Fantasy Sculpture

face of the gollum sculpture at poulton hall by simon o'rourke

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture 1368 1824 Simon O'Rourke

Over the last few weeks we posted photos on social media of a Gollum sculpture Simon created. Thank you to those of you who left kind comments. It’s always encouraging to hear and see you enjoying Simon’s pieces. As always, there were questions about how to see it in real life, and about how Simon made it. And so, in this week’s blog we walk you through the process of creating the Gollum sculpture.

Sculpture of Gollum carved into a standing tree trunk, surrounded by the gardens at Poulton Hall. Sculpture is the work of chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke

About the Sculpture

Regular readers will remember that in July Simon created an Ent sculpture from a Monkey Puzzle trunk in the grounds of Poulton Hall;  the seat of the Lancelyn-Green family. The father of the current incumbent was Roger Lancelyn Green – well known author, member of The Inklings, and friend of J R R Tolkien. This connection was the inspiration for a Lord of the Rings sculpture, which ties in with some of the other sculptures in the ground which are also based on Fastasy Literature.
As well as the standing monkey puzzle stump, there was a good, workable piece of the monkey puzzle trunk left over. It was perfect for creating another Lord of the Rings sculpture for the grounds of the hall. In this case Simon created something better known: Gollum.

3m tall scultpure of an Ent, created from the stump of a monkey puzzle tree by chainsaw artist Simon o'Rourke

The Ent at Poulton Hall

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Evaluating the Timber

The first thing Simon does when he starts a sculpture, is evaluate the timber. There are a few things he looks out for. However the first is definitely looking at what is useable, and where there is rot. For those who are interested, Simon explains a bit more in this video about different kinds of rot. For those who prefer to read, we also have this blog explaining the difference between white and brown rot.
In the case of this stump, it looked pretty nasty on the outside, but had some good, solid timber on the inside.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture step one. Simon evaluates the wood. Photo shows a large stump of monkey puzzle tree lying horizontally on the ground. It appears to be rotten. A chainsaw sits on the top.

The monkey puzzle stump Simon used to create the Gollum sculpture.

Simon also has to evaluate the timber from an artistic perspective. Using his original sketches as a guide, he has to imagine the figure within the stump. This includes thinking about the position of the figure, and what sections can be used. He pays attention to any visible branches, knots and other characteristics that he can use to help give shape to the figure. He also needs to find the point at which he wants the head to sit. From there he can work out the size and proportions.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows SImon O'Rourke's original sketches of the sculpture. It shows the face from three angles, and two full length sketches of the sculpture.

Simon’s original sketches for the Gollum sculpture.

 

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Removing Large Facets

The next part of Simon’s process as he created the Gollum sculpture was to remove large pieces of the wood and outline the basic figure of Gollum. For this, he will use a ‘meaty’ chainsaw like the Stihl MS500i. It’s well suited to harvesting and processing large timber, but also makes easy work of this part of creating a sculpture!
Simon will still consider the original sketch, but at this point may need to change or adapt certain parts. As we have said before, wood is unpredictable. At this stage he may find pockets of rot, cracks and knots as he strips back the timber. All of these may mean needing to alter angles or even change a pose.
In Simon’s own words, this stage of the process is all about “working into the wood and working with it”.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows simon o'rourke using a chainsaw to remove large pieces of wood from the trunk of a monkey puzzle tree. he wears stihl clothing and uses a chainsaw. a figure is beginning to emerge in the top half or the timber.

This part of the process is when Simon discovers problems or characteristics which will determine the basic figure of a sculpture

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Whittling Down the Figure

The next stage in the process of creating Gollum was whittling down the basic figure so the pose and proportions were correct. Most human form sculptures have specific fixed points and proportions that need to be considered at this stage. There is sometimes a formula for working those out, for example, The Golden Ratio. In the case of Gollum though, he is almost a caricature with certain features in very different proportion to a typical human. So in creating something like Gollum, Simon had to forget normal proportions and ratios.
Things he had to particularly consider were Gollum’s large head in comparison with his much skinnier body and limbs!

process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows a very basic outline of gollum carved into a tree trunk. there are no details such as fingers, face or clothing

It’s important to get the basic shape of the body correct at this point before details are added

It’s important for Simon to get this right at this stage. If he began working on details like facial features before this is done, it would be easy to make a mistake that can’t be corrected once the wood is removed. In particular, an anatomically correct head shape gives Simon the reference points to begin adding facial features.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows simon o'rourke using a chainsaw to create the head shape of gollum's head from a monkey puzzle stump

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Creating the Face

Once Simon is happy with the shape and pose, he can begin working on the facial features. One of Simon’s strengths as an artist is that his work always tells a story and invites the viewer to participate. The face is a key part in that. And that means Simon always needs to have a back-story in mind which will determine the facial expression. In the case of the Gollum sculpture, Simon wanted to go for a look of surprise. The sculpture is more reminiscent of Gollum’s alter-ego, Smeagal. He has just caught a fish which he is about to eat, and is caught off guard by someone or something disturbing him. The moment Simon captures in this sculpture is when Gollum turns to face the thing that has disturbed him, surprise on his face.

Surprisingly, at this stage, Simon doesn’t usually switch to smaller tools yet, and will still use a chainsaw! He is still able to create a lot of detail just by using a smaller chainsaw (such as the Stihl MSA 200c) and a smaller blade.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: simon o'roruke uses a stihl msa200c chainsaw to add facial features to the sculpture

Simon uses the Stihl MSA 200c to add facial features to Gollum

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Refining the Facial Detail

The final stage of creating a sculpture is to refine the details on the face – and indeed the rest of the sculpture. At this point Simon will use a Milwaukee angle grinder with Manpatools multicutter or Saburrtooth burr bits. The latter are especially great for adding shape and texture. For those who are interested in finding out more about how to use these tools, we have a blog about Simon’s favourite burr bits and how he uses them HERE. We also have a blog about the Manpatools tools he favours HERE.

Simon O'Rourke uses saburrtooth burr bits and a milwaukee angle grinder to add texture to the face of a Gollum sculpture

Simon will often use these smaller tools to get into small nooks and crannies and create small, deep features. The gaps in Gollum’s teeth in the photo above are a great example of this.
Unlike visual art where there are different tones and colours that can be used, Simon is dependant on different depths of cut creating shadows which create the illusion of shape and texture. This means that at this stage he may need to exaggerate some cuts and create depths or gaps that are deeper than they would be in real life. Examples of this in the Gollum sculpture are the eyes, toes, and the tunic.

close up of the face of the gollum sculpture created by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke

The Eyes

In the case of the eyes, Simon used the eye bit to create a deep cavity, where our eyes would usually be a ball shape. He left wood in place, and so created the illusion of a pupil.

close up of the toes on simon o'rourke's gollum sculpture.

