when they developed the product!

When it came to texture and larger details, the battery powered saws by Stihl were invaluable. They allow for much more movement round the tree, are more lightweight, so easier to get into some of those angles.

As we have said before too, the saburrtooth burrs are a gamechanger for facial details! For eyes like this, there has to be quite a deep cut to create the shadow needed for the eyes to hold their expression, and to be seen from further away. This last part is especially important on something large scale. The burrs are perfect for creating these smaller, deep, details.

We’ll have a timelapse of the whole process ready soon, but until then, you can see Simon in action on day one of the project.

 

Over to You!

If you were going to commission a literary fantasy sculpture what would you choose? Would it be Middle Earth, Narnia, Discworld, Camelot, Neverland, Ga’hoole? Or something else? The possibilities are endless and can lead to a truly unique and beautiful piece of sustainable art.

Before we sign off, we need to give a shout out to JB Platform Hire. Great to work with, and it’s their cherry picker that enabled me to carve and get video like this one…

If you have an idea, contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will get back to you to chat about ideas, details, and costs.

 

Alice in Wonderland booth carved by Simon O'Rourke for Steak of the Art

Sculptures based on Literature: Fan Art Series

Sculptures based on Literature: Fan Art Series 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Over the years, Simon has created many sculptures based on literature. They have been for a range of settings, including libraries, schools, National Trust property, and even restaurants! No two pieces are alike, even when they are based on the same book. Simon has been asked to carve figures from several different genres, and include sculptures based on works by Shakespeare, Tolkien, Dahl, Carroll, Conan Doyle, and Beatrix Potter.
One of the nice things about sculptures based on literature is that often there is no definitive image of the person to have to replicate. Books allow the imagination to flow, and creating sculptures based on literature is no different. With a description but no image to work from, Simon can get creative as he carves. Join us as we revisit some of his literary sculptures from over the years…

tree carving sculptures based on literature by simon o'rourke. an open book with the title alice in wonderland and the chesire cat sitting on a hollow log to the right

Part of Simon’s Alice in Wonderland sculpture trail at Erddig National Trust property

William Shakespeare Sculpture

Early examples of Simon’s sculpture based on literature are these Romeo and Juliet figures. Two trees at a local holiday park had become intertwined.  This positioning meant they perfectly lent themselves to becoming Shakespeare’s famous lovers. Simon worked the angles and shape of the trees brilliantly to depict them gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. There is no doubt they are infatuated with each other! As well as creating figures of Romeo and Juliet, Simon also engraved text from the play into the trunks. If you had to choose only one quote from Romeo and Juliet to include, what would it be?

romeo and juliet tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke, one of his sculptures based on literature

Sabine Obermaier

Our next literary sculpture is much less famous: Christian and Martha from “The Midwife” by Sabine Obermaier. You may have seen this sculpture in our blog about the Huskycup through the Years, or our Review of the Decade. We also have a Facebook album where you can see a bigger range of photos. “Christian and Martha” was created for the Huskycup competition in 2012. It was created in collaboration with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamozus – TEAM EUROPE! The public loved the piece – and so did the judges! Christian and Martha took third place, making it Simon’s fourth time to finish in the top five.

Christian and Martha, one of Simon o@rourkes sculptures based on literature. It shows the two characters sitting on a giant shire horse

Conan Doyle Bust

On a TOTALLY different scale to the last two, our next sculpture based on literature is this Sherlock Holmes bust. It was a private commission for a fan, created towards the end of 2020. As well as depicting Conan Doyle’s famous detective, it also has hints and clues to elements of Sherlock stories. A bust is a great alternative portrait sculpture if you are looking for something small or more portable. They always add a touch of class and are a more subtle piece of fan art than a full-size sculpture.

