Sculpture Projects

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall

Sculpture for Historic Property

Sculpture for Historic Property 420 630 Simon O'Rourke

alsoOne of the things Simon has enjoyed over the years, is creating sculpture for historic property. These projects usually combine Simon’s love of human form with his passion for storytelling. They also add value for the owner in sometimes unexpected ways. Over the years Simon has created many pieces for historic properties, ranging from National Trust homes or places of worship to private home owners. He has also had a season as ‘artist in residence’ at Erddig, a local National Trust property.
This week we share examples from that extensive portfolio, and explore the value of commissioning sculpture for historic property.

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman at Highclere Castle

Reasons to Commission a Sculpture for Historic Property: Commemoration & Storytelling

There are many reasons to commission a sculpture for your historic property. One of those reasons is to have a commemorative piece, to mark an event or occasion.  The Airman at Highclere Castle (pictured above) is an example of this. He is also an example of another reason for commissioning a sculpture. That is, story telling.  If you ever read our blog about the Highclere Airman, you will know that he tells a part of the story of that property. Although people may be aware of the history of a building, a visual aid telling that story is always powerful. Even traditional school text books become much more interesting with a picture! How much more so when the visual story telling is in 3D?! If your building is open to the public, this enhances their experience, which is always a good thing!

Mungo Park sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

A Tourist Attraction!

Another reason that a sculpture can add value to a historic sculpture, is it can become an attraction in itself. Take Mungo Park for example, photographed above.
This likeness of the Scottish explorer was created in 2014 for a Wetherspoons in Peebles, Park’s home town. It reflects the history of the area, so enhances the experience of the visitor, and helps provide information about the town. It also helps to set that restaurant apart from the others in the area. It’s a focus point for visitors – something unique the other eateries in town don’t have. It’s also fun –  customers also sit alongside Mungo on the bench outside the pub, for a photograph. And we all know the power of a shared photograph on social media!

 

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall, Sculpture for historic property

Case Study: Angel at the Pool of Bethesda

One of Simon’s favourite sculptures that he has created for a historic property is the Angel at the Pool of Bethesda. She was carved from oak in 2016 as a commission for Biddulph Old Hall.  Although the property has an extensive history dating back to 1480, this commission relates to a 19th Century resident…..

The Story Behind the Sculpture

In 1871, attracted by the romance of the ruins in their moorland setting, artist Robert Bateman took up residence in the hall. He actually painted most of his best works in the Hall between 1871 and 1890. In 1874  he and the love of his life, Caroline Howard, were separated. Then, in 1876, Caroline married the Rev Charles Wilbraham. Bateman was heart broken, and painted The Pool of Bethesda as “an autobiographical cry of anguish”. The commission of the sculpture was to commemorate Robert and Caroline’s memory as part of the house’s story.

To read more about the history of the painting, click here.

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall is an example of sculpture for historic property

Creating the Sculpture

The setting with the angel stepping down a few steps towards a pool of water replicates the Bateman painting. The difficulty for Simon centered around the fact that all he had to work from was a flat 2D image. This meant that to begin with, he had to visualize what the painting would look like in 3D. From there, he then had to create what he was imagining. Which, according to owner Nigel Daly,  “he has done magnificently…. The piece fully represents the sense of Caroline stepping down into the water that Bateman created in the original painting.”

 

Testimonies of the Value Added

Obviously art always enhances or ‘adds’ something to a room, or wherever it’s located. However, in a historic property it does more than this. It captures the attention of the viewer. They are drawn in, as it narrates the story of that place. It also helps them envision, imagine and remember.

Nigel Daly is “thrilled” at the impact of the sculpture:
“Visitors never fail to gasp as they are led through a small octagonal tower from the ruins themselves into the small courtyard with the pool in its centre and Caroline at its head. As time has passed she has weathered beautifully to settle into the time-worn surroundings of the Hall.

The work has been much admired, and such is the skill of the work we are saving up for a second sculpture for the centre of the ruins based on Burne-Jones’s ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’, which we feel is just up Simon’s street!”

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Your Own Commission

If you would like to enhance story-telling and scene-setting with a unique sculpture for your historic property, contact Simon on [email protected].

