Pet Portraits

Arb Show 2019

Arb Show 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every year in May, the Aboricultural Association runs its flag ship event: The Arb Show. It describes itself as being “A celebration of the science of trees” – and it definitely lives up to that!

This year the main sponsor for the event was Stihl – who also sponsor Simon! They had a large exhibit at the event, and Simon was invited to take part. Over the two days he performed demonstrations of chain saw carving, and met with people to talk about his art.

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

Simon at the Stihl Exhibit, Arb Show 2019

 

Simon carved two pieces over the two days, talking people through his process. He used Stihl’s new MS500i chainsaw for the first time to make the first piece; a horse’s head. Looking at the finished piece (can you believe that was a speed carve?!), we’d say it’s a hit!

Simon O'Rourke with the finished speed carve horse

Simon with the finished speed carve horse

 

At the end of each day the pieces were auctioned off for the charity Greenfingers, which creates gardens and respite spaces for children in hospice care across the UK. Thank you to the winning bidders, and we hope you enjoy your sculptures!

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If you’re thinking of coming to check out one of Simon’s demonstrations in future, we thoroughly recommend The Arb Show.

The venue (The National Arboretum), is worth a visit at any time of the year. However, during The Arb Show, you can also enjoy exhibits from companies who work with trees in a whole range of ways.

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

 

Exhibitors range from manufacturers of equipment for people working in forestry to conservation groups, from forest schools to artists using trees. Tree surgeons, tree carvers, timber processors and even tree climbers come along to enjoy the show! In fact, it is also home to the 3ATC open climbing competition!

As well as the expected food stands, there is also entertainment and the opportunity to try your own hand at some of the timber sports – or even axe throwing!

With camping on site for those who want to spend both days enjoying the show, maybe we’ll see you next year?

It’s a Jungle Out There!

It’s a Jungle Out There! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every year the village of Garderen (Netherlands) is proud to be home to Zandsculpturenfestijn. It describes itself as  ‘Europe’s most beautiful sand sculpture park’  and has won several regional tourist awards. As well as sand sculpture, the outdoor part of the exhibit also features wooden carvings, and Simon was invited to contribute again this year.

Simon working on his exhibit – easily identifiable by his Stihl clothing!

The theme for the year (‘Journey Round the World’) gave a LOT of scope for the artists to create natural wonders, architecture, people and animals. The artists who were there at the same time as Simon though all focused on nature, and created animal carvings. Animals make up the majority of Simon’s work at the moment, but as this wasn’t a commission where he had to replicate one specific animal, he decided to stretch himself and try something a little different, inspired by one of the indoor sand pieces.

The exhibit that inspired him was a huge jungle scene with lots of different animals. Simon set himself the challenge of creating something similar which would feature lots of different animals. The result? A hollowed-out seat (or throne) featuring not one or two animals, but 34!

The finished Jungle Seat

The finished Jungle Seat

Simon had a few ideas, but the decision about the final piece was settled by the piece of wood itself! Nick Lumb of Acorn Furniture (where Simon began his carving work) recently said that one of the enjoyable things with working with wood is that you never reach the end of learning about it. Other materials behave a specific way under a specific set of conditions. However, wood is different every time – you never know fully what you will get  until you begin to cut. In this instance, Simon discovered some defects in the centre, so decided to hollow out the timber, and so the ‘seat’ concept was born!

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke at Zandsculpturenfestijn

Two more angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Creating 3d, realistic animals like this is no easy task. Simon had to find a way to create depth when the piece of wood didn’t allow for large, dramatic shapes. The effectiveness of the piece is all down to deep relief cuts to create the shapes of the animals and foliage, with much more shallow cuts and markings to create the outstanding details, such as the smile in the eyes of the sloth, or the slightly grumpy crocodile as well as the varying textures of fur, feather and scales.

Close up of the sloth and crocodile in the Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the sloth and crocodile

Much as we love them, photos of all 34 animals would be a bit much for one blog post. Why don’t you take a look at them here and let us know your favourite? You can also watch this video (posted below for those who can see it) to see Simon’s own explanation of the seat too!

 

 

 

 

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke

In honour of this year’s Earth Day, we thought that we would spend some time in this blog talking about one of Earth’s most vital resources, and the basis for all of Simon’s work: trees!

