action camera

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Image of A 'recipe for success' we recently spotted online.

Recipe for Success

We recently saw this poster showing the recipe for success. We totally, agree about ALL those ingredients. When we think about Tree Carving though, we’d like to add a few more. Talent is one for sure! Studying and technical know-how would be another (remember this blog about the golden ratio?). We would also love to add teachability, humility, and – our focus for today – teamwork and character.

Teamwork and character image by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

On Being A Team

Although an art and business like Tree Carving could seem like a one-person operation, the reality is far from it. Whether it be accounts, social media, organising a calendar, editing videos, providing equipment, maintaining chainsaws, bringing creative ideas for new projects, promotion, helping create a commission, or simply moving equipment and timber, Tree Carving wouldn’t be what it is without a team.

We like thinking of it as being like the human body. Every person represents a different part, with a different role to play. Each part (person) is uniquely created to fulfill that role best. That means  we respect that person, and honour what they bring. I mean come on, feet are great for getting us places, but have you tried using them to type? And while the heart is GREAT for pumping blood round the body, it wouldn’t be great at filtering that blood the way the kidneys do! That sense of team isn’t just our permanent employees either. We also think of our affiliates, sponsors and people we contract specific jobs out to as being part of our team – and hope they feel that way too!

Teamwork Moments

We’ll talk a bit more further into the blog about how we develop our sense of teamwork and character. For now though, we thought we would relive some of our more obvious examples of teamwork.
Can you imagine moving this much dragon (read more about this dragon throne here) without being able to effectively communicate with others? Or if you couldn’t trust the others to fulfill their role? Which reminds us! For us, teamwork isn’t just about atmosphere, efficiency and efficacy. When it comes to chainsaws, scaffolding and large sculptures, it’s also what helps keep us safe!

Transporting the RAF Dragon throne by Simon O'Rourke

Transporting the RAF Valley Dragon Throne

Building Teamwork and Character

As teamwork and character are so important to us we are intentional about creating opportunities to grow in both. We do this through our everyday choices, but also through specific, focused times of personal development and team building.

One example of this is that recently Simon and Dan took part in a 4MUK weekend. The weekend is called ‘XCC‘ or ‘Extreme Character Challenge’, and it is definitely an appropriate name!

The XCC

The XCC is an active and challenging endurance event for men, out in the wild. For 72 hours men face significant physical challenges, deep camaraderie and profound moments of moral and spiritual input. It’s a time to find perspective, build meaningful connection and become a support network to each other. The men honestly evaluate their struggles and successes and examine how to move forward to live and experience life at its fullest.

Not only did Simon and Dan survive the Welsh Autumn weather, but they can both testify to what an amazing weekend it was. Both would say that it changed them in positive ways, and will strengthen and improve their ability to work as a team. Thank you to Stihl for providing some goodies from their awesome clothing range to help keep them warm and dry!

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

More Than Just A Weekend

Weekends like this are great. They help develop trust, get us out of our routines, and give us a place to share safely, openly and honestly so we can help each other take steps to self improvement. BUT! They obviously aren’t be the only things that contribute to us working effectively as a team.

Later this year, Simon will be leading a team building weekend for Stihl employees. Putting together a week of teaching and exercises like that, means needing to be clear on what it is that facilitates good teamwork. As we’re reflecting on that, we thought we would share some of our pointers and practices with you.

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Our Top Tips!
WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE:

We mentioned that we like to embrace everyone we work with as part of the team. For us, that means making room for them and all their skills, knowledge and personality. It means accepting them as they are, embraching our similarities and honouring our differences. Liz in particular is great at this, and a big part in creating a sense of family or team.

COMMUNICATION & VULNERABILITY:

We value honesty and integrity. And we value being able to admit to our weaknesses and struggles and being able to ask others. It’s important to communicate our needs to each other. That might be something simple like needing a specific document, or somebody to take the weight of a sculpture in a specific place. It might also be something harder like needing time off or a quiet chat.
It’s also super important to feel safe to ASK! Especially if there’s something we don’t understand or needs clarification for us to do it safely.We also want to celebrate the good stuff. Amazing how much difference it can make to somebody to just communicate that something they did well is appreciated!

