Fantasy Sculpture

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Two Towers and a dragon.
Sorry, nothing to do with the movie! Although if you enjoy Tolkien, you could read our blog about Simon’s Lord of the Rings sculpture.
Rather these two towers and a dragon were straight from Simon’s imagination. As well as telling a story, they are actually also a happy ending in themselves! Read on to find out more about ‘the great resc-yew’…

Two towers and a dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Resc-Yew Plan

These stunning sculptures began their life as yew trees (now the ‘rescue – rescyew puns make sense!) which had become problematic. Yew is a fascinating and beautiful wood which grows in all kinds of shapes and patterns. They are some of the oldest trees in the country, are great for making all kinds of things. This ranges from carving household objects and art to furniture. Most famously though, they have the reputation of making the best long bows! However, that wild beauty can sometimes cause problems for the landowners.
In this case, they were growing too close to the house.

Initially, the owners had the tops removed, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution. Rather than remove them completely, they decided to turn them into a different kind of beautiful – a Simon O’Rourke sculpture! All projects have their points of fun and excitement, but one of the things Simon enjoys about this kind of commission is the sense of giving life and purpose back to something that had either died, was damaged, or could no longer remain as it was. Even better when it’s something as fun and unique as this fairytale sculpture!

Incidentally, if you have trees which are becoming problematic, read our blog about Treetech, a tree surgeon we work with and recommend to give you an evaluation!

The dragon from Two Towers and a Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Creating the Sculptures

After chatting with the owners about what they would like, Simon went to work, employing not only his skill, but his creativity and imagination to create this scene from a story Tolkien or C S Lewis would be proud of!

Simon kept some of the bark to allow the trees to blend in more with the rest of the garden. This also adds age and authenticity to the towers, as if they are something from an long-ago, far away adventure. He created the initial shapes using Stihl chainsaws, then used his Manpa angle grinders and chainsaw bars, and Saburrtooth bits to create the details and added texture. The beautiful natural patterns within the yew combined with Simon’s deeper cuts that mark the stone and tiles, to create the feel of ancient stone towers that have been weathered over the years.

The Two Towers from Two towers and a dragon by simon o'rourke

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the fun things about a sculpture like this, is it not only looks great, but sparks the imagination. This is something that is important to Simon in every sculpture he creates, and even shares in his biography that he wants “people to feel like they’ve experienced part of a story”

In this story, with the two towers and a dragon, the castle is under threat from the dragon. As we look at him, we see he is quietly watching, formulating his plan, and resting his wings, which although relaxed at this moment, are clearly powerful and large.

But what happens next?

Simon has set the scene and created a stunning piece of art, but the rest is up to you.
Can the towers withstand the attack?
Who or what is within them to attract the dragon?
Who will be victorious and how?

We think it would be wonderful to spend a summer’s evening in this garden – perhaps after a BBQ with a glass of your favourite drink in hand – inviting family and friends to tell the rest of the story. What do you think happens next? How would you end this great resc-yew story? Why not comment below and let us know!

As always, if you feel inspired by this week’s featured carving, you can talk to Simon about commissioning something unique for your home and garden. Contact us on [email protected].

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

As we start a new decade, we’ve been reflecting on the many changes that have happened personally and professionally over the last ten years. Professionally, it’s been a great decade with some fantastic opportunities and commissions. We’ve also met some amazing people and seen some wonderful places along the way. Before we move forward into the 20’s, we thought we would bring you our ‘review of the decade’. And, as we do, let us wish you a Happy New Year from all at Tree Carving.

Simon O'Rourke Game of Thrones Egg Carrier carving

Simon and Liz O’Rourke wish you a happy new year (and decade) on behalf of the Tree Carving team.

Review of the Decade: 2010

As we looked back, we could definitely see we didn’t use social media as much! And the technology we used definitely didn’t produce the kind of photos and videos we do today! But here is a look back at two competition pieces from that year, both taking second place. Neptune from the English Open Chainsaw competition, and a traditional miner from the Huskycup.
A quick glimpse at Simon’s awards shows that this was a good decade for competition, placing in most things he entered and winning seven awards. However, when it comes to competitions Simon says:
“Competitive sculpture has taught me a lot about completing work to a deadline. I have competed all over the world and although I have placed highly in many events, the most important thing to me is being happy with my own work.”

Neptune by Simon O'Rourke as featured in his review of the decade

Simon O'Rourke second place huskycup 2010

Review of the Decade: 2011

Two of the projects we chose as highlights from 2011 are The Giant Hand of Vrynwy, and the Somerset Tree.