The Toes

We can also see this exaggerated cut in the toes. Simon has created much deeper cuts than we actually have if we examine our bare feet. The shadow this creates help give the impression of five distinct digits. If he didn’t do this, the viewer would have only the impression of a foot rather than a realistic representation.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: close up of the tunic shows the exaggerated cuts simon uses to create shadow

The Tunic

The final example of these exaggerated cuts is the tunic, photographed above. In reality, this tunic would lie flat against Gollum’s legs. Simon, however, has made a deep cut along the edge of the tunic, which creates a thicker edge to the tunic, several centimetres removed from the leg underneath. This trick is what allows us to see that Gollum is indeed wearing clothing! Without that exaggerated gap and with no difference in the colour between the body and clothing, we wouldn’t be able to see the clothing from a distance.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: close up of simon o'rourke using a saburr tooth eye bit to create the cavity that will be gollum's eye

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Knowing When to Finish

The final stage of creating a sculpture is refining the rest of the sculpture. This may include texture or folds in clothing, wrinkles in the skin or the fold of an elbow or knee. At this point though, the key part in the process is…. knowing when to finish!

Simon – like most artists – is committed to excellence. In a quest for perfection though, it can be easy to ‘over do’ it. There will always be small tweaks and refinements that can be made. However, Simon has to consider that those things may actually take away from a sculpture of this nature.
Simon also can’t rely on ‘am I happy with this?’ to determine if something is finished. Like most artists, he can be over critical and see flaws or things he would do differently next time, so that point may never come!

And so, at this point, Simon will be asking is the pose correct? Are all the proportions correct? Is the overall effect as it should be?
Yes?
Then the sculpture is finished!
And in the case of Gollum, we hope you agree that it’s another fantastic piece.

gollum sculpture by simon o'rouke

Sculpture of Gollum carved into a standing tree trunk, surrounded by the gardens at Poulton Hall. Sculpture is the work of chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about Simon’s process as an artist, we would love to answer them! You can contact Simon through his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or by filling out the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
That form is also the contact if you would like to commission your own sculpture.

Lastly, if you would like to see Simon creating this sculpture and hear his own thoughts on the process, we will have a video on Simon’s YouTube channel soon. Watch this space!

 

 

What to do with a diseased tree? SImon O'Rourke created this sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk out of an ash killed by ash dieback

What To Do With A Diseased Tree

What To Do With A Diseased Tree 1368 1824 Simon O'Rourke

Trees contribute massively to a landscape’s value, so it’s important to take care of them. In fact, if you have a tree you suspect may be diseased and need some help, you can read this blog about how to deal with the most common tree diseases. However, sometimes there is nothing that can be done to treat a tree. At this point, lots of people wonder what they should do with a diseased tree. Cutting back or removing the tree are the most obvious options. You could also consider giving life back to the tree though, and turn it into a beautiful piece of art!

Wooden sculpture of radagast the brown from The Hobbit. Created by Simon O'Rourke from a diseased tree

Radagast was created to give life back to a diseased tree

Simon loves to transform trees that are dead or diseased into wonderful sculptures. In fact, his most recent creation (an emerging dragon) was one such project. He created the dragon from a standing tree trunk of a tree that had died from ash dieback.

What to do with a diseased tree? SImon O'Rourke created this sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk out of an ash killed by ash dieback

This diseased tree was transformed into this beautiful dragon

About Ash Dieback

Ash dieback is sadly extremely common and will kill around 80% of ash trees across the UK. It can affect trees of any age, and unlike some diseases, they can fight back and recover. However, repeated infection over years will eventually kill the tree. Research is being done, and it is thought that in the next fifty or so years, trees in the UK may have developed a tolerance so ash dieback won’t be the same threat to the environment.
Thankfully there are a few steps we can take to reduce its spread until then.
The Woodland Trust recommends these simple measures to help reduce the spread

  • Clean your shoes before and after visiting a wood.
  • Avoid taking cuttings or plant material from the countryside.
  • Wash your car or bike wheels to remove mud or plant matter.
    what to do with a diseased tree? Simon O'roruke created a stunning dragon nech and head emerging from a standing tree trunk of an ash killed by ash dieback

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Reporting

If we notice signs of a diseased tree, we should also make a report to the Tree Alert service. The service has been established to gather information about the health of the nation’s trees, woodlands and forests. Reporting is fairly straightforward, and you can find out more at https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/tree-alert/what-do-you-need-make-your-report/.

view looking down on a sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk. Sculpture is by artist simon o'rourke and transformed a tree killed by ash dieback into a piece of art

What To Do With A Diseased Tree: New Life

Obviously, there are times when treatment measures are not enough, and a tree will succumb to disease.

At that point the most common option is removal. For that, we recommend talking to a good arborist, such as Treetech. However, as this emerging dragon shows, there is another option for a diseased tree. Depending on the spread of disease and the size of the tree, Simon may be able to give it new life and turn it into a sculpture that reflects your hobbies, passions, or location. One example of this is the Radagast the Brown sculpture which was created from a blue atlas cedar infected with sirococcus.

life sized sculpture of radagast the brown, a wizard from Lord of the Rings. He is in a garden and surrounded by greenery. He is carved into the trunk of a tree killed by sirococcus.

Is My Tree Suitable For a Sculpture?

Although we would love for every tree to be able to be given new life, not every tree is going to be suitable for a chainsaw carving sculpture. The biggest factors are the spread of the disease, and the size of the tree. If you are wondering if a sculpture from your diseased tree may be possible, a good place to start is this blog we wrote about the suitability of your tree. If it meets the criteria for size, the next step would be to contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

Although Simon is always happy to make suggestions for a subject based on the shapes he sees, it’s a good idea if you have some ideas in mind too. You can see the range of his work in his Facebook Photos or his website portfolio for some inspiration.

More Sculptures From Diseased Trees

We thought that a blog about what to do with a diseased tree wouldn’t be complete though without visiting some of Simon’s other sculptures that came about this way…

what to do with a diseased tree? photo shows an elm trunk transformed into a sculpture of a ghostly lady, standing in the grounds of marbury park

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: The Marbury Lady

The Marbury Lady in Cheshire was commissioned as a result of a diseased tree. Sadly, saline poisoning damaged or killed many trees in Marbury Park. For this sculpture, Simon researched the story of the Marbury Lady and transformed the dead tree into a stunning sculpture that reflects local folklore. Now the tree is not only a beautiful piece of art, but it also adds to the life of the park as people visit to see it, and it tells some of the story of the location. What a great turnaround!

Close up of a sculpture of a female face, covered by strips of veil. Sculpture is the Marvury lady by simon o'roruke

The ‘ghost’ side of The Marbury Lady

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: The Poulton Hall Ent

Our next transformed diseased tree is a Monkey Puzzle in the grounds of Poulton Hall, Bebington. Earlier this year Simon turned the tree into an Ent from Lord of the Rings, and it has definitely been popular with his social media followers.
Aracurius the Ent (as he is known!) is one of many sculptures on the estate that are based on fantasy literature. This theme came about through the link with The Inklings, and reflects a passion of one of the previous residents.

So, if you are wondering what to do with a diseased tree, thinking about a subject that ties in with a theme already in your home or garden is a great start. Perhaps it’s wildlife. Maybe you live in a coastal town, so something nautical would be more fitting. Maybe you already have garden ornaments you could tie it in with. Whatever you choose, turning your diseased tree into a sculpture in keeping with that theme can only add to your home.

