Frequently Asked Questions

Blogs that answer some of the questions Simon O’Rourke is most frequently asked

ayrton senna bust by simon o'rourke in foreground. It is in progress. In the background Simon looks at a wall of senna photos, checking the details for his sculpture

FAQs: Why is Art Expensive? (What You Pay for When you Commission a Sculpture)

FAQs: Why is Art Expensive? (What You Pay for When you Commission a Sculpture) 1920 1278 Simon O'Rourke

But why does it cost so much? This is a question artists are asked across every field. Whether the artist is a sculpture, musician, painter, photographer (or any other field!) they are frequently asked to justify their prices. Many artists struggle to make a living as they often end up not charging enough to cover their time. It is definitely a valid question and one that we want to cover in this blog!

Simon O'Rourke photographed with the wooden bust he created of Ayrton Senna.

Simon photographed with his Ayrton Senna bust

Why is Art Expensive?
An Economist’s Perspective.

According to Wonderopolis, economists believe the cost of art to be based on supply and demand. They would say when it comes to demand, nobody really needs art! However, there are plenty of people who want beautiful artworks. Therefore, with plenty of demand for artwork, it’s the amount of work available that leads to high prices. Scarcity or the artist’s ability to only produce a limited number of pieces is what makes it expensive.
This is true to an extent. There are however LOTS of other reasons for the cost, and LOADS of things you are getting when you pay for a piece of art…

why is art expensive? photo shows a small wooden sculpture of a bulldog by simon o'rourke.

People are sometimes surprised by the cost of smaller pieces like this adorable bulldog portrait

Why is Art Expensive?
Materials & Sourcing

The first cost behind one of Simon’s sculptures is an obvious one. The raw materials, and the cost of sourcing that material. Even though his timber is only ever from a tree that is damaged, diseased or dangerous, there is still a cost involved. Unless of course, the commission is for a standing stump.
Simon works closely with a few tree surgeons he trusts to ensure that he is getting good, useable timber at a good price. Incidentally, if you are looking for someone to evaluate, cut back or remove a tree, we recommend TreeTech NW!

Sourcing and transporting the raw materials is one of the expenses underlying the cost of a sculpture

Why is Art Expensive?
Cost of Equipment

Every artist needs tools to work with. Simon is no different. And purchasing and maintaining chainsaws, drills, burr bits and more can be expensive. They cost a little more than say a good quality rolling pin or paintbrush! Tree Carving also demands good quality outdoor clothing, and protective workwear such as boots, helmet, ear protection and sometimes glasses or mask to shield Simon’s face. It’s important not to compromise on these as they have an impact on both long and short term health. Stihl make some great quality PPE by the way if you are on the lookout for some yourself!

why is art expensive? photo shows treecarver simon o'rourke on scaffolding working on a sculpture of a ghostly woman. He wears PPE. this is one of the underlying expenses in the cost of art.

It is important for artists to have the right tools and equipment like the PPE Simon is wearing in this photo of him working on The Marbury Lady

Why is Art Expensive?
Project-Specific Costs

Every project also has its own unique costs, not just the cost of the materials. If Simon has to travel, or stay in local accommodation, these are costs he has to take into account. Artists have different ways of doing this. Some create an itemised account and bill the customer for it specifically. Others will take it into account as something their annual income needs to cover when they set themselves an hourly rate. Either way, it is a legitimate thing!
There may also be other costs too, like hiring scaffolding or a cherry picker (trees can be quite tall you know!). Perhaps Simon needs to pay someone like Treetech to deliver the piece. There may also be permits needed in some public places for some of his sculptures.
Whatever the need, they are some of the costs that have to be factored into a commission, and they are part of what you get when you pay for artwork.

Why is art expensive? photo shows simon o'rourke with his oak maiden sculpture. It is around 3m tall, and he is standing in a cherry picker, one of the underlying costs behind his art

Sometimes Simon has additional equipment to hire, like this cherry picker used for The Oak Maiden

Why is Art Expensive?
Underlying Business Costs

We’ve all seen the romantic pictures of Bohemian artists working from their cluttered studio apartments. Or the classic photographer-in-movies who turns his bedroom into a darkroom. It’s a lovely picture, and one that we often cling to. Sadly though, it isn’t accurate! While there are many artists who are able to work alone, others (like Simon) employ a team of people. And rather than working from that perfect attic apartment, they rent or buy buildings. In Simon’s case this is a necessity not a preference. Can you imagine trying to carve a sculpture with a chainsaw on your dining room table?!  This means there are lots of costs that the artist’s business has to cover…

Salaries.
Rent/mortgage and utilities.
Insurance.
Health and safety training (especially proper training for using chainsaws and keeping licenses updated)

Insurance and health and safety compliance aren’t things we often think about when we think ‘art’, but as many artists are running business that go beyond themselves, it is one of the costs behind the ‘product’. Simon and Liz are fortunate to have a great consultant they work with to help with this side of things. If you run a business and need some advice, we recommend talking to Acton Health and Safety.

Why is art expensive? Simon O'Rourke is working on a sculpture in the middle of a busy workshop. Running the workshop, insurance, licensing for the chainsaw users etc are some of the costs behind his artwork

Simon at work in the workshop. Covering the costs of running a workshop are some of the underlying costs behind the cost of a commission.

Why is Art Expensive?
Artist’s Time

One of the costs behind a piece of art is paying the artist for the time it takes them to create the piece. That time may not just be the actual creation time either. They will have put time into getting quotes for equipment, finding the costs of materials, going back and forth with the client in conversation to find out what they really want. They will also put time into research and sometimes practice.

When Simon is asked to create something, he needs to take time researching the subject. That may look like hours on the internet looking at lion paws, as he did for these big cats. It may mean googling the clothing of a particular period as he did for these miners and the cricketer. His most recent portrait even included trying to establish if Shakespeare was left or right-handed! Portraits of real people, in particular, need him to spend time really trying to learn something about the person’s character and life, as he did for the Ayrton Senna bust.

This time and these details can be what makes the difference between a very good sculpture and an excellent one. And so, when you pay for a piece of art, you are getting the physical piece, but also the artist’s time!

ayrton senna bust by simon o'rourke in foreground. It is in progress. In the background Simon looks at a wall of senna photos, checking the details for his sculpture

Thorough research and preparation ensure excellence in Simon’s pieces

Why is Art Expensive?
Training, Expertise, Experience & Reputation

This last category of costs is a little harder to quantify than all the others. In every industry, we set salaries according to how much responsibility the person has, how much training and how much experience. Teacher salaries increase each year to a certain point. Gaining a Masters can lead to an increase in salary as a nurse. Many salaries are set taking into account how much the person paid for their training as well as the incredible amount of knowledge, skill and expertise they have. A consultant is able to charge more when they have gained experience and proven their capability.