Sculptures based on literature: Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

Tolkien Sculpture

Another recent favourite of Simon’s sculptures based on literature is Radagast. The character may not be as well known as Gandalf, but the sculpture has been a hit!
This sculpture is also a great example of Simon transforming something sad into a beautiful piece of art. It came about after a Blue Atlas Cedar was infected with Sirococcus. Trees with this disease must be cut back as a minimum, but younger trees usually die. Rather than lose the tree, the owners contacted Simon, and the tree lives on in the form of Radagast the Brown!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

Lewis Carroll Sculptures

Alice in Wonderland has been a VERY popular theme, and Simon has had several commissions based on the Lewis Carroll classic. It doesn’t get repetitive though. Each time he gets to reimagine the characters and tell different parts of the story. Every commission also has a different purpose and setting too. Some have been individual sculptures such as this series created for a park in Scotland…

Alice in Wonderland sculpture by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke. Figures carved in wood of around 6' show the quuen of hearts, king of hearts, alice and tweedle dum

Photo credit Paul Worpole

Or this caterpillar which formed part of an  Alice in Wonderland trail at Erddig National Trust. Erddig is local to us, and we love the place. Simon was lucky enough to be their artist in residence for a season too!

wood carving of the caterpillar from alice in wonderland by simon o'rourke

Other Alice in Wonderland pieces have included a themed booth for Steak of the Art in Bristol…

Alice in Wonderland booth carved by Simon O'Rourke for Steak of the Art

And this themed chair created for The Storyhouse in Chester. The chair was a donation (read the full story here) for the children’s library, and incorporates other elements not seen in the other Alice pieces Do you have a favourite?

alice in wonderland themed chair by simon o'rourke for storyhouse chester. one of his sculptures based on literature

Roald Dahl Booth

For our next piece, we stay with children’s literature. This time, the author is Roald Dahl, and the book is Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Several years ago Simon was commissioned to create a booth for Steak of the Art in Cardiff. It was the first of three installations he has done for the chain now (the second is the Alice booth above). Each gives him the challenge of combining structural and practical requirements with artistic elements. It’s fun spotting all the different characters in a scene like this, as well as different elements in the story. How many can you find?

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

 

Hans Christian Anderson

Moving on, the next of our sculptures based on literature is from the timeless classic ‘The Little Mermaid’. The Hans Christian Anderson protagonist has been depicted in many different ways over the years, including as a redhead with a fish for a best friend – thank you, Disney! Fun fact: This little mermaid by Simon is much bigger than the Copenhagen landmark which is indeed a very little mermaid at only 1.25, tall!

Sculptures based on literature: a tree carved little mermaid by Simon O'Rourke

Beatrix Potter

Of course, not all literary heroes are human. And so, for our next piece, we bring you one of Simon’s furry literary sculptures: Peter Rabbit. A favourite for generations, this little Peter makes a cute addition to this garden.  With the facial features and little jacket, it’s unmistakeably the Beatrix Potter bunny. Not only does it look like Peter Rabbit though, but Simon also perfectly captured his cheeky character. A fun take on a literary sculpture!

sculptures based on literature by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke: Peter Rabbit eating carrots

J K Rowling

It’s amazing that despite the popularity of Harry Potter, Simon hasn’t yet been asked to carve any fan art based on the series. We have a feeling it won’t be long until he is though! However, although it isn’t strictly one of Simon’s sculptures based on literature, we think this phoenix rising from the ashes looks a lot like Fawkes. Especially as Jason Cockcroft depicted him on the original hardback cover of The Order of the Phoenix. What do think? Could this be Fawkes?!

Close up of the upper part of "A Phoenix Arises" by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the phoenix rising from the sun-like flames

Who Would You Choose?

We hope you enjoyed this selection of Simon’s sculptures based on literature. He certainly enjoyed creating them!
Of course, with so many wonderful books, not everybody can choose a favourite character for their home, garden, library or school. So maybe a montage is in order? Something like this sculpture “Learning to Fly” but with figures from many books incorporated…

simon o'rourke sculptures based on literature. Child standing on a atower of books.