At 50′ tall, it was no wonder the hand caught the attention of the local press, as you can see in the article by The Leader newspaper. Simon’s inspiration for the hand came from the name for the woodland area, which made reference to giants. Creating something on this scale reminded Simon how small we are compared to some of the living organisms on this planet. He described the experience as being very humbling!

Giant hand by Simon O'Rourke

The next project although tall still, was a little smaller in scale! Simon was commissioned by the Museum of Somerset to create this stunning tree for their new museum. Sourced from local wood, it stands proudly in the museum where it tells some of the area’s 400 million year history.

Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the decade: Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2012

Another Huskycup entry! This time, the sculpture of “Christian and Mary”. Simon worked on this piece as part of ‘Team Europe’ with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamoszus. They placed fourth overall, with some tough competition from a great bunch of talented artists. As we had a quick glimpse back at the Facebook album of the event it was lovely to be reminded of the support, encouragement and lovely comments.

Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Review of the decade: Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

fourth place Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Review of the Decade: 2013

For our 2013 highlight, we chose something a little different. During that year Simon created this incredible Alice in Wonderland booth for Steak of the Art in Bristol. Their vision is for the restaurant to be an ever-changing art gallery that compliments their delicious menu. As you can see from the photos in the case study Simon wrote, his booth more than fits their vision. Every single character is its own work of art, and with so much to see, although the piece doesn’t change, there is something new to notice each time you sit within it. Here we get a reflection of the changing technology too, with this timelapse video of its making!

Alice in Wonderland booth at Steak of the Art by Simon O'Rourke (a review of the decade)

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

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

Review of the Decade: 2014

2014 saw us receive a lot of publicity for two ‘guardians’.

The first was created for the ‘Pawtraits‘ series by Maria Slough, and was actually named ‘The Guardian‘. The series featured people photographed alongside animals that had impacted their lives, and Simon was brought in to create a piece to be used for the portrait of Virginia McKenna. Understandably, the actress wasn’t too keen on reclining on a real lion – hence Simon stepping in with The Guardian! As McKenna was so impressed with his work, Simon was later commissioned to sculpt a lion cub for the Born Free Foundation charity auction, a charity McKenna established. As well as the photos below, you can click HERE to see a timelapse of The Guardian being made.

 

The Guardian by Simon O'Rourke

Maria Slough Pawtrait Virginia McKenna featuring lion by Simon O'Rourke

Photograph copyright of Maria Slough from the Pawtraits Series

The other ‘guardian’ created by Simon that year is just as iconic. Phil and Leah from Wahoo Group wanted to harness the power of social media and do something novel to help sell their home. Thinking completely outside of the box (no baked cookies here!) they commissioned a sculpture of…..Batman!

The caped crusader sat on top of their home where it gained attention from both local and global news outlets, and helped the couple find tenants for their property.

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Batman by Simon O'Rourke and St Giles Church Wrexham

As one of Simon’s strengths is Human Form, we also couldn’t resist throwing in this sculpture of Scottish explorer, Mungo Park. He was commissioned for a pub in the explorer’s hometown of Peebles, and sits on this bench for passers by to enjoy.

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

 

 

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

Review of the Decade: 2015

2015 was the year when Simon won the English Open Chainsaw Competition with Hemlock the Dragon.

Since then Hemlock has made countless appearances around the country, including at a wedding! Hemlock has recently had some repair work on the wings, and is ready to meet the public again. If you are interested in hiring Hemlock for your event, just email us on [email protected]

Hemlock the Dragon English Open Chainsaw Competition 2015 by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2016

2016’s highlight is another Huskycup Flashback: Viking Raid.

As well as the Viking Raid Case Study Simon wrote, we also have a blog about Viking Raid for those who want to know more. As we mentioned in our Huskycup 2019 blog, 2016 was actually the last year Huskycup was a competition. It meant Simon was the last ever Huskycup champion, as Viking Raid took first place. What a way to end the competition for him! Although it is no longer a competition, Simon continues to participate, and it is something of a highlight each year.

In 2016 Simon also became an affiliate of Olfi. We love their action cameras, and how they’ve transformed what we’re able to share with you through timelapse videos. Find out more in our Olfi blog!

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

 

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

Review of the Decade: 2017

2017’s highlight is from Liverpool. Simon created a tribute to The Beatles by carving life size figures of the Fab Four live along the dockside over a weekend. You can read more about the event in our Global Beatles Day Blog, and keep scrolling to enjoy our flashback photos and video.

2017 was also the year Simon began being sponsored by Stihl. Not only do they manufacture quality equipment, but it was something of a ‘full circle’ for Si, as his very first chainsaw experience was using Stihl equipment.

