behind the scenes

Photo shows a man carving a sculpture from a tree trunk. He is standing in a tall cherry picker. Equipment like this is one of the Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

A chainsaw carving sculpture can be a great addition to your home or business. It’s a lovely way to give life back to a tree that is dead, diseased or dangerous. As well as being a beautiful piece of art in its own right, it can also add value to your attraction or home. However, there are lots of practical considerations to think about if you want to commission an on-site chainsaw carving sculpture. When you contact Simon, he will ask for details and photos to help him plan. This blog is to help you think about those considerations, to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Simon can travel to your home or business to create a sculpture from a standing tree.

 

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Simon’s Workspace

Ideally, Simon needs 2-3m space around the tree stump to be able to move easily and approach the sculpture from the best angle. If it’s possible to clear this space, it’s really helpful for him. However, don’t worry if this isn’t possible. If the tree stump is against a fence or something similar and he doesn’t have this space, it doesn’t mean he can’t do it – it’s just good for him to know in advance.

When thinking about the workspace it’s also worth remembering that sometimes some large pieces of timber can come down off the tree. For this reason, we suggest moving anything valuable from the area before Simon comes to set up. Nobody wants a smashed table or squashed prize-winning begonias!

oak maiden sculpture in process

This photo of the Oak Maiden in process shows the size of branches Simon sometimes has to remove

 

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Spectator Space

It’s FASCINATING to watch Simon carve! It can be tempting to want to get as close to the action as possible, and if your sculpture is for a community, inviting people to watch may even be part of generating support for the commission. However, it can also be dangerous to get too close! If you do want to watch (or invite others), you will need to make sure there is a 6m space between Simon and the next closest human being!

Crowds watching ice carving for Wrexham Museum

Crowds watch Simon from a safe distance outside Wrexham Museum*

 

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Access for Equipment

All Simon’s equipment can be carried, so in some ways distance from parking to the site doesn’t matter. BUT! Some of it is quite heavy. If you are able to make a way for him to park as close as possible to the place he will be carving, it is incredibly helpful.

Simon will also ask you for photos of his access to the site from the parking spot – especially if he needs to use scaffolding or a cherry picker. This is because slopes or other obstacles may change the equipment he needs to hire. He may also need to find a creative way of getting it to the site. This happened this week in fact, getting this cherry picker to the carving site…

Photo shows a man carving a sculpture from a tree trunk. He is standing in a tall cherry picker. Equipment like this is one of the Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture

Simon’s colleague Paul working in a cherry picker for an on site carving

 

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Additional Equipment

And while we’ve mentioned cherry pickers, let’s talk additional equipment!

Simon has his own platforms which enable him to carve a sculpture up to 2.5m without hiring extra equipment. For anything taller than that though, he will need to use scaffolding or a cherry picker. He will arrange it all, so don’t worry about suddenly having to become an expert in this area! As the client though, it’s worth knowing that this will impact the cost of the commission. It may also impact the time needed too. For example, the scaffolding for the Spirit of Ecstasy sculpture took a day to assemble!

Again, Simon will ask you for photos not just of the tree, but of the surrounding ground to help him arrange the best and safest equipment for the job.

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

This photo of work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access for an onsite carving, as well as the scaffolding needed.

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Clean Up!

Chainsaw carving is messy! As you can imagine, there is a LOT of sawdust as well as chunks of tree. Simon is happy to do that tidy-up. However, this means paying for his time, so it’s generally better for the client to handle this part themselves. If you’re commissioning a sculpture, make sure you include time and energy for this clean up before you invite people over for an unveiling!

ThA sculpture of an ent in a monkey puzzle tree trunk. It is surrounded by sawdust. Clean up of this mess is a factor to consider whren you Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture

The Ent at Poulton Hall surrounded by sawdust! It’s important to be prepared for this, and budget time and energy for cleaning up

 

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Power supply

Simon will generally come armed with fully charged batteries, petrol etc for his chainsaws and olfi video equipment. It can be helpful though, if possible, to give him access to a plug socket or two by running an extension cable through a window.