3m tall monkey puzzle tree trunk transformed into a sculpture on an ent from lord of the rings by simon o'rourke

The ent is a fabulous addition to the fantasy sculptures at Poulton Hall

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Fforest Fawr Trail

In 2018 Simon created a sculpture trail for Fforest Fawr in South Wales. Regular readers of our blog or followers on social media will know some of the sculptures well. The trail is based on local wildlife (present and extinct) and includes a wolf, lynx, deer, and even a beetle among others. What many people don’t know though, is that the timber came from a diseased tree!

The tree was originally a redwood in Oswestry town centre. It was diseased and dying, and became a danger to the public. The only option at that point was removal. Far from being a loss though, that tree went on to be part of a wonderful trail in beautiful woodland.

Now, many people get to enjoy the sculptures as works of art. The trail is also educational though and teaches how we can better protect our environment. Viewers are challenged and taught to be better stewards of the land. So hopefully out of the death of that redwood tree, many others will live!

So perhaps you don’t want a sculpture on your own property. It may be possible though for your diseased tree to be removed, and used elsewhere.

Either way, it’s great to see something that was dead or damaged transformed into something beautiful.

what to do with a diseased tree? this sculpture of a red deer was made from a dead redwood

A diseased redwood tree was the source of timber fo the red deer in Fforest Fawr

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Final Thoughts

We hope you see that there are endless possibilities for a tree that is diseased to have new life. If you have such a tree, Simon would love to hear from you via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
He’d love to be part of transforming its story.

However, just like sickness in humans, there is a lot we can do to help protect our environment from disease. If you would like to know more about caring for trees, and preventing disease, we recommend visiting https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/advice/care/ for some great advice from The Woodland Trust. Between us, we can all be part of keeping our woodlands healthy!

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, Bebington. 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, Ent 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 one of the oldest races of Middle Earth. They are described as 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 is the ancestral home of the Lancelyn Green family. The present incumbent, or squire, is the 32nd lord of the manor of Poulton Lancelyn and Lower Bebington.  His father was Roger Lancelyn Green, the author of many well-known books about Robin Hood, King Arthur, Greek Heroes, Ancient Egypt, Norse Myths, Dragons, and all things imaginative and creative.  As one of the Oxford Inklings, Roger was friends with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who was an occasional visitor to Poulton. The Inklings praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Many aspects of the grounds have been inspired by imaginative literature.

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

The Poulton Hall Gardens

There are several different gardens at Poulton Hall, all of them stunning in their own way. They are open a few times a year, usually in aid of a charity. The walled gardens are also available for private functions such as weddings, tea parties, musical performances, and exhibitions. Details for opening are on their website www.poultonhall.co.uk/GardenOpenings/ if you would like to visit.

Each garden has a slightly different flavour as you can discover at www.poultonhall.co.uk/TheGardens.  The entrance to the walled gardens is intended to make you think you are entering a world of make-believe. Simon’s sculpture is not the only reference to fantasy and literature in the grounds. Other sculptures include a Jabberwock  (from Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky, in his book Through the Looking Glass) a Viking head, a Robin Hood, an Excalibur, and a Storyteller’s Chair.

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.  The Ent not only fit the literary-fantasy theme but is also much more unusual than more commonly seen sculptures of fairies, wizards, and mythological animals. 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 are moving, talking fictional beings with personalities, it was important that Simon first decide who this particular 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.

 

life size wood carving of a knight on a rearing horse by simon orourke.Sculpture is part of a sculpture trail in Northampton.

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail?

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail? 540 810 Simon O'Rourke

Autumn is the perfect time to get out into nature and visit one of Simon’s woodland sculpture trails. The reds and ambers of the leaves are stunning anyway, but they add a perfect touch of art and drama to his sculptures. If you need convincing, why not take a peek in our blogs about his trails at Meadow Park, Page’s Wood, or Fforest Fawr?
These are all woodland sculpture trails with a wildlife theme. But did you know there are many more applications for a sculpture trail? Read on to find out some reasons why your community, business, or charity could benefit by commissioning a sculpture trail…

 

wooden carved owl sitting on a tree stump. The Owl is from Simon O'Rourke's woodland sculpture trail in Meadow Park.

Ruby the Owl, from Simon’s Meadow Park sculpture trail

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail: Education

A sculpture trail is a great way to educate visitors about the purpose and history of your site. This is one of the reasons Simon and his wife Liz get excited about a woodland sculpture trail commission. They are passionate about nature and the environment, and about educating others. Liz is even a qualified Forest School teacher!
In the case of the woodland sculpture trails, they created characters and poetry for each sculpture which gave snippets of information about the environment and wildlife. Each trail ends with a call to action for the viewer.
Giving information in this way is more likely to engage families with young children. It also makes it more memorable for all ages, which is always a bonus!

picture shows the original sketch for a wooden bench designed by simon o'rourke for the page's wood sculpture trail

One of the original sketches and poetry for Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

This concept of educational snippets is easily adapted to any business or local area – it’s not just for woodland! Sculptures could reflect events in the life of an individual or a town. Or they could be or based on characters from a specific book or film associated with the place or person. There’s truly no limit!
We’re living in a season where Covid regulations make it harder for people to go inside museums and other attractions to view their educational content, so an outdoor sculpture trail is a great way to bring that content outdoors.
One example of this is where Simon helped create a sculpture trail of knights in Northampton…

 

life size wood carving of a knight on a rearing horse by simon orourke.Sculpture is part of a sculpture trail in Northampton.

One of the knights Simon made as a collaboration with other artists for the Northampton Knight Trail

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail: Tourist Attraction

Another reason to consider commissioning a sculpture trail is that the trail could become a tourist attraction in and of itself. Whilst people have come to see the trail, they will then often visit the rest of the site. If they are in the area they are also likely to visit local shops, restaurants, etc, and therefore stimulate the local economy. If you are a small town with no other especially marketable points, a sculpture trail around the town could be the perfect way to draw people to the area. There is just something about the novelty of a chainsaw-carved sculpture that attracts people! They are drawn to it for selfies or post photos of the sculpture alone. As visitors post these on social media, the attraction gets free publicity. More visitors AND free publicity… sounds like a great deal!!!

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

Portrait of Mungo Park – perfect to sit next to and snap a selfie!

An example of this in action would be Simon’s Dragon of Bethesda. The dragon was a private commission, but it happened to be visible from the road. People began to post photos, and it got so much attention, it made the BBC news! Local newspapers around the country picked up the story, and police even had to ask people not to slow down to get photos! This was a total accident, as it was never intended for public viewing – but it does show the power of art to draw people to a place!

wooden carved dragon with outstretched wings by simon o rourke.

The Dragon of Bethesda became an accidental tourist attraction!

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail: Covid Safe!

