Fantasy Sculpture

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the Air 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air this week. That means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sunshine, walks in the park, new life, and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms. Even those wet, rainy days seem better as the blossom on the trees and the appearance of daffodils and tulips reminds us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week.

Spring is in the air with this selection of baby animals and families by Simon O'Rourke

Spring is in the Air: Baby Animals

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

Spring is in the Air: The Easter Bunny

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate. Incidentally, anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!! That means we can’t help but think of Easter. In turn, we can’t think of Easter without thinking of the  ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny!  And whether real or fictional, Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends…..

Spring is in the air - easter bunny sculptures by Simon O'Rouke

Spring is in the Air: The Big Clean

We’re also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’. If you’re anything like us, you might only just be starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter. If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, why not consider commissioning something unique from us? Even if you finish the big clean and find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, Simon is on hand to help!

Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up. As well as looking great, a tree carving looks much more at home in the garden compared with plastic or stone ornaments. It’s also sourced sustainably. That means you can make your garden look great whilst also being environmentally responsible!

As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
For the Throne!

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date. He was invited to take part in HBO’s For the Throne (#forthethrone) campaign, to promote season eight of Game of Thrones.

The Campaign

18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO. Each artist was given an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and were given a brief to create something around that prop.

The Arrival of the Eggs

Simon was given the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, they were also inspiring as pieces of art in themselves. They had detailed scaly texture and amazing ombre, blended metallic colouring – things that aren’t obvious on screen.  Incredible to think of the time, skill and artistry that goes into even tiny props!

Simon’s task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It also had to fit with the era and location of the series. Watch this video to see Simon receiving the eggs!

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects. This meant he had LOTS of ideas for shape, texture, and details. However, he also had to consider some practicalities.

The Practical Requirements
  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be securely so they could withstand travel (both on and off screen)
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

The Design Process

With those practicalities in place, Simon could then consider more aesthetic details.

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

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The Casket Created

Simon made the casket from yew, which had some beautiful markings and colouring.  An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair!
Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place. Their random placement, irregular shape, and rough texture lend the feel of danger or uncertainty. There is also an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs: “Like a mutated dragon”. All this heightens the sense of danger.

Although they create caution, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth also invite touch – just like the eggs themselves. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series,  (Daenerys is the only one who feels life within them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

More Artistic Details

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

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


When asked about the biggest challenge, Simon told us it was difficult  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing“.
In retrospect however, we wonder if the greater challenge was keeping such an exciting project secret until now!

Get Involved!

This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series. They’re inviting artists to post their work on social media. When you post, just include the hashtag #forthethrone and your work might be included!

A Very Wooden Valentines

A Very Wooden Valentines 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Wooden Valentines

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

Beauty and the Beast

 

Tale as Old as Time

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

 

Elephants in Love

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

 

Photo used by permission of Abbi Photography

 

Wooden Wearables

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

 

Custom wedding rings and ring stand

 

However you spend Valentines Day, we hope you enjoy the day and feel loved and appreciated. Oh! And find plenty of discount priced chocolate in the days that follow!!!!!

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

Carving Dragons

Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Carving Dragons

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! OK, it isn’t quite as entertaining when we admit it means carving dragons, not training them or something. But still, pretty cool!

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised about how often Simon is asked to create a dragon. We’re based in North Wales where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century! They have long been used as a symbol of national identity, and we even have one on our flag!

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

Y Ddraig Derw

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragons in the past. As ‘carving dragons’ is definitely our theme for the year, we thought we’d give you a bit of a round up of some of the dragons Simon has made so far. And don’t forget to look out for more!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

Imagine Dragons

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

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

 

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

Welsh dragon carve in process

Receiving their Wings

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are outstretched, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance. There’s also then the question of how best to attach them securely. Especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain! Alternatively if Simon uses other material instead of wood (as he did with Hemlock), what material best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

Telling Their Story

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

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

The (Dragon) is in the Details!

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

Dragon mouth archway

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

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

 

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

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

“IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS
A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more. Whoever it was, it still holds true that there is something about a dragon story which captures imagination. That’s even more true in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 600AD! And it certainly seems the case with Y Ddraig Derw who has gone viral this week!