Simon O'Rourke's giant hand of vyrnwy surrounded by scaffolding. Scaffolding hire is one of the things to consider when you commission a chainsaw sculpture

Simon’s Giant Hand of Vyrnwy before the scaffolding was taken down.

Things to Consider When You Commission an On-Site Chainsaw Carving Sculpture: Final Thoughts

We hope this helps you understand the kind of information Simon will ask for (and why) when you commission and on-site chainsaw carving sculpture. Of course, we missed out that providing copious amounts of tea, coffee and the odd jammy dodger never go amiss either!

If you’re thinking of commissioning a sculpture, we recommend reading this blog about the suitability of your tree first. It may also be helpful to read this blog about commissioning a sculpture too.

To contact Simon about a commission, use the contact form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We look forward to hearing from you!

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture?

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture? 600 600 Simon O'Rourke

I’m often asked is how to care for a sculpture after it’s installed. It’s a really good question! I’m also often asked how to treat the wood to help preserve its life. If you want to retain the colour on a sculpture then there are several things you can do to help. And so, today’s blog explores care for a tree carving sculpture…

 

Hiker in oak by SImon O'Rourke

Preservation of a commissioned sculpture is a natural concern

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing an Oil

I’ve always said decking oil is the best thing for sculptures outdoors due to its containing fungicide and UV protection. This is your best option if you want to treat the wood in any way.
There are several different levels of decking oil to choose from, so it can seem a bit overwhelming.
The brands I’ve used in the past are Rustins, Cuprinol, Ronseal, and Osmo. I’ve also tried own brands from B&Q and Wickes.
Quite often, the cheaper the oil, the less viscous it is. This has advantages such as being easier to spray on, but it isn’t often as hardy against the weather.
A lot of oils today are water-based emulsions. This makes them safer for the environment, which is great. However, I’m less sold on how well they do over time, and the finish can be a little gloopy.

 

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

Decking oil can help protect sculptures.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Application

One of the most difficult things about oils is the application. My sculptures tend to have lots of rough surfaces which means it’s not always easy to cover with a brush. It can be even more difficult to get an even coat across the sculpture. It’s worth taking the time to do this though.
It’s possible to thin down most oils with good quality thinners or white spirit and use them in a sprayer. However, bear in mind you will need more coats and therefore more time. The sprayers can be very difficult to clean too.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: many of simon's sculptures are rough and textured and this makes it difficult to apply even coats of oil. photo shows an example of the texture of a lion's face.

It can be difficult to achieve an even finish when oiling heavily textured sculptures like this lion.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Pre-Treatment

It can be a good idea to treat a sculpture with a clear wood preserver prior to oiling, as this helps prevent things from growing on the surface.
I’ve also been told that raw linseed oil can be good to treat exterior green oak. I’ve had no personal experience using it yet though, so I can’t really comment. But I will be trying it on a scrap piece to see what happens! Watch this space to see if it works!
picture shows a dragon carved in oak by simon o'rourke

Hemlock endures a lot while hired out for events, so oil is essential for protecting the sculpture.

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Retouching

The next question is then how often it’s necessary to repeat this process. As with many questions about the lifespan of a wood sculpture, there are no definite answers. The frequency of oiling will vary based on the environment, and it’s important to note that as soon as the oil wears off the surface then the sun will bleach the wood very quickly. You can’t get the natural colour back again at this stage, unless the wood is sanded or cut back.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: a man is sanding a piece of wood.

People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing the Right Timber

I’ve shared before that not every timber is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. All wood has different longevity. So I try to make sure that the sculptures I make are created from long lasting timber like oak, cedar, sweet chestnut, certain cypress varieties or redwood. However, I will occasionally carve a tree stump on a property that is from timber with less lastability, like beech or willow. I will always make sure the client understands that the sculpture won’t be as enduring. I also always recommend a good coat of clear wood preserver prior to oiling for these timbers to give them the best start.

 

Simon O'rourke using a chainsaw to cut into wood

Choosing durable wood is a key part of creating a long-lasting sculpture.

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Installation

The other thing to note is with free-standing sculptures, it’s wise to place them on a surface with good drainage, or have some airflow underneath them. The Queen of the South Soccer Players are a great example of this. They have been elevated so no water will collect. They are also on a wooden plinth which is where moisture will begin to gather first and travel upwards, preserving the players for longer.