We recognise these unquantifiable things make a difference to the ‘product’ we are receiving.

And so it is in the art world.
When we pay for a piece of art, we are gaining something we can’t count. What we see represents years of training, reading, watching, practice. Making mistakes. Learning better methods. Trying different tools. Tears. Sweat. Coaching. Starting over.

When you pay for a commission, you are getting all of that as well as the physical piece you take home… something that really can’t be valued.

simon o'rourker with his sculpture 'the dragon of bethesda'

When Simon carves a dragon like this, it is informed by years of sketching and carving other dragons.

Commissioning a Piece

We hope this has helped you think about what you are getting when you commission and pay for one of Simon’s sculptures – or any piece of art!

Simon often takes on a lot of public sculptures and loves for art to be accessible to as many as possible. For this reason, he is very reasonable in his costing. We do recognise though that for many people, owning art is a luxury, and cost can be off-putting.
However, Simon will also do what he can to ensure that cost isn’t the reason a potential client doesn’t go ahead with a commission. As we mentioned in our blog about ‘the sculptures that didn’t make the cut‘, if a potential client says ‘no’ based on cost, Simon will often have other ideas that could help bring the price down.

Maybe it’s size.
Maybe it’s less detail.
Perhaps it’s using different wood…

sketch by simon o'rourke of a potential sculpture of an unknown female

After Simon has made initial suggestions, he will chat with you about any changes, whether that be cost, material or design

So, if you are thinking about commissioning a piece, don’t assume that the initial quote is a final one. Although there are very real costs that often can’t be altered, Simon will also do what he can to make suggestions that match the budget you have, where he can. Don’t be afraid to ask!

You can start that commissioning process at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

We look forward to hearing from you!

commissioning the best sculpture: a sketch of a lion by simon o'rourke. It is the head and front legs on a lion standing on a plinth. the lion is suggested to be Aslan from C S Lews' Narnia series.

Commissioning the Right Sculpture – Why Some Designs Make the Cut, (!!!!), and Others Don’t!

Commissioning the Right Sculpture – Why Some Designs Make the Cut, (!!!!), and Others Don’t! 1430 2048 Simon O'Rourke

It’s probably no surprise that Simon has an archive of sketches that never became sculptures. There are all kinds of reasons for this. It is SO important for a piece of commissioned art to be EXACTLY what the client wants. This means that no matter how great an idea, sometimes it just doesn’t work out for a sculpture to be realised. Perhaps the design just isn’t quite what the client wants. Sometimes the budget, location, timing, or feel just don’t come together. In this blog, we share some of Simon’s sketches that didn’t ‘make the cut’!!! (see what we did there?!) and explore some of his thoughts on those sculptures. We also have some tips on commissioning the right sculpture for yourself…

Commissioning the right sculpture means exploring a variety of designs. Picture shows a faded photo of a garden with a tree stump. Simon O'Rourke has sketched his proposed sculpture over the photo so the client can imagine what that piece would look like. Proposed sculpture is a Japanese dragon wrapped round the trunk.

Simon will often overlay his design over a photo of the tree to help the client visualise the finished piece.

Commissioning the Right Sculpture: The Process

Essentially, the first step in exploring a commission is for Simon to produce a sketch and costs for the sculpture. If the tree is a standing stump, he will often sketch his ideas over a photo of the tree which makes it easier for the client to visualise the finished piece. Sometimes there will be some conversation about modifications (design and budget). Sometimes though, the conversation ends at this point. The design may be revisited for another client in the future. Occasionally Simon may have the opportunity to use it for a competition. Often though, that idea is archived, and those are some of the sketches we’re sharing here today.

Picture shows sketches of two different potential horse sculptures by Simon O'Rourke. Above each is text explaining the size, material and costs. Proposals like this are a key part in commissioning the right sculpture by an artist.

Proposals include details of size, material, and costs, and often include more than one suggestion

Simon’s Perspective:

As well as sharing some of Simon’s unused sketches, we wanted to ask his perspective on these pieces that never became sculptures…

commissioning the right sculpture: a sketch of a lion by simon o'rourke. It is the head and front legs on a lion standing on a plinth. the lion is suggested to be Aslan from C S Lews' Narnia series.

An archived sketch for an Aslan sculpture

Q: Simon, how does it feel when a customer says no to a sculpture?

A: “It depends on why they say no if it’s because of budget, I will always offer an alternative option. I never the price to put off a customer.”

Client tips:
  • Rather than being disappointed by a proposal for an unaffordable sculpture, mention your budget when you first begin exploring ideas.
  • If you are commissioning a piece for a public space it is also worth researching grants or considering crowdfunding.
sketch of a crocodile emerging from long grass. the sketch is a proposal by sculpture simon o'rourke. sketches like this are a vital part in commissioning the best sculpture.

An idea Simon had for a reptilian sculpture

Is it helpful when a customer has a firm idea of what they would like?

“Yes, it’s really helpful as it gives me a starting point for the design.”

Client tips:
  • Share as much as you can about what you are looking for in a sculpture. This can include pictures of other sculptures you like, artists you admire, or a specific style or story you want. Although Simon will never copy the work of another artist, it helps him come up with a design that is more likely to be perfect for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to come back to Simon with specific changes or tweaks. Your satisfaction with the finished piece is the most important thing, and dialogue (as we mentioned in our St George and the Dragon blog) is a big part of that.
Sketch of a proposed sculpture by Simon O'Rourke. It features a giant Prometheus leaning down and giving fire to a small human.

A proposal for a sculpture of Prometheus

Q: Are there any designs you have done or sketches that you have produced that you wish the client would have said yes to and why?

A: Yes, I designed a Marionnette for a client, similar to the one I’d done at the HuskyCup 2007!! Sadly the customer didn’t have the budget for it after the other sculptures he’d already commissioned from me!!!

Client tip:

Of course, we understand sometimes a sculpture just can’t happen. That said if you would like a collection of commissioned art pieces but budget is an issue, consider ways of using them to generate income. Could you open your garden on certain days as part of a town art trail? Or hire out the sculpture for events?

proposal sketch for a sculpture by simon o'rourke. the sketch shows a giant 'treefolk' while he talks to a young boy. marionette sitting

The original sketch for a marionette sculpture.