 

Beatles at the Liverpool dockside by Simon O'Rourke

 

Nearly done!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 28 August 2017

 Review of the Decade: 2018

As Simon says in his case study about the Spirit of Ecstasy, this was one of his most challenging sculptures to date.
You may remember from our Spirit of Ecstasy blog, that Simon recreated the Rolls Royce icon for an enthusiast to give new life and purpose to a beautiful oak tree which had died. Despite the challenges, the finished piece was faithful to the Rolls Royce concept, graceful and simply stunning. We hope you enjoy the finished result as much as we (and most importantly, the client!) did.

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Review of the Decade: 2019

In our new year blog at the start of last year, we told you 2019 would be our ‘year of the dragon’. We weren’t wrong! Over the year Simon created seven new dragon-related carvings, including an ice dragon in our local town.
It all started off with The Dragon of Bethesda. It sits in an arboretum in North Wales after the landowner commissioned Simon to create something spectacular from a fallen tree. Y Ddraig Derw was featured in national media, and we are still overwhelmed by the encouraging response from so many people to the piece.

Dragon of Bethesda by Simon O'Rourke

 

Our other dragon highlight from the year, is this stunning casket created for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones egg props Simon O'Rourke

Simon was commissioned by HBO as part of a wider project where artists re-imagined original props from the show. He received these beautiful dragon eggs, and created the casket for them to sit in. You can remind yourself of the whole project and process in our Game of Thrones blog.

Again, we were amazed, thankful and VERY encouraged by all the positive comments we received.

This is also the year Simon became an affiliate for ManpaTools. Their angle grinders especially have taken some of his texture and detail to a whole new level.

Simon O'Rourke casket Game of Thrones Season Eight

Moving into 2020, Simon has also become an affiliate for Saburrtooth. With quality tools and equipment from Stihl, Manpa and Saburr, Simon’s talent and creativity, and the continued support of all our amazing clients and co-workers, we look forward to what the next decade – the roaring 20’s – will hold.

We hope you enjoyed our Review of the Decade. We definitely loved seeing some of these pieces afresh as we looked back.
As always, if you have a project in mind, email us on [email protected]

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Last night Simon was on ‘home territory’ as he took part in the annual Victorian Christmas market in Wrexham. Don’t worry though, he hasn’t traded his chainsaw for a stall and money pouch! Simon’s contribution to the evening was much cooler, if we do say so ourselves. He swapped timber for something much wetter, and did some ice carving for Wrexham Museum.

Crowds watching ice carving for Wrexham Museum

Outside Wrexham Museum*

About the Victorian Market

Wrexham’s Christmas Market has become one of the most eagerly awaited events in the town’s calendar and successfully attracts thousands of shoppers year after year.  This year there was a Victorian theme to the market with Punch and Judy shows throughout the day, and period street performers. The main feature though was 100 stalls from Queens Square right up to and inside St Giles’ Church.

Punch and Judy show at Wrexham Victorian Christmas Market

Punch & Judy on Hope Street

About Ice Carving for Christmas

To coincide with the event, Wrexham Museums also organised and hosted an event: Ice Carving for Christmas. As well as Simon’s ice carving, the museum was open for the public and people could do Christmas shopping in the gift shop and enjoy a hot chocolate or mulled wine in the cafe. Various school choirs performed, including Bryn Hafod Primary who sang in both Welsh and English, and Libby and Sign of the Times. As you can see from the first photo we shared, plenty of people came to enjoy the evening.

Crowds watching Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Crowds watching Simon Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum*

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

If you read the blog we wrote a couple of weeks ago about the event (visit it here) then you’ll know Simon didn’t just complete one carving. The Ice carving for Wrexham Museum was actually a trail through the town. It began at St Giles church, where most of the market stalls were located, and ended at the Museum.

In the first location, Simon began by carving one block of ice, which was a clue as to what the final ice sculpture would be. People could then follow him to second location where he carved a second block, giving people a second clue.

They could then follow him to the museum where they could submit their guesses as to what his final carving would be, and any correct answers won a prize.

*spoiler alert*

For those who know that 2019 was a year full of dragons for us, it will come as no surprise that the final sculpture was this stunning dragon head.

It lives!! The dragon head, complete with smoke!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Thursday, 5 December 2019

Let us take you back though through the evening as the audience experienced it though…..

Setting up:

Working in the multiple areas gave Simon and Paul the first challenge of the night – getting all the equipment through the thousands of people attending the Victorian Market! They had everything loaded up on a cart, and the high vis jackets definitely helped them get noticed so the crowds could part a little. It definitely wasn’t the quickest or easiest transportation of equipment though!