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke. Photo shows sculpture of three soccer players standing back to back with onlookers admiring the piece

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Going Natural

The reality is, no wood sculpture will last forever. Really, the only way to ensure the longest life possible would be to keep it indoors! As I have shared before in this blog about wood versus bronze sculptures, I like the ageing process though. I think it adds character and beauty, and is more in keeping with using a material that once had a life of its own. It’s important to know what sort of finish you’re aiming for when you commission a sculpture. Discussing the finish and creating something you will love is all part of the process when you commission a sculpture.

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

Get in Touch!

If you would like to commission a sculpture, you can contact me at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ And whatever finish you choose for your own piece, I will be able to help with recommendations and tips for upkeep!

chainsaw artist simon o rourke stands in a cherry picker on the left. on the right is the sculpture he is working on - the pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture. the character is carved into a standing ash stump.

Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture

Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

Our followers on Facebook will have spotted a lovely new carving this week. Simon travelled over to Llandrindod Wells where he transformed a diseased tree into the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter sculpture…

 

Panpurlais Mad Hatter sculpturte by Simon O'Rourke. Photo shows a view of the whole character with a metal barn roof behind

Background to the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture: The Property

The mad hatter sculpture was a commission for the owners of Pantpurlais, Llandrindod Wells. This beautiful property is set on 23 acres of Powys countryside and has a rich and diverse history. Little is known about the property prior to 1856. However, since then it has changed hands many times and had many uses. This includes being a residence, farm and tea rooms. Owners rebuilt the house following a fire in the early 20th century, and that’s the property that stands today. In Macrh last year Darren and Claire Hudson bought the property and have big plans for the place!

 

Photo shows a 20th century home surrounded by lawn and trees. the property is known as Pantpurlais and is situated in llandrindrod wells

The current house at Pantpurlais

 

Background to the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture: The Tea Rooms

The tea rooms first became a feature of Pantpurlais in 1911. At the time Llandrindod Wells was a thriving spa town. However, as times changes, the owners of Panpurlais saw a decline in interest, and the property became a farm again.
The former tea rooms became derelict, and this part of the town’s history lost. Until the Hudsons took ownership, that is! They have plans to restore the tea rooms back to their former glory over the coming months. From next year, the Pantpurlais tea rooms will once again be a beautiful and vital part of Llandrindod Wells. The Mad Hatter sculpture is part of that revival of the tea rooms.

 

Photo shows a derelict shed in a field with trees to its left. It is the former Pantpurlais teas rooms.

The former tea rooms are currently derelict, but the Hudsons will restore them to their former purpose.

 

Background to the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture: The Commission

Since they took ownership, the Hudsons have been planting trees and working on a biodiversity project.  As part of the work on the property, there was an ash tree damaged by Ash Dieback that needed to be cut down. Saddened by the demise of the ash tree, they commissioned the sculpture to give it new life and make a statement.
Ash dieback is a growing problem in the UK, and only a few months ago Simon  actually transformed another tree impacted by the disease into this amazing dragon. It actually represents a substantial threat to trees in the UK’s forests and parklands, so if you have time, we do recommend reading https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=779 to find out how you can be part of the solution.

 

a tree trunk of an ash tree that had to be cut down due to ash die back. It stands in front of a derelict barn and is the base of the Pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture by simon o'rourke

The owners of Pantpurlais wanted to make a statement by turning this tree killed by ash dieback into a sculpture.

 

The Pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture in progress. The sculpture is outlined but has no detail.

Work in progress on the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter sculpture

 

Background to the Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture: Choosing a Subject

Although the clients knew they wanted a sculpture making from the standing ash stump, they initially weren’t sure what it would be. Knowing the property would become a tea room, Simon suggested The Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The clients were happy with this, and so Simon went ahead and drew up sketches. As well as being fitting for the purpose of the tea room, it is also a lovely hint back to the history of the property. Lewis Carroll wrote his classic book during the Victorian era when the spa at Llandrindod Wells and the tea rooms were thriving.