Q: If there was one thing that you could sculpt, that no other Sculptor had made, what would it be and why?

A: It would be a huge dragon, like, huge, that moved and breathed fire, and just looked awesome, and completely embodied all of the ideals of the mythological descriptions and imaginations of what we, today, think of as, a dragon!!!!!

Client tip:

Part of commissioning the best sculpture can be finding the right artist. If you have a sculpture in mind, research artists and see if any have a particular passion or focus that ties in with what you want. For example, somebody wanting a dancer in Impressionist style would do well to find a sculpture who admires and emulates Degas. For people wanting human form, dragons or fantasy sculpture, Simon has an incredible portfolio.

Sketch of a brick tower which has broken in half. Half lies on the floor. A dragon climbs the side of the standing tower. The sketch is a sculpture proposal by Simon O'Rourke, and sketches like this form an important part of commissioning the best sculpture for the client.

An archived ‘dragon and tower’ sketch.

Q: Have you got any regrets when it comes to some of the sketches you’ve done and jobs you’ve not got and if so, why?

A: I feel I could have been more adventurous with some of the public art commissions I’ve been asked to quote for. I’ve erred on the side of caution with some of my proposals and reckon if I’d have gone with my first instinct I would have got the job.

Client tip:

There is a better chance of commissioning the right sculpture if the artists bidding know what you are looking for. Mention particular styles, inspiration, mood etc when you announce a commission opportunity, and all your competing artists are more likely to propose something you love!

sketch of an ent by simon o'rourke.

Simon originally sketched this Ent as an idea for the HuskyCup

Commissioning the Right Sculpture for Yourself

If you are interested in commissioning your own sculpture, we suggest reading our blog “How to Commission a Sculpture“. It will help you understand the process. As you can tell from these unused sketches, we understand that an enquiry doesn’t commit you to a sculpture!
Simon would love to start the conversation with you though!

Or perhaps one of these sketches has caught your attention and you would like to know more about commissioning the piece?

Whatever your hopes for a tree carving sculpture, contact us via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will be in touch!

 

 

who are your influences? photo shows a close up of a wizard carved in oak by simon o'rourke. it has a rough, unrefined and highly textured finish. This is close to the work of influences on him like Rodin and Degas.

FAQs: Who are your influences?

FAQs: Who are your influences? 1080 1080 Simon O'Rourke

One of the questions artists often get asked is ‘Who are your influences?’. Simon is no different as people are curious about his training and inspiration. And so, we thought we would blog about it! Read on to discover some of Simon’s influences as a sculptor.

Who are you influences? Close up of Simon working on the face of a sculpture of a miner. It has a rough imperfect texture similar to influences like Degas or Rosso

Who are your Influences: Storytelling

The first of Simon’s influences is a little bit vague. He was trained in illustration, and at one time had plans to become a freelance illustrator of children’s books. He has had a love for a long time of storytelling, and this spills into all his sculptures. Simon always seeks to tell a story in his work, as if the viewer has been invited into a moment within a story.

Oak sculpture of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He is holding two fish and has turned his head to look to his side, as if he has been startled by something.

This sculpture of Gollum is a great example of Simon creating a story through sculpture.

Who are your Influences: Anatomical Detail

Simon admires the work of Michaelangelo and Bernini for their attention to anatomy. In this blog about carving big cats, he talks of the importance of understanding anatomy. For example, the skeleton, how the muscles lie, and how the animal moves. This understanding is absolutely crucial to creating sculptures that are realistic and believable. Obviously this determines things like proportions and size. It also dictates angles of limbs, how far a head turns, where shadows fall, and more.

Who are your influnces? Photo shows David by Michaelangelo, one of simon o'rourkes influences in terms of his attention to anatomy

“David” by Michaelangelo is a classic example of the artist’s attention to anatomical detail

Who are your Influences: Impressionist Sculptors

Whilst Simon pays attention to anatomy in the same way as artist like Michaelangelo, it’s clear he has a very different style. If he had to categorise his style, Simon himself would consider himself more of an impressionist sculptor.

Who are your influences? Photo shows head of john the baptist; a sculpture by Rodin. It has a rough, imperfect finish that has influenced Simon O'Rourke

Head of John the Baptist by Rodin, one of Simon’s influences.

Impressionism in sculpture is a little harder to define than in painting. In fact, there are several different definitions, as this blog about Impressionist sculpture explains. A couple of key points though are ‘concentration on fleeting motion’, and an imperfect, loose, finish. This is seen in the work of artists such as Degas, Rodin and Rosso.

That unrefined finish or high level of texture is something of a trademark of Simon’s work. He frequently lets the natural texture of the wood show, or chooses to carve in a way that enhances the natural twists, turns and grain of the wood. This less refined finish is much more fitting to wood than trying to create something perfect. It really matches the aesthetic of the wood much better too than something more refined, as well as being more true to Simon’s love of the outdoors and nature.

For those interested in creating a similar effect in their work, this blog about Simon’s favourite tools has some tips and tools for achieving this finish.

who are your influences? photo shows a close up of a wizard carved in oak by simon o'rourke. it has a rough, unrefined and highly textured finish. This is close to the work of influences on him like Rodin and Degas.

The unrefined, textured finish to this wizard is inspired by artists like Rodin

Who are your Influences: Other Chainsaw Carvers

An obvious source of influence and inspiration is other chainsaw artists. Some of Simon’s favourite chainsaw artists include Hikaru Kodama from Japan, Scott Dow from Pennsylvania, US, and Chris Foltz from Oregon, US. He’s fortunate too to be able to call them friends! When it comes to chainsaw artists, there are numerous others too as you might expect – but far too many to name here!

what are your influences? Photo shows an intricate wood sculpture of a dinosaur by Scoot Dow. Scott is one of the chainsaw artists admired by fellow sculptor Simon O'Rourke

A recent piece by Scott Dow, one of Simon’s chainsaw artist influences

Who are your Influences: Final thoughts

As with any artist, it’s impossible to reduce influences to just one or two. Really, our influences end up being a lifetime of experiences and exposure to both the natural and created world. Light. Lines. Colour. Shapes. Books. Cinematography. Landscapes. These are just some of the things that we see around us every day, and process, and determine what is ‘beautiful’ to us.
So although we have narrowed down Simon’s influences to these three paragraphs, there is also a much bigger, fuller world that has influenced his art.