Paul and Simon making their way through the crowds attending the market!

Simon O'Rourke safety jacket

Paul and Simon making their way through the crowds attending the market!

St Giles Location

The first location was St Giles church where Simon carved this stunning dragon’s eye. Standing it the crowd, it was fun to be able to hear people’s awe as they watched. Especially as the chain saw went all the way through the ice to carve the space that became the eye! Several people were also commenting on how clear the ice was. Many guessed correctly that we didn’t just freeze water from our hosepipe to make the blocks. Rather, they are especially made for events like this. There’s a science behind it, but you can actually do it at home! Read all about how crystal clear ice is made at Barschool.Net. We’re happiest to leave it to the professionals, but if you try it yourselves, let us know if it works!

As we have said before, it is the lighting that makes the difference when ice carving. This green lighting reflecting off the scales Simon created is definitely eerie and mysterious, which helped add to the sense of mystery and anticipation of what the final carving would be.

Viewers outside St Giles*

Early on in the work on the dragon’s eye

Simon O'Rourke working on an ice carving of a dragon's eye, Wrexham 2019

Adding textured to create the scales*

Dragon eye at Ice Carving for Wrexham by Simon O'Rourke

The finished dragon’s eye*

Henblas Square

The second location of the night was Henblas Square.
Here, as well as the general admiration of what Simon was doing, I could hear many more questions about the equipment.

“His hands must be freezing” was also a pretty common theme!

Unlike most people were thinking, Simon wasn’t using specialist ‘ice carving’ equipment. He used his faithful Stihl battery powered chainsaws (complete with the handy backpack you will have noticed for the battery packs) for most of the initial carving. This meant they were lightweight and didn’t need a power supply. Perfect for this kind of mobile evening. He also used his Manpa tools angle grinder, with burr bits by Saburrtooth. And, while we’re speaking of Saburrtooth, we’re excited to announce Simon will become one of their ambassadors in 2019!

It was nice to see so many people stay and watch the entire carve here. For a long time people were guessing it was going to be eagles, rather than (as you can see) this amazing dragon claw (clue number two)! It really is fascinating to watch, but the audience were also encouraged to stay by the unusually warm evening. After several nights of hard frost, it was 10°c! Although being a warmer night was helpful for the audience and shoppers, the warmer weather meant Simon had to carve extra fast as the ice was melting far more quickly that he’d hoped!

Simon O'Rourke ice carving: dragon claw

Simon o Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museums 2019 Dragon Claw

The finished dragon claw, clue number two in the ice carving trail

The finished dragon claw, clue number two in the ice carving trail*

Wrexham Museum

The museum location was the longest of Simon’s carves, and he used six blocks of ice rather than the one that he used at the other locations. Even before he arrived, people were fascinated by the ice on the museum forecourt.

ice blocks for carving wrexham museum 2019

Blocks of ice waiting for carving!

Simon was challenged here not only by the ice melting in the warmer weather, but also an impressive wind. At one point the leaves spiraling in the air looked like a scene from The Wizard of Oz! It didn’t put people off watching though, and in some cases it was hard for parents to pry their children away.

Ice Carving for Wrexham museum 2019

Watching outside Wrexham Museum*

Simon o'Rourke ice carving dragon Wrexham 2019

Adding texture with an angle grinder

Simon O'Rourke adding detail to an ice carving dragon, Wrexham 2019

Adding detail to the dragon

One of the perks of Simon being on ‘home turf’ is being able to watch him. Another is being able to hear and see other people’s reactions. The audiences at all the locations were a mix of people who have followed Simon and his work for years, and others who had never even imagined creating something with a chainsaw!

“The precision is unbelievable”

“I’m so impressed with the talent and detail he is able to produce with a chainsaw”

“I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s bold and beautiful”

“I was only going to stay ten minutes but once I started watching, I had to stay until the end”

“The detail is unbelievable”

“Stunning. Simply stunning”

We can’t help but agree! The lighting bouncing off the textured scales and the smoke  just made it perfect. Even still in process, it looked spectacular in the light.

Dragon Ice carving in process by Simon O'Rourke

The Finished Piece.

Thank you to Wrexham Museums for organising and hosting the event so well (and for the mulled wine the staff not wielding chainsaws enjoyed!). Thank you too to Shaine Bailey and Treetech for sponsoring the event. And to everybody who came and watched, shared on social media, and complimented Simon on his work. It’s lovely to be able to meet people, and to have such a lovely and encouraging audience. It’s also great to finish our year as it began, with a dragon that captured the attention and hearts of the people who saw it (read about the first dragon, Y Ddraig Derw here).