We already hinted at this reason to invest in a sculpture trail for your attraction. Right now many attractions are struggling to remain open, as they can’t allow the numbers into the building that are needed to remain solvent. An outdoor sculpture trail in the grounds of a venue are much safer and allow for more visitors. If budget or permanence is an issue, why not take an example from Erddig National Trust?
A few years ago, they commissioned an ‘apple trail’ for their Autumn season. Simon carved smaller apples in the style of Halloween pumpkins. Those apples were then placed around the grounds at Erddig, and visitors could follow the Erddig Apple Trail.
A trail like this can easily be turned into a family activity. Simply create maps or ‘treasure hunt sheets’, and off you go! You could even add a reward at the end as a reminder of their visit or an educational point.

a wooden apple is carved to look like a halloween pumpkin. part of the erddig apple sculpture trail by simon o rourke

One of the apples Simon created for the Erddig Apple Trail

 

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail: Double the Fundraising!

OK, so here we’re actually going to mention a few reasons to commission a sculpture trail for your venue. They have the benefit of being as permanent or temporary as you want. This means you could set up a trail for a specific season, such as an elf trail to lead a Christmas Santa Grotto. Or what about an egg or bunny trail for Easter?
But what to do with the sculptures if you don’t want to repeat the event?
What about an auction for your charity, venue, or association? In the past auctions of Simon’s work have raised anything from hundreds to thousands of pounds for charities. This means a sculpture trail has double the potential – bringing people in for the original event, and fundraising afterward!

Wooden sculpture of Queen of Hearts on her throne by Simon O Rourke. Sculpture is part of a sculpture trail in Scotland

Queen of Hearts from Simons Alice in Wonderland trail

 

Why Commission a Sculpture Trail: For Art’s Sake!

There are several other reasons we could give for a sculpture trail, but we’re going to leave it with this one: art for art’s sake! One of the many lessons we learned from lockdown is the value of the arts. People turned to music, craft, and many other hobbies that serve no utilitarian function. In the early days especially, people found respite in things of beauty around them. Photos on social media showed highlights of permitted outdoor exercise time included discovering a beautiful old building, gate, or statue in their town that they had never noticed. A sculpture trail at your venue may serve no other purpose than adding something beautiful, creative, and inspirational for people to enjoy. And that’s OK. Call us biased, but we think that is reason enough to commission a sculpture trail!

Fforest Fawr Sculpture Trail Lynx by Simon O'Rourke

Fforest Fawr Sculpture Trail Lynx

Choosing a Theme for Your Sculpture Trail

So now you’ve thought about some of the reasons to commission a sculpture trail, what theme will you choose?

The possibilities really are endless. However, some of the most popular sculptures Simon has made include fairies, wizards, and dragons. And even an Ent! These ‘fantasy’ figures will always attract people to your trail. Movies and books like the Narnia series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings capture the imaginations of all generations. That makes them a great theme for a trail.

Another consideration is the historical context of a place. Chester, Bath, or York would be perfect for a trail of Roman Centurions for example. Similarly, a former monastery commissioned a series of monks that sit beautifully in the grounds.

monk by simon o rourke

One of the monks of Monksbridge

You could also think about any local people of prominence. For example, anywhere in Stratford-Upon-Avon would be a great location for some Shakespearian figures.

Finally, what festivals do you hold, and what season is it? Christmas could see an elf, reindeer, or snowman trail. Harvest is perfect for carved pumpkins.

Basically, the only limit is your imagination!

10' wooden fairy sculpture by simon o rourke

A private commission, but a fairy trail of any size could be a fun addition to any woodland space

Commission Your Sculpture Trail

Are you feeling inspired? If you would like to commission a sculpture trail, then contact us via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
We’re excited to hear your ideas and how we can help enhance your venues, events, communities, and attractions!

 

moving wood sculpture of a dragon by simon o'rourke

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries Through the Years

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries Through the Years 1160 770 Simon O'Rourke

Can you believe it’s already the August bank holiday weekend?! Time is definitely doing funny things! This weekend is a landmark in the Chainsaw Carving calendar, as it’s normally the English Open Chainsaw Competition. The competition is part of the Cheshire Game and Country Fair, and Simon has taken part many times over the last decade or so. Things are obviously a bit different this year, but we thought we’d mark the occasion by revisiting some of his English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries…

scene from english open chainsaw competition 2019

Where it all Began…

Simon first took part in the competition in 2004, and it was a key event in his career. It was his first competition, and he won third place. This helped prompt him to make a career from creating chainsaw-carved wood sculptures. After making that decision, he and his wife Liz set up Tree Carving in 2005… and the rest is history!

The 2004 Sculpture:

Despite being his first competition piece, the first of Simon’s English open chainsaw competition entries not only took third place but also gained national attention. At the end of the competition, artists can choose to auction off their pieces.  During that auction, Simon’s “Sleeping Girl” caught the attention of one of the Sandringham estate managers. Their bid won, and his sculpture was installed at the Queen’s Norfolk estate later that year. Not bad for a first-timer! National news networks picked up the story, which also helped as Simon began his carving career.

Unfortunately there aren’t many photos of this sculpture which proved to be such a landmark in Simon’s career. So, please forgive us the poor resolution of this photo! We promise the photos get better in the rest of the blog! If anyone is visiting the estate and gets a better photo, we would love it if you shared it and tagged us!

english open chainsaw entries by simon o'rourke: 2004 sleeping girl. A sleeping girl is carved onto a horzontal log

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2007

Simon has had a great deal of success at the English Open. In 2007 he created this whimsical fairy sitting on a mushroom. Although Simon’s style has evolved since then, and his sculptures become much more detailed, we can already see his ability to tell a story and create life-like human form sculptures. Judges also admired this piece and he placed first!

wooden sculpture of a fairy sitting on top of a mushroom, with woods in the background. the fairy is one of simon o'rourkes english open chainsaw competition entries from 2007

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2009

In 2008 and 2009 Simon also won first place with his Neptune sculpture. And once again, he demonstrated his skill at creating stunning human form sculptures.  We can already see much more of the texture that has become part of Simon’s signature style. His facial expression and details perfectly depict this wisened god of the sea, and that physique definitely reflects the power he is said to have.

 

english open chainsaw competition entries by simon o'rourke. Photo shows simon standing with a 10' sculpture of neptune carved onto a treek trunk

 

english open chainsaw competition entries by simon o'rourke. Photo shows simon standing with a 10' sculpture of neptune carved onto a treek trunk

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2010-2013

As Simon’s awards page shows, 2010-2013 were also good years for him at the English Open. He placed in the top two each year that he entered. By now he and Liz were a definite part of the tree carving community – one of the fun aspects of taking part in events and competitions.

The nature of chainsaw carving means many pieces are often on a very large scale. Some of Simon’s largest pieces have been the Marbury Lady and the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy. His 2013 entry wasn’t as large as these, but this giant bust definitely showed he could work on a large scale!

giant wood bust of a female. one of simon o'rourke's english open chainsaw competition entries

English Open Chainsaw Entries: 2014

During some competitions, Simon is able to take the opportunity to work on a commission. He may need to refine it later but is able to complete what he can during the time allocated for the competition. 2014 was one of those times. During the competition, Simon created this sculpture of Brother Francis. How special for a client to be able to say their sculpture is award-winning! The piece ‘only’ placed third, but the client was delighted, and this monk looks amazing installed among the trees, enjoying a moment of quiet contemplation.

life size sculpture of a monk sitting against a tree. Carved by simon o'rourke as one of his english open chainsaw competition entries

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2015

2015 was a winning year for Simon. He took first place with his incredible moving dragon sculpture. The detail is incredible with the scaly texture and attention to detail like the teeth and eyes. The movement was also a real novelty, and took Simon’s skill and creativity to the next level.

moving wood dragon sculpture

Hemlock today!