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

Capenhurst Woodland Scene

Capenhurst Woodland Scene 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
If you saw this Facebook post back in January, you’ll know that Simon’s first completed project of this year was the Capenhurst Woodland Scene. This sculpture was the idea of one person, but was made possible by community spirit and co-operation. It’s a lovely story, so we wanted to share it with you! Thanks to Gary Wright, for his contribution to today’s blog.
Work in Progess: the Capenhurst Woodland Scene by Simon O'Rourke after Day One

Work in Progess: the Capenhurst Woodland Scene after Day One

The Idea Behind the Carve
A few of the locals in Capenhurst village had been making improvements to the village over the last couple of years to benefit the community. Some of these were small changes, but really make a difference the appearance of the village, and subsequently to people’s mood and mindset. The villagers planted daffodil  bulbs in the grass verges, and installed planters and a bug hotel.
These changes may have been small, but they didn’t go unnoticed. The village entered the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition in 2019 for the first time. To their amazement and shock, they received a bronze award for their efforts!
Local businessman Gary Wright thought it would be nice to install a focal point on the village green for all to see as they pass through the village. He had recently recovered from illness and wanted to create something to make people smile when passing. Capenhurst is a rural spot with a good array of wildlife, so Gary wanted something to represent this.
Simon has a wide array of sculptures in his wildlife portfolio. These range from isolated sculptures of individual animals, to scenes within a single piece of timber, or even whole sculpture trails with a story and educational purpose. Gary had followed Simon on social media after seeing his work at Erddig National Trust, and thought a wildlife sculpture by Simon would look fantastic.
And so, the idea for the Capenhurst Woodland Scene was born.
Finshed Capenhurst Woodland Scene by Simon O'Rourke
Making it Happen….

A commission like this which is for the community rather than a private home or business, doesn’t happen overnight. There’s always funding to find, and often a community will need to get permission to erect something new. And then there’s the decision about what it actually looks like! Gary began chatting with Simon about design ideas and costs, and went about making the sculpture happen….

In this case, Gary initially set up a Go Fund Me page to try and raise the money needed. Neighbours began to donate, and funds were slowly building up. However, it turned out Gary wasn’t the only one to think this sculpture would be a good idea. He spoke with Neil Fagan from the neighbouring local major company Urenco, and was amazed to hear Urenco would fund the whole sculpture!
Other companies soon got involved too. Wesley Simpson from Unique Pavings and Landscapes in neighbouring Ledsham agreed to supply and install the concrete footings required for the sculpture. Overall, Gary was overwhelmed with the positive response he received.

Side View of Capenhurst Woodland Scene by Simon O'Rourke

A side view reveals some of the animals ‘hidden’ within the sculpture

Moving Ahead with the Sculpture

Simon and Gary had agreed on a single piece of timber that would initially appear to be a sculpture of an owl, but would actually be an entire woodland scene. Those who know Simon’s work will have seen this in many other examples. Within the ‘base’ or ‘trunk’ Simon creates other animals, each one telling its own unique story, as well as fitting into a bigger scene.

With this decided and funds in place, Gary agreed a location with the community. Again, for anybody thinking of commissioning a sculpture for their own locale, please don’t skip the permissions! In this case, the parish council and the landowner Urenco approved the location.

Simon created the sculpture on-site in Capenhurst village. As always, he attracted many spectators! A local taxi driver stopped to watch and said that he couldn’t miss watching this being created. He said he’d tell people for years that he had watched it being carved!
Other neighbours took photographs and stopped to talk with Simon. He was even asked to look at some other jobs in the area!

Gary reports that the response to the sculpture has been fantastic:

“People comment on it continuously and it has been visited by the local schoolchildren. It will remain a treasured focal point in the village for years to come.”
Close up of woodland scene by simon o'rourke

A close up of the owl

What a beautiful sculpture, and what a great story. It’s inspiring to see how one person’s initiative combined with community spirit can come together to create something beautiful.
If you would like to commission Simon for a project in your community, contact us on [email protected] to talk about the details.

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Two Towers and a dragon.
Sorry, nothing to do with the movie! Although if you enjoy Tolkien, you could read our blog about Simon’s Lord of the Rings sculpture.
Rather these two towers and a dragon were straight from Simon’s imagination. As well as telling a story, they are actually also a happy ending in themselves! Read on to find out more about ‘the great resc-yew’…

Two towers and a dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Resc-Yew Plan

These stunning sculptures began their life as yew trees (now the ‘rescue – rescyew puns make sense!) which had become problematic. Yew is a fascinating and beautiful wood which grows in all kinds of shapes and patterns. They are some of the oldest trees in the country, are great for making all kinds of things. This ranges from carving household objects and art to furniture. Most famously though, they have the reputation of making the best long bows! However, that wild beauty can sometimes cause problems for the landowners.
In this case, they were growing too close to the house.