And so, we leave you with the finished piece for 2019’s Ice Carving for Christmas*:

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum Christmas 2019 Finished dragon head by Simon O'Rourke

 

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

If you would like to book Simon for your event (ice or timber!) email us on [email protected] to talk about details.

*photo credit to Gareth Thomas from Wrexham Museums.

A Phoenix Arises

A Phoenix Arises 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

There’s something very poetic about this week’s featured sculpture, where a phoenix arises from a Douglas Fir.

Unlike many commissions where a tree is damaged or diseased and a customer wants to turn it into something beautiful, in this case there was nothing wrong with the tree. Rather, it had simply become too big for its location, and couldn’t stay where it was planted. This isn’t uncommon. Lots of people plant trees in gardens not realising how big they’ll get, and they become a potential hazards. There are plenty of ways to transform the story of that tree though if that happens, including commissioning a unique piece of art!

Work in progress on Simon O'Rourke's phoenix

Work in progress

The Legend of the Phoenix

The phoenix is a bird which has come to represent new life. More specifically, it has also come to represent the birth of something beautiful out of the end of something else. Greek and Roman mythology says this long-lived bird dies in a show of flames. Then, out of the ashes from the fire, a phoenix arises in a majestic show. It then seems fitting that a tree that has seen the end of its natural life, would give birth to this stunning phoenix sculpture. The parallels don’t end there. Legend also says the phoenix dies and regenerates after 1000 years of life. Did you know that’s also the possible life span of the Douglas Fir?! As an evergreen tree, the Douglas Fir can also represent eternal life – as does the phoenix because of its legendary cycle death and regeneration.

A Phoenix Arises by Simon O'Rourke

About the Sculpture

This particular fir  had an interesting shape that Simon needed to work with. Trees always come with their own sets of twists, knots and potential for future cracks, and Simon has to constantly adapt his design as he discovers those. The shapes and textures work so well in this sculpture though, you would never know it hadn’t been specifically and intentionally designed that way!

The twists and texture from the very base of the trunk to where the phoenix arises mimic the movement of the flames that legend says consumed the first bird. These get more intense, closer together and more detailed as they travel up the trunk, until they become actual flames. Their shape is also reminiscent of the sun, which is also closely tied the the legend of the phoenix.
From the centre of these flames, Simon’s stunning phoenix rises, with its wings unfurled as if about to take flight. Stray feathers carved into the trunk further down, enhance this sense of movement, as they seem to have dropped from powerfully flapping wings.

Full length picture of A Phoenix Arises by Simon O'Rourke showing the feathers falling in flight

Full length photo showing the falling feathers from the Phoenix taking flight

The Harry Cane

Are you as fascinated by the flames as we are? We think their texture and shape is magnificent, and creates a wonderful organic-looking flame for the phoenix to rise from.
Simon had to use a few different tools to create that look. Firstly, his Manpa Tools belts and cutters. Simon was recently sponsored by the company and is enjoying their products to take some of his sculptures to the next level. He also used gouging attachments gifted to him by The Harry Cane. These attachments were devised by Harry Cane to attach to the Stihl MS170 (Stihl’s recommended entry level chainsaw) or MSE170, and are ideal for ‘gouging’ as well as to add another level of depth. Anyone wanting to get their hands on one for themselves can visit The Harry Cane shop at http://theharrycane.de/shop.html

Harry Cane chainsaw attachments as used by Simon O'Rourke

The Harry Cane attachments on the Stihl MS 170

The Douglas Fir

It isn’t just the phoenix that has its own interesting story either. The Douglas Fir has its own interesting background too. As we are lovers of all things arboricultural and forestry, we’re sharing some random ‘tree trivia’ (should that be a hashtag?!) with you:

Tree Trivia

You probably know the Douglas Fir better as a ‘Christmas Tree’. Whilst we use several species to decorate our homes over the season, the Douglas fir is the most common.

The Douglas fir isn’t actually a true fir! That’s why we sometimes know it as Oregon Pine, Douglas Pine, Douglas Spruce and Puget Sound Pine.

The tree is native to the Pacific Northwest in the US (the alternative names might have been a giveaway).  It was brought to the UK by David Douglas in 1827 and is considered naturalised in the UK, Europe, South America and New Zealand.

Douglas fir is extremely versatile, and can be used for lumber, food, drink and traditional medicine. It is also frequently used ornamentally in trees and park, and is useful to wildlife as food and shelter.

The only remaining US Navy wooden ships are made from Douglas Fir.