The sculpture didn’t sell at auction, but that turned out to be a good thing. Simon made some refinements to the sculpture and Hemlock was born! Hemlock has since travelled around the UK and is always a hit wherever she goes. She has helped to raise money for Clatterbridge Hospital and other causes, has taken part at ComicCon, and has even been part of a wedding! It’s true! She makes a great photo opportunity and is regularly treated to a dragon spa at the workshop (ie maintenance and repair!) to make sure she always looks her best at your events.

There is no doubt either that Hemlock played a big part in earning Simon his reputation for carving fantastic dragons. Since then he has gone on to create other incredible award-winning, viral dragon sculptures such as The Dragon of Bethesda, the egg casket from Game of Thrones, the yew dragon tower, and most recently, the fire-breathing dragon for The Dragon Tower that appeared on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

To book Hemlock for your event (anyone thinking about a dragon-pulled Santa sleigh this year?!) email us using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/, and we’ll be in touch!

moving wood sculpture of a dragon by simon o'rourke

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition Entries: 2019

Moving on to 2019, and the English Open was another great year for Simon. He took part in the ‘combo’ competition. This meant creating two sculptures over the three days, one made with only a chainsaw, and the other using any power tools.

His chainsaw-only sculpture was this beautiful, intricate fairy that took second place. You can see the range of Stihl chainsaws he used in the background!

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

The ‘full power’ event meant Simon could also use his favourite Manpa angle grinder and Saburrtooth bits. He created this angel who is looking truly serene. She doesn’t look at all like she’s been surrounded by chainsaw noise and sawdust for two days!!! She shows all of Simon’s trademark movement in her clothing, and attention to detail in the face. And, as always, Simon tells a story with this sculpture and invites the viewer into this moment of serenity with her. The judges loved her too, and she took first place.

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

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

 

Future Events?

Right now we don’t know when the next event or competition will take place. As you all know, the world and regulations about public events change constantly. Competitions and events are usually a big part of Simon’s summer though. They go beyond an opportunity to carve and are usually a brilliant time to connect with other artists and gain more inspiration, knowledge, and skills. We find some of them actually make for a fantastic day out too for observers, such as Huskycup or the WoodFest.  We’ve definitely missed them this year, although a change is nice too.

However! Simon does still have some space in his calendar later this year for outdoor events, such as ice carving demonstrations at Christmas, or even something ‘autumn-themed’ for your October half term event. Although the large scale events can’t happen, there are still ways to include and enjoy a live demonstration. Email us at [email protected] or use the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to ask about ideas and availability.

 

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke. Radagast is on of his movie based sculptures.

Fan Art Series: Movie Based Sculptures

Fan Art Series: Movie Based Sculptures 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

This week we return to our Fan Art Series. In Part One we looked at sculptures based on literature. Then, in Part Two we shared some of Simon’s TV themed sculptures. This week, in Part Three, we are going to re-visit some of the movie based sculptures Simon has created over the years…

Movie Based Sculptures: Ent from Lord of the Rings

The first of these movie based sculptures had its own blog, but we think it’s worth sharing again. We’re talking about The Ent sculpture from Lord of the Rings. This Ent can be found in Poulton Hall on the Wirral, which is good news because it means it can be viewed by the public! The gardens are open on specific dates during the year, so if you’re in the North West why not take a look?

Movie Based Sculptures: Radagast the Brown

Again, our next sculpture has a blog of its own. You can read the full story at www.treecarving.co.uk/radagast-the-brown-blue-and-pink/, but basically, the Radagast tree sculpture came about as a way of transforming and giving life back to a diseased tree. For Lord of the Rings fans, there are endless possibilities for unique fan art. Simon is incredible at creating both fantasy and human form works of art and Lord of the Rings has plenty of both. If you’re looking for something unique either for yourself or a gift, why not a full-size sculpture or miniature piece for your garden? Create your own Hobbiton!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke. Radagast is on of his movie based sculptures.

 

Movie Based Sculptures: Groot

Our next movie based sculpture is a character Simon has made on several occasions. Groot.

The loveable Flora Colossus was originally a Marvel creation and has featured in several popular films. Simon has created Groot sculptures for private and public commissions including this giant marionette version for Wales Comic-Con in 2015. This depiction of Groot is much more like the comic book version, or the Groot seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014. It’s also an amazing likeness to the version in Marvel’s ‘Rocket and Groot’ animation from 2017.

sculptures based on movies: simon o'rourke creating a giant groot marionette for Wales Comic Con 2015

giant groot marionette tree carved sculpture by simon o'rourke

sculptures based on movies: giant groot marionette by simon o'rourke

Another version of Groot that Simon created is this sculpture. It shows a cuter, more cartoon-like Groot which is much closer to how we see him a little later.

groot by simon o'rourke, photographed in his workshop whilst in progress

Our final Groot sculpture was commissioned as a 50th birthday gift. He was hanging around the studio for one of our open days in aid of Clatterbridge Hospital. That was when this little chap got to meet him. As well as making for a cute photo, it shows the scale too – similar to an average nearly-two-year-old!

Movie based sculptures: a 3' groot carved by simon o'rourke stands next to a two year old in winter clothing to show scale

The client was kind enough to share the video with us from when she was given the Groot sculpture. Thankfully was less bemused by him than our little friend above! She shared:
Am over the moon with my 50th present off my family. As always Simon got the character spot on. Thank you so very much, he’s amazing
If you have a special birthday coming up and have a movie fan in the family, why not commission something for them?

Movie Based Sculptures: Spiderman

Continuing with the Marvel Comics theme, the next of our movie based sculptures is Spiderman. SPiderman is a little different from many of Simon’s pieces because he doesn’t just rely on shadow from cuts/texture to give him his distinctive pattern. Simon will sometimes use colouring techniques and stains or a blowtorch to create colour on a sculpture. These still allow for an organic colour and feel, so it remains in keeping with natural wood sculpture.

movie based sculptures: life sized spiderman wood sculpture created by simon o'rourke

Movie Based Sculptures: Batman

Looks like we’re on a roll here the comic book movie characters, because our next character is Batman. Good to give DC some representation too!

Batman was commissioned by Phil and Leah Jackson of Wahoo Marketing Agency (we are thankful as a business for their expertise), and helped them sell their house!
It’s true!
Batman doesn’t just fight crime, he moves real estate!
How?
Well basically, photos of the Batman sculpture went viral and drew international attention to their property.
Although it may seem excessive, in the context of the costs of renovating, improving, and staging a house for sale, a novelty sculpture can be a great investment. Not only can it help attract attention, but it may be that if the sculpture is free-standing, that you can take it with you or sell it later. A sculpture could also help tell the story of a property or area which moves the viewer in a way words don’t. So, if you are selling your property and think a sculpture may help, we’d love to hear from you!