Initially, the owners had the tops removed, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution. Rather than remove them completely, they decided to turn them into a different kind of beautiful – a Simon O’Rourke sculpture! All projects have their points of fun and excitement, but one of the things Simon enjoys about this kind of commission is the sense of giving life and purpose back to something that had either died, was damaged, or could no longer remain as it was. Even better when it’s something as fun and unique as this fairytale sculpture!

Incidentally, if you have trees which are becoming problematic, read our blog about Treetech, a tree surgeon we work with and recommend to give you an evaluation!

The dragon from Two Towers and a Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Creating the Sculptures

After chatting with the owners about what they would like, Simon went to work, employing not only his skill, but his creativity and imagination to create this scene from a story Tolkien or C S Lewis would be proud of!

Simon kept some of the bark to allow the trees to blend in more with the rest of the garden. This also adds age and authenticity to the towers, as if they are something from an long-ago, far away adventure. He created the initial shapes using Stihl chainsaws, then used his Manpa angle grinders and chainsaw bars, and Saburrtooth bits to create the details and added texture. The beautiful natural patterns within the yew combined with Simon’s deeper cuts that mark the stone and tiles, to create the feel of ancient stone towers that have been weathered over the years.

The Two Towers from Two towers and a dragon by simon o'rourke

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the fun things about a sculpture like this, is it not only looks great, but sparks the imagination. This is something that is important to Simon in every sculpture he creates, and even shares in his biography that he wants “people to feel like they’ve experienced part of a story”

In this story, with the two towers and a dragon, the castle is under threat from the dragon. As we look at him, we see he is quietly watching, formulating his plan, and resting his wings, which although relaxed at this moment, are clearly powerful and large.

But what happens next?

Simon has set the scene and created a stunning piece of art, but the rest is up to you.
Can the towers withstand the attack?
Who or what is within them to attract the dragon?
Who will be victorious and how?

We think it would be wonderful to spend a summer’s evening in this garden – perhaps after a BBQ with a glass of your favourite drink in hand – inviting family and friends to tell the rest of the story. What do you think happens next? How would you end this great resc-yew story? Why not comment below and let us know!

As always, if you feel inspired by this week’s featured carving, you can talk to Simon about commissioning something unique for your home and garden. Contact us on [email protected].

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

As we start a new decade, we’ve been reflecting on the many changes that have happened personally and professionally over the last ten years. Professionally, it’s been a great decade with some fantastic opportunities and commissions. We’ve also met some amazing people and seen some wonderful places along the way. Before we move forward into the 20’s, we thought we would bring you our ‘review of the decade’. And, as we do, let us wish you a Happy New Year from all at Tree Carving.

Simon O'Rourke Game of Thrones Egg Carrier carving

Simon and Liz O’Rourke wish you a happy new year (and decade) on behalf of the Tree Carving team.

Review of the Decade: 2010

As we looked back, we could definitely see we didn’t use social media as much! And the technology we used definitely didn’t produce the kind of photos and videos we do today! But here is a look back at two competition pieces from that year, both taking second place. Neptune from the English Open Chainsaw competition, and a traditional miner from the Huskycup.
A quick glimpse at Simon’s awards shows that this was a good decade for competition, placing in most things he entered and winning seven awards. However, when it comes to competitions Simon says:
“Competitive sculpture has taught me a lot about completing work to a deadline. I have competed all over the world and although I have placed highly in many events, the most important thing to me is being happy with my own work.”

Neptune by Simon O'Rourke as featured in his review of the decade

Simon O'Rourke second place huskycup 2010

Review of the Decade: 2011

Two of the projects we chose as highlights from 2011 are The Giant Hand of Vrynwy, and the Somerset Tree.

At 50′ tall, it was no wonder the hand caught the attention of the local press, as you can see in the article by The Leader newspaper. Simon’s inspiration for the hand came from the name for the woodland area, which made reference to giants. Creating something on this scale reminded Simon how small we are compared to some of the living organisms on this planet. He described the experience as being very humbling!

Giant hand by Simon O'Rourke

The next project although tall still, was a little smaller in scale! Simon was commissioned by the Museum of Somerset to create this stunning tree for their new museum. Sourced from local wood, it stands proudly in the museum where it tells some of the area’s 400 million year history.

Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the decade: Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2012

Another Huskycup entry! This time, the sculpture of “Christian and Mary”. Simon worked on this piece as part of ‘Team Europe’ with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamoszus. They placed fourth overall, with some tough competition from a great bunch of talented artists. As we had a quick glimpse back at the Facebook album of the event it was lovely to be reminded of the support, encouragement and lovely comments.