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

Testimonial

We hope you enjoy learning more about the trees Simon works with. We also hope you love the phoenix as much as we do. More importantly, as much as the owner does! We leave you this week with this testimonial from a very satisfied customer.

As always, if you find yourself in the same situation as this client, contact Simon on [email protected]  to talk about ways of giving it new life.

 

A Hydra Rising

A Hydra Rising 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Commission

Last week Simon was in Surrey completing a private commission for a client: A Hydra rising from the ground.

The nature of tree carving means really having to go with the flow. Or we should say, go with the grain.
And the flaws.
Plus the cracks and future cracks.
The knots too.
And more!
In this case, Simon had seen photos and had an idea of creating an animal emerging from the ground. However, it was only when he saw the timber in person, that he could fully commit to a design. A hydra rising from among the fallen tree.

A work-in-progress photo of a Hydra rising from the ground by Simon O'Rourke

The hydra in process

The Timber

The timber in question was willow, which is technically a ‘medium hard’ wood. That description is a little deceiving though, as it is actually lightweight, and very soft. That softness is actually why it’s a popular choice for whittling and wood carving. It means that it doesn’t make good  lumber for furniture or construction though. It also isn’t a good choice for firewood, as it gives off relatively little heat compared with other woods. That means a fallen willow is a perfect excuse for having something unique created in your garden!

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Process

Once he got to work, Simon enjoyed creating heads from each of the branches. He used a range of Stihl, Milwaukee, and Manpa tools to create the faces and scales that make it appear a hydra is rising from the ground. In part, this effect is enhanced by the choice of leaving some bark and leaves lower down the individual branches. He was especially thankful for the Stihl MS193c petrol chainsaw as there was nowhere to charge any batteries! That said, there is an upgraded Stihl MS 151 C-E out now that he can’t wait to get his hands on. It promises an increase in power and torque, whilst still being their most lightweight back handle saw.

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Sponsorship News.

While we’re speaking of Stihl, it seems a good opportunity to share that they have renewed their sponsorship of Simon. We’re delighted by this, as they provide such consistent quality tools and customer service. You can see their full range of products at https://www.stihl.co.uk/products.aspx . We also thought we’d share this video from their website which shares a little more as to why we love this partnership.

The Finished Product.

But back to the hydra! After many hours playing with power tools, we have a finished hydra rising. For Greek Mythology purists, Simon suggests not counting the heads as it has a few more than tradition says! And speaking of Greek Mythology, whether it be the intricacies or the teeth and scales, or the ferociousness of expression that wins him over, we reckon even Heracles wouldn’t want to chop any of the heads off this particular hydra!

Close up of the Hydra Heads. A private tree carving commission by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the heads showing the detail and texture.

Simon is available for bespoke sculptures from your damaged or fallen trees. Contact him using our online form or on [email protected] for quotes or just to find out more.

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The August bank holiday means one thing in the Tree Carving Calendar – The English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition! This year it took place at the Cheshire Game and Country Fair during one of our warmest weekends of the year. We’re happy to announce that Simon took a first and second place!
english open chainsaw competition

THE COMPETITION

Simon entered the ‘Combo’ competition this year. This meant he had up to ten hours on day one to create a piece using ONLY a chainsaw.  He then had up to 15 hours on the Sunday and Monday for the ‘Full Power Event’. The artist can use any power or hand tools, paints, oils and varnishes for this category. For both events the timber is provided and the artist can’t add any fixtures.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at The English Open Chainsaw Competition

The fairy which took second place in the chain saw only event

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition

The angel which took first place in the ‘full power’ event

THE CHAINSAW COMPETITION

The Chainsaw-only piece was this fairy, created with Simon’s trusty Stihl chainsaws. Although using only chainsaws typically means less detail, we love the texture of her sassy bob, the movement of her dress, and the intricate twisted base. Although she is clearly a more modern take on a fairy, she also has hints of the form you expect from a classic renaissance cherub, and hints of light whimsy with the detail in her wings. The fairy took second place and was part of the auction where all the competing artists sell their work.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw CompetitionFairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

THE FULL POWER COMPETITION

Simon’s ‘Full Power’ angel took first place in the competition. Simon has recently been sponsored by Manpa Tools, and this was his first piece using their equipment since their sponsorship. This video shows Simon using their angle grinder to create the ‘drapery’ on the angel. Although the fairy doesn’t lack texture by any means, the Manpa angle grinders create more subtle texture and details. As a private commission, the angel wasn’t part of the auction, but as always, if you like her, Simon is available to talk about a commission.