Nest and rigging by Simon O'Rourke - example of good teamwork

An example of ‘during’ and ‘after’ for a project in Southampton that needed good teamwork.

CONFRONT CHALLENGES AND DIFFICULTIES

Another tough one! We find our challenges come in all shapes and sizes. There are practical challenges like trying to figure out how to assemble and disassemble giant sculptures. We also have our own personal and relational bumps that come up. It isn’t easy, but making sure we acknowledge and own them and (see the two points above) face them TOGETHER is a big part of being a team that works well together.

EMBRACE THE PROCESS

Our own character determines how well we are able to be a team player, and growing that takes time. Good teamwork is also something that comes through consistent work and practice. Neither of them are quick things, so we also need to embrace the idea of being in process. It can be difficult in a world of quick answers and solutions. Being willing to allow time and ‘baby steps’  and staying committed to that journey is a big part of good teamwork though.

FORGIVE!

Our final one is perhaps the biggest part of good teamwork. We are all human. That means we all have our strengths and weaknesses, our good days and our bad days. Being quick to apologise and quick to forgive isn’t easy, but makes for much better relationships, a happier and more focused work place, and sets the stage for some great teamwork.

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

Highclere Airman and benches highlight Simon and Dan playing to their strengths as sculpter and carpenter.

We love our Tree Carving team, no matter their role. It’s a journey, and we know we don’t do team work perfectly, but we definitely know how important it is, and work towards it. We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about how we’re committed to the process, and maybe even picked up some pointers for your own teams.

What are some of your top tips for enabling good team work? Comment below and let us know!

 

A Phoenix Arises

A Phoenix Arises 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

There’s something very poetic about this week’s featured sculpture, where a phoenix arises from a Douglas Fir.

Unlike many commissions where a tree is damaged or diseased and a customer wants to turn it into something beautiful, in this case there was nothing wrong with the tree. Rather, it had simply become too big for its location, and couldn’t stay where it was planted. This isn’t uncommon. Lots of people plant trees in gardens not realising how big they’ll get, and they become a potential hazards. There are plenty of ways to transform the story of that tree though if that happens, including commissioning a unique piece of art!

Work in progress on Simon O'Rourke's phoenix

Work in progress

The Legend of the Phoenix

The phoenix is a bird which has come to represent new life. More specifically, it has also come to represent the birth of something beautiful out of the end of something else. Greek and Roman mythology says this long-lived bird dies in a show of flames. Then, out of the ashes from the fire, a phoenix arises in a majestic show. It then seems fitting that a tree that has seen the end of its natural life, would give birth to this stunning phoenix sculpture. The parallels don’t end there. Legend also says the phoenix dies and regenerates after 1000 years of life. Did you know that’s also the possible life span of the Douglas Fir?! As an evergreen tree, the Douglas Fir can also represent eternal life – as does the phoenix because of its legendary cycle death and regeneration.

A Phoenix Arises by Simon O'Rourke

About the Sculpture

This particular fir  had an interesting shape that Simon needed to work with. Trees always come with their own sets of twists, knots and potential for future cracks, and Simon has to constantly adapt his design as he discovers those. The shapes and textures work so well in this sculpture though, you would never know it hadn’t been specifically and intentionally designed that way!

The twists and texture from the very base of the trunk to where the phoenix arises mimic the movement of the flames that legend says consumed the first bird. These get more intense, closer together and more detailed as they travel up the trunk, until they become actual flames. Their shape is also reminiscent of the sun, which is also closely tied the the legend of the phoenix.
From the centre of these flames, Simon’s stunning phoenix rises, with its wings unfurled as if about to take flight. Stray feathers carved into the trunk further down, enhance this sense of movement, as they seem to have dropped from powerfully flapping wings.

