animal sculpture

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.

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]

Ice Carving for Christmas

Ice Carving for Christmas 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

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

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

The Event

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

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

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

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

Past Ice Sculptures

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

Cardiff Ice Kingdom sculptures by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s work at 2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom

Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa Sculpture by Simon

Local Ice Carving

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

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

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

Penguins in Ice by Simon O'Rourke

Finished penguin ice carving

From Wood to Ice

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

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

Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving in progress 2017

Penguins in progress in 2017

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

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

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

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

Close up of penguin ice carving by simon o'rourke

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

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

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

Not All Change!

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

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

Ice carving penguins by Simon O'Rourke

 

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.

 

A Hydra Rising

A Hydra Rising 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Commission

Last week Simon was in Surrey completing a private commission for a client: A Hydra rising from the ground.

The nature of tree carving means really having to go with the flow. Or we should say, go with the grain.
And the flaws.
Plus the cracks and future cracks.
The knots too.
And more!
In this case, Simon had seen photos and had an idea of creating an animal emerging from the ground. However, it was only when he saw the timber in person, that he could fully commit to a design. A hydra rising from among the fallen tree.

A work-in-progress photo of a Hydra rising from the ground by Simon O'Rourke

The hydra in process

The Timber

The timber in question was willow, which is technically a ‘medium hard’ wood. That description is a little deceiving though, as it is actually lightweight, and very soft. That softness is actually why it’s a popular choice for whittling and wood carving. It means that it doesn’t make good  lumber for furniture or construction though. It also isn’t a good choice for firewood, as it gives off relatively little heat compared with other woods. That means a fallen willow is a perfect excuse for having something unique created in your garden!

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Process

Once he got to work, Simon enjoyed creating heads from each of the branches. He used a range of Stihl, Milwaukee, and Manpa tools to create the faces and scales that make it appear a hydra is rising from the ground. In part, this effect is enhanced by the choice of leaving some bark and leaves lower down the individual branches. He was especially thankful for the Stihl MS193c petrol chainsaw as there was nowhere to charge any batteries! That said, there is an upgraded Stihl MS 151 C-E out now that he can’t wait to get his hands on. It promises an increase in power and torque, whilst still being their most lightweight back handle saw.

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Sponsorship News.

While we’re speaking of Stihl, it seems a good opportunity to share that they have renewed their sponsorship of Simon. We’re delighted by this, as they provide such consistent quality tools and customer service. You can see their full range of products at https://www.stihl.co.uk/products.aspx . We also thought we’d share this video from their website which shares a little more as to why we love this partnership.

The Finished Product.

But back to the hydra! After many hours playing with power tools, we have a finished hydra rising. For Greek Mythology purists, Simon suggests not counting the heads as it has a few more than tradition says! And speaking of Greek Mythology, whether it be the intricacies or the teeth and scales, or the ferociousness of expression that wins him over, we reckon even Heracles wouldn’t want to chop any of the heads off this particular hydra!

Close up of the Hydra Heads. A private tree carving commission by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the heads showing the detail and texture.

Simon is available for bespoke sculptures from your damaged or fallen trees. Contact him using our online form or on [email protected] for quotes or just to find out more.

Those Autumn Leaves – Enjoying The Changing Season

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

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

Stanley by Simon O'Rourke as Marford Quarry

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

Sculpture Trails

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

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O'Rourke

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O’Rourke

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

Close up of the face of the lynx at Fforest Fawr

Pages Wood

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

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

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

Those Autumn Leaves

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

Wolf by Simon O'Rourke at Fforest Fawr

Howling wolf at Fforest Fawr

The Wonder of Nature

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

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

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr by Simon O'Rourke

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page’s Wood

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

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

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

A New Bird In Town: The R Charity Liver Bird

A New Bird In Town: The R Charity Liver Bird 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This week we want to share with you one of Simon’s latest projects: the R Charity Liver Bird.
For those who have never heard of Liver Birds, you are not alone. Read on to find out more!

2019 Liver Bird by Simon O'Rourke

2019 Liver Bird by Simon O’Rourke

 

THE LIVER BIRD LEGEND

The Liver Bird is a fictional bird, that usually looks like a cormorant, and its history dates back to 1207 when the city was founded. In fact, legend has it that if they mate and fly away the city will cease to exist!  The most iconic representation of Liver Birds is on the Liver Building near the docks. What people often don’t know though is that there are actually over 100 of them throughout the city! And now there’s a new O’Rourke Liver Bird in town!

Reverse of Simon O'Rourke's 2019 Liver Bird

Reverse of Simon O’Rourke’s 2019 Liver Bird

ABOUT THIS BIRD

Simon made this particular Liver Bird out of Redwood. It is carved with some of Simon’s favourite Stihl and Manpa tools, and stands around 2′ tall, and it was commissioned for an auction being held at the R Charity Annual Ball.