With that said, what are some of the things that influence you in your art? Drop us and let us know how you express yourself (music? drawing? dance? sculpture?) and who influences you. We’d love to know!

who are your influences? photo shows a close up of drapery/twisted cloth on a simon o'rourke sculpture. the unrefined, textured finish is reminiscent of impressionist influnces on him such as Rodin and Degas

The cloth on The Marbury Lady is another example of Simon’s loose, unrefined, textured aesthetic

If you love Simon’s aesthetic and would like your own sculpture, contact him via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to commission a piece or ask for more information.

The Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke. Oak is the best wood for a sculpture according to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

FAQs: What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture?

FAQs: What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture? 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome back to our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ series! This week we answer one of Simon’s most commonly asked questions. That is, ‘What is the best wood for a sculpture?’.

Simon O'Rourke uses a chainsaw to carve a lifesize portrait of Ken Dodd

What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture: Sustainability

So, the first thing we want to mention is something more personal and subjective. That is the sustainability and sourcing of the wood. Trees are an important part of our ecosystem, and although Simon loves wood as a material, he doesn’t believe in cutting down a healthy tree to source timber. All his sculptures are made from trees that were no longer viable for different reasons. Our team knows those reasons as ‘The Four D’s”: dead, dying, diseased or dangerous. So basically, the best wood for a sculpture always some from a tree that fits one of those D’s.

What is the best wood for a sculpture? Redwood ranks at No 3. Photo shows an example of a redwood sculpture, the european wolf at Fforest Fawr

The redwood used for the Sculpture Trail in Fforest Fawr was from a tree that had to be cut down as it had become a danger to the public.

What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture: Durability

One of the key factors in what makes the best wood for a sculpture is durability. Especially for sculptures that will be outdoors in the wind and rain! But, as we said in the blog ‘Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture’, wood is not an exact science. This means although the woods we mention here are generally the longest-lasting, we can’t really give an exact life span! It also means that the list that we give is very much Simon’s opinion based on experience and his own research. There may be others who disagree or recommend other woods – and that’s OK!
So, without further ado, here are the top five (in Simon’s opinion!) woods for an outdoor sculpture*

What is the best wood for a sculpture? Photo shows a sculpture of an angel in oak standing next to a small pond. The oak is aging and turning a deeper shade of grey, but has no signs of decay.

The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda made in oak is not only durable but as she ages fits in beautifully with the historic property

Best Wood for a Sculpture #1: Oak

Oak is Simon’s number one recommendation for an outside sculpture. It is extremely durable, and in abundance in the UK! In fact, it’s the second most common tree in the country (Birch being most common). It has the bonus of having very defined grain too. This means as it ages, the markings stand out more, making it more striking and emphasising features like the eyes, drapery, or textures like scales. For more of Simon’s thoughts on that aging process, you can read our blog How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?
The oak maiden below is one of the many, many examples of Simon’s oak sculptures.

The Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke. Oak is the best wood for a sculpture according to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

This aptly named ‘Oak Maiden‘ shows an example of freshly carved oak.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #2: Cedar

Coming in as Simon’s number two best wood for a sculpture is cedar.
Cedar wood is extremely durable and holds up well to outdoor weather conditions. Because of this, it’s often used for fencing. It smells great, ages to a beautiful silver-grey, and looks amazing freshly-carved, as this Radagast sculpture shows.

Cedar is the second best wood for sculpture according to simon o'rourke. Pictrure shows an example of a cedar carving : A wizard holding a staff

Simon made Radagast The Brown from diseased cedar.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #3: Redwood

Redwood ranks at number three of Simon’s preferred timber in terms of durability. They can grow to 300ft, making them one of the tallest trees in the world. Girth is an important factor in suitability of a piece of wood for carving. This is definitely not an issue with redwood! It’s not unheard of for them to breathe fire too like this redwood dragon created for The Dragon Tower.

george clark stands in front of a small stone building. The building has a redwood dragon mounted above the door. The dragon is breathing fire. Created by Simon O'rourke from redwood, his number three recommended best wood for a sculpture.

Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces earlier this year.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #4: Yew

Yew trees rank at number four in Simon’s recommended wood for an outdoor sculpture. Yew trees don’t always get the best press. Not only are they toxic, but they are also said to be a symbol of death and doom. BUT! They  DO make great sculptures! They are durable, and the wood has lovely purple or deep brown undertones, as you can see in this fairytale dragon scene Simon created…

photo shows a garden. One the right is a dragon carved from yew. On the left two fairytale towers also carved from yew. Shown as an example of the fourth best wood for sculpture that will be outdoors.

Simon created this scene from yew trees that had to be cut back.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #5: Sweet Chestnut

Our final wood to be featured today is sweet chestnut. It’s extremely important to note ‘sweet chestnut‘ NOT horse chestnut! Sweet chestnut is the tree that produces the nuts we eat at Christmas (speaking of which, have you indulged yet?!). It stands up well against wind and rain, and has a girth of around 2m. This means it’s great for an outside sculpture. Horse chestnut however rots extremely quickly and is one of the worst woods for an outdoor sculpture!
Sweet chestnut was the choice of both the wood and frame in this memorial for a local school teacher.

chair with a daffodil carved into the back. to the left is a framed mosaic. it is made of sweet chestnut, the fifth best wood for a sculpture according to simon o'rourke

What About Other Trees?

Of course, these top five are not the only woods for a sculpture. If you follow Simon on social media, you will have seen examples of his work in elm, walnut, and monkey puzzle from the last year alone. In some cases these trees would otherwise have been cut down, and this is a way of extending their life in a new way. This walnut fairy is just one example.

fairy carved into a standing tree stump around 2m tall

This fairy was carved into a standing walnut stump

If you have a tree that fits one of those Four D’s (dead, dying, diseased or dangerous) and you would like a wood sculpture by Simon, it’s definitely worth contacting him to chat. He will be able to determine if the timber will work or not.
Contact him on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to start the conversation.
We look forward to hearing from you!

*We have talked about most durable wood as much of Simon’s work is for commissions that will remain outside. If you are interested in a sculpture for indoors, there are many more options available to you. Contact Simon using the link above to find out more.

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

We’ve often talked about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, and earlier this year we brought you virtual tours of Meadow Park, Page’s Wood, and Fforest Fawr. We wanted to answer some of the questions people often have, so here is our quick guide to woodland sculpture trails.

