behind the scenes

Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

St George and the Dragon Sculpture

St George and the Dragon Sculpture 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

It’s a day late, but Happy St George’s Day to my English friends!
It’s actually quite the week for important days. The Queen’s birthday, St George’s Day, and the anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and death. Definitely lots of choice there for a blog that fits the calendar! We decided to balance out all the dragons on this blog a little though, and share about this St George and the Dragon sculpture. I actually carved the piece earlier this year, so you might have seen the pictures on social media already. Every sculpture has its own story though,  so keep reading to find out about this one…..

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

The Subject

This St George and the dragon sculpture was a commission from a client in the south of England. She had an oak stump in the garden, and began exploring ideas with Simon as to what it could become.
Commissioning a sculpture is never just one email requesting a particular subject. There is the actual timber itself to consider (is the size, shape etc suitable), client preferences, artist vision and skill, and the overall impact in its environment. Investing in a piece of art isn’t a small decision, especially when it’s a tree stump and physically not so easy to move as selling a small picture!

In this case, of the ideas discussed, St George was most meaningful to the client. St George’s Day is special to her as it is also her birthday! The sculpture will now be part of her annual celebration as, in her own words, she can “raise a glass every year standing by [her] stunning tree carving!”

Original client concept sketch of St George and the Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Original sketch for the commission overlaying the stump

Finalising the Design
Once a subject is chosen, there is still more discussion between Simon and a client. Simon will share some of his ideas, as well as talking about how to make that happen. He will take into account not only the kind of piece the client wants, but also the timber. Sometimes there may be cracks that need to be taken into account. Other times there may be a beautiful grain pattern. Sometimes knots or the shape of the branches will lend themselves to a particular feature.
Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Refining an Idea
In this case, some of the main conversation points were focused on:
Scale
Given the diameter of the trunk, St George couldn’t be life size. Simon suggested that instead, he could be stood on a precarious pile of rocks, which would give a nice context. Ultimately, St George would need to be no higher than 18″. This ‘miniature’ turned out to be a fun contrast for Simon, as it immediately followed the Marbury Lady!
Story
Those of you familiar with Simon’s work, know he takes his inspiration from artists like Rodin and Bernini. They changed the concept of portrait work from being static, to telling a story. In the same way, Simon’s work always invites the viewer into a narrative. In this case there was a natural story to tell…..the legend of St George and the Dragon.
St George and the Dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Choosing the Narrative
SPOILER ALERT!
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of St George and the Dragon, basically an English knight tames and slays a dragon. Simon suggested that this sculpture incorporate that story. His suggestions included portraying George in the act of stabbing the dragon with a spear.
Alternatively, he suggested the dragon could be underneath him, or it could be rearing up above him, even adding wings on to give a striking silhouette.
This is where dialogue is important, as although these ideas could look fantastic, they weren’t fully what the client was after. She had concerns stabbing the dragon could look a little macabre (and who wants to celebrate a birthday that way!!), and wanted the emphasis on St George.
With this in mind, Simon decided to include the dragon as part of the story, but to merge it into the trunk. As well as hinting at the legend, this would also have the effect of emphasising the figure of St George. And so, the St George and the Dragon sculpture was decided!
Dragon from Simon O'Rourke's St George and the Dragon sculpture
Creating the St George and the Dragon Sculpture

As you look at the concept sketch next to the finished design, you will notice it wasn’t identical. This is part of the process of working with wood. When Simon saw the stump in person, the design changed due to the centre of the tree being offset. This meant that as it ages, it won’t split as much, as if he had used the original design.

Concept sketch with finished st george and the dragon sculpture

Creating this in the client’s garden involved copious use of the Stihl battery saws. As he was carving, Simon hit a few nails, hence the dark blue staining on the inside of the tree. Luckily he had spare chain with him for the saw he was using for detail. Hitting metal with that delicate chain is usually terminal for the cutters!!

 

St george and the dragon in process

The sculpture as Simon finished with the chainsaws, and was ready to begin with the smaller tools.

Saburrtooth burrs also played a bit part in the detailing. The detail on the face was made using the 3/8″ eye cutter and 1/4″ taper – a couple of staple tools that Simon relies on.

 

Visible detail on St George and the Dragon Sculpture by Simon O Rourke

Visible detail on the rocks and dragon

And that brings to an end our story of the St George and the Dragon sculpture!
We hope you enjoyed hearing a little more about the process behind finalising a design.
If you would like Simon to create something truly unique for your own home, garden or business, contact him on [email protected]
Although at the moment he is unable to carve at the moment, he is still able to sketch ideas and work on initial concepts and quotes, as well as working on his upcoming online art courses.

