Public Sculptures

Sculptures created by Simon O’Rourke that are viewable by the public

Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture

Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

When we think about ‘celebrity deaths’ over the last 25 years, many tragic or difficult stories come to mind. We think of many phenomenally talented individuals where we lament the loss, and the potential unfulfilled. None more so than Brazilian F1 driver, Ayrton Senna.
2019 marked 25 years since his tragic death at the San Marino Grand Prix. Anniversary tributes appeared in the media over the year, and caught Simon’s attention as he remembered ‘F1’s darkest weekend‘. Fascinated by Senna’s character and story, Simon decided to create his own memorial to the legend: this Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture.

Ayrton Senna Tribute sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Choosing the Timber

Simon wanted the sculpture to not only look like a fitting tribute, but to also reflect, tell or share some of Senna’s story. For that reason, he took his time selecting the wood.

Eventually he found a piece of oak through a local farmer that he decided was perfect. However, it wasn’t just the size and shape that made it ‘the one’. Simon was looking for a piece of timber which had shared some of its lifetime with Senna himself.

Knowing the date this particular oak was felled meant Simon could count the growth rings and find the piece of timber that was alive and growing during Senna’s lifetime. This led to a unique feature on his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture. Simon has marked out on Senna’s shoulder the growth rings for 1960-1994; the 34 years of Senna’s life.

growth rings for senna's lifetime marked on the ayrton senna tribute sculpture by simon o'rourke

Reflecting Character

When Simon carves a real person, his concern is not just for the physical features – although that is immensely important to him. He is also concerned about reflecting the character of the person. That meant Simon had to get to know afresh the character he had seen on screen as a teenager. Books, photographs, interviews, articles and documentaries helped re-introduce Simon to the person of Ayrton Senna.
It became clear that Senna was charismatic but also enigmatic, thoughtful and pensive.
He was sensible and intentional – but also playful.
It was these qualities which, ironically, meant Senna was chosen to head up a group of drivers dedicated to making the sport to make it safer, the weekend of his death.
Simon chose to reflect these characteristics by giving his  Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture a serene posture and gaze, but with a real twinkle in his eye.

Simon o'Rourke working on the eyes of his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture

Working on getting that twinkle and expression right

Ayrton Senna by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Sculpting the Face

As we talked about in our blog about the golden ratio, sculpting faces is always a challenge. It is always so much harder too when Simon can’t meet the person. As Simon says:
“It’s always difficult working from photos. You’re constantly having to evaluate the structure of the face based on multiple light sources and camera lens distortion. Two photos of the same person can look vastly different. You have to understand the structure of the human face to make those decisions on depth and form.”

It’s clear the time spent studying, measuring and re-evaluating has paid off though, as the likeness to images of Senna is uncanny, and the sculpture is instantly recognisable as the Brazilian legend.

Images of Ayrton Senna in the workshop of Simon O'Rourke

Some of the images Simon worked from for his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture

Finished Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture in the workshop by simon o'rourke

The finished piece in the workshop

On Display

Unlike many of Simon’s pieces, this Senna homage was a passion project rather than a specific commission. Thanks to the Wahoo Group and Real Five Networking though, rather than remain in the workshop, the sculpture is currently available for the public to view. Their support and connections meant that in December, the sculpture is now being exhibited at Mews of Mayfair; a beautiful restaurant and bar in Mayfair. If you’re visiting London, why not book yourselves in for a delicious meal and take a look? We’d love it if you got any photos or selfies with the sculpture if you could tag us too!

Bust of Ayrton Senna by Simon O'Rourke

Continuing a Legacy

During his lifetime Senna was dedicated to far more than just being the best in his sport. He also had a passion and felt a sense of responsibility to use his position to better the lives of children in his native Brazil. As such, he was also a philanthropist, the creator of Senninha, and had talked with his sister before his final trip to Italy about creating a charity. His sister honoured that conversation, and has built the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

Keeping in that spirit, Simon has chosen to sell this Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture in a sealed bid auction. A significant portion of the winning bid will then be donated to the Grand Prix Trust. This charity provides support for Formula 1’s helping team personnel, trackside or factory-based, to put their lives back on track when things go wrong. We believe from all the research into Senna’s life that this would be a cause that he himself would have been behind.