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke: european lynx sculpture in redwood located in fforest fawr

Simon’s European Lynx in Fforest Fawr

What is a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

At their most basic, Woodland sculpture trails are a series of sculptures based on a specific theme. Those sculptures are then stationed around a guided walk in a woodland area. Guests follow a prescribed route, and view the sculptures as they walk. The theme can be anything from local animals to fictional characters. Simon is happy to create either, but usually, people want something connected with the local environment.
In the past Simon and Liz have written stories for two of the trails, so there is a strong tie between the individual sculpture. For a third there was no central character, but they provided information in verse form for each sculpture.

Wooden sculpture of an owl on top of a tree trunk. The sculpture is part of the meadow park sculpture trail by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the Owl is the central character of the Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture Trail

What Are the Benefits of Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Woodland sculpture trails have many benefits. We detail them more in this blog ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail?‘. In brief though, a few of the reasons include that they give individuals and families an extra reason to make the effort of visiting your site. They convey information in a fun, understandable way which is more likely to be retained than reading a flyer or placard. That means they help convey or reinforce your message, or tell your story. This is [probably the biggest reason we like these commissions so much. We are passionate about the environment and love that we can be part of educating people and calling them to take their part in caring for the earth.
In addition, they make great photo opportunities. As people post those photos online, it gives you some free publicity too!

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

Ruby the Owl meets new friends at Meadow Park, and learns about their homes.

What About the Story?

There are many reasons to have a story included in the trail. People engage more with characters and stories than with isolated snippets of information. They are fun, with an element of whimsy – like reading Wind in the Willows, or The Animals of Farthing Wood.
In turn, this means they are more likely to read the information and retain what they read. Simple verse form means that children can also join in and understand. One of the benefits to a story rather than stand-alone verses is that people are more likely to complete the full trail to, to discover the full story.
Simon and Liz have written the stories in the past. However, clients are free to choose other routes – including no story at all! They can provide the story themselves if they prefer, or could involve a local community group or school in the project.

sculpture of an owl watching a fox emerging from a hole in a tree trunk. It forms park of meadow park trail, one of simon o'rourke's sculpture trails

Ruby the Owl meets a fox at Meadow Park

What Goes in a Woodland Sculpture Trail Story?

Ideally, the story helps convey information about the local area. Simon and Liz then make the final sculpture a call to action, encouraging people to do their part in caring for the environment.
For the Meadow Park trail, Simon and Liz created the character of Ruby the Owl. Ruby was looking for a home for herself. She met other woodland animals along the way, saw their homes, and discovered why they wouldn’t work for her.
In the picture above, for example, the accompanying verse reads:

By the roots of a tree,
in a hole in the ground,
A fox with a bushy red tail is found.
Is this my home?
Lined with soil and bark?
I don’t like it here, it’s much too dark!

In Page’s Wood, the two protagonists (Verity Vole and Horatio Hedgehog) travel around the woodland, and the animals they meet tell them about their homes.

Wooden sculpture of a frog from Page's Wood, one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

The frog from the Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

How Much Do Woodland Sculpture Trails Cost?

There are too many variables to give a guide here. Things like size, number of sculptures, type of wood, and how the wood is being sourced are big factors. Whether the sculptures are carved on-site or in Simon’s workshop alters the cost too due to the need to hire additional equipment.
If you are interested, chat to Simon about it via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

The cost of a trail can seem offputting initially. However, woodland sculpture trails can help you adapt your site to having more outdoor activities (making them part of covid adaptations). They can be part of environmental education, or an arts and culture initiative. This means there may be grants available to help you with the cost of your woodland sculpture trail. We are also in an age where crowdfunding can be hugely successful and offset some of the costs.

woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. Photo shows a howling wolf in redwood, surrounded by trees. Located in Fforest Fawr.

This wolf forms part of the Fforest Fawr trail.

How Do I Commission a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

A big commission can seem intimidating, but Simon makes the whole process as easy as possible and will guide you through each step.
Firstly, there will need to be a decision about the theme, and any specific sculptures. Researching and getting creative is something Simon loves though, so don’t worry if you feel stuck for ideas.
You can come to Simon with as vague or specific of a concept/vision as you have, and he will put together a proposal for you to discuss. This will include sketches, the story (if required), and costings.

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

Can I see Past Examples of Your Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Yes!
There are a few ways to do this.

1. Go and visit!
Trails are located in Fforest Fawr, Page’s Wood, and Meadow Park.

2. On Simon’s website
We have virtual tours of each of the woodland sculpture trails mentioned in this article at
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trails-meadow-park/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trail-pages-wood/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/fforest-fawr-woodland-sculpture-trail/
And there is also a Meadow Park case study.

3. Check local media
Each of the trails has been covered by local press, and can easily be found through a google search. It’s good to see how the trails were received by locals, and the excitement and enthusiasm they can generate for your woodland.

Simon O'Rourkes fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail: A Red Deer. Lifesized, created with chainsaws from redwood

I Don’t Have a Woodland But Could a Trail Work For Me?

YES! We’ve talked about woodland sculpture trails here because they have been popular commissions and tie in with Simon and Liz’s passion for the environment. But a sculpture trail can benefit ANY attraction, as we mentioned in ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail’.
A sculpture trail should serve you, and figures can be created to tie in with any theme, message or history of the area.
It can also be something just for fun! Simon has created two Alice in Wonderland trails in the past, as well as an ‘apple trail’ for a local National Trust property as part of their Autumn activities.
The only limit to the possibilities is imagination!

Alice in Wonderland and Queen of Hearts sculptures from one of Simon O'Rourke's wooden sculpture trails

The Queen of Hearts and Alice from one of Simon’s two Alice in Wonderland trails

How Do I Contact You?

Simon is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which are all great for viewing his work too. However, the best way is to use the contact form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.Whatever your idea or questions, we’d love to hear from you.
And if you do happen to participate in a trail, why not tag Simon in a photo? It’s always fun to see people enjoying his work!

 

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last? 2560 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Diary of a chainsaw carver – The ticking clock…

No this isn’t about actual clocks, although Simon did create a working longcase clock once!! This is actually about a question Simon is often asked: How will my wood sculpture age?
And it’s a very valid question. They say time waits for no man, and it certainly doesn’t hang around when it comes to how long wood lasts outdoors! When Simon is asked how long a sculpture will last, he usually has a two word answer: “it depends!”