Full length picture of A Phoenix Arises by Simon O'Rourke showing the feathers falling in flight

Full length photo showing the falling feathers from the Phoenix taking flight

The Harry Cane

Are you as fascinated by the flames as we are? We think their texture and shape is magnificent, and creates a wonderful organic-looking flame for the phoenix to rise from.
Simon had to use a few different tools to create that look. Firstly, his Manpa Tools belts and cutters. Simon was recently sponsored by the company and is enjoying their products to take some of his sculptures to the next level. He also used gouging attachments gifted to him by The Harry Cane. These attachments were devised by Harry Cane to attach to the Stihl MS170 (Stihl’s recommended entry level chainsaw) or MSE170, and are ideal for ‘gouging’ as well as to add another level of depth. Anyone wanting to get their hands on one for themselves can visit The Harry Cane shop at http://theharrycane.de/shop.html

Harry Cane chainsaw attachments as used by Simon O'Rourke

The Harry Cane attachments on the Stihl MS 170

The Douglas Fir

It isn’t just the phoenix that has its own interesting story either. The Douglas Fir has its own interesting background too. As we are lovers of all things arboricultural and forestry, we’re sharing some random ‘tree trivia’ (should that be a hashtag?!) with you:

Tree Trivia

You probably know the Douglas Fir better as a ‘Christmas Tree’. Whilst we use several species to decorate our homes over the season, the Douglas fir is the most common.

The Douglas fir isn’t actually a true fir! That’s why we sometimes know it as Oregon Pine, Douglas Pine, Douglas Spruce and Puget Sound Pine.

The tree is native to the Pacific Northwest in the US (the alternative names might have been a giveaway).  It was brought to the UK by David Douglas in 1827 and is considered naturalised in the UK, Europe, South America and New Zealand.

Douglas fir is extremely versatile, and can be used for lumber, food, drink and traditional medicine. It is also frequently used ornamentally in trees and park, and is useful to wildlife as food and shelter.

The only remaining US Navy wooden ships are made from Douglas Fir.

Close up of the upper part of "A Phoenix Arises" by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the phoenix rising from the sun-like flames

Testimonial

We hope you enjoy learning more about the trees Simon works with. We also hope you love the phoenix as much as we do. More importantly, as much as the owner does! We leave you this week with this testimonial from a very satisfied customer.

As always, if you find yourself in the same situation as this client, contact Simon on [email protected]  to talk about ways of giving it new life.

 

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The August bank holiday means one thing in the Tree Carving Calendar – The English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition! This year it took place at the Cheshire Game and Country Fair during one of our warmest weekends of the year. We’re happy to announce that Simon took a first and second place!
english open chainsaw competition

THE COMPETITION

Simon entered the ‘Combo’ competition this year. This meant he had up to ten hours on day one to create a piece using ONLY a chainsaw.  He then had up to 15 hours on the Sunday and Monday for the ‘Full Power Event’. The artist can use any power or hand tools, paints, oils and varnishes for this category. For both events the timber is provided and the artist can’t add any fixtures.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at The English Open Chainsaw Competition

The fairy which took second place in the chain saw only event

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition

The angel which took first place in the ‘full power’ event

THE CHAINSAW COMPETITION

The Chainsaw-only piece was this fairy, created with Simon’s trusty Stihl chainsaws. Although using only chainsaws typically means less detail, we love the texture of her sassy bob, the movement of her dress, and the intricate twisted base. Although she is clearly a more modern take on a fairy, she also has hints of the form you expect from a classic renaissance cherub, and hints of light whimsy with the detail in her wings. The fairy took second place and was part of the auction where all the competing artists sell their work.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw CompetitionFairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

THE FULL POWER COMPETITION

Simon’s ‘Full Power’ angel took first place in the competition. Simon has recently been sponsored by Manpa Tools, and this was his first piece using their equipment since their sponsorship. This video shows Simon using their angle grinder to create the ‘drapery’ on the angel. Although the fairy doesn’t lack texture by any means, the Manpa angle grinders create more subtle texture and details. As a private commission, the angel wasn’t part of the auction, but as always, if you like her, Simon is available to talk about a commission.

Loving these grinder attachments from Manpatools!! Here's me using them to create some drapery!

