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TV presneter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

A Fire Breathing Dragon

A Fire Breathing Dragon 768 1033 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon was featured on the series opener of Amazing Spaces. It was a great episode, featuring some spectacular architecture and engineering. Simon’s contribution? A 7ft fire breathing dragon!

The Clients

Local couple Guy and Tracey commissioned the fire breathing dragon. They were renovating a former bakehouse, and it was to be the finishing touch. When they approached Simon, he knew he couldn’t say no. He always loves a challenge, so a wall-mounted, fire breathing dragon was a project he couldn’t turn down!

TV presenter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

George Clarke with the fire breathing dragon

The Building

The building itself is incredible. When Guy and Tracey bought their property, it came with a small stone building, which was a former bakehouse. Although it only measures around 3m x 2.5m, they had the idea to turn it into a little crash pad/den. A mini-house!
Space was obviously going to be an issue. Guy is a gifted engineer though and came up with an ingenious fix. In his own words:

“Your bathroom only needs to be big when you’re in it, so I figured you could have the whole bathroom wall moved across and stuck on the wall, and when you need it, pull it towards you to create the bathroom”

That’s right! Guy created a disappearing bathroom to maximise the space! George Clarke was so impressed, the property now ranks in his top three builds!

A Dream Holiday Home

Now finished, the property is a beautiful little getaway, ideal for a couple. Once lockdown is over, it will be available to rent via www.thedragontower.co.uk. If you are impressed with the creativity and engineering, you can also follow them on Twitter where they share more about the process.

fire breathing dragin made from redwood by simon o'rourke mounted on a small stone two storey building

The Story of Maggon the Dragon

The idea for Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon came from Tracey. The fairytale look of the bakehouse captivated her, and she made a joke about needing a dragon to protect them. Tracey is also a big fan of children’s literature and illustration and had always wanted a piece of fantasy art. And so from there, the dragon commission was born! They also had the idea that he could breathe fire when the doorbell rang. Such a fun, and creative finishing touch to a creative and ingenious renovation!

Initially, they planned on making the dragon themselves. But then, they met Simon. His portfolio includes many incredible dragons, including the well-know Dragon of Bethesda. His background as an illustrator also tied in with Tracey’s love of children’s illustration. So all in all, he was the perfect fit for this commission.

redwood fire breathing dragon mounted on a small stone bake house in north wales

Making Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon

Maggon is 7ft and made from a fallen redwood tree. The warm red colour is perfect for this property in North Wales, as it reflects the red dragon on our flag.
Nerd alert! In dry climates, redwood actually becomes a lighter-silvery tan shade if left to weather naturally. These clients needn’t worry though. In damp climates, redwood darkens, so the North Welsh weather will mean that lovely red colouring is retained for years to come.

Engineering Challenges!

The most obvious challenge for this commission was how to make it breathe fire! In this case, Guy had a plan, and Simon’s role was to create a cavity within the sculpture for the propane pipe. If you saw the episode you will have heard Tracey joking about the dragon breathing fire when the doorbell rings. So, for the curious among you.. yes, it is really connected to the doorbell! However, Guy and Tracey wanted to make the fire breathing dragon as environmentally friendly as possible. For this reason, they limit his ‘bursts’ using their own control box – which also helps limit accident potential! Health and Safety matters!

Another problem for Simon to think through was the installation. The dragon not only needed to breathe fire but was going to be mounted on the wall of the house – as if it was climbing towards the window. This meant keeping strictly within certain specifications so it would fit the space. It also meant Simon needed to create the dragon in sections so it would be easier to mount on the wall. Being able to visualise this and take account of it in the design is an essential aspect of larger projects.

More About Making a Fire Breathing Dragon

Simon used a few different Stihl chainsaws with various bars to create the main shape of the dragon. He also used these to begin to add a few cuts that give depth, and some of the more general shape and texture. No dragon is complete without scales though! Simon created the scales with the Manpa Tools Multicutter with a round cutter attachment. The friendly grin (we didn’t want Maggon scaring off guests!) and other facial details were created using Saburrtooth burrs.  The flame-shaped burr is an especially useful tool for these projects. You can see a bit of a ‘before and after’ in this photo, Tracey and Guy took in the workshop. Simon has created the main shape and some details with the chain saw, and begun to add the scales with the multi cutter around the dragon’s hind legs.

close up of a dragon tail made out of redwood

Although it took several days to create Maggon, you can watch the process in under a minute! What are your guesses for who the sculpture in the background will be?

Being on Amazing Spaces

As an artist, it is always an honour to have a piece featured on television. The focus of the show was the build itself, but Simon did also get to meet George Clarke on unveiling day, and enjoyed a good chat! He also loved seeing the build too:
It’s incredible what they’ve managed to do with such a small space! It was great to be involved and to add to a project like that.

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke with TV presente George Clarke. They are pictured in front of The Dragon Tower, a stone bake house converted to a guest house in NOrth Wales. Simon is holding a Stihl chainsaw

Simon with George Clarke and a trusty Stihl chainsaw!