Keeping with this sense of history, Simon took his inspiration from the original John Tenniel illustrations. Although less whimsical or fantastical than later interpretations, this choice means the sculpture ties in beautifully with the history and vision for the tea rooms.

 

chainsaw artist simon o rourke stands in a cherry picker on the left. on the right is the sculpture he is working on - the pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture. the character is carved into a standing ash stump.

Simon at work on the Mad Hatter sculpture.

 

The finished Pantpurlais Mad Hatter Sculpture

Simon worked on-site during some of the warmest and brightest days we have had this year. You’ll notice the Mad Hatter is standing in a teacup. This is not just an artistic choice to hint at the famous tea party scene in Carroll’s book. Simon is always concerned with the longevity of his work, and the cup was also a good choice to add stability to the structure. Functional AND aesthetically pleasing!

 

The Pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

 

The clients are delighted with the result, and as the sculpture is on a popular walking route also hope that it will delight others.

The owners are a lovely couple, with big plans for this property. Their concern for biodiversity is something that also just clicked with us. If you’re in the area from next year, we totally recommend a visit to support them in their new venture as well as enjoying the beautiful Welsh countryside. And if you take photos with the Mad Hatter, don’t forget to tag us! We love to see your photos!

 

Pantpurlais mad hatter sculpture against a background of bare trees

 

 

Your Own Commission

If you have a diseased tree and would like to give it new life as a sculpture, you can see if it would be suitable by reading our blog ‘Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?‘.
If it is, contact Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. As the story of this sculpture shows, you don’t need to have a clear idea of what you want. Simon is happy to chat with you and get to know you, and make suggestions.

The best tree is a living one. But if a tree is dead, diseased or dangerous, it’s Simon’s pleasure to turn it into a beautiful work of art, as he did with this Mad Hatter.

And if you would like to follow more of the restoration at Pantpurlais, give them a follow HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask how to prevent cracking in the wood used for sculptures. The simple answer is you can’t! However, Simon has learned a lot over the years about working with and around the natural behaviours of wood. There are ways to minimise the impact of cracking on your sculpture to ensure it lasts as long as possible. The biggest of those is positioning, and so in this blog, we share how to best position a sculpture within a log.

How best to position a sculpture within a log: ensure cracking enhances the sculpture. This photo shows a close up of an oak face sculpture. It has vertical cracks along the cheek.

Cracks are an unavoidable part of wood sculptures

 

Understand We Can’t Eliminate Cracks

Simon’s first tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is actually nothing to do with positioning or carving! The first tip is to understand that it’s impossible to eliminate cracking when working with wood. Cracks and changes in the colour are all part of the ageing and drying process, as Simon shares in this blog about how long a sculpture will last. It’s a natural material and therefore can be unpredictable. Understanding that and being OK with ‘imperfections’ are important as it means that rather than worrying about cracking, you can focus your energy on the best ways of working with it.

 

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

 

Find the Centre of the Timber

Once we understand we can’t control cracking, we can focus on working with and around it. The first step towards that is finding the centre of the timber. This is important because it impacts the direction and amount of cracking, Wood shrinks faster circumferentially than radially. This means cracks start at the centre and move out, so the further from the centre, the more stable the wood. You will sometimes see cracks coming from the centre like wheel spokes. Usually, the centre is the middle of the log, but not always, so spend some time looking at the log and pay attention to where the cracks begin. This is your centre.

 

Photo shows a tractor with a fork lift attachment carrying a large tree trunk. Finding the centre of the trunk is essential in learning how to best position a sculpture within a log.

Finding the centre of a log like this means you can make the most of the solidity and stability of the timber.

 

Identify the Most Important Features of Your Design.

The next key in how to best position a sculpture within the log is to identify the most important features of your design. These are the parts that you most want to preserve. When sculpting human form, Simon finds it is most often the face. An example of this is the fairy sculpture below. Although there is a lot to see, the face is the part Simon wants people drawn to, so he will position the sculpture so her face is the least impacted by the cracks already appearing.
However, if your sculpture is more abstract, this may not be the case.
Where do you want the focus to be?
What details do you want to preserve?
Once you know this, you can work out the positioning.