Y ddraig derw in Bethesday, North Wales

An Adventure Worth Telling

We already shared that this year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, and last week saw us working on another dragon sculpture. This time, Simon carved on location in beautiful North Wales, and it has been named ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon) by locals.
This dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, even before it was finished,and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages, and the number of people sharing online. It even appeared in the Daily Post  and BBC!
We’re grateful and humbled, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

The Commission

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

 Fallen oak that was to be transformed into Y ddraig derw

 

The Process

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. Simon completed the entire dragon on-site rather than transporting things from the workshop. This meant carrying large pieces up to the site use for the wings and legs. Definitely a good work out!
With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

The Finished Dragon

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

Simon O'Rourke pictured with Y ddraig derw in Bethesda, North Wales

Simon at work!

Visiting the Dragon

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

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and for sharing your photos. It’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces. We’d love it if you could tag us in your posts so we can see them too! Use #simonorourke and #dragonofbethesda for this dragon.

Y ddraig derw by night.

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

 

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

Tale of Two Carvings

Tale of Two Carvings 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

If you follow us on social media, you’ll know it’s been a busy week for Simon. And the locations and difference in style definitely mean that this week’s blog is definitely ‘A tale of two carvings’!

A Tale of Two Carvings Part One: Svantevit

The first of our tale of two carvings was complete in Germany. Si and Liz travelled to Putgarten, where Simon was commissioned to create a sculpture of Svantevit, the four headed Slavic god of war, fertility and abundance. This particular representation of the deity is 3 metres tall and made of oak. Although yellow-y now, it will weather into a beautiful silvery grey over the coming weeks, months and years. It has the typical four heads that, according to mythology, represent him being able to see to the four corners of the earth. Simon’s sculpture is also carrying two of the symbols that are an important part of Svantevit stories: his horn and sword.

Putgarten

Putgarten is a wonderful centre of creativity. A recent count estimated there are 70 sculptures on display and/or available to buy! What a great place to find something for your home, or even just to browse for inspiration.

If you would like to know more, visit their website by clicking here – and before you have to dig out that German dictionary from your schooldays, don’t forget google can do the translating for you!

 

 

A Tale of Two carvings Part Two: APF 2018

The second half of the week saw us return to APF 2018; the UKs largest forestry, woodland, arboricultural, fencing and biofuel exhibtion. This year there were over 320 exhibitors and 22000 visitors over the three days. it’s fair to say that number created a buzz far beyond the noise of the chainsaws!

As regulars at this event, it was great to reconnect with old friends, as well as having the privilege of being a demonstrator and competitor.

 

During the speed carving demonstrations, Simon created a wolf. Cheering him on was another of his creations. Meet Squishy!

Later, 25 of the top wood carvers in Europe competed against each other in the A W Jenkinson & Tilhill Forestry European Chainsaw Carving Championship, where each had to produce a sculpture from a 1 tonne piece of timber.

Simon used this as an opportunity to complete a project he’d been visualising for a while. He chose to create this beautiful representation of a female face. He made use of long smooth lines for her smooth skin tone, and contrasting areas of more intense texture and detail to create lips, eyes and hair. She didn’t place in this year’s competition, but we’ve had lots of lovely compliments about her. It was also wonderful to realise something after thinking about it for so long.

For anybody interested, two of the pieces mentioned in this post are available for sale. The lady is available after Futurescapes exhibition. Squishy is also available for purchase. If you are interested in either these pieces contact us on [email protected] or via our contact page.

The Power of Vanquis!!

The Power of Vanquis!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We were asked earlier this year to create a carving of a Game of Thrones style character emerging from a log. It transpired that it was needed to film a commercial for a credit card! I was so busy I had to enlist the help of Paul from Ossum Tree Carving, my apprentice, to help me.

Having delivered it to the back of beyond, somewhere in Betws Y Coed, the following day this advert was filmed!

 

 

Summer events!!

Summer events!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It’s going to be a very busy summer for us, involving the Beatles, dragons, nature sculpture and more!

Here’s the definitive list…

Artist residency at Erddig: July 11th and 12th August dates tbc…

The Rhug Country Fair: July 8th and 9th

Sculpture and outdoor furniture featured in two Tatton RHS gardens: July 19th – 23rd

Woodfest Country Show: July 29th and 30th

Junk sculpture and Nature sculpture workshops at Chester Cathedral: Every Friday in August

Creating a 3 metre sculpture at Chester Cathedral: every Saturday in August

Creating the Beatles at Pier Head Village in Liverpool: 12pm – 6pm, August 6th, August 13th, August 27th, August 28th

Hemlock the Dragon, appearing at the Denbigh Show: August 17th

Landscape 2017 in Battersea: September 19th and 20th

Halloween trail at Erddig National Trust: October

Pumpkin Carving Workshops at Hamper Food Festival Llangollen: October 14th and 15th