Movie based sculptures: Batman by Simon O'Rourke

 

Movie Based Sculptures: Marilyn Monroe & More Comic Book Heroes

Our final example of movie based sculptures might be a bit of a cheat, as it’s not actually sculpture. But we’re going to go ahead and share anyway!
For people without room for a sculpture, an illustrated wall hanging may be just the solution. These are examples of some Simon has created over the years, including the original ‘blonde bombshell’, Marilyn Monroe.
Simon uses his background in illustration and combines it with his skill with an angle grinder, blow torch and, saw to create these unique illustrations. They make a striking piece of fan art, and are perfect for a gift or commemorating an occasion.
Please excuse the resolution. These were all created at events a few years ago, and cellphone camera technology wasn’t quite what it is today!

Marilyn Monroe illustration wall hanging by simon o'rourke

superhero wooden wall hanging illustrations by simon o'rourke

Commissioning Your Own Movie Based Sculpture

We hope you enjoyed this tour through some of Simon’s movie based sculptures. If you feel inspired and would like to commission a piece, we would love to hear from you. You can use the contact form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will get back to you to chat through the details.

tv themed sculptures: egg case for game of thrones by simon o'rourke

TV Themed Sculptures

TV Themed Sculptures 800 800 Simon O'Rourke

Last week we began a series of blogs sharing some of Simon’s ‘fan art‘. That is, sculptures he has made over the years based on books, tv, music, sports, etc. Strictly speaking, it isn’t ‘fan art’ as Simon himself may not be the fan, but rather the client. The description kind of fits though! Last week we kicked the series off with sculptures based on literature. This week we bring you TV themed sculptures…

TV themed sculptures by simon o'rourke. Picture shows wooden chainsaw carved sculptures of wallace, gromit and shaun the sheep from the Nick Park series

TV Themed Sculptures: Wallace and Gromit

The first of our TV themed sculptures are these pieces based on Wallace and Gromit. The lovable duo was an immediate hit when they debuted in 1989. Yes, you read that right, 1989. They really are 31 years old! What started as an animated ‘short’ turned into seven TV movies and various TV series. Nick Park created the original characters from clay, but we think the wooden version is just as lovable! Simon created his Wallace, Gromit, and Shaun the sheep from Douglas fir over several days in the workshop. You can watch the process in the timelapse below…

TV Themed Sculptures: Sherlock Holmes

The next of our sculptures based on TV shows are Sherlock Holmes. Although he was originally a literary character, there have been so many representations of him on our screens over the years, it would seem wrong not to include him! In fact, the detective stories are so popular, he has been portrayed by over 75 different actors!
This sculpture was commissioned as a gift for a fan around the end of 2019. Simon didn’t just carve a portrait of the famous detective though. He also included references to ten different stories that you can look for in the pictures. If you can’t find them though, you don’t need to feel frustrated. We have the answers in our blog: The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust.

Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke, one of his tv themed sculptures created in 2019

 

TV Themed Sculptures: Saturday Night Stars

Our next sculptures are based on two very large TV personalities. In fact, if you watched Saturday night television, for three decades this Scouse duo would have featured on your screens: Cilla Black and Ken Dodd.

Both originating from Liverpool, the two were carved live at the Pierhead in Liverpool in 2018. Simon chose to portray Cilla in her 60s pop star era – although she was better known later for presenting ‘Suprise, Surprise’ and Blind Date. Comedian Ken Dodd is unmistakable too, holding his famous ‘tickle stick’! As well as the fantastic sculptures, we love the sneaky appearance here too of Poppy, Simon, and Liz’s dog. Poppy sometimes attends events with them, and can often be found in the workshop with her trusty blanket. Oh, and occasionally modeling some of Simon’s favourite Stihl products too! Check out www.treecarving.co.uk/when-poppy-met-stihl/ to see her in action, as well as finding out some of his recommendations.

tv themed sculptures by simon o'rourke. To-scale wooden sculptures of Cilla Black and Ken Dodd outside the Liver Building

Live Carving

It isn’t just incredible to see what Simon creates. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch the process too. Simon often competes and does demonstrations at events over the summer. If you get the chance, it’s well worth watching. For now, we’ll just have to leave you with this great shot of Simon wielding one of his favourite Stihl chainsaws to create the Ken Dodd’s face…

Simon O'Rourke using a chainsaw to carve a wooden sculpture of Ken Dodd

TV Themed Sculptures: Countryfile

Our next TV themed sculpture was created as a secret project for the BBC TV Show Countryfile. They were unveiled during the Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace in 2018. Simon created two separate pieces that depict each of the presenters in a portrait ‘montage’ or ‘collage’. The pieces were displayed during the event, and although Simon didn’t meet them, we heard that the presenters loved their likenesses! The photos definitely show some happy customers!

tv themed sculptures: countryfile presenters stand with their likeness created in wood by simon o'rourke

TV themed sculptures by simon o'rourke. Countryfile presenters sitting with their likelnesses carved into two pieces of wood by simon o'rourke

Photo from The Oxford Mail

TV Themed Sculptures: Game of Thrones

We thought we ould save this one for last… The egg casket from Game of Thrones.
At the end of 2018, Simon was chosen as one of 18 artists whose work would be used to promote the final season of HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones. HBO gave each artist an original prop from the show. Their task was to reimagine it somehow or to create something additional using that prop.  It was no small thing when the dragon eggs arrived here in Wales…

Simon chose to create a case for the eggs. The idea was that they could be carried in the case when they were presented as a wedding gift.

Simon made the casket from yew, which had some beautiful markings and colouring.  He created
seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior, that hold the eggs securely in place. He shrouded the mouth with abstract dragon wings and added ash poles for carrying.
The final sculpture is stunning. It shows not only Simon’s technical ability, but his creativity, and understanding of symbolism. Each and every detail was carefully thought about to create this impact, which we share in our blog ‘For the Throne’.

tv themed sculptures: egg case for game of thrones by simon o'rourke

 

close up of game of thrones egg casket by simon o'rourke

Poppy, Simon, Liz O'Rourke with the Game of Thrones eggs and casket

What Would You Commission?

If you were to commission a TV themed sculpture, what would it be? We can think of all kinds of applications… fan art for a wall or office, a garden ornament, commemorative sculpture in a hometown…
The great thing too is that they can be obvious (like a portrait) or subtle. An object from a TV show can become a great talking point and focus in a garden for example.

If you would like to commission a TV themed sculpture, contact Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and he can chat with you about ideas, details, costs. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

The finished head

Huskycup Through the Years

Huskycup Through the Years 3648 2736 Simon O'Rourke

An annual highlight in the chainsaw carving calendar is The Huskycup. Every summer chainsaw carvers from around the world descend on Blockhausen in Dorfschemnitz and the sawdust starts flying! We absolutely recommend a visit at least once in a lifetime! As you might expect, this summer’s event has sadly been cancelled. But never fear! Just like our series where we brought Simon’s woodland trails to your home (click here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three), we thought we would bring the Huskycup to you! Join us as we look back as Simon’s entries in the Huskycup through the years…

Huskycup through the years: participants in the 2019 huskycup showcase

Simon and the other participants from the 2019 Huskycup

About Blockhausen

Before we revisit Simon’s entries at the Huskycup through the years, we have to share a bit more about the place. It’s incredible!