 

Photo shows a chainsaw carving workshop with a sculpture in progress in the middle. The shape of a female sitting on a swing is blocked out in a large piece of oak, but no features are visible

The face of this fairy sculpture is the part Simon most wants to preserve from cracking

 

chainsaw carving sculpture of a 5' elf sitting on a swing

Simon carved this so the cracks are part of the shoulder. In this way the details of the face will be preserved.

Tactically Position the Sculpture

Now you know which parts are most important, you can work out whereabouts you position the sculpture in the log. If the face or front is most important, start carving so the centre of the log is at the back of the sculpture. That way as the sculpture ages and dries, the cracks will start at the back.

For this WWI soldier, Simon was able to cut the log and create the sculpture using the front part. If he had carved it in the centre of the timber (which is often instinctual), the cracks would be in the middle of the soldier, and potentially split him in half!!!
By moving the sculpture to the front half, it means the centre of the log becomes the soldier’s back. In this way, the cracks will appear in his back. This will not only preserve the facial details but also means the sculpture is much more stable.

 

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

The base of the sculpture shows hows Simon positioned the sculpture in front of the centre of the log.

 

Have a Positioning Plan B!

Obviously positioning cracks so they are hidden at the back isn’t always going to be possible. Sometimes we just don’t have a log big enough. If that happens, use plan b in how to best position a log within a sculpture… Position it so there are lots of small cracks across a feature.

It’s better to have lots of small cracks that one big central crack. This way as they swell and shrink with the different weather changes, the impact on the sculpture is less.

An example of this from Simon’s work is his recent horse bench. He positioned the sculpture so the centre was to the far side of the horse. The cracks are all across the mane. In this way, they become part of the texture and there’s no risk of the mane looking like it’s been divided in half! More importantly, it also means the sculpture is the most stable and solid that it can be.

 

Tree carving workshop with a sculpture in progress. The sculpture is a bench, and one end is a horse with flame like mane

Simon used one half of the log for the horse head, and position it so the centre is on the far side of the horse.

 

Horse bench by chainsaw carving artist simon o'rourke

The centre of the log is now this side of the horse to ensure minimal cracking and most stability.

 

Know When to Say No!

Simon’s last tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is to recognise when a piece of timber simply isn’t suitable. Sometimes there is just too much rot. We actually have a blog about types of rot to help you with that. Sometimes when you cut into the log you find a crack that is already large and would impact the design. If this is the case, there is often little you can do. At this point, you need to either accept that this sculpture will have a short life, or start again.

This happened with the lion Simon made before Christmas. You’ll be able to see in the photo how the crack is already moving up into the lion’s body. In addition, the rot meant the wood was too soft to carve and would have begun rotting away much quicker. As this was for a commission, Simon wasn’t prepared to compromise on quality, and had to start over on a fresh log. This timber can still be used, but for a much smaller sculpture that wouldn’t incorporate the wood or crack.

At the end of the day, wood is a natural material and is unpredictable. It’s part of its beauty, and working with that and allowing it to enhance the sculpture is part of the challenge Simon enjoys. If you are choosing wood sculpture over something like bronze or marble, hopefully it’s something you like too! But occasionally it really does mean starting over!

 

How best to position a sculpture within a log... photo shows the start of a tree carving sculpture. The shape is blocked out but there is a large crack and split at the centre making it an usuitable log for sculpture.

Sometimes you just have to abandon a piece of timber!

 

Over to You!

Learning to work with cracking is something that will come with experience. If you are very concerned about a crack, it is possible to fill them, and Simon will do this very occasionally. However, he does recommend the tips he has shared here.

To the other chainsaw artists out there, what are some of your tips and tricks for working with cracks?

If you enjoyed this article, there is a  10 minute video below where Simon expands on these points. Please excuse the wind in one of the sections – the Welsh weather doesn’t always co-operate with plans for outdoor filming!