4th ANNUAL R CHARITY BALL

The ball takes place on 6th September. The organisers (R Charity), work with departments across the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital Trust. They identify and deliver projects that will provide staff with equipment and facilities that will enhance patient experience whilst within their care.
The 4th annual charity ball is specifically to raise money for the Urology department at the Royal.  Funds raised will go towards the purchase of a TRUB machine which helps to detect and diagnose prostate cancer.

Close up on the Simon O'Rourke logo and texture of the base

Close up on the Simon O’Rourke logo and texture of the base

R CHARITY

This is not the first time Simon has donated sculptures to R Charity. An auction at a previous ball raised over £2000 for the hospital, and earlier this year he donated work to raise funds for the hospital’s Roald Dahl Centre.
Simon himself is a ‘local lad’ (he grew up in the Waterloo area), and still has family in the city. More recently one of the Tree Carving team also became a patient at their Roald Dahl Centre. With friends and family benefiting from the excellent care the trust offers, Simon is happy to be able to ‘give something back’ in this way.

R Charity 4th Annual Ball

Tickets are still available for the ball where the auction for the R Charity Liver Bird will take place.
Email [email protected] call 0151 706 3150 or go use Eventbrite to buy your ticket.

If the cause itself is close to your heart, you can donate on their Just Giving page.

Although Simon’s time is limited, and he can’t say ‘yes’ to every request, you can contact us about commissions for charity at [email protected]

Skulptur Rabatz: A Cacophony of Carvers!

Skulptur Rabatz: A Cacophony of Carvers! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Skulptur Rabatz 2019 certainly lived up to its name! ‘Rabatz’ translates as ‘din’, and with 13 simultaneous sculptures in production, there certainly was a ‘din’! There was also a lot of fun, community, and creativity on show at this event hosted by Florian Lindner.

Florian is a well-known character in the tree carving world. He hosts an event around this time each year, usually called ‘Holz-Flori & Friends’. This year, the change of name reflected the task: creating an ‘orchestra’ of zodiac figures.

Participants in Skulptur Rabatz

Participants in Skulptur Rabatz

 

Skulptur Rabatz stands 2019

Participant ‘booths’ at Skulptur Rabatz, displaying the flag of each participant

The Event

Over the event, 15 tree carvers took part and each created a ‘sign of the zodiac’ playing an instrument. When displayed together, they make up a ‘zodiac orchestra’. The sculptures will be displayed in a circle, as if they mark numbers on a clock. Simon carved the conductor, who will stand in the centre as the ‘gnomon’ (the piece that casts the shadow).

The rabbit gnomon by Simon O'Rourke

The rabbit gnomon

The Concept

The idea of zodiac figures playing instruments is quite comic, and meant the artists could all really use their imaginations.  Most are oversized and have a cartoon or caricature-like quality, adding to the fun of the concept. Simon’s finished sculpture is an ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’-like moon-gazing hare (fits with the zodiac/astrology theme) with a fly-away tail coat and over-sized feet and ears. And what better thing to use to conduct such an orchestra than a chainsaw with a blade Stihl would be proud of!

Rabbit Gnomon with chainsaw baton by Simon O'Rourke

The rabbit conductor ‘gnomon’ with chainsaw ‘baton’

Speed Carving

There was also a speed carve where Simon carved this elegant-looking lady in under an hour!

elegant lady Speed carve by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s speed carve from the event

Atmosphere & Culture

As with all these events, there is far more happening than just the carving – impressive as that is. As well as other attractions, Skulptur Rabatz also featured ‘The Sprockets’ – a band made up of some of the carvers and their wives, including Si and Liz! No footage has emerged yet, but if you give Skulptur Rabatz a follow on their Facebook page, some might appear soon!

The 13 sculptures completed for the Skulptur Rabatz sundial

The 13 sculptures completed for the sundial

Pets and family are also welcome and get incorporated into the fun. This gave @poppystihl chance to build her own following/fan club!
Poppy is Liz and Si’s dog, and can often be found ‘helping’ at events. You can follow her tree carving adventures separate from Simon on Instagram. If you ever stop to see Simon and Liz at an event, feel free to give her a belly rub!

Attending the Event

If you are able, we fully recommend coming to a tree carving event. Not only is it impressive to watch the artists at work, but the events are great fun. There is a wonderful sense of community and inspired creativity. They usually happen surrounded by beautiful scenery, and there is often plenty to do for the whole family.

Did you enjoy the ‘zodiac’ theme? Maybe it’s something you’d like to incorporate into your own garden, using the star signs of your family? If so, message us on [email protected] to talk about possibilities and costs.