You can place you bid by visiting www.treecarving.co.uk/senna/  where there is an online bidding form at the bottom of the article.

 

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

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

Crowds watching ice carving for Wrexham Museum

Outside Wrexham Museum*

About the Victorian Market

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

Punch and Judy show at Wrexham Victorian Christmas Market

Punch & Judy on Hope Street

About Ice Carving for Christmas

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

Crowds watching Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Crowds watching Simon Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum*

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

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

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

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

*spoiler alert*

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

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

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

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

Setting up:

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

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

Simon O'Rourke safety jacket

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

St Giles Location

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

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

Viewers outside St Giles*

Early on in the work on the dragon’s eye

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

Adding textured to create the scales*

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

The finished dragon’s eye*

Henblas Square

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

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

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

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

Simon O'Rourke ice carving: dragon claw

Simon o Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museums 2019 Dragon Claw

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

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

Wrexham Museum

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

ice blocks for carving wrexham museum 2019

Blocks of ice waiting for carving!

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

Ice Carving for Wrexham museum 2019

Watching outside Wrexham Museum*

Simon o'Rourke ice carving dragon Wrexham 2019

Adding texture with an angle grinder

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

Adding detail to the dragon

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

“The precision is unbelievable”

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

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

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

“The detail is unbelievable”

“Stunning. Simply stunning”

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

Dragon Ice carving in process by Simon O'Rourke

The Finished Piece.

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

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

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

 

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

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

*photo credit to Gareth Thomas from Wrexham Museums.

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of Simon’s pieces that caught people’s attention recently was a little boy, kneeling to plant a tree. The Trees for Kids sculpture was commissioned by a local community association, and unveiled during their Trees for Kids event.

Trees for Kids 'Boy Planting Sapling' sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

About Maes Y Pant

Maes Y Pant is a 70 acre forest on the outskirts of Wrexham.
The site is open to the public, but the land is actually owned and managed by a community association. It is a conservation area, recreation area and also sustains itself with soft lumber sales. Regular readers will remember that Simon and some our our affiliates have produced other sculptures on the site, including Stanley, and the children’s fort.

Trees for Kids sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids sculpture in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids

This particular commission was part of Trees for Kids, an event which was both sociable and educational. There was opportunity to explore the forest, as well as a story teller, stalls, and face painting. The HACK horse sanctuary brought a pony, and there were also educational stands to raise awareness of the importance of woodlands and taking care of the environment. The highlight of the day though, was planting saplings.

The Commission.

Each child who took part was able to plant a sapling to help sustain the forest. It’s easy to see how Simon’s sculpture tied in with such an event! One aspect that isn’t so easy to see though, is that like the forest around it, this sculpture will also grow and change!

What? How?!

Trees for Kids sculpture with rowan sapling. Simon O'Rourke for Maes Y Pant

With the planted sapling at Maes Y Pant

Growing and Changing

If you look closely at the photo above, you will notice what looks like a thick stick between his hands. That’s actually a Rowan sapling! In time, as well as gaining height, the tree trunk will broaden to fill his hands. The little boy was secured in the ground with a substantial foundation. This means that as the tree grows it will grow at a slight angle, giving room for the roots to establish. The community group will also manage and trim the tree so visitors will always have a good view of the sculpture.

Always a Story Teller

The boy is carved from Welsh Oak. The tree is native to the area, adding to the sense that the boy ‘belongs’. He makes a sweet addition to the forest. We love the look of concentration as he focuses on what he is planting! His haircut and outfit also seem to hint at a past age, and evoke memories of kids playing outside, and enjoying the outdoors.

We hope that the children (and adults!) who visit the area will be motivated to preserve not just this beautiful local area, but also our wider environment.