And, as always, if you are interested in commissioning a tree carving sculpture from Simon, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ayrton senna bust by simon o'rourke in foreground. It is in progress. In the background Simon looks at a wall of senna photos, checking the details for his sculpture

FAQs: Why is Art Expensive? (What You Pay for When you Commission a Sculpture)

FAQs: Why is Art Expensive? (What You Pay for When you Commission a Sculpture) 1920 1278 Simon O'Rourke

But why does it cost so much? This is a question artists are asked across every field. Whether the artist is a sculpture, musician, painter, photographer (or any other field!) they are frequently asked to justify their prices. Many artists struggle to make a living as they often end up not charging enough to cover their time. It is definitely a valid question and one that we want to cover in this blog!

Simon O'Rourke photographed with the wooden bust he created of Ayrton Senna.

Simon photographed with his Ayrton Senna bust

Why is Art Expensive?
An Economist’s Perspective.

According to Wonderopolis, economists believe the cost of art to be based on supply and demand. They would say when it comes to demand, nobody really needs art! However, there are plenty of people who want beautiful artworks. Therefore, with plenty of demand for artwork, it’s the amount of work available that leads to high prices. Scarcity or the artist’s ability to only produce a limited number of pieces is what makes it expensive.
This is true to an extent. There are however LOTS of other reasons for the cost, and LOADS of things you are getting when you pay for a piece of art…

why is art expensive? photo shows a small wooden sculpture of a bulldog by simon o'rourke.

People are sometimes surprised by the cost of smaller pieces like this adorable bulldog portrait

Why is Art Expensive?
Materials & Sourcing

The first cost behind one of Simon’s sculptures is an obvious one. The raw materials, and the cost of sourcing that material. Even though his timber is only ever from a tree that is damaged, diseased or dangerous, there is still a cost involved. Unless of course, the commission is for a standing stump.
Simon works closely with a few tree surgeons he trusts to ensure that he is getting good, useable timber at a good price. Incidentally, if you are looking for someone to evaluate, cut back or remove a tree, we recommend TreeTech NW!

Sourcing and transporting the raw materials is one of the expenses underlying the cost of a sculpture

Why is Art Expensive?
Cost of Equipment

Every artist needs tools to work with. Simon is no different. And purchasing and maintaining chainsaws, drills, burr bits and more can be expensive. They cost a little more than say a good quality rolling pin or paintbrush! Tree Carving also demands good quality outdoor clothing, and protective workwear such as boots, helmet, ear protection and sometimes glasses or mask to shield Simon’s face. It’s important not to compromise on these as they have an impact on both long and short term health. Stihl make some great quality PPE by the way if you are on the lookout for some yourself!

why is art expensive? photo shows treecarver simon o'rourke on scaffolding working on a sculpture of a ghostly woman. He wears PPE. this is one of the underlying expenses in the cost of art.

It is important for artists to have the right tools and equipment like the PPE Simon is wearing in this photo of him working on The Marbury Lady

Why is Art Expensive?
Project-Specific Costs

Every project also has its own unique costs, not just the cost of the materials. If Simon has to travel, or stay in local accommodation, these are costs he has to take into account. Artists have different ways of doing this. Some create an itemised account and bill the customer for it specifically. Others will take it into account as something their annual income needs to cover when they set themselves an hourly rate. Either way, it is a legitimate thing!
There may also be other costs too, like hiring scaffolding or a cherry picker (trees can be quite tall you know!). Perhaps Simon needs to pay someone like Treetech to deliver the piece. There may also be permits needed in some public places for some of his sculptures.
Whatever the need, they are some of the costs that have to be factored into a commission, and they are part of what you get when you pay for artwork.

Why is art expensive? photo shows simon o'rourke with his oak maiden sculpture. It is around 3m tall, and he is standing in a cherry picker, one of the underlying costs behind his art

Sometimes Simon has additional equipment to hire, like this cherry picker used for The Oak Maiden

Why is Art Expensive?
Underlying Business Costs

We’ve all seen the romantic pictures of Bohemian artists working from their cluttered studio apartments. Or the classic photographer-in-movies who turns his bedroom into a darkroom. It’s a lovely picture, and one that we often cling to. Sadly though, it isn’t accurate! While there are many artists who are able to work alone, others (like Simon) employ a team of people. And rather than working from that perfect attic apartment, they rent or buy buildings. In Simon’s case this is a necessity not a preference. Can you imagine trying to carve a sculpture with a chainsaw on your dining room table?!  This means there are lots of costs that the artist’s business has to cover…

Salaries.
Rent/mortgage and utilities.
Insurance.
Health and safety training (especially proper training for using chainsaws and keeping licenses updated)

Insurance and health and safety compliance aren’t things we often think about when we think ‘art’, but as many artists are running business that go beyond themselves, it is one of the costs behind the ‘product’. Simon and Liz are fortunate to have a great consultant they work with to help with this side of things. If you run a business and need some advice, we recommend talking to Acton Health and Safety.