Posted by Simon James O'Rourke on Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

Altogether there were 30 carvers representing 14 nations who took part over the three days. As well as the classic and combo competitions, there were also speed carvings over the three days, which somehow Simon also managed to fit in! The event was a great time to see talented artists at work, and to connect with the community.
When asked about the event, Simon commented: “It was great to be back at the English Open and I’m really thrilled I placed 1st and second in the combo competition, there were a lot of great pieces!

 

Pet Portraits

Pet Portraits 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Pet Portraits

11th April was National Pet Day. We loved seeing all the photos of pets online, daft bunch of animal lovers that we are! Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough though. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so in honour of the day, here are some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’:

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

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

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

Cheila

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

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

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

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Dachshund

Our most recent of Simon’s Pet Portraits was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process, and there’s no doubt; it’s fascinating to watch Simon work. To answer the ‘viewers’ he got out his Olfi Action Camera last week so you can see him working on this commission.

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

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

 

Portrait Panels

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

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

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

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

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

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

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

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

Get Your Own pet Portrait

Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, visit

https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/wildlife/

If you are interested in one of Simon’s Pet Portraits, get in touch with us at [email protected]

 

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
For the Throne!

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date. He was invited to take part in HBO’s For the Throne (#forthethrone) campaign, to promote season eight of Game of Thrones.

The Campaign

18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO. Each artist was given an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and were given a brief to create something around that prop.

The Arrival of the Eggs

Simon was given the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, they were also inspiring as pieces of art in themselves. They had detailed scaly texture and amazing ombre, blended metallic colouring – things that aren’t obvious on screen.  Incredible to think of the time, skill and artistry that goes into even tiny props!

Simon’s task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It also had to fit with the era and location of the series. Watch this video to see Simon receiving the eggs!

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects. This meant he had LOTS of ideas for shape, texture, and details. However, he also had to consider some practicalities.

The Practical Requirements
  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be securely so they could withstand travel (both on and off screen)
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

The Design Process

With those practicalities in place, Simon could then consider more aesthetic details.

The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include. Whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head? I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. It was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales. The mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The Casket Created

Simon made the casket from yew, which had some beautiful markings and colouring.  An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair!
Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place. Their random placement, irregular shape, and rough texture lend the feel of danger or uncertainty. There is also an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs: “Like a mutated dragon”. All this heightens the sense of danger.

Although they create caution, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth also invite touch – just like the eggs themselves. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series,  (Daenerys is the only one who feels life within them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

More Artistic Details

Abstract dragon wings shroud the dragon’s mouth. This casing further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


When asked about the biggest challenge, Simon told us it was difficult  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing“.
In retrospect however, we wonder if the greater challenge was keeping such an exciting project secret until now!

Get Involved!

This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series. They’re inviting artists to post their work on social media. When you post, just include the hashtag #forthethrone and your work might be included!

The Power of Vanquis!!

The Power of Vanquis!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We were asked earlier this year to create a carving of a Game of Thrones style character emerging from a log. It transpired that it was needed to film a commercial for a credit card! I was so busy I had to enlist the help of Paul from Ossum Tree Carving, my apprentice, to help me.

Having delivered it to the back of beyond, somewhere in Betws Y Coed, the following day this advert was filmed!

 

 

Exciting start to 2018!

Exciting start to 2018! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

A very happy new year to you all!

We hope that your January so far has been really brilliant and not blue at all.

Ours has been crazy cool, with lots of commissions, meetings, networking and travel, but the most exciting thing was having the Stihl GB team come to film Simon with their fab marketing team and film crew, HROC!

Here’s a couple of snaps from the day a couple of weeks ago and there will be some fantastic video footage being released in early March, so watch this space!

Lights, Action Camera!! OLFI? what’s that?

Lights, Action Camera!! OLFI? what’s that? 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

I know what you’re thinking, but those words are the right way round!

I have been using the amazing little OLFI action camera for a year now, and it’s an incredible bit of kit!

My most recent time-lapse videos are filmed on it using the really useful video lapse setting, which saves the time of stitching together all the photos in separate software.

Click on the link or the picture to see what all the fuss is about! #OLFI = One Life Film It!

OLFI Action Camera