To commission Simon for your own special occasion, email us on [email protected]

World War I Memorial Soldier

World War I Memorial Soldier 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who lost their lives in war.
We don’t take that sacrifice lightly, so it’s always an honour when Simon receives a war memorial commission.  Whether it’s a statue or a giant poppy, it’s an opportunity to both do his best as an expression of his own respect thankfulness. It’s also an opportunity to help others remember and be thankful. His best known example is probably the Airman at Highclere Castle. However, today, we’re going to revisit this World War I memorial soldier.

World War I Memorial Soldier, Astley Park

The Commission.

The World War I Memorial Soldier was commissioned by Chorley Council, and is installed in Astley Park. It is not their only tribute to those who died during war, and guests can take part in a  whole World War One experience which includes this Garden of Reflection. Estimates suggest nine to 11 million military personnel died during World War I. This soldier standing alone though encourages us to think not of the masses, but of the individual soldier who lost his life. The son, brother, uncle, friend.

World War One memorial soldier by Simon O'Rourke Chorley

The Soldier

Looking at this soldier, it is easy to see some of the cost of war. The slump of his shoulders, and slightly hunched posture speaks of a fatigue. Maybe a disenchantment. His disheveled uniform and minimal weaponry tells us of men ill-prepared for the horrors of battle. And his face makes it clear he has seen loss and pain. The weathering of the wood and imperfections that appear over time, only enhance this portrait. This is not a soldier freshly out of boot camp, immaculate and passionate about his calling. This is a man who has given up everything and seen too much. And this man, and the millions like him are what we remember, with thanks.

World War I soldier by Simon O'Rourke, Chorley

Lest We Forget

This World War One memorial soldier is only one of thousands of tributes around the country. We hope that as people look at this one, Simon’s skill in portraying this soldier’s story through sculpture will speak to them. That it will help people to think about what it is that was lost, not in terms of millions, but the cost to each family of ‘the one’.

Of course, we couldn’t JUST revisit this soldier. Another name for remembrance day is ‘poppy day’, so to finish, we naturally had to include some of the poppies he has made. Skilled as Simon is with human form, these sculptures have also helped to catch attention and capture beautifully the flowers which appeared in Flanders after World War I.

Poppy scultpure by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy outside wrexham museum by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy in 2014

If you are interested in having your own memorial carved by Simon, why not email us on [email protected]

Whether it’s a specific person or thing, or something general, Simon is able to use his skills, imagination, creativity and attention to history and detail to create something perfect for your tribute.

Ice Carving for Christmas

Ice Carving for Christmas 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The countdown to Christmas is on! Shops are full of decorations, calendars are filling up, and Christmas music is starting to hit the radio. It’s also that time of year where Simon takes a break from wood for an evening or two, and turns his hand to ice sculptures. This year he’ll be digging out his thermals to take part in ‘Ice Carving for Christmas‘ organised by Wrexham Museums. Although Simon is privileged to travel nationally and internationally, it’s also fun for us when we get to participate in local events, and important to us to be engaged with our local community. We can’t wait for December 5th!

Wrexham Ice Carving for Christmas posters 2019 featuring Simon O'Rourke

The Event

Ice Carving for Christmas promises to be a great evening for all ages. Guests follow a trail that starts at St Giles Church and ends at the museum. They also have not one, not two, but THREE opportunities to see Simon carving along the way!

Station One is near to St Giles church and Victorian Market (5pm-6pm). After watching Simon carve, guests can spend time at the market which promises to be bigger and better than previous years. There’ll be all kinds of stalls ranging from local crafts to food and drink.

 After enjoying the market, guests can move on to work station two from 6-7pm. There will also be food and drink vendors along the street, as well as late night opening for some of our high street shops. 

Then it’s on to the Museum for the main event (7pm-9pm ). People who watched the first two stations can make their guess as to what the finished carve will be, with prizes for those who guess correctly. So, much as we would love to tell you, we’re keeping it quiet. No spoilers here! At the museum, there will also be opportunity to sing somecarols and join in the Christmas spirit with festive refreshments from the café.There’ll also be chance to get some photos with Simon and the finished carve. Perfect for sending out with family Christmas cards!