Why is art expensive? Simon O'Rourke is working on a sculpture in the middle of a busy workshop. Running the workshop, insurance, licensing for the chainsaw users etc are some of the costs behind his artwork

Simon at work in the workshop. Covering the costs of running a workshop are some of the underlying costs behind the cost of a commission.

Why is Art Expensive?
Artist’s Time

One of the costs behind a piece of art is paying the artist for the time it takes them to create the piece. That time may not just be the actual creation time either. They will have put time into getting quotes for equipment, finding the costs of materials, going back and forth with the client in conversation to find out what they really want. They will also put time into research and sometimes practice.

When Simon is asked to create something, he needs to take time researching the subject. That may look like hours on the internet looking at lion paws, as he did for these big cats. It may mean googling the clothing of a particular period as he did for these miners and the cricketer. His most recent portrait even included trying to establish if Shakespeare was left or right-handed! Portraits of real people, in particular, need him to spend time really trying to learn something about the person’s character and life, as he did for the Ayrton Senna bust.

This time and these details can be what makes the difference between a very good sculpture and an excellent one. And so, when you pay for a piece of art, you are getting the physical piece, but also the artist’s time!

ayrton senna bust by simon o'rourke in foreground. It is in progress. In the background Simon looks at a wall of senna photos, checking the details for his sculpture

Thorough research and preparation ensure excellence in Simon’s pieces

Why is Art Expensive?
Training, Expertise, Experience & Reputation

This last category of costs is a little harder to quantify than all the others. In every industry, we set salaries according to how much responsibility the person has, how much training and how much experience. Teacher salaries increase each year to a certain point. Gaining a Masters can lead to an increase in salary as a nurse. Many salaries are set taking into account how much the person paid for their training as well as the incredible amount of knowledge, skill and expertise they have. A consultant is able to charge more when they have gained experience and proven their capability.

We recognise these unquantifiable things make a difference to the ‘product’ we are receiving.

And so it is in the art world.
When we pay for a piece of art, we are gaining something we can’t count. What we see represents years of training, reading, watching, practice. Making mistakes. Learning better methods. Trying different tools. Tears. Sweat. Coaching. Starting over.

When you pay for a commission, you are getting all of that as well as the physical piece you take home… something that really can’t be valued.

simon o'rourker with his sculpture 'the dragon of bethesda'

When Simon carves a dragon like this, it is informed by years of sketching and carving other dragons.

Commissioning a Piece

We hope this has helped you think about what you are getting when you commission and pay for one of Simon’s sculptures – or any piece of art!

Simon often takes on a lot of public sculptures and loves for art to be accessible to as many as possible. For this reason, he is very reasonable in his costing. We do recognise though that for many people, owning art is a luxury, and cost can be off-putting.
However, Simon will also do what he can to ensure that cost isn’t the reason a potential client doesn’t go ahead with a commission. As we mentioned in our blog about ‘the sculptures that didn’t make the cut‘, if a potential client says ‘no’ based on cost, Simon will often have other ideas that could help bring the price down.

Maybe it’s size.
Maybe it’s less detail.
Perhaps it’s using different wood…

sketch by simon o'rourke of a potential sculpture of an unknown female

After Simon has made initial suggestions, he will chat with you about any changes, whether that be cost, material or design

So, if you are thinking about commissioning a piece, don’t assume that the initial quote is a final one. Although there are very real costs that often can’t be altered, Simon will also do what he can to make suggestions that match the budget you have, where he can. Don’t be afraid to ask!

You can start that commissioning process at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

We look forward to hearing from you!