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

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

fourth place Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Review of the Decade: 2013

For our 2013 highlight, we chose something a little different. During that year Simon created this incredible Alice in Wonderland booth for Steak of the Art in Bristol. Their vision is for the restaurant to be an ever-changing art gallery that compliments their delicious menu. As you can see from the photos in the case study Simon wrote, his booth more than fits their vision. Every single character is its own work of art, and with so much to see, although the piece doesn’t change, there is something new to notice each time you sit within it. Here we get a reflection of the changing technology too, with this timelapse video of its making!

Alice in Wonderland booth at Steak of the Art by Simon O'Rourke (a review of the decade)

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

Review of the Decade: 2014

2014 saw us receive a lot of publicity for two ‘guardians’.

The first was created for the ‘Pawtraits‘ series by Maria Slough, and was actually named ‘The Guardian‘. The series featured people photographed alongside animals that had impacted their lives, and Simon was brought in to create a piece to be used for the portrait of Virginia McKenna. Understandably, the actress wasn’t too keen on reclining on a real lion – hence Simon stepping in with The Guardian! As McKenna was so impressed with his work, Simon was later commissioned to sculpt a lion cub for the Born Free Foundation charity auction, a charity McKenna established. As well as the photos below, you can click HERE to see a timelapse of The Guardian being made.

 

The Guardian by Simon O'Rourke

Maria Slough Pawtrait Virginia McKenna featuring lion by Simon O'Rourke

Photograph copyright of Maria Slough from the Pawtraits Series

The other ‘guardian’ created by Simon that year is just as iconic. Phil and Leah from Wahoo Group wanted to harness the power of social media and do something novel to help sell their home. Thinking completely outside of the box (no baked cookies here!) they commissioned a sculpture of…..Batman!

The caped crusader sat on top of their home where it gained attention from both local and global news outlets, and helped the couple find tenants for their property.

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Batman by Simon O'Rourke and St Giles Church Wrexham

As one of Simon’s strengths is Human Form, we also couldn’t resist throwing in this sculpture of Scottish explorer, Mungo Park. He was commissioned for a pub in the explorer’s hometown of Peebles, and sits on this bench for passers by to enjoy.

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

 

 

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

Review of the Decade: 2015

2015 was the year when Simon won the English Open Chainsaw Competition with Hemlock the Dragon.

Since then Hemlock has made countless appearances around the country, including at a wedding! Hemlock has recently had some repair work on the wings, and is ready to meet the public again. If you are interested in hiring Hemlock for your event, just email us on [email protected]

Hemlock the Dragon English Open Chainsaw Competition 2015 by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2016

2016’s highlight is another Huskycup Flashback: Viking Raid.

As well as the Viking Raid Case Study Simon wrote, we also have a blog about Viking Raid for those who want to know more. As we mentioned in our Huskycup 2019 blog, 2016 was actually the last year Huskycup was a competition. It meant Simon was the last ever Huskycup champion, as Viking Raid took first place. What a way to end the competition for him! Although it is no longer a competition, Simon continues to participate, and it is something of a highlight each year.

In 2016 Simon also became an affiliate of Olfi. We love their action cameras, and how they’ve transformed what we’re able to share with you through timelapse videos. Find out more in our Olfi blog!

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

 

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

Review of the Decade: 2017

2017’s highlight is from Liverpool. Simon created a tribute to The Beatles by carving life size figures of the Fab Four live along the dockside over a weekend. You can read more about the event in our Global Beatles Day Blog, and keep scrolling to enjoy our flashback photos and video.

2017 was also the year Simon began being sponsored by Stihl. Not only do they manufacture quality equipment, but it was something of a ‘full circle’ for Si, as his very first chainsaw experience was using Stihl equipment.

 

Beatles at the Liverpool dockside by Simon O'Rourke

 

Nearly done!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 28 August 2017

 Review of the Decade: 2018

As Simon says in his case study about the Spirit of Ecstasy, this was one of his most challenging sculptures to date.
You may remember from our Spirit of Ecstasy blog, that Simon recreated the Rolls Royce icon for an enthusiast to give new life and purpose to a beautiful oak tree which had died. Despite the challenges, the finished piece was faithful to the Rolls Royce concept, graceful and simply stunning. We hope you enjoy the finished result as much as we (and most importantly, the client!) did.

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Review of the Decade: 2019

In our new year blog at the start of last year, we told you 2019 would be our ‘year of the dragon’. We weren’t wrong! Over the year Simon created seven new dragon-related carvings, including an ice dragon in our local town.
It all started off with The Dragon of Bethesda. It sits in an arboretum in North Wales after the landowner commissioned Simon to create something spectacular from a fallen tree. Y Ddraig Derw was featured in national media, and we are still overwhelmed by the encouraging response from so many people to the piece.