If you would like to commission a sculpture based on a literary figure, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch to chat about ideas and details. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

TV presneter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

A Fire Breathing Dragon

A Fire Breathing Dragon 768 1033 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon was featured on the series opener of Amazing Spaces. It was a great episode, featuring some spectacular architecture and engineering. Simon’s contribution? A 7ft fire breathing dragon!

The Clients

Local couple Guy and Tracey commissioned the fire breathing dragon. They were renovating a former bakehouse, and it was to be the finishing touch. When they approached Simon, he knew he couldn’t say no. He always loves a challenge, so a wall-mounted, fire breathing dragon was a project he couldn’t turn down!

TV presenter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

George Clarke with the fire breathing dragon

The Building

The building itself is incredible. When Guy and Tracey bought their property, it came with a small stone building, which was a former bakehouse. Although it only measures around 3m x 2.5m, they had the idea to turn it into a little crash pad/den. A mini-house!
Space was obviously going to be an issue. Guy is a gifted engineer though and came up with an ingenious fix. In his own words:

“Your bathroom only needs to be big when you’re in it, so I figured you could have the whole bathroom wall moved across and stuck on the wall, and when you need it, pull it towards you to create the bathroom”

That’s right! Guy created a disappearing bathroom to maximise the space! George Clarke was so impressed, the property now ranks in his top three builds!

A Dream Holiday Home

Now finished, the property is a beautiful little getaway, ideal for a couple. Once lockdown is over, it will be available to rent via www.thedragontower.co.uk. If you are impressed with the creativity and engineering, you can also follow them on Twitter where they share more about the process.

fire breathing dragin made from redwood by simon o'rourke mounted on a small stone two storey building

The Story of Maggon the Dragon

The idea for Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon came from Tracey. The fairytale look of the bakehouse captivated her, and she made a joke about needing a dragon to protect them. Tracey is also a big fan of children’s literature and illustration and had always wanted a piece of fantasy art. And so from there, the dragon commission was born! They also had the idea that he could breathe fire when the doorbell rang. Such a fun, and creative finishing touch to a creative and ingenious renovation!

Initially, they planned on making the dragon themselves. But then, they met Simon. His portfolio includes many incredible dragons, including the well-know Dragon of Bethesda. His background as an illustrator also tied in with Tracey’s love of children’s illustration. So all in all, he was the perfect fit for this commission.

redwood fire breathing dragon mounted on a small stone bake house in north wales

Making Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon

Maggon is 7ft and made from a fallen redwood tree. The warm red colour is perfect for this property in North Wales, as it reflects the red dragon on our flag.
Nerd alert! In dry climates, redwood actually becomes a lighter-silvery tan shade if left to weather naturally. These clients needn’t worry though. In damp climates, redwood darkens, so the North Welsh weather will mean that lovely red colouring is retained for years to come.

Engineering Challenges!

The most obvious challenge for this commission was how to make it breathe fire! In this case, Guy had a plan, and Simon’s role was to create a cavity within the sculpture for the propane pipe. If you saw the episode you will have heard Tracey joking about the dragon breathing fire when the doorbell rings. So, for the curious among you.. yes, it is really connected to the doorbell! However, Guy and Tracey wanted to make the fire breathing dragon as environmentally friendly as possible. For this reason, they limit his ‘bursts’ using their own control box – which also helps limit accident potential! Health and Safety matters!

Another problem for Simon to think through was the installation. The dragon not only needed to breathe fire but was going to be mounted on the wall of the house – as if it was climbing towards the window. This meant keeping strictly within certain specifications so it would fit the space. It also meant Simon needed to create the dragon in sections so it would be easier to mount on the wall. Being able to visualise this and take account of it in the design is an essential aspect of larger projects.