Blockhausen had its beginnings in something very practical: a hut to store forest management material and hay. SO different to its current function! You can read the full story at https://www.blockhausen.de/geschichte-gebaeude/wie-alles-begann/ , but nowadays it’s a venue for chainsaw carving courses, forestry training, open air museum, events venue, holiday destination, and hiking trail. In fact, it’s home to the largest collection of chainsaw art in the world! Oh, and if that isn’t enough, it also has a pretty great snack bar/cafe! Public can visit all year round, and hire various buildings. Many of them incorporate some fantastic pieces of chainsaw carving, so it’s like staying in an art gallery!

At certain times of year though, it is transformed into an arena for some of the world’s best chainsaw carvers. The largest of these events being Huskycup…

The Huskycup Experience

Initially Huskycup was an annual competition. As we mentioned in our Huskycup flashback blog though, it is now an exhibition event/showcase, although there is still a speed carving competition. Artists team up to create incredible chainsaw carving exhibits that tie in with a given theme. Simon participated for the first time in 2007 and has returned several times since then. It’s definitely a favourite event! Although he was very successful in competition, Simon prefers the more relaxed atmosphere of the exhibition. Primarily, it enables artists to feel more relaxed as they carve. It also allows them to take more time to enjoy each other’s creations, and try things they may not if there was the ‘risk’ of it not working out when they were being judged. It means teams can be more varied too as they aren’t restricted to a geographical region. Whether a participant, chainsaw artist, or fan, Huskycup is a great event to attend for community, and inspiration.

Huskycup through the years: crowds entirely fill a path in the woodland with chainsaw artists set up in booths alongside the path, carving various dragons

Crowds in 2019. Photo taken from the Huskycup website.

Simon and the Huskycup through the Years: The Beginning…

Simon’s first Huskycup experience was in 2007. He had to apply to organiser Andreas by sending a design. There was no theme for this year. This is a bit of a double-edged sword! It’s great because it allows for SO much variation. However, it can also be tricky to know what’s going to appeal. Simon was up for the challenge though! He created a giant marionette that really moves! The sculpture placed fourth on the competition – pretty good for a first time competitor! It’s still installed at Blockhausen and remains a crowd-pleaser today.

Huskycup through the years - 2007. A giant marionette created in oak by chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

2007 entry: Giant marionette

Huskycup Through the Years: 2008

2008 Simon’s brief was to create a naked man and woman cuddling! It was another success and he placed fourth again. For those wanting to see the sculpture, you’ll need to visit Blockhausen! After the competition, it was installed in one of the haylofts where people can stay.

A life size oak sculpture by simon o'rourke of a naked man and woman reclining rogether

Simon’s 2008 Huskycup entry

Huskycup Through the Years: 2009

In 2009 Simon paired up with Sebastian Seiffert to make TEAM EUROPE! This year teams created columns that depicted stories and legends from their home continent. Simon and Sebastian opted for a Celtic theme. Rather than tell specific stories though, they decided to show the seasons of the year as people. This unique approach impressed the judges, and they placed second! Their columns joined the other competitors, and they became the pillars supporting one of the log cabins.

Column holding up a large wood cabin. Created by Simon O'Rourke with celtic knots and featuring a nude woman

celtic knot column featuring nude woman by simon o'rourke

 

nude man incorporated into illar featuring celtic knotwork by simon o'rourke

nude man incorporated into illar featuring celtic knotwork by simon o'rourke

Huskycup Through the Years: 2010

2010 brought Simon a live model, Knut! The theme was ‘Miners from the Ore region’, and each competitor had a model dressed in their various uniforms. Simon’s placed second again with his miner, meaning he had now placed four times out of five competitions.

Simon and Liz O'Rourke pictured with Knut, an miner from the ore region and his likeness that simon carved in oak at huskycup 2010

Simon and Liz pictured with Knut

The Long Table

Blockhausen’s founder Andreas is always up to something big though, and the 2010 Huskycup was no exception! Each of the miners created was to help support a canopy over the table at Blockhausen. Not just any table either. The table is actually in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest table in the world! For those wondering how big a table has to be to make a world record, it’s a whopping 39.8m! That’s the equivalent of 23 men of average height in Germany! It seats 200 people, weighs two tons, and it safely holds around 10,000 bottles of beer! That’s a lot of people, and a lot of beer. It’s also a LOT of fun as people gather and sit together to enjoy food and drink from the cafe. The process behind building the table is fascinating, and you can read more at https://www.blockhausen.de/geschichte-gebaeude/laengster-tisch-2010/. For now, enjoy the miners!

life size miners created by various chainsaw artists act as pillars for a canopy over a 40m table

The 2010 Huskycup pillars in place alongside the table, ready for the canopy

 

life size miners created by various chainsaw artists act as pillars for a canopy over a 40m table while a man sands the table

Sanding the giant table!

Huskycup Through the Years: 2012

Simon returned to the Huskycup in 2012 and teamed up with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamozus to make TEAM EUROPE! They created an incredible piece depicting Christian and Martha from Sabine Obermaier’s book, The Midwife. Once again, the team did brilliantly and took third place.

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

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

Walk of Fame!

2012 was also the year that Simon entered the Blockhausen Walk of Fame! Just like the Hollywood version, it’s an honour to have your name on a star in the Blockhausen Walk of Fame. Unveiling is usually a big event!

Chainsaw artist SImon o'Rourke kisses his star in the blockhausen walk of fame

Huskycup Through the Years: 2016

The 2016 Huskycup was a memorable one for Simon because he took first place. The theme was Vikings, which left plenty of room for creative storytelling – something Simon LOVES to do. He depicted a daughter being taken away by a Viking warrior, while the father grieves. A moving scene! And, just as Simon is often inspired by classical artists such as Rodin,  this scene has hints of Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the way the father reaches for his daughter as she is carried away. Winter or summer, it makes a striking exhibit in the Blockhausen open-air exhibition. We shared more about this in our blog about the 2016 and 2018 Huskycup, or you can check out the Viking Raid case study on the website to find out more.

 

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

viking raid sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in the snow

 

Huskycup Through the Years:

By 2018 the Huskycup was no longer a competition. Rather, a showcase event. The theme was once again ‘Miners’. This time however, the finished pieces had a slightly different purpose. Rather than holding up a cabin or canopy, they were going to form that year’s Nativity scene. Simon’s task was to carve two miners that would eventually be two of the three wise men visiting the stable. You’ll see from the pictures that by now Simon had been introduced to Saburrtooth. Their burrs have enabled him to take his facial details to a whole new level! They now form a staple part of his tool collection along with his faithful Stihl chainsaws and Manpa multi cutter and angle grinder.
Once again he had live models, and they looked pretty happy with the finished sculptures of themselves!