Next week, as we can’t go outdoors and travel as much, we will be bringing some of the UKs forest trails to you instead!

We leave you with the time lapse of the creation of this stunning St George and the Dragon sculpture.
Stay safe, and stay well.

 

 

 

Poppy met stihl helmet and ear protection

When Poppy met Stihl!

When Poppy met Stihl! 1536 2048 Simon O'Rourke

We thought this would be a good week for something a little different, and a little fun. Simon has been sponsored by Stihl since 2017. It’s a perfect partnership, and a truly authentic one, as he really does love the quality, and range of products. Whether it’s a chainsaw he needs or protective clothing, Stihl have it covered! In this blog, we’ll share some of their products that are used almost daily – featuring our very own pet (and unofficial Tree Carving mascot), POPPY! Scroll down to see what happened when Poppy met Stihl!

Poppy Stihl with the MS500i

When Poppy Met Stihl: The Stihl MS500i

Obviously chainsaw art can’t happen without good, dependable chainsaws! The Stihl MS500i is a high performance saw that makes easy work of large pieces of timber. It uses innovative technology to achieve rapid acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in an unbelievable 0.25 seconds! Definitely not for use on your garden hedge!  In fact, Simon describes it as a ‘beast’! With that kind of power, it’s his first choice for the large cuts to block out big sculptures.
With a hint back to our blog about Acton Health and Safety, this saw also features STIHL’s anti-vibration system. This is important for Simon for minimising some of the well-documented health challenges associated with vibrations from power tools.

When Poppy met stihl clothing

When Poppy Met Stihl: Advance X-TREEm Jacket

If a dog’s got to be out working in all conditions, they need a decent jacket.  The Stihl X-Treem jacket (see what they did there?!)  featured in all these photos does it ALL! We think Poppy makes it look pretty good too! Anyone know any canine modeling agents?
But back to the jacket!
Attachment points for saw guard…… Removable sleeves, spacer material on the shoulders and adjustable ventilation openings for comfortable regulation of body temperature……Ceramic dots on the elbows offer abrasion protection…..Outer shoulder zone has grip dot abrasion protection…… Large areas of high visibility orange with contrast areas for excellent visibility……Two breast pockets, one inside pocket and one sleeve pocket…..
What more could a dog want? Works pretty well for Simon too!

Poppy wasn’t so keen on wearing them, but Simon also relies on the cut-proof and waterproof trousers and lightweight jackets, whether working in the workshop or outdoors.

When poppy met stihl ear protection

When Poppy Met Stihl: Ear Protection

Ear protection is an essential….at least for Simon! Stihl have a great range of gloves, safety glasses, head and ear protection.  Notice the cap too. According to Poppy, Stihl clothing is also for leisure time and not just work!

Poppy met stihl helmet and ear protection

When Poppy Met Stihl: Safety Helmet

Poppy’s final photo features another essential piece of protection. Did you spot it? That’s right, a blanket – an essential for tree carving trips.
OK, not really!
As you may have seen in our blogs about the Marbury Lady, the Spirit of Ecstasy, or the Giant Hand of Vrnwy, Simon often has to climb some fairly tall scaffolding. When he has projects that need him to work at height, he always wears his Stihl safety helmet. Safety is incredibly important, and their helmets have all kinds of ‘add ons’ or design features specific to this kind of work. These range from integrated ear or face protection to vents, or lightweight versions.

If you work with machinery, heights, or just in any area of your work, we do encourage you to follow safety protocols. It may be uncomfortable initially, but optimum health and safety is always worth the initial discomfort.

Poppy, Simon, Liz O'Rourke with the Game of Thrones eggs and casket

Poppy Stihl!

For those who enjoyed our blog featuring Poppy, she actually has her own Instagram account. You can follow her at www.instagram.com/poppystihl. If you come out and see us at the workshop, a show, or an appearance of Hemlock the Dragon, you may also meet her in person as she often comes along. She may be a bit trickier to spot though, as she isn’t always wearing ‘Stihl Orange’!

We hope you enjoyed something slightly different, and (hopefully) more ‘fun’ this week.
We leave you with this video from Simon, sharing a little more about his partnership with Stihl.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.