More About Making a Fire Breathing Dragon

Simon used a few different Stihl chainsaws with various bars to create the main shape of the dragon. He also used these to begin to add a few cuts that give depth, and some of the more general shape and texture. No dragon is complete without scales though! Simon created the scales with the Manpa Tools Multicutter with a round cutter attachment. The friendly grin (we didn’t want Maggon scaring off guests!) and other facial details were created using Saburrtooth burrs.  The flame-shaped burr is an especially useful tool for these projects. You can see a bit of a ‘before and after’ in this photo, Tracey and Guy took in the workshop. Simon has created the main shape and some details with the chain saw, and begun to add the scales with the multi cutter around the dragon’s hind legs.

close up of a dragon tail made out of redwood

Although it took several days to create Maggon, you can watch the process in under a minute! What are your guesses for who the sculpture in the background will be?

Being on Amazing Spaces

As an artist, it is always an honour to have a piece featured on television. The focus of the show was the build itself, but Simon did also get to meet George Clarke on unveiling day, and enjoyed a good chat! He also loved seeing the build too:
It’s incredible what they’ve managed to do with such a small space! It was great to be involved and to add to a project like that.

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke with TV presente George Clarke. They are pictured in front of The Dragon Tower, a stone bake house converted to a guest house in NOrth Wales. Simon is holding a Stihl chainsaw

Simon with George Clarke and a trusty Stihl chainsaw!

What’s Your Fire Breathing Dragon?

Thank you to those who took the time to comment on social media. It is always lovely to hear from you, and we’re touched by all the great feedback.

If you have a rental property, a novelty piece of art is a GREAT way to make it stand out, and to attract attention – and gain business! If you have an idea for your home or rental property, why not have a chat with Simon? Contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!

Thank you for reading our blog! Don’t forget to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our posts.

Memorial sculpture for Robyn by Simon O'Rourke

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn 1824 1368 Simon O'Rourke

In our blogs,  the perfect portrait sculpture for you part one and part two, we mentioned commissioning a portrait as a memorial. This week we would like to share a memorial portrait Simon recently created. In fact, it was Simon’s first piece after lockdown began to lift. Thank you to the family for allowing us to write about this memorial aculpture for Robyn.

A memorial sculpture for Robyn carved by Simon O'Rourke depicting a young girl as a fairy with a robin on her open hand

The Commission

Several years ago, Simon received a commission to create a sculpture for a local High School, in memorial of a young student who had tragically passed away. The family were touched by the way the sculpture captured their daughter’s character, even though Simon had never met her. More specifically, they were moved by the way Simon’s portrayal of Robyn captured her loving and caring nature. A

Memorial sculpture for Robyn, carved in oak, depicting a young girl reading a book

Simon’s original memorial for Robyn

Any death of a young person is difficult. However, for this family, there were also questions that took several years to settle. Thankfully they were recently able to find closure and resolution.
To mark the ending of this horrendous time in their lives they wanted to celebrate Robyn’s life. They also wanted to do something that would help eradicate the legal battle which had prevented them from being able to grieve their beautiful daughter. And so, when they moved house, they created a garden that would honour and remember her. Remembering the original memorial scultpure for Robyn that Simon had created, they commissioned a portrait for their garden.

 

memorial sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke in process. picture depicts a metal stool with a very basic outline carved in oak of a young girl sitting, woth a robin on her outstretched hand

The memorial sculpture for Robyn underway in Simon’s garden

Creating the Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

Although the commission was small in scale compared to many Simon has undertaken (have you seen the Giant Hand of Vrynwy or the Marbury Lady?!), in some ways, it was a big undertaking.
Ensuring a memorial sculpture captures and reflects the person is SO important as it is often a key part of the grieving process, and impacts the way the person will be remembered. Simon understands this, and takes time to ‘get to know’ the person through photos and conversation. He is then able to create a memorial sculpture that is truly honouring to the person.