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a wooden sculpture of a grandfather clock, turning an ashy grey colour. There are no signs of splits or cracks.

The grandfather clock made by Simon, now turning an ashy grey colour

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Structure of the Sculpture

One factor which determines how long your wood sculpture will last is the wood. Basically, different wood lasts for different lengths of time. And this differs again depending on the environment it’s in! Honestly, there are really no definite answers! With any of the factors creating numerous fluctuations in longevity, it’s not an exact science. This means although Simon may have an idea, there are no definite answers.

So which timber should you choose? Understanding that this much uncertainty means Simon only has personal experience and information from others to draw on, his conclusion is that Oak, Cedar, Redwood, Cypress, and Sweet Chestnut are among the longest lasting available timbers in this country. So he usually uses those for sculptures, although they are not the only possibilities.

You can expect an untreated sculpture made from any of these timbers to look weathered within a year to two years, and will still keep its shape and structure for a good 20 years or so. Given the fact that we still see solid Oak beams on the exterior of Tudor houses, I think it would last for over 100 years, and still have its shape, although the weather would have worn down the detail on the exterior!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a comparison of a redwood sculpture two years on. The sculpture is the brown otter in Fforest Fawr. In the first the wood is a warm, vivid red colour. After two years it is fully in tact, but the shadows appear deeper and it is turning a deep brown with cold tones.

This side by side shows a redwood sculpture in Fforest Fawr after about two years of being exposed to the elements.

How Long Will my Wood Sculpture Last: Colour

When Simon creates sculptures, he doesn’t usually add colour. This is because it will wear away eventually and detail that was painted on would be lost. Rather, he loves to over-exaggerate depth and form in his work to create contrast using shadow. This will stand the test of time and still work as a sculpture in decades to come. In fact, often as the wood changes colour, the shadows appear to deepen, and the sculpture is more striking.

All this said, creating something that lasts forever isn’t his goal. He loves the look of weathered wood and feels that the aging process is part of the creativity and part of the art. Environmental artists like   Andy Goldsworthy share this sentiment. Although it has to be said that Simon’s sculptures last MUCH longer – some Goldsworthy pieces change the instant the wind or tide changes!

This example shows how this Redwood face sculpture has taken on a different feel having been bleached by the sun and worn by the wind! Although always impressive, the sculpture is now striking. Just look at that pupil!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

This photo of one of Simon’s face sculptures shows some of the colour changes that take place over time.

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Telling A Story

Wood is always evolving, whether in life or death. The growth rings in wood tell their own history. As time passes, each growth ring becomes more prominent, as the faster-grown spring wood wears away quicker than the slower grown summer wood.

We often do so much to preserve art and keep it behind glass for future generations, but isn’t a reflection of a natural material. Life is fragile and temporary, and aging is a natural and beautiful process which we need to embrace, not fight.

Wood sculptures, like ourselves, will weather and deteriorate over time, but every split, knot, and wrinkle tells a story!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows Simon's European Lynx in fforest fawr. At two years old, it is now a deep reddish-brown.

The European Lynx in Fforest Fawr.

Your Own Sculpture.

If you would like to commission a sculpture, contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
He would love to hear from you!

Thank you to My Tongwynlais for the updated photos of the sculpture trail.

How to commission a sculpture: picture shows a side by side of Simon O'rourke's original sketch and a finished sculpture of George and the Dragon. Minor changes were made to accomodate the flaws in the wood

How to Commission A Sculpture

How to Commission A Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

How do I commission a sculpture?

If you find yourself thinking about commissioning a bespoke wood sculpture, you may be wondering where to start. The first thing is I want to make it as easy as possible for you to commission your own sculpture! So this is how I guide you through that process…

Bulldog sculpture by simon o'rourke. Visit blog to find out how to commission a sculpture of your own pet

Pets portraits are a popular subject for commissions

How to Commission A Sculpture: The Timber.

If you have your own tree stem you would like me to sculpt, I’ll need to see as many pictures as possible. I also need to know what the dimensions are. It’s not always possible for me to visit and see it for myself, so it’s important I get all the information so that I can give a price. At this stage, I can tell you what species the tree is and how suitable for sculpting it is. You can also check the basic requirements for yourself too in this blog about the suitability of your tree for a sculpture.

If you don’t have a tree or a log, or your own wood isn’t suitable, don’t worry! I can source any size of good quality timber.

How to commission a sculpture: photo shows a sketch of a man measuring the circumference of the tree to check if it is suitable for a sculpture.

Measuring dimensions is one of the first steps in determining the suitability of a tree for a bespoke wooden sculpture.

 

How to Commission A Sculpture: The Design

The next step is to discuss designs. Prior to producing any drawings, I ask for a deposit to secure the commission. I start with verbal ideas of what can be done, and can give examples of the quality and style in which your sculpture will be created.

Once you’re happy with my ideas, and a 50% deposit is paid, I will produce a drawing of what your sculpture will look like. Depending on the limitations of the wood, or unseen anomalies in the wood, the design may alter slightly when I create the sculpture.

How to commission a sculpture: picture shows a side by side of Simon O'rourke's original sketch and a finished sculpture of George and the Dragon. Minor changes were made to accomodate the flaws in the wood

This side by side of George and the Dragon shows some of the minor changes that may be needed.

How to Commission A Sculpture: The Creation

When the creation of the sculpture has begun, I record the process, either with still photos or using time-lapse photography. It’s always exciting to see the figure emerging from the wood! As an example, you can watch the timelapse of the St George and the Dragon sculpture below. Or check out my You Tube Channel and Facebook page for more.

On completion of the sculpture, whether it was completed at my workshop or created from your own tree, the most satisfying part of the process is seeing the delight on your face when you see the finished piece!

How to Commission a Sculpture: Telling Your Story

Your sculpture is a part of your story. That’s why I want to make it as easy as possible for you to commission your very own beautiful sculpture. Whether it’s a much-loved pet, a reflection of a passion/hobby, or something to reflect your heritage, it’s a privilege to create it.

Hot to commission a sculpture: A couple stand either side of a sculpture of a Sri Lankan lion, commissioned to reflect their heritage

This Sri Lankan Lion sculpture reflects the heritage of the client

If you would like to commission a sculpture or chat more, contact me via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact. You can also read more testimonials on my Testimonials page.