Loving these grinder attachments from Manpatools!! Here's me using them to create some drapery!

Posted by Simon James O'Rourke on Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

Altogether there were 30 carvers representing 14 nations who took part over the three days. As well as the classic and combo competitions, there were also speed carvings over the three days, which somehow Simon also managed to fit in! The event was a great time to see talented artists at work, and to connect with the community.
When asked about the event, Simon commented: “It was great to be back at the English Open and I’m really thrilled I placed 1st and second in the combo competition, there were a lot of great pieces!

 

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink).

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink). 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Isn’t he amazing?! Meet Radagast the Brown!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

Simon recently worked on this sculpture of Radagast the Brown from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

We think he makes a striking figure rising up among the shrubbery. We love the detail too like his wise, all-seeing eyes and wild beard. It’s so easy to imagine birds nesting in it, as the story goes. The bird on his head and the bottle of medicine are perfect references to the series. Radagast the Brown is known to communicate with ‘beasts and birds’, so it is especially appropriate that this sculpture is found outdoors.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Why the decision to have a wizard in this otherwise typical garden?

Sadly, it came about because of disease in the tree: a blue atlas cedar.

The fungus responsible is sirococcus, and its incidence has gradually been increasing throughout the UK since 2016. It’s thought that it spreads through rain splash, strong winds, and possibly seed transmission, and there is unfortunately no known cure. Damaged trees must be cut back. Although it will sometimes kill younger trees, the RHS reports mature trees can live for many years.

If you are the owner of a Blue Atlas Cedar, there are a couple of signs to watch out for. The main one is pink needles. This is a sign of death, and they will later turn brown and drop off. The tree may also get cankers, gum bleeds, and grow fruiting bodies on the dead leaves. Click HERE to find out more and see images of things to look out for. Forest Research have also published a helpful article HERE.

Sirococcus-conigenus-on-cedar-of-Lebanon-

Example of the typical pink needles of an infected tree.

Government bodies are also trying to track the spread.

That means it’s important to report it, if you see a tree you think may be infected. The link and everything you need to know to make a report can be found HERE. Reporting is so important, so we ask you to PLEASE consider doing your part.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

All is not lost though if  your own tree is infected!

Simon is on hand to transform it and give it new life. Whether a fantasy sculpture like this, or something more ‘natural’ like THESE are your thing, Simon is able to create something beautiful for your garden.

Email  [email protected] to find out how he can help you.

 

Skulptur Rabatz: A Cacophony of Carvers!

Skulptur Rabatz: A Cacophony of Carvers! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Skulptur Rabatz 2019 certainly lived up to its name! ‘Rabatz’ translates as ‘din’, and with 13 simultaneous sculptures in production, there certainly was a ‘din’! There was also a lot of fun, community, and creativity on show at this event hosted by Florian Lindner.

Florian is a well-known character in the tree carving world. He hosts an event around this time each year, usually called ‘Holz-Flori & Friends’. This year, the change of name reflected the task: creating an ‘orchestra’ of zodiac figures.

Participants in Skulptur Rabatz

Participants in Skulptur Rabatz

 

Skulptur Rabatz stands 2019

Participant ‘booths’ at Skulptur Rabatz, displaying the flag of each participant

The Event

Over the event, 15 tree carvers took part and each created a ‘sign of the zodiac’ playing an instrument. When displayed together, they make up a ‘zodiac orchestra’. The sculptures will be displayed in a circle, as if they mark numbers on a clock. Simon carved the conductor, who will stand in the centre as the ‘gnomon’ (the piece that casts the shadow).

The rabbit gnomon by Simon O'Rourke

The rabbit gnomon

The Concept

The idea of zodiac figures playing instruments is quite comic, and meant the artists could all really use their imaginations.  Most are oversized and have a cartoon or caricature-like quality, adding to the fun of the concept. Simon’s finished sculpture is an ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’-like moon-gazing hare (fits with the zodiac/astrology theme) with a fly-away tail coat and over-sized feet and ears. And what better thing to use to conduct such an orchestra than a chainsaw with a blade Stihl would be proud of!

Rabbit Gnomon with chainsaw baton by Simon O'Rourke

The rabbit conductor ‘gnomon’ with chainsaw ‘baton’

Speed Carving

There was also a speed carve where Simon carved this elegant-looking lady in under an hour!

elegant lady Speed carve by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s speed carve from the event

Atmosphere & Culture

As with all these events, there is far more happening than just the carving – impressive as that is. As well as other attractions, Skulptur Rabatz also featured ‘The Sprockets’ – a band made up of some of the carvers and their wives, including Si and Liz! No footage has emerged yet, but if you give Skulptur Rabatz a follow on their Facebook page, some might appear soon!