In the case of Robyn, she was a caring, and loving young lady. The many cards the family received after losing her showed them how respected and valued she was for being a good friend. This sculpture shows Robyn at peace, and serene. It also reflects that caring and gentle nature through her body language and relationship with the robin on her hand.

close up of the face of the oak memoral sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke. a young girls face is shown in an oak carving with a serene expression

Working from Home

Simon didn’t just face creative challenges with this sculpture. There was also the very real practical challenge of …… LOCKDOWN!

Health and safety of all the team is important to Simon and Liz. So, like many of the population, Simon had to work from home! Also like many of the population, that meant learning to deal with new interruptions (like the dog moving the video camera) and new distractions (a beautiful garden to tend) In case you didn’t catch them on our Facebook page, here are some of the videos of the memorial sculpture for Robyn in progress….

Back on the chainsaw after 8 weeks! It's been good for me to have a break though …

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

What a scorcher!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Finished Sculpture

As you can see in the videos, Simon used his Stihl cordless chainsaws for the bulk of the carving. He then used Saburrtooth bits to add details and texture. The memorial sculpture for Robyn is oak, which means it is sturdy and stands up well to the chainsaws! It also means it is durable, and will withstand wind and rain – essential for an outdoor sculpture. Oak tends to pull out more brown hues than blacks or greys. This means as the sculpture ages, it will both deepen in colour and become much ‘warmer’ in tone.  This video shows the finished piece from several different angles.

 

Here's a little video to show a different angle!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Friday, 22 May 2020

Testimonial

Simon received a lot of lovely feedback on social media when he originally shared the picture of the memorial for Robyn. Thank you to those who commented! The most important thing though is that the client is happy…..

I do need to thank you for undertaking the carving. As soon as I saw it I was so moved. It is beautful and I thank you for creating a carving in remembrance of Robyn

It is ALWAYS humbling to receive such lovely comments. Even more so when the piece marks the ending of something as challenging as these clients have walked through. Being a part of the healing journey for clients is truly an honour. We think Robyn looks beautiful in the garden created in her memory, and we hope this sculpture will bring the family joy for years and years to come.

Photo provided by client and used with permission.

Commissioning Your Own Memorial Sculpture

If you would like to commission a sculpture in memorial of a loved one, Simon would love to hear from you. Visit us on http://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to connect.

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome back to our woodland sculpture trail series!

If you read our blogs about the Pages Wood commission, and the Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail, you will know that sculpture trails are a great way to encourage people to get outside. They also encourage engagement with the environment and its care – something Simon and Liz are both passionate about. At the moment, we obviously can’t get out to enjoy our beautiful woodlands and parks, so we thought we would bring them to you!

Last time we visited the Wirral and Meadow Park. This week we take you to revisit the Pages Wood sculpture trail….

Verity Vole by Simon O'Rourke, part of the Page's Wood sculpture trail

Verity Vole, the second protagonist at the Page’s Wood sculpture trail

About Pages Wood

Pages Wood is the Forestry Commission’s largest site in Thames Chase and home to 100,000 trees. The wood offers 6.5km of walking and cycling paths and 2.2km of bridlepaths. This valley of green space offers excellent views as well as a rich mosaic of habitats for wildlife – all reflected in Simon’s sculptures.

Extensive views, an excellent path network, developing woodlands, and (of course) Simon’s woodland sculpture trail  all make Pages Wood a “must-visit” site – either for some brisk exercise or just simple relaxation.

As with Meadow Park, Simon and Liz wrote a story to engage the viewer. The trail follows the adventures of Horatio Hedgehog and Verity Vole as they meet other animals in the forest.

Verity Vole Woodland Sculpture Trail

This is Verity! She wanders through Pages Wood, and teaches about the friends she meets through verse, and the visual of the sculpture. See how many of the animals you recognise and knew inhabited the south east of England.

Original Woodland sculpture trail concept sketch by simon o'rourke, Verity Vole

Verity Vole by Simon O'Rourke, part of the Page's Wood sculpture trail

Verity Vole, the second protagonist at the Page’s Wood sculpture trail

 

dragonfly bench concept sketch by simon o'rourke for pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Did Verity teach you anything new? And which was your favourite sculpture from her story?