As the biggest plants on the planet, they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They are also the material that forms the basis for everything that Simon produces , whether life size human form commission, furniture, or accessories (have you ever seen his bowties?!)

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Working with trees as a ‘medium’ wasn’t something Simon had planned as a career when he left school and began his degree in illustration. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon while he built up his illustration portfolio, and began working for the first time with chainsaws – notably Stihl, who, in one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, are now his current sponsors!
Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, he tried his hand at carving. There was something special for him in discovering that “such a potentially destructive tool can be used to create beauty”, and the rest, as they say, is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Even though a sculpture may be planned with sketches drawn and an idea of what it should look like when realised, it has to evolve a lot once the carving actually begins. The grain dictates where the natural strength of the timber is and can give so much inspiration for the shape of a sculpture. Every tree is unique and you never know what you’re going to find when you cut into a piece.

 

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

On a day like earth day when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from and how good it is for the environment.

One advantage of working with a natural material is that although it weathers well (the colouring changes very quickly once outside, and becomes even more interesting with age), eventually it will degrade as all wood does, and is returned to the earth. In addition, all of Simon’s work is carved from trees that have either fallen naturally, or on trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location, such as domestic housing or managed forests and woodlands.One of the most popular examples of this is his carving from earlier in the year of The Dragon of Bethesda, a commission that had its birth in an arboretum owner wishing to do something with a storm-damaged fallen tree.

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

As lovers of the outdoors and environmentally aware citizens, Simon and his wife Liz enjoy the opportunities that they get to educate others too about the resources we have and how to take care of them through their work. Whether it takes the form of educational captions on a nature trail commission, sharing their hearts in interviews, or through Liz’s role as a forest school teacher, their appreciation for the world around them is clear, and not only do they model responsible use of the world’s resources as individuals and businesses, but they also inspire others to do the same.

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the re-purposed wood, using off-cuts from scupltures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the repurposed wood, using off-cuts from sculptures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

If you find yourself with a tree that has fallen or been damaged, why not talk to us about giving it new life as a sculpture for your home or garden? Simon is available to talk about possibilities at [email protected]

 

International Pet Day

International Pet Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

11th April was International Pet Day and as a bunch of animal lovers, we loved seeing all the photos of pets that appeared online. Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so we thought that in honour of International Pet Day, we’d use this blog to share with you some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’

Our first is ‘Cheila’, a German Shepherd completed around this time last year.

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O’Rourke

After purchasing Simon’s ‘Lion Cub’ sculpture at a Born Free charity dinner around 18 months ago (a charity very close to our heart due to our involvement with the ‘Pawtraits’ book and exhibition a few years ago which featured Virginia McKenna), our clients – Steven and Leslie Smith – decided that they would like to commission Simon to produce a life size sculpture of their beloved dog, Cheila, to immortalise her in wood.

Simon spent time measuring Cheila and photographing her here at the workshop when Steven and Leslie came to visit, to make sure that the sculpture was absolutely accurate and then drew a number of sketches of her in the pose that Steven had requested in order to best capture all of her wonderful features, characteristics and quirks that make her, ‘Cheila’.

Needless to say that they were absolutely thrilled with the finished piece and wrote us a fantastic testimonial to back that up which you can find here.

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Our most recent Pet Portrait was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process and are fascinated watching Simon in action, so last week he got out his Olfi Action Camera, so you can see him at work!

I finished a bust of a #Weimaraner dog yesterday! Here's some action footage shot on an Olfi action camera!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Saturday, 20 April 2019

 

Of course, not everybody has room for a sculpture of their pet, and as the saying goes, ‘We have an app for that’!!! Well, not really an app, but a solution! Other clients over the years have opted to take advantage of Simon’s illustration training, and commissioned instead, a portrait on flat wooden ‘panels’.

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

If you are interested in having a Pet Portrait, whether sculpture or illustration, please get in touch with us at [email protected]
Simon is able to work from photos or in-person ‘sittings’ and we’d love to talk with you about your vision.
Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, just visit his portfolio on the new website.

We leave you this week with some examples of other pets; Debbie the cat and Dan the horse!
And of course, no International Pet Day Blog would be complete without our own O’Rourke pet and Tree Carving mascot, Poppy – photographed here ready for a day of work and, -just like Simon –  wearing her Stihl clothing!

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving ‘mascot’ wearing her Stihl gear!