Dragon of Bethesda by Simon O'Rourke

 

Our other dragon highlight from the year, is this stunning casket created for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones egg props Simon O'Rourke

Simon was commissioned by HBO as part of a wider project where artists re-imagined original props from the show. He received these beautiful dragon eggs, and created the casket for them to sit in. You can remind yourself of the whole project and process in our Game of Thrones blog.

Again, we were amazed, thankful and VERY encouraged by all the positive comments we received.

This is also the year Simon became an affiliate for ManpaTools. Their angle grinders especially have taken some of his texture and detail to a whole new level.

Simon O'Rourke casket Game of Thrones Season Eight

Moving into 2020, Simon has also become an affiliate for Saburrtooth. With quality tools and equipment from Stihl, Manpa and Saburr, Simon’s talent and creativity, and the continued support of all our amazing clients and co-workers, we look forward to what the next decade – the roaring 20’s – will hold.

We hope you enjoyed our Review of the Decade. We definitely loved seeing some of these pieces afresh as we looked back.
As always, if you have a project in mind, email us on [email protected]

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.

 

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]

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sherlock Holmes. He may not have been the first recorded fictional detective, but Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed. Ever since his first appearance in 1887, we’ve seen him in books, comics, movies, TV series, art work and more. In fact, he’s been played by over 75 actors! Now, in 2019, we bring you: Simon O’Rourke’s tree carving ‘Sherlock Holmes Bust’.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

The Timber

The Sherlock Holmes bust was for a private client who commissioned it as a gift. He’s made from oak which means that although he is pale at the moment and has some yellow tones, in time he will get darker. The rings and markings will become black as it makes contact with rain, and the UV rays of the sun will cause the wood to pick up greyish hues. In combination with the natural darkening, it means that as he ages, the wood will become more reminiscent of the furniture and drawing room decor of the Sherlock’s own era.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

It’s all in the Details!

Fans of the detective will have noticed a few interesting details on the Sherlock Holmes bust that refer to Conan Doyle’s original short stories, and four novels.
Incidentally, as well using his trusted Stihl and Manpa tools for this project, Simon also used the Saburrtooth burr bits on the die grinder and some of their small rotary tools to achieve the details and texture. But back to the details! Simon included nine ‘clues’ or references to the Sherlock Holmes stories on the bust. Can you spot them all? See how many you can find before we reveal all later!

Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Inspiration

One of the problems when creating a sculpture of a character from a book, is that there isn’t a definitive image to work from as there would be a historic figure. This is only heightened when he has been represented by so many different people on screen too! As the client is a fan of the fiction and not just a particular on-screen representation of Sherlock, Simon chose the Sidney Paget illustrations as his inspiration.

Paget illustrated the original Conan Doyle stories for The Strand magazine. With over 350 illustrations created by Paget, there was no shortage of imagery to work from! Simon not only used the facial features of the Paget artwork as the basis for his carving, but was also attentive to the original stories as he added details to the bust. One of the most obvious of these is the shape of the pipe. Although we have come to associate Sherlock Holmes with a large, curved meerschaum pipe, there is actually no reference to this in the original stories. By choosing something simpler and less iconic, Simon has ensured the bust is faithful to the original illustrations rather than the images that evolved over time.

Sherlock Holmes by Simon O'Rourke

The Big Reveal!

All good detective stories end with a ‘big reveal’. Thankfully, when this sculpture was revealed to the birthday person, it was received better than the surprise the characters often get in crime fiction! We are glad to say that the client told us Sherlock arrived this afternoon and is now in its final location. We’re absolutely delighted – it is stunning!”

And now, for our other ‘big reveal’: The clues within the Sherlock Holmes Bust……

Snake and Baker Street Detail from Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Hidden Clues

As you look at the various views of Sherlock, you should hopefully find the following ten references to stories:

1. Stiletto dagger he used to pin correspondence to the mantle piece
2. Pince nez glasses – The Golden Pince-nez
3. Honeycomb – His Last Bow
4. Broken crown – Musgrave ritual
5. Persian slipper he used for storing tobacco

Sherlock Holmes tree carving statue by Simon O'Rourke

6. Handgun
7. 221b plaque
8. Snake – The Speckled Band
9. Violin
10. Stick Men – The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Oak Sherlock Holmes Bust by Simon O'Rourke

We loved this commission, because as well as being an opportunity for Simon to show his talent for human form, it was such a unique gift to create. If you need a beautiful, unique and sustainable gift for somebody, contact us on simon[email protected] to talk about the details.