Past Ice Sculptures

Regular followers will know this isn’t Simon’s first time ice carving. This week we shared this Facebook post with a flashback to some spectacular ice carving he did for Cardiff Ice Kingdom in 2015.

Cardiff Ice Kingdom sculptures by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s work at 2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom

Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa Sculpture by Simon

Local Ice Carving

Simon also took part in Wrexham’s 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas. As he will in this year’s event too, Simon worked outside the museum. People could watch as he transformed these blocks of ice into beautiful, detailed penguins.

Simon O'Rourke at the start of 2017's Ice Carving for Christmas event

Simon at the start of 2017’s Ice Carving for Christmas event

Penguins in Ice by Simon O'Rourke

Finished penguin ice carving

From Wood to Ice

Obviously ice is a very different material to wood! When Simon makes the transition, there are a few things he has to keep in mind for a successful carve.  For example, time!

One thing we all know about ice, is it melts. Fast! So whereas Simon might work on a typical sculpture over several hours or days, with ice it is more like one of the ‘speed carving’ events.

Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving in progress 2017

Penguins in progress in 2017

Another difference is that ice is much more brittle.
This means when Simon begins thinking about his designs, he can’t include as many delicate shapes. The work focuses on bringing lots of detail and texture to larger shapes for the light to shine through and bounce off. Which leads to the final difference we’ll highlight here today: presentation.

When using wood, working with the tree’s natural lines, colours and shapes is crucial. The sculpture then speaks for itself as people view it. With ice, the success is often down to light. That includes the nature of the lighting itself e.g. will it be multicoloured? Shades of the same colour? How will the lighting help tell the story of the sculpture and set the scene?

It also includes how the sculpture will ‘interact’ with the light. Where will the light hit and bounce off? At what points will it shine through? Where will it help bring depth to a particular part of the sculpture? And so, Simon must consider this both as he plans, and as he progresses.

These photos show perfectly both the texture and the impact of lighting on his 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas penguins.

Close up of penguin ice carving by simon o'rourke

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Penguin Ice Carving by Simon O'Rourke for Ice Carving for Christmas 2017

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Not All Change!

Of course, it isn’t all change! Some things will stay the same as Simon switches from wood to ice this year.

He will still be using his faithful Stihl chainsaws, and their battery chainsaws are perfect for events like this. He’ll also be thankful for their thermal clothing and waterproof protective trousers! Whether wood or ice, or any other outdoors work, nobody wants to be cold and wet! Obviously, whatever he’s carving (remember, no spoilers here!) and whether wood or ice, the level of excellence, creativity and skill that Simon brings will stay the same.

Ice carving penguins by Simon O'Rourke

 

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Back in May we started sharing videos and photos of a statue of three footballers that Simon was working on. Five months later, we’re proud to see the statue of the Queen of the South legends finally installed and unveiled!

Queen of the South Legends statue by Simon O'Rourke unveiled in Dumfries

Queen of the South Legends Statue unveiled October 2019

The Commission

The statue was commissioned by The People’s Project and stands outside the Queen of the South stadium in Dumfries. The People’s Project exists to help rekindle community within Dumfries. It does this through practical projects, funding of community initiatives, and creating opportunities to remind people of the heritage of their town. This statue isn’t their first commission, and they have also restored or commissioned statues of Robert De Bruce, and Peter Pan.

This particular commission commemorates three of the legends of Queen of the South FC: Billy Houliston, Alan Ball, and Stephen Dobbie. Each player represents a different era, achievement and contribution to the club. To find out more about each player, visit http://www.qosfc.com/news-4765. We think it’s always inspiring to read about passion t,alent and dedication, even if football may not be your thing!

Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling of the Queen of the South Legends by Simon O'Rourke

Current player Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling

Making the Statue

This statue was always going to be a challenge. The original goal was to make the three life-sized players out of one piece of oak:

About to begin a project that will be a big challenge… And for once it isn't a dragon!!Three life size footballers in one log…

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

If you watched the video, you would have seen Simon refer to a crack throughout the timber. That obviously meant he had to react immediately, and think about how to work with and around that crack. In the beginning this seemed to have a simple solution. Just turn the trunk upside down!