Photo shows a comparison of Simon O'Rourke's original sketch for a wooden Sherlock Holmes bust and the finished sculpture.

This Sherlock Holmes bust was commissioned as a gift for a fan.

Please note: We hope you can appreciate that at certain times of the year, Simon’s calendar can get quite full. We do encourage you to get in touch as soon as possible if your commission is needed for a specific occasion like a birthday or anniversary, so he can do his best to fit it in.

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!

tips for carving big cats: a large sculpture of a roaring lion shows the importance of accurate proportions when sculpting.

Tips for Carving Big Cats

Tips for Carving Big Cats 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

As a sculptor, there are certain subjects that Simon is known for, and often asked to create. Fictional characters and dragons are definitely in the top two. Another popular subject for sculptures is the lion. In fact, any big cat!
Over the years Simon has created many sculptures of big cats, including lions, tigers and cheetahs. A couple of those sculptures that people have especially enjoyed include The Guardian and the Sri Lankan Lion. Carving the same subject allows for a lot of learning and refining. Since Simon recently created the lion family photographed below, we thought we would share some of his tips for carving big cats…

Tips for carving big cats by simon o'rourke. Photo shows a lion family Simon created from two separate tree trunks. One shows a male lion twisted to look in the direction of the second trunk which shows a lioness climbing down the trunk to reach a cub.

A lion family diptych Simon created this year

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Research

The starting point for a realistic sculpture of a big cat, is research. The goal of that research is to understand the underlying structure of the animal. That includes the skeleton, how the muscles lie (and where), and how each individual body part is formed. For example, understanding the paws is an area of study in itself. This is important because the proportions of the animal are dictated by its skeleton and muscles. They also dictate what positions the big cat may be in, and the shape we see on the outside.
Other research includes things like texture and direction of the fur and how it contrasts between different parts of the body.
If you are looking for a good basic tutor, Deviant Art has a big cat blog series that is worth checking out.
Once you have a good understanding of anatomy, you can move forward with your sculpture.

tips for carving big cats: a large sculpture of a roaring lion shows the importance of accurate proportions when sculpting.

The skeleton abnd muscle structure determin the proportions and shape of the sculpture.

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Determining a Realistic Pose

Understanding the underlying structure of a big cat allows you to move forward into creating your sculpture. It’s important to consider what your big cat is doing; what’s the story behind the sculpture? Once you have a sense of the story, you can create the basic shape of the animal.
At this point there is sometimes a plot twist or two as Simon discovers cracks or cavities in the wood.
That was the case with the male lion. However, that cavity meant Simon moved the position of the legs slightly, which ultimately created more drama and a sense of story. So don’t worry if you have a surprise or two! With some creative thinking (whilst still considering the basic skeleton and muscle structure) a re-think can actually be a blessing in disguise!

A tree carving by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke. The photo shows a large male lion with his front paws on a pile of rocks. He is twisted to glance over his shoulder. This realistic pose is one of simon's tips for carving big cats.

How realistic that pose will appear is determined not just by the basic shape, but also by emphasis. Simon will often use the tip of a bar to emphasise an indent, curve or a flap of skin. These are the things that help to show which muscles are flexed or relaxed, and where the pose is causing the animal to stretch. They also show the size and shape of the muscles which help to give Simon’s big cat sculptures their sense of strength and power.

a chainsaw carving or a lion in process in a workshop.

This photo of the lion in process shows where Simon is choosing to emphasise specific dips, flaps and twists, such as the flank.

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Keep Looking at Your Reference

Especially with big sculptures, being right on top of the sculpture while you carve can mean you lose a sense of perspective. This means it’s important to keep stepping back and looking at your sculpture. Check the proportions. And always check it against your reference for the animal, whether that’s your rough sketches or a series of animal photos. This principle isn’t unique to big cats. Simon often also talks about the importance of this in carving faces which you can read more about in this blog about the golden ratio.

close up of a lion cub carved into a tree trunk by simon o'rourke

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Adding Texture

Once you are happy with the shape of your sculpture, you can begin to add details and texture. Those details are key in conveying the story of a sculpture. For example, in what direction are the eyes looking? If the mouth is open, is the nose smooth showing a more relaxed animal, or is it wrinkled in a snarl?

At this point, Simon will often use something like the Manpatools multicutter. In this video Simon uses the triangle cutter head effectively to create this striking Sri Lankan lion mane.

At this stage, Simon often also uses his favourite range of Saburrtooth burr bits to create texture. They are especially useful for smaller details like claws, eyes, nose, mouth and ears. However, they can also add subtle rounded shapes like cheeks, or the shape of a paw. They really make a big difference and help take his sculptures to a whole new level!

Tips for carving big cats: SImon O'Rourke uses a saburrtooth flame burr bit to create texture on a lion's face

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Practice Makes Perfect

Simon’s final tip is true of everything. If your first big cats aren’t what you want, don’t give up. Practice is are really the biggest factor in improving your big cat sculptures. It really is true that practice makes perfect!

Friday ramblings about my thought process while carving big cats!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Friday, 21 August 2020

Your Own Big Cat Sculpture

Do you have a favourite of the big cat sculptures Simon has made? Drop us a comment and let us know!
And if you would like to commission your own big cat sculpture, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

a roraring lion carved by simon o'rourke

 

 

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces 2048 2047 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask what tools Simon uses to create sculptures. Sometimes that’s hobbyists and professionals, keen to learn from fellow artists. Sometimes it’s from people watching Simon carve live. People are often amazed to find out the chainsaws are the same tools used by tree surgeons!
When it comes to chainsaw, Simon has a long-standing relationship with Stihl. In fact, that relationship actually goes back to the very first time he used a chainsaw! Their quality and functionality make them a firm favourite. However, Simon also uses other powertools to refine his work. In this blog we will talk about his favourite tools for carving faces.

3m tree trunk in the process of being carved into a sculpture of a woman. She is surrounded by scaffolding, and two stihl chainsaws used for carving are photographed in front of the work in progress. Sculpture is the Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke, and the photograph is to show his favourite tools for carving faces.

Simon’s preferred chainsaws are Stihl, for their quality, innovation, and functionality.