 

Simon O'Rourke carving a fairy

On Working with Acton Health and Safety

On Working with Acton Health and Safety 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

One of our goals for this year, is to share a few blogs that take you behind-the-scenes, to give you a better idea of ‘life behind the sculpture’. A few weeks ago we shared a blog about working alongside Treetech as part of that. This week we want to introduce you to another company who are invaluable to us, and share a little about working with Acton Health and Safety.
As you’ll know if you read our Blood Donor Day blog about safety with chainsaws, you’ll know that keeping our whole team safe is hugely important to us. Many people are put off when they hear ‘health and safety’. It’s often seen as something boring, or full of petty limitations. It’s SO important though, and we hope you’ll stick with us, and enjoy finding out more about our experience working with Acton Health and Safety…..

Acton Health and Safety logo

About Acton Health and Safety

Acton Health and Safety are a Wrexham based company. They provide a MASSIVE range of services in the area of ‘health and safety’. This ranges from assessments of workplaces to helping companies stay compliant with legislation, through to providing a HUGE range of training and equipping. Again, the list of what they provide is extremely comprehensive and incorporates things like food safety through to fire training, electrical safety, fork lift truck operating procedures, and – you guessed it – chainsaw licensing!

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

Working with the Manpa Angle Grinder. Acton Health and Safety help us keep our work with power tools as safe as possible.

How We Started Working with Acton Health and Safety

We first met Martin from from Acton Health and Safety about four years ago. Over the next few months we then crossed paths with him again at various networking events. Through these meetings, we discovered the company offers a free initial site visit, and invited him to the workshop. In that first visit he reviewed all our health and safety, and fire safety policies and procedures. He also asked questions, and observed our operating practices. We found Martin to be a genuinely lovely man who cares about both his work and his clients, and knew we could really benefit from working with Acton Health and Safety. One of the things we found particularly helpful was that they don’t just complete a review and give a list of things to improve. Rather, as a company, they are then also able to help us fulfill those requirements.

A view of Simon O'Rourke's tree carving workshop. Working with Acton Health and Safety has kept us compliant.

The workshop is a place with lots of potential dangers, but Acton Health and Safety help us minimise those risks

Our Ongoing Relationship with Acton Health and Safety

We have now been clients of Acton Health and Safety Fire Safety for four years. They ensure all policies and procedures are up to date, and our health and safety is in line with current regulations. They help us keep staff and all visitors safe (both on and off site) and assist with risk assessments. This includes giving us guidance for daily, weekly and monthly checks.
This has been SO important to us as a company. We’ve found over the years that having good health and safety practices is about much more than just checking boxes. Knowing we have the best practice possible gives us greater peace of mind. This enables us all to enjoy what we are doing – as well as obviously keeping us safe and healthy!

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

At work on a sculpture. Acton help us ensure all our site work is the safest it can be for Simon and the public.

Mutual Clients!

One of the things we like about working with Acton Health and Safety, is ongoing mutual relationship and connection. Since working with us, Martin has been around the workshop a lot. It meant he was able to see some projects from drawing stage to completion and says he found it “fascinating”. As a result, he has even asked Simon to create myself a few special things for birthday surprises!

“We have a penguin in our garden at home which was a present for my wife… to this day it looks as good as it did when Simon delivered it and secured it down. You need an incredible eye for detail to do the work Simon and Liz do, and they do the work to the highest level whilst obviously ensure all the safety aspects of their works are adhered too!”

Penguin by Simon O'Rourke created for martin working with acton health and safety

 

A Word from Acton Health and Safety

When we were preparing to write this blog, we asked Martin a few questions. We wanted to know what motivates him to work in a field most people avoid. His answer perfectly expresses why we enjoy working with them, and the experience we have. So, we thought in closing, we would let Martin speak for himself:

“When you talk to someone about health and safety they shy away about it, but Acton are not here to scare anyone.  We are here to provide advice, guidance and help build with the client the best environment for the workplace and staff. Our main priority is our clients and to make sure they are confident with the regulations and know the procedures in place. We do this job as we enjoy helping others and making sure everyone is safe.”

Simon O'Rourke carving a fairy

Wearing the right protective clothing is an important part of staying safe!

Final Thoughts

We know health and safety regulations can be a minefield. Having right procedures and policies in place is SO important though. It’s how we stay safe, and how we keep our visitors or the public safe. It creates a more pleasant and productive work environment too when we know we are working within the framework of best heath and safety practice. We love that it means that as clients you can also have peace of mind when Simon is working at your house or place of work too!

If you find compliance overwhelming, we encourage you to connect with Acton Health and Safety. If not them, a company like them. And don’t just take our word for it. You can visit https://www.actonhealthandsafety.co.uk/ and see testimonials from us and other clients too! We’re thankful for our experiences working with Acton Health and Safety, and believe you will be too.

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!