In addition though, he had to think not only about what that crack is like in the moment, but what would happen in years to come. It turned out that when he considered the Scottish weather, that crack was going to create some problems. Simon ended up having to cut out one player, and use a second piece of timber, as you can see in the next video. Every cloud has a silver lining though! Removing that player helped Simon overcome one of the other challenges in a 360° statue – reaching the backs of the other players!

An update on the footballers!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 1 July 2019

Queen of the South FC statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

The statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

Creating a Likeness

As well as technical challenges, there was then the task of creating an accurate likeness. As we’ve mentioned in this blog, this means not only dealing with correct shape and ratio, but also the challenge of depth. In this case too, it also has to be true to life, and there isn’t as much artistic license. Especially in the case of a statue like this where the purpose is to honour people, Simon always wishes to capture them in a way which is accurate and tells a story of who they really are. For those who wonder how possible that is when using power tools, this comparison says it all!

Close up of Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from to create The Queen of the South legends

Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from

Creating Community – Not Just a Statue.

Part of the purpose of this statue was to commemorate the Queen of the South legends. It is has a bigger purpose that goes beyond this though.

The reason for commemorating these players is to remind the Dumfries community of their heritage. To remind them of town and community achievements they can be proud of. It reminds them of things they have in common like the love of a sport or a hero. It gives a focus for unity and remembering positive moments in their community. For the younger person looking at these players immortalised in wood, it gives something to aspire to. And for the older generation, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that brings joy and encouragement. The kits from the different eras clearly show achievements across the years and history, and so it helps unite generations in a mutual appreciate of their team and its history.

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling of the Queen of the South legends statue by Simon o'Rourke

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling

And so, statues like this are more than just pieces of art to be admired. They also help unite, inspire, and promote community. Even the simple act of coming together for an unveiling ceremony helps create all these things.

If you are part of a town, club, society or community and would like to explore a similar idea, why not send us a message? As always, Simon is available on [email protected] to talk about your vision, hopes and the practical details.

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Visit

No, our blog title doesn’t refer to the movie released this weekend. We mean the real life setting for the series and movie: Highclere Castle. The castle is part of Lady and Lord Carnavon’s estate and is located in Hampshire, over 200 miles from the fictional setting. But for the fans of the series who enjoy a good tear-jerker, today’s blog about visiting the Highclere Castle Airman is just as good!

You may remember that last year Simon and Dan worked on a memorial for the Highclere Estate. For those who need a refresher, the project was a sculpture of a WWII airman and a series of benches that were unveiled at the Highclere Heroes weekend. They were made as a tribute to the airmen who lost their lives in the eight plane crashes that occurred there during WWII.  The benches even featured actual wreckage from one of the B17s that crashed on the estate. This weekend Simon and Liz had the privilege of visiting to see how the Highclere Castle airman is doing.

Keep reading to find out what that entails for Simon, but also a wonderful ‘plot twist’!

Simon and Liz O'Rourke at Highclere Castle, home of his airman sculpture

Simon and Liz at Highclere

Highclere Castle Airman with the house in the background

The beautiful setting for the airman and benches

The ‘Check Up’

Simon looks out for a few things when checking on a sculpture. One is obviously any damage that needs repairing. Thankfully there is no damage to either the airman or benches. That is, except for the inevitable bird deposits! He also reports that the Sculpture is weathering nicely. It’s already turned a lovely silvery grey colour, which was the intention.
When Simon re-visits a sculpture, he also looks at where the wood has opened up. When he is carving, he has to calculate where cracks will appear as it ages, and take this into account. Using wood in the right way can ensures it doesn’t split across the face or important parts of the sculpture as the wood dries. Again, thankfully all is well!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

Reflecting on the project

The estate is a beautiful place to  enjoy the British countryside, and the Highclere Castle Airman is located in a particularly tranquil spot. As Simon and Liz were able to sit and enjoy both countryside and sculpture, they took some time to reflect on the project.