 

Favourite Tools for Carving Faces: Saburrtooth Bits

In recent years, Simon has been using Saburrtooth Burr Bits to refine and detail his faces. They have become some of his favourite tools for carving faces especially, and an essential part of his kit. Each of the different shapes come in various sizes and levels of coarseness and can be bought separately or in complete kits. They really help take faces to a whole other level, whether that be the shape and structure or texture.

a close up of Billy Houliston's face carved in oak by simon o'rourke. The face is coarsely textured and demonstrates the impact of some of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces

The texture on the face of Billy Houliston was created with a large flame bit, extra coarse

1: Large Extra Coarse Flame Bit

The first of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the large flame bit, in extra coarse. It’s often the first of the smaller tools that Simon uses to create faces. It’s not only great for shaping, but also leaves the fantastic textured finish seen in sculptures like The Queen of the South footballers.

extra coarse large flame bit by saburrtooth, which is one of Simon O'Rourke's favourite tools for carving faces

Extra coarse large flame bit by Saburrtooth.

 

This particular bit is extremely versatile, has all kinds of uses when carving faces. Simon uses it to shape the corner of the eyes, form the bridge of the nose, and create the outline of the eye sockets. It’s also his tool of choice for the shaping underneath the chin, down the side of the mouth, and other gentle creases. This photo of it in action on the face of The Marbury Lady Sculpture again demonstrates the great texture it creates.

close up of a sculpture in process. the sculpture is a female face created by simon o'rourke and her face is being detailed using a daburrtooth flame bit, one of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces.

The extra coarse large flame bit in action on The Marbuty Lady

2: Large Coarse Taper Bit

Just like the flame bit, it’s obvious how the taper bit got its name! Like the flame bit, this taper is also essential in Simon’s kit.

coarse taper bit made by saburrtooth. photo demonostrates simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

One of the saburrtooth large taper bits in coarse grit

It’s another extremely versatile tool, and has two main uses depending on which side is used. Simon uses the point to shape the corners of the eyes, in both animal and human faces. It can also be used for the nostrils or lip line. As the tip is still quite wide, there won’t be very strong definition in these facial features yet, but it’s a useful starting point.
The other benefit comes from the flat side which is amazing for creating outlines and rounded shapes.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to use a flat edge for rounded features, the flat edge is definitely superior for creating convex curves, such as cheeks. The forehead, cheeks, neck and chin on Our Lady of Pen Llyn are perfect examples of curves you can create with this tool.

life size sculpture of a young female carved from oak by Simon O'Rourke

Simon often uses the flat side of the large taper bit for gentle convex curves like the cheeks, forehead and chin on Our Lady of Penllyn

3: Small Flame Bit

The next of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is (in his words) “a brilliant little tool“. It’s the small flame bit, and as with all the bits, comes in a variety of grains from fine to extra coarse.

small flame bit by saburrtooth. photo is included to show one of simon o'rourke's favourite tools for carving faces.

One of the small flame bits by Saburrtooth

When sculpting human form, Simon can’t rely on some on colour to create expression and shape. This means he has to create a realistic appearance, life, and expression through the shape and crucially,  differing depths of ‘cuts’.
This bit has a fine tip which can create a finer, deeper cut to refine the face. Some of the applications would be cleaner, clearer nostrils and lips than the taper bit. Simon also used this bit for fine curves and creases, laughter lines, eyebrows, and other creases in the skin caused by movement of the subject. This kind of detail is especially useful for sculptures which will be seen up close, such as the Ayrton Senna bust. Creating something this realistic out of wood replies heavily on the kind of fine, deep lines that the small flame bit creates.

a wood carved bust of F1 driver Ayrton senna in the workshop of creator Simon O'Rourke

close up of simon o'rourke using a fine taper bit to shape the face of a female sculpture. the bit is one of his favourite tools for carving faces.

Fine taper in action on Simon’s Oak Maiden

4: Extra Fine Taper Bit

The fourth of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the extra fine taper. This is used with a small rotary tool, such as a dremel.

Extra fine taper bit by saburrtooth, one of simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

Extra fine taper bit

If you watch the video on Simon’s Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/p/CEVNCZ6jGFW/, you will see this is an extremely thin bit. And thin, fine bits, create thin, fine details! Simon uses this bit for features like creating lines inside of eyelids for a sharper line and more emphasis. He also uses it for the top of eyelids and between the lips. But basically, it is ideal for anywhere you want to create a sharp, fine line.
As you can see, working with these smaller powertools means getting up close and personal with the sculpture! Being right on top of the sculpture can make it hard to get a real sense of what you are creating though. With that in mind, if you are using these tools, be sure to step back often to check. It’s also important when you do that, to assess your piece from multiple angles.

Sculptor Simon O'Rourke carving a wooden fairy at the Englihs Open CHainsaw competition

Some details require getting up close and personal!

5: Eye Bit

There’s a reason the eye bit has its name! With two flat edges moving to round, it’s shaped like a human eye. And – unsurprisingly – is another useful tool for sculpting eyes!

Eye bit by Saburrtooth

Example of an eye bit from the Saburrtooth range

The video below shows it best, but Simon uses this bit for shaping the eye when it is on its side. He also uses the point to emphasise the corners. Either way, it’s another of his favourite tools for carving faces as it provides great results.

Not Just For Humans!

Our examples so far of sculptures made with these favourite saburrtooth bits have all been human form. Although Simon’s favourite subject to sculpt is human form, he is also known for his amazing fantasy and wildlife sculptures. If you haven’t seen any by the way, why not check out the range of his portfolio at https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/ or follow on Instagram or Facebook?
But back to favourite tools!
In the same way that the bits we talked about today can be used for human faces, Simon also uses them when sculpting features on animal carvings. This Sri Lankan Lion sculpture shows how effective these bits are for creating those same textures and lines in fur!

a large coarse flame bit is being used by simon o'rourke to create texture in the mane of a lion sculpture

Large coarse flame bit in action on a lion sculpture

How Do You Use Yours?

We’re sure that tools this versatile have many more applications too. Why not drop us a comment with your favourite bits and how you use them? We’d love to hear from you, and it’s important to learn from other artists. Maybe you picked up some tips? Leave us a comment and photo of what you made – we’d love to see your work!

That just about finishes today’s blog, which we hope you found helpful in helping you select tools for your own projects. Before we go through, we couldn’t resist sharing one last sculpture featuring details created with some of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces. This one is Radagast the Brown from Lord of the Rings, and we just love the texture and lines in the beard and wisened face that help depict Tolkien’s character so perfectly.

radagast the brown from Lord of the Rings carved in wood by simon o'rourke

As always, if you feel inspired by some of the sculptures in this blog and would like to commission your own, contact us through the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.