The 13 sculptures completed for the Skulptur Rabatz sundial

The 13 sculptures completed for the sundial

Pets and family are also welcome and get incorporated into the fun. This gave @poppystihl chance to build her own following/fan club!
Poppy is Liz and Si’s dog, and can often be found ‘helping’ at events. You can follow her tree carving adventures separate from Simon on Instagram. If you ever stop to see Simon and Liz at an event, feel free to give her a belly rub!

Attending the Event

If you are able, we fully recommend coming to a tree carving event. Not only is it impressive to watch the artists at work, but the events are great fun. There is a wonderful sense of community and inspired creativity. They usually happen surrounded by beautiful scenery, and there is often plenty to do for the whole family.

Did you enjoy the ‘zodiac’ theme? Maybe it’s something you’d like to incorporate into your own garden, using the star signs of your family? If so, message us on [email protected] to talk about possibilities and costs.

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

A Bavarian Fairy Tale 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Event

Every two years friends of ours organise and host ‘Allgauer Schnitzevent‘ in the Bavaria region of Germany. As well as tree carving, there’s an opportunity to enjoy beautiful scenery and take part in family activities and games. Oh, and of course, there’s great German food and beer!

The event is a wonderful way of preserving the Bavarian tree carving tradition, and it’s an honour to take part. This year Simon carved the Bavarian Fairy of our title. We hope you enjoy reading about some of the challenges in making her, and how they are overcome.

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

The Bavarian Fairy

The ‘Bavarian Fairy’ Simon created is in the video below. She beautifully balances realistic human form (especially with her wistful or pensive expression) and whimsy or fantasy (her toadstool seat, and delicately patterned wings). Whilst Simon often uses a lot of texture to bring life to his human sculptures, we love how her smooth limbs and delicate hands and feet add to the sense of a delicate, whimsical being.

Apologies the video I posted yesterday was the wrong one so I deleted it! This one walks around the whole sculpture!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Sunday, 7 July 2019

Challenges with the carving

Carving faces is no easy task. In fact, Simon had to actually cut this one right back and start again! Part of the challenge he faces (pun intended?!) is getting a sense of depth when carving right on top of the sculpture. The face can look great up close, but it’s only when stepping back that it’s possible to get a sense of depth, and see if it’s ‘correct’.
Do the nose, cheeks and lips protrude the right amount?
How deeply set are the eyes?
Is everything in the right place in relation to each other?

Even then, it’s often not easy to say what needs fixing. Sometimes it’s only when it’s ‘right’ that both artist and viewer can see what was wrong before.

The fairy with her face in profile.

The technical stuff!

This is where training, and technical knowledge come into play. Simon has found researching what’s under the surface is essential for carving human form accurately.
What bones are there?
What about muscle definition?
Does that part actually move that way from that joint?

When carving faces, like many artists before him, Simon has been fascinated by The Golden Ratio.
“What’s the golden ratio?” Keep reading!

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio has been studied by mathematicians since Euclid. It’s a ‘special number’ (1.618) and describes how the length and width of an object relate to each other. You can find a simple explanation here.

Throughout time people have studied how it appears in different areas. This includes, geometry, nature (eg the human face) and even man made systems, such as financial markets. The artist Dali is known to have incorporated it into his work. Others have speculated that Da Vinci did too, although he seems to deny this. Even architects (eg Le Corbusier) and composers (eg Ravel, Satie, Debussy) have used the golden ratio their work!

 

Applying The Golden Ratio

In recreating faces, the golden ration applies in how the different parts of the face relate to each other, as well as their size and shape. It applies in at least eight different ways, maybe more! For those who are interested, some examples can be found here.

Although studying the golden ration can get quite in-depth and intense, it can often be simplified into a few simple pointers. For example:

  • The distance between the crown of the head and chin, is equal to the distance between the nose and back of the head
  • The gap between the eyes is approximately the size of one eye
  • The tip of the nose and the pupils form a triangle
  • The spaces from the forehead to the eyebrows, from the eyebrows to the bottom of the nose, and from the bottom of the nose, will be a third of the face each

As you can tell from this short ‘lesson’, there’s a LOT more to recreating human form than just jumping in with a brush, pencil or even chainsaw! And to succeed and improve, art, like most areas of life, needs study, practice, and – as with this fairy – humility of the part of the artist to recognise when something isn’t quite right, and re-work it.

What are some of the things you’ve studied or tips you’ve been given that made most difference to your art? Leave us a comment below and let us know!