Horatio Hedgehog Woodland Sculpture Trail

Next we have Horatio! You can scroll through and follow him on his adventure, not only as he meets his woodland friends, but also from his concept sketch to fully installed sculpture!

 

 

 

 

hedgehog and badger tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke from pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page's Wood Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke

 

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page's Wood. By Simon O'Rourke.

We love that each trail ends with a bench so people can sit and relax and enjoy being in our great British outdoors. It also gives time to ponder on anything they learned it the trail. Our hope is that when Simon makes a woodland sculpture trail, it isn’t just fun to look at, but actually inspires people to action too.

If you are involved in running a local conservation area, and would like to consider adding an educational sculpture trail, why not check out the Meadow Park Case Study on on website for ideas and information?

To talk more about specifics, email Simon on [email protected] Can’t wait to hear from you!

visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall

Sculpture for Historic Property

Sculpture for Historic Property 420 630 Simon O'Rourke

alsoOne of the things Simon has enjoyed over the years, is creating sculpture for historic property. These projects usually combine Simon’s love of human form with his passion for storytelling. They also add value for the owner in sometimes unexpected ways. Over the years Simon has created many pieces for historic properties, ranging from National Trust homes or places of worship to private home owners. He has also had a season as ‘artist in residence’ at Erddig, a local National Trust property.
This week we share examples from that extensive portfolio, and explore the value of commissioning sculpture for historic property.

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman at Highclere Castle

Reasons to Commission a Sculpture for Historic Property: Commemoration & Storytelling

There are many reasons to commission a sculpture for your historic property. One of those reasons is to have a commemorative piece, to mark an event or occasion.  The Airman at Highclere Castle (pictured above) is an example of this. He is also an example of another reason for commissioning a sculpture. That is, story telling.  If you ever read our blog about the Highclere Airman, you will know that he tells a part of the story of that property. Although people may be aware of the history of a building, a visual aid telling that story is always powerful. Even traditional school text books become much more interesting with a picture! How much more so when the visual story telling is in 3D?! If your building is open to the public, this enhances their experience, which is always a good thing!

Mungo Park sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

A Tourist Attraction!

Another reason that a sculpture can add value to a historic sculpture, is it can become an attraction in itself. Take Mungo Park for example, photographed above.
This likeness of the Scottish explorer was created in 2014 for a Wetherspoons in Peebles, Park’s home town. It reflects the history of the area, so enhances the experience of the visitor, and helps provide information about the town. It also helps to set that restaurant apart from the others in the area. It’s a focus point for visitors – something unique the other eateries in town don’t have. It’s also fun –  customers also sit alongside Mungo on the bench outside the pub, for a photograph. And we all know the power of a shared photograph on social media!

 

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall, Sculpture for historic property

Case Study: Angel at the Pool of Bethesda

One of Simon’s favourite sculptures that he has created for a historic property is the Angel at the Pool of Bethesda. She was carved from oak in 2016 as a commission for Biddulph Old Hall.  Although the property has an extensive history dating back to 1480, this commission relates to a 19th Century resident…..

The Story Behind the Sculpture

In 1871, attracted by the romance of the ruins in their moorland setting, artist Robert Bateman took up residence in the hall. He actually painted most of his best works in the Hall between 1871 and 1890. In 1874  he and the love of his life, Caroline Howard, were separated. Then, in 1876, Caroline married the Rev Charles Wilbraham. Bateman was heart broken, and painted The Pool of Bethesda as “an autobiographical cry of anguish”. The commission of the sculpture was to commemorate Robert and Caroline’s memory as part of the house’s story.

To read more about the history of the painting, click here.