Huskycup through the years: Simon O'Rourke Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

 

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

Using a Saburrtooth burr to create the eyes of a miner

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

Huskycup Through the Years: 2019

2019 was another amazing Huskycup for Simon, as you’ll know if you ready our Huskycup 2019 blog. He teamed up with Keiji Kikodoro, where they had the task of creating a sculpture with the theme ‘dragons’. Simon’s relationship with Keiji goes back years, and he has been privileged to carve with him in Japan. As regular followers know, Simon has MANY dragons in his portfolio, and is something of an expert dragon carver. His most recent dragon sculpture even breathes fire! He wanted something completely unique though for Huskycup 2019, and came up with this idea:

Initial sketch of Water Dragon by Simon O Rourke and Keiji. Learn these skills in our online art courses with Simon.

The initial concept sketch by Simon

When we look at the finished piece, we see glimpses of the way dragons are traditionally portrayed in the cultures of both artists, and there is no doubt that their teamwork created something fantastic. Even without the competition, this is a winner!

Water Dragon by Keiji Kidokoro and Simon O'Rourke Huskycup 2019

Water Dragon by Simon and Keiji at Huskycup 2019

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

The finished head

The finished head

Huskycup 2020

And what about Huskycup 2020?
Well, at this point it’s hard to say. Andreas has postponed the main event, and planned a ‘mini huskycup‘ for October of this year, but whether Simon can be there or not is very much up in the air. If it goes ahead, the theme is ‘Brothers Grimm’, and participants are free to choose either modern or traditional interpretation. What a lot of scope for amazing fantasy sculptures AND human form. Some of Simon’s favourite kind of projects!

Either way, we feel strongly that safety needs to come first, so we watch and wait, and will choose wisely at the time, within the regulations.

Even if it goes ahead, it will be with much reduced attendance. So, with little likelihood of you enjoying Husycup in person this year, we hope you enjoyed seeing Huskycup through the years from Simon’s perspective. If you can’t go the the event, we bring the event to you!

But seriously, if you can ever get there, we recommend attending a Huskycup. The atmosphere is amazing, the carving off the charts, and the venue stunning. Andreas has created an incredible destination, and a great event, and it’s definitely been a highlight to be part of the whole thing.

If you feel inspired by any of these sculptures to commission your own, contact Simon using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. 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.

Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke. This is one of his many sculptures of myths and legends.

St George and the Dragon Sculpture

St George and the Dragon Sculpture 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

It’s a day late, but Happy St George’s Day to my English friends!
It’s actually quite the week for important days. The Queen’s birthday, St George’s Day, and the anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and death. Definitely lots of choice there for a blog that fits the calendar! We decided to balance out all the dragons on this blog a little though, and share about this St George and the Dragon sculpture. I actually carved the piece earlier this year, so you might have seen the pictures on social media already. Every sculpture has its own story though,  so keep reading to find out about this one…..

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

The Subject

This St George and the dragon sculpture was a commission from a client in the south of England. She had an oak stump in the garden, and began exploring ideas with Simon as to what it could become.
Commissioning a sculpture is never just one email requesting a particular subject. There is the actual timber itself to consider (is the size, shape etc suitable), client preferences, artist vision and skill, and the overall impact in its environment. Investing in a piece of art isn’t a small decision, especially when it’s a tree stump and physically not so easy to move as selling a small picture!

In this case, of the ideas discussed, St George was most meaningful to the client. St George’s Day is special to her as it is also her birthday! The sculpture will now be part of her annual celebration as, in her own words, she can “raise a glass every year standing by [her] stunning tree carving!”

Original client concept sketch of St George and the Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Original sketch for the commission overlaying the stump

Finalising the Design
Once a subject is chosen, there is still more discussion between Simon and a client. Simon will share some of his ideas, as well as talking about how to make that happen. He will take into account not only the kind of piece the client wants, but also the timber. Sometimes there may be cracks that need to be taken into account. Other times there may be a beautiful grain pattern. Sometimes knots or the shape of the branches will lend themselves to a particular feature.
Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Refining an Idea
In this case, some of the main conversation points were focused on:
Scale
Given the diameter of the trunk, St George couldn’t be life size. Simon suggested that instead, he could be stood on a precarious pile of rocks, which would give a nice context. Ultimately, St George would need to be no higher than 18″. This ‘miniature’ turned out to be a fun contrast for Simon, as it immediately followed the Marbury Lady!
Story
Those of you familiar with Simon’s work, know he takes his inspiration from artists like Rodin and Bernini. They changed the concept of portrait work from being static, to telling a story. In the same way, Simon’s work always invites the viewer into a narrative. In this case there was a natural story to tell…..the legend of St George and the Dragon.
St George and the Dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Choosing the Narrative
SPOILER ALERT!
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of St George and the Dragon, basically an English knight tames and slays a dragon. Simon suggested that this sculpture incorporate that story. His suggestions included portraying George in the act of stabbing the dragon with a spear.
Alternatively, he suggested the dragon could be underneath him, or it could be rearing up above him, even adding wings on to give a striking silhouette.
This is where dialogue is important, as although these ideas could look fantastic, they weren’t fully what the client was after. She had concerns stabbing the dragon could look a little macabre (and who wants to celebrate a birthday that way!!), and wanted the emphasis on St George.
With this in mind, Simon decided to include the dragon as part of the story, but to merge it into the trunk. As well as hinting at the legend, this would also have the effect of emphasising the figure of St George. And so, the St George and the Dragon sculpture was decided!
Dragon from Simon O'Rourke's St George and the Dragon sculpture
Creating the St George and the Dragon Sculpture

As you look at the concept sketch next to the finished design, you will notice it wasn’t identical. This is part of the process of working with wood. When Simon saw the stump in person, the design changed due to the centre of the tree being offset. This meant that as it ages, it won’t split as much, as if he had used the original design.

Concept sketch with finished st george and the dragon sculpture

Creating this in the client’s garden involved copious use of the Stihl battery saws. As he was carving, Simon hit a few nails, hence the dark blue staining on the inside of the tree. Luckily he had spare chain with him for the saw he was using for detail. Hitting metal with that delicate chain is usually terminal for the cutters!!

 

St george and the dragon in process

The sculpture as Simon finished with the chainsaws, and was ready to begin with the smaller tools.

Saburrtooth burrs also played a bit part in the detailing. The detail on the face was made using the 3/8″ eye cutter and 1/4″ taper – a couple of staple tools that Simon relies on.

 

Visible detail on St George and the Dragon Sculpture by Simon O Rourke

Visible detail on the rocks and dragon

And that brings to an end our story of the St George and the Dragon sculpture!
We hope you enjoyed hearing a little more about the process behind finalising a design.
If you would like Simon to create something truly unique for your own home, garden or business, contact him on [email protected]
Although at the moment he is unable to carve at the moment, he is still able to sketch ideas and work on initial concepts and quotes, as well as working on his upcoming online art courses.

Next week, as we can’t go outdoors and travel as much, we will be bringing some of the UKs forest trails to you instead!

We leave you with the time lapse of the creation of this stunning St George and the Dragon sculpture.
Stay safe, and stay well.