The O’Rourkes still feel extremely honoured to have been involved in this memorial. They hope that people will be able to enjoy the sculpture and benches in this setting for years to come. They’re also still extremely grateful to Lord and lady Carnarvon for commissioning Simon and Dan, and for their hospitality to them. As at the original unveiling,  it was very moving for them to be in a place so many sacrificed their lives for others, and to be part of a project that makes that history a visible and ‘living memory’ for others.

Simon, Liz and Dan weren’t the only ones moved by this lovely tribute commissioned by Lady Carnarvon. Several news outlets picked up on the sculpture, but also some of the stories behind it. The BBC article focused on the story of Len Nitti; a serviceman who miraculously survived a crash. The Daily Post focused on the project itself, as does the Daily Mail who also reflect on how the commission was an example of life and art imitating each other, and mirrored the final scenes of Downton Abbey.

B17 Benches, part of the Highclere Castle Aiurman memorial by Simon O'Rourke and Dan Barnes

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

The 'B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes. Part of the Highclere Castle Airman memorial

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

And then…..

And now for that beautiful plot twist!

Simon and Liz met with families of the airmen who lost their lives as part of the project – a very meaningful part of the Highclere Castle Airman story for them. So much so in fact, they are still in touch with one of the families today. There was one family that they didn’t get to meet at the time though. The family of William Dutton were the only family who were unable to make the unveiling weekend last year. 2nd Lt Dutton died on May 5th 1945 in the B17 Flying Fortress. In fact, it’s parts from his plane that are in the bench legs!
Life is full of surprises though. Completely unexpectedly,  Simon and Liz got to meet Nancy Dutton Sanders this weekend – William Dutton’s sister!

Simon O'Rourke meets sister of deceased Highclere Castle Airman

Meeting with Nancy Dutton Sanders

It added a poignancy and beauty to the visit. As always, meeting the ‘real life people’ behind the stories, makes all of us feel afresh a thankfulness for those who fought in wars for our freedom. For Simon and Liz, meeting families and seeing how much it means to them to have their loved ones honoured, is also a privilege and a joy, and adds real purpose to a project. How much more fun when it is totally unexpected!

This really ‘made’ the visit. We only hope that people viewing Highclere on the Big Screen this weekend get as much of a happy ending!

Those Autumn Leaves – Enjoying The Changing Season

Those Autumn Leaves – Enjoying The Changing Season 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

In this quote Albert Camus describes beautifully the stunning displays of colour that we see at this time of year. From September, the trees around us change to display rich golds, fiery reds and warm oranges. Whether we mourn the loss of summer or enjoy the change of season, none of us can deny that Autumn leaves are glorious, and we think September and October are the perfect time to get outside and enjoy that beauty. The temperature hasn’t dropped too much, and the nights are not too dark yet. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to find fruits and berries to take home! If you fancy enjoying the outdoors this Autumn, then why not plan to follow one of Simon’s forest trails?

Stanley by Simon O'Rourke as Marford Quarry

Stanley, one of Simon’s sculptures along the trail at Marford Quarry

Sculpture Trails

Over the years, Simon has completed several ‘sculpture trails’ throughout the UK. Typically these add points of interest to the walk and give information about the local area. Usually the sculptures themselves reflect the environment, such as this lynx found in Fforest Fawr. Although the lynx, and wolf that make part of that trail are rarely seen any more, it is not that long ago that they roamed that part of South Wales.

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O'Rourke

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O’Rourke

Close up of Lynx at Fforest Fawr by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of the lynx at Fforest Fawr

Pages Wood

Another example of these forest sculpture trails that Simon has created are the two in Page’s Wood. He and his wife Liz wrote a story that followed an animal character along each trail. Each sculpture showed an encounter with another animal resident of the woodland, and the story with each gave information about that animal. The trails have been so popular, that he will be back later this year to make some additions and tweaks!