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall is an example of sculpture for historic property

Creating the Sculpture

The setting with the angel stepping down a few steps towards a pool of water replicates the Bateman painting. The difficulty for Simon centered around the fact that all he had to work from was a flat 2D image. This meant that to begin with, he had to visualize what the painting would look like in 3D. From there, he then had to create what he was imagining. Which, according to owner Nigel Daly,  “he has done magnificently…. The piece fully represents the sense of Caroline stepping down into the water that Bateman created in the original painting.”

 

Testimonies of the Value Added

Obviously art always enhances or ‘adds’ something to a room, or wherever it’s located. However, in a historic property it does more than this. It captures the attention of the viewer. They are drawn in, as it narrates the story of that place. It also helps them envision, imagine and remember.

Nigel Daly is “thrilled” at the impact of the sculpture:
“Visitors never fail to gasp as they are led through a small octagonal tower from the ruins themselves into the small courtyard with the pool in its centre and Caroline at its head. As time has passed she has weathered beautifully to settle into the time-worn surroundings of the Hall.

The work has been much admired, and such is the skill of the work we are saving up for a second sculpture for the centre of the ruins based on Burne-Jones’s ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’, which we feel is just up Simon’s street!”

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Your Own Commission

If you would like to enhance story-telling and scene-setting with a unique sculpture for your historic property, contact Simon on [email protected].

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree 600 450 Simon O'Rourke

Many of you will have read in Simon’s biography that his is in illustration. Tree carving started for him while he was working for Acorn as a tree surgeon while building up his portfolio. He realised he could create beautiful things with the power tools he was using, and the rest is history!
That means not only is he able to create amazing sculptures, but he also has a portfolio of beautiful wall hangings and plaques. You might remember some of them from our Pet Portraits blog.
This week we want to share a recent commission with you which was for an entrance sign to a special place: Simon’s bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree for their new centre in Sandiway, Cheshire.

Wall hangings by Simon O'Rourke

Examples of Simon’s wall hangings at the gallery. Excuse the tinsel, this was taken during a Christmas fundraiser!

The Joshua Tree

Lynda and David Hill founded The Joshua Tree in 2006, after their son was diagnosed with leukaemia. They discovered a distinct lack in support services for all family members during the traumatic experience of childhood cancer, and wanted to provide something for other families in their situation.

Their goal is to support the whole family, from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. They especially recognise that post-treatment can be a challenging time,  as families have to adapt to a ‘new normal’, but many of the support services that are in place during treatment,  have come to an end.  The Joshua Tree offers support, and help bridge the gap when that safety net of treatment ends.

Even though it’s only 14 years since its inception, The Joshua Tree have received over 170 referrals! They estimate that in that time they delivered over 1700 family interactions delivered to families affected by childhood cancers.

Architect’s impression of The Joshua Tree’s new centre

The Joshua Tree Support Centre

One of the charity’s undertakings is a new support centre in Sandiway. It’s still under construction, but even a quick look at their blog shows it is going to be an amazing facility. As part of the finishing touches, Simon was commissioned to create a bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree centre.

The goal of the centre is to provide a safe and relaxing environment for families. It will cater for children of all ages, from toddlers to teens! It will have activity room, counselling suites, soft play, sensory equipment, as well as games room, office  accommodation, outdoor play and landscaped gardens. It’s definitely a special project, and we know it will make an incredible difference to so many.

The Joshua Tree Support Centre under construction. Simon O'Rourke created a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree.

The centre under construction

Simon’s Contribution.

The commission for a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree Centre came after one of the staff noticed Simon’s work online. It seemed a good fit from the beginning. Not only did they like his work, but as The Joshua Tree supports families in Wales, it seemed fitting to commission  a ‘local’ artist.

Simon made the sign of a lovely warm, cedar. His choice of timber has meant the placing of the logo still allows for some of the lovely knots and markings to come through, so it still has an organic feel. The building is also clad in cedar, so it will be a beautiful compliment to a great facility.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

Simon and Paul handing over the finished sign.

Simon is available for commissions of pet portraits, signs and wall hangings.

Email [email protected] to discuss the details.