What’s Your Fire Breathing Dragon?

Thank you to those who took the time to comment on social media. It is always lovely to hear from you, and we’re touched by all the great feedback.

If you have a rental property, a novelty piece of art is a GREAT way to make it stand out, and to attract attention – and gain business! If you have an idea for your home or rental property, why not have a chat with Simon? Contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!

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Memorial sculpture for Robyn by Simon O'Rourke

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn 1824 1368 Simon O'Rourke

In our blogs,  the perfect portrait sculpture for you part one and part two, we mentioned commissioning a portrait as a memorial. This week we would like to share a memorial portrait Simon recently created. In fact, it was Simon’s first piece after lockdown began to lift. Thank you to the family for allowing us to write about this memorial aculpture for Robyn.

A memorial sculpture for Robyn carved by Simon O'Rourke depicting a young girl as a fairy with a robin on her open hand

The Commission

Several years ago, Simon received a commission to create a sculpture for a local High School, in memorial of a young student who had tragically passed away. The family were touched by the way the sculpture captured their daughter’s character, even though Simon had never met her. More specifically, they were moved by the way Simon’s portrayal of Robyn captured her loving and caring nature. A

Memorial sculpture for Robyn, carved in oak, depicting a young girl reading a book

Simon’s original memorial for Robyn

Any death of a young person is difficult. However, for this family, there were also questions that took several years to settle. Thankfully they were recently able to find closure and resolution.
To mark the ending of this horrendous time in their lives they wanted to celebrate Robyn’s life. They also wanted to do something that would help eradicate the legal battle which had prevented them from being able to grieve their beautiful daughter. And so, when they moved house, they created a garden that would honour and remember her. Remembering the original memorial scultpure for Robyn that Simon had created, they commissioned a portrait for their garden.

 

memorial sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke in process. picture depicts a metal stool with a very basic outline carved in oak of a young girl sitting, woth a robin on her outstretched hand

The memorial sculpture for Robyn underway in Simon’s garden

Creating the Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

Although the commission was small in scale compared to many Simon has undertaken (have you seen the Giant Hand of Vrynwy or the Marbury Lady?!), in some ways, it was a big undertaking.
Ensuring a memorial sculpture captures and reflects the person is SO important as it is often a key part of the grieving process, and impacts the way the person will be remembered. Simon understands this, and takes time to ‘get to know’ the person through photos and conversation. He is then able to create a memorial sculpture that is truly honouring to the person.

In the case of Robyn, she was a caring, and loving young lady. The many cards the family received after losing her showed them how respected and valued she was for being a good friend. This sculpture shows Robyn at peace, and serene. It also reflects that caring and gentle nature through her body language and relationship with the robin on her hand.

close up of the face of the oak memoral sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke. a young girls face is shown in an oak carving with a serene expression

Working from Home

Simon didn’t just face creative challenges with this sculpture. There was also the very real practical challenge of …… LOCKDOWN!

Health and safety of all the team is important to Simon and Liz. So, like many of the population, Simon had to work from home! Also like many of the population, that meant learning to deal with new interruptions (like the dog moving the video camera) and new distractions (a beautiful garden to tend) In case you didn’t catch them on our Facebook page, here are some of the videos of the memorial sculpture for Robyn in progress….

Back on the chainsaw after 8 weeks! It's been good for me to have a break though …

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

What a scorcher!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Finished Sculpture

As you can see in the videos, Simon used his Stihl cordless chainsaws for the bulk of the carving. He then used Saburrtooth bits to add details and texture. The memorial sculpture for Robyn is oak, which means it is sturdy and stands up well to the chainsaws! It also means it is durable, and will withstand wind and rain – essential for an outdoor sculpture. Oak tends to pull out more brown hues than blacks or greys. This means as the sculpture ages, it will both deepen in colour and become much ‘warmer’ in tone.  This video shows the finished piece from several different angles.

 

Here's a little video to show a different angle!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Friday, 22 May 2020

Testimonial

Simon received a lot of lovely feedback on social media when he originally shared the picture of the memorial for Robyn. Thank you to those who commented! The most important thing though is that the client is happy…..

I do need to thank you for undertaking the carving. As soon as I saw it I was so moved. It is beautful and I thank you for creating a carving in remembrance of Robyn

It is ALWAYS humbling to receive such lovely comments. Even more so when the piece marks the ending of something as challenging as these clients have walked through. Being a part of the healing journey for clients is truly an honour. We think Robyn looks beautiful in the garden created in her memory, and we hope this sculpture will bring the family joy for years and years to come.

Photo provided by client and used with permission.

Commissioning Your Own Memorial Sculpture

If you would like to commission a sculpture in memorial of a loved one, Simon would love to hear from you. Visit us on http://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to connect.

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome back to our woodland sculpture trail series!