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page's Wood Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

Those Autumn Leaves

While you’re out enjoying these trails, have you ever wondered why it is that the leaves are changing colour and falling though?
We have! And as we love all things ‘tree’ and forest, we thought we’d share a couple of random Autumn tree facts while reminding you of some of the forest trail animals you could go and see.

Wolf by Simon O'Rourke at Fforest Fawr

Howling wolf at Fforest Fawr

The Wonder of Nature

Fact One:
Trees don’t ‘lose’ their leaves, they actually actively shed them to ensure their survival! Find out more here.

Fact Two:
Trees can sense the shortening days, and that’s how they know when to begin shedding leaves

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr by Simon O'Rourke

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr

Fact Three:
Leaves change colour as the tree absorbs all the nutrients out of the leaf and stores it for winter. A little like an animal eating well and stashing food to prepare for hibernation!

Fact Four:
The colour of a tree’s ‘Autumn leaves’ depends on what other pigments the tree has. For example, hickories, aspen and some maples have a lot of carotenoids so they turn golden colours. Oaks and Dogwoods have a lot of anthocyanins so they turn russets and browns.

Verity Vole by Simon O'Rourke, part of the Page's Wood sculpture trail

Verity Vole, the second protagonist at the Page’s Wood sculpture trail

Fact Five
Nature is amazing, so it is no surprise that though leaves fall, they still have an important role. As they decompose, their nutrients trickle into the soil and feed future generations of plant and animal life. Quite likely, fallen Autumn leaves are essential not just for the survival of the individual tree, but for whole forests!
This means that you need not militantly rake up every fallen leaf.
In fact, leaving them on the ground is actually a helpful thing for other wildlife.

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page's Wood. By Simon O'Rourke.

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page’s Wood

What other fun facts do you know about Autumn? Why not drop us a comment and share some of your favourites.

If you enjoyed our tree facts and want to know more, Liz also teaches forest school and can be booked ofr regular or ‘one off’ sessions. Contact her at [email protected]

Don’t forget, that if you are out and about at one of Simon’s scultpure trails, use the hashtag #simonorouke or tag us using our Facebook page  (@simonorourketreecarving)or Instagram Account (@simonorourke)

The Rauschwitz Angel

The Rauschwitz Angel 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Germany has a big tree carving tradition, and throughout the year there are events, festivals and competitions. We love that we get to be part of these events and the tree carving community. Each time we participate we meet wonderful people and grow friendships whilst helping to maintain the tradition. Simon’s recent Rauschwitz Angel carving was one of those opportunities.

The Rauschwitz Angel is from one of the newer events in the Tree Carving calendar. The event is hosted by Rauschwitzer Wood Culture Community and is run by Christian Schmidt – a talented tree carver himself. It featured several artists creating exhibits, as well as a speed carving competition.

The location was an open air church in Rauschwitz. The ‘walls’ of the church are trees, and there is a clear space between them, with benches for the congregation to sit on. The task this year for all the participants was to carve an angel for the end of each of the church benches.

Rauschwitz Church Angel by Simon O'Rourke

Rauschwitz Angel by Simon O’Rourke – notice the photobomb by @poppystihl!

The angel ‘theme’ tied the carvings together, and created the effect of an exhibition. Whilst there was incredible diversity as each artist was free to carve their own interpretation, there is also a real unity as they all carved the same subject. Obviously, this makes for a good exhibit! This diversity within unity is a also great depiction of what church is supposed to be too.

Rather than just focus on Simon’s sculpture, we thought we would also share some others from the event. What do you like about each, and why? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Griffon Ramsey angel

Angel by Griffon Ramsey

Angel at Rauschwitz by Dieter Kruger

Angel by Andrej Lochel

"<yoastmark

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

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

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

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

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

The Bavarian Fairy

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

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

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

Challenges with the carving

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

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

The fairy with her face in profile.

The technical stuff!

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

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

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

The Golden Ratio

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

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

 

Applying The Golden Ratio

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

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

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

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

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