If you read our blogs about the Pages Wood commission, and the Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail, you will know that sculpture trails are a great way to encourage people to get outside. They also encourage engagement with the environment and its care – something Simon and Liz are both passionate about. At the moment, we obviously can’t get out to enjoy our beautiful woodlands and parks, so we thought we would bring them to you!

Last time we visited the Wirral and Meadow Park. This week we take you to revisit the Pages Wood sculpture trail….

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

About Pages Wood

Pages Wood is the Forestry Commission’s largest site in Thames Chase and home to 100,000 trees. The wood offers 6.5km of walking and cycling paths and 2.2km of bridlepaths. This valley of green space offers excellent views as well as a rich mosaic of habitats for wildlife – all reflected in Simon’s sculptures.

Extensive views, an excellent path network, developing woodlands, and (of course) Simon’s woodland sculpture trail  all make Pages Wood a “must-visit” site – either for some brisk exercise or just simple relaxation.

As with Meadow Park, Simon and Liz wrote a story to engage the viewer. The trail follows the adventures of Horatio Hedgehog and Verity Vole as they meet other animals in the forest.

Verity Vole Woodland Sculpture Trail

This is Verity! She wanders through Pages Wood, and teaches about the friends she meets through verse, and the visual of the sculpture. See how many of the animals you recognise and knew inhabited the south east of England.

Original Woodland sculpture trail concept sketch by simon o'rourke, Verity Vole

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

 

dragonfly bench concept sketch by simon o'rourke for pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Did Verity teach you anything new? And which was your favourite sculpture from her story?

Horatio Hedgehog Woodland Sculpture Trail

Next we have Horatio! You can scroll through and follow him on his adventure, not only as he meets his woodland friends, but also from his concept sketch to fully installed sculpture!

 

 

 

 

hedgehog and badger tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke from pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

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

 

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

We love that each trail ends with a bench so people can sit and relax and enjoy being in our great British outdoors. It also gives time to ponder on anything they learned it the trail. Our hope is that when Simon makes a woodland sculpture trail, it isn’t just fun to look at, but actually inspires people to action too.

If you are involved in running a local conservation area, and would like to consider adding an educational sculpture trail, why not check out the Meadow Park Case Study on on website for ideas and information?

To talk more about specifics, email Simon on [email protected] Can’t wait to hear from you!

visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!

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].

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.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree 600 450 Simon O'Rourke

Many of you will have read in Simon’s biography that his is in illustration. Tree carving started for him while he was working for Acorn as a tree surgeon while building up his portfolio. He realised he could create beautiful things with the power tools he was using, and the rest is history!
That means not only is he able to create amazing sculptures, but he also has a portfolio of beautiful wall hangings and plaques. You might remember some of them from our Pet Portraits blog.
This week we want to share a recent commission with you which was for an entrance sign to a special place: Simon’s bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree for their new centre in Sandiway, Cheshire.

Wall hangings by Simon O'Rourke

Examples of Simon’s wall hangings at the gallery. Excuse the tinsel, this was taken during a Christmas fundraiser!

The Joshua Tree

Lynda and David Hill founded The Joshua Tree in 2006, after their son was diagnosed with leukaemia. They discovered a distinct lack in support services for all family members during the traumatic experience of childhood cancer, and wanted to provide something for other families in their situation.

Their goal is to support the whole family, from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. They especially recognise that post-treatment can be a challenging time,  as families have to adapt to a ‘new normal’, but many of the support services that are in place during treatment,  have come to an end.  The Joshua Tree offers support, and help bridge the gap when that safety net of treatment ends.

Even though it’s only 14 years since its inception, The Joshua Tree have received over 170 referrals! They estimate that in that time they delivered over 1700 family interactions delivered to families affected by childhood cancers.

Architect’s impression of The Joshua Tree’s new centre

The Joshua Tree Support Centre

One of the charity’s undertakings is a new support centre in Sandiway. It’s still under construction, but even a quick look at their blog shows it is going to be an amazing facility. As part of the finishing touches, Simon was commissioned to create a bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree centre.

The goal of the centre is to provide a safe and relaxing environment for families. It will cater for children of all ages, from toddlers to teens! It will have activity room, counselling suites, soft play, sensory equipment, as well as games room, office  accommodation, outdoor play and landscaped gardens. It’s definitely a special project, and we know it will make an incredible difference to so many.

The Joshua Tree Support Centre under construction. Simon O'Rourke created a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree.

The centre under construction

Simon’s Contribution.

The commission for a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree Centre came after one of the staff noticed Simon’s work online. It seemed a good fit from the beginning. Not only did they like his work, but as The Joshua Tree supports families in Wales, it seemed fitting to commission  a ‘local’ artist.

Simon made the sign of a lovely warm, cedar. His choice of timber has meant the placing of the logo still allows for some of the lovely knots and markings to come through, so it still has an organic feel. The building is also clad in cedar, so it will be a beautiful compliment to a great facility.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

Simon and Paul handing over the finished sign.

Simon is available for commissions of pet portraits, signs and wall hangings.

Email [email protected] to discuss the details.

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.

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]