Bespoke

Recreating an Icon

Recreating an Icon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
  • She was originally created in 1909
  • She’s based on the then company secretary, Eleanor Thornton
  • The owner of the company didn’t agree with her presence, even though today she is synonymous with the brand
  • She has been made from silver and gold plated nickel or steel, stainless steel, crystal, with adaptations such as black matte paint, diamond studding or even ‘faberge’ styling
  • She has had many names, and is sometimes still known today as Emily, Silver Lady, or Flying Lady
  • We’re featuring her in this blog because it ties in with the London Motor Show which is being held this week

Can you guess what today’s blog is about yet?

What about from these photos of the work in progress?

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

Today’s featured work in progress

Some of that was probably a bit obscure, so we won’t leave in any more suspense!

Today we’re featuring Simon’s representation of ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’; the figurine found on the bonnet of Rolls Royce Vehicles. If you were to wander around the Motor Show this weekend, we’re pretty sure you’d see a few different examples of her – but none quite as tall as this one!  We also have a feeling she’s the only one carved out of oak!

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O’Rourke

This particular sculpting of the iconic figure was a private commission for the garden of a Rolls Royce enthusiast. She was quite the undertaking as she is ‘larger than life’, and took several days to complete. With her grace and elegance though we think that she’s the perfect addition to this car-lover’s garden, especially months on, when the plants have matured around her plinth.

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke with matured plants

Spirit of Ecstasy with matured plants

The figure of ‘The Flying Lady’ lends itself nicely to becoming a classical-looking garden statue. It got us wondering though, for all the other car lovers out there, what other emblems or figurines would you like to see Simon carve?

Perhaps the Ferrari horse for their head office in Maranello?

Maybe a jaguar for a fountain of the grounds of ….well, Jaguar?

Or, for something really obscure, a Marlin for a classic car collector?

Comment or tweet to let us know your ideas!

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O’Rourke

If you would like a carving for your offices, community area, home or garden to reflect your passion or hobby, contact @[email protected] to commission something truly unique to you.

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke

In honour of this year’s Earth Day, we thought that we would spend some time in this blog talking about one of Earth’s most vital resources, and the basis for all of Simon’s work: trees!

As the biggest plants on the planet, they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They are also the material that forms the basis for everything that Simon produces , whether life size human form commission, furniture, or accessories (have you ever seen his bowties?!)

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Working with trees as a ‘medium’ wasn’t something Simon had planned as a career when he left school and began his degree in illustration. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon while he built up his illustration portfolio, and began working for the first time with chainsaws – notably Stihl, who, in one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, are now his current sponsors!
Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, he tried his hand at carving. There was something special for him in discovering that “such a potentially destructive tool can be used to create beauty”, and the rest, as they say, is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Even though a sculpture may be planned with sketches drawn and an idea of what it should look like when realised, it has to evolve a lot once the carving actually begins. The grain dictates where the natural strength of the timber is and can give so much inspiration for the shape of a sculpture. Every tree is unique and you never know what you’re going to find when you cut into a piece.

 

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

On a day like earth day when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from and how good it is for the environment.

One advantage of working with a natural material is that although it weathers well (the colouring changes very quickly once outside, and becomes even more interesting with age), eventually it will degrade as all wood does, and is returned to the earth. In addition, all of Simon’s work is carved from trees that have either fallen naturally, or on trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location, such as domestic housing or managed forests and woodlands.One of the most popular examples of this is his carving from earlier in the year of The Dragon of Bethesda, a commission that had its birth in an arboretum owner wishing to do something with a storm-damaged fallen tree.

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

As lovers of the outdoors and environmentally aware citizens, Simon and his wife Liz enjoy the opportunities that they get to educate others too about the resources we have and how to take care of them through their work. Whether it takes the form of educational captions on a nature trail commission, sharing their hearts in interviews, or through Liz’s role as a forest school teacher, their appreciation for the world around them is clear, and not only do they model responsible use of the world’s resources as individuals and businesses, but they also inspire others to do the same.

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the re-purposed wood, using off-cuts from scupltures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the repurposed wood, using off-cuts from sculptures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

If you find yourself with a tree that has fallen or been damaged, why not talk to us about giving it new life as a sculpture for your home or garden? Simon is available to talk about possibilities at [email protected]

 

International Pet Day

International Pet Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

11th April was International Pet Day and as a bunch of animal lovers, we loved seeing all the photos of pets that appeared online. Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so we thought that in honour of International Pet Day, we’d use this blog to share with you some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Our most recent Pet Portrait was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process and are fascinated watching Simon in action, so last week he got out his Olfi Action Camera, so you can see him at work!

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

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

 

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

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

If you are interested in having a Pet Portrait, whether sculpture or illustration, please get in touch with us at [email protected]
Simon is able to work from photos or in-person ‘sittings’ and we’d love to talk with you about your vision.
Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, just visit his portfolio on the new website.

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

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

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

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

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

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

Home Is Where The Art Is

Home Is Where The Art Is 2448 2448 Simon O'Rourke

Recently Simon was asked by the BBC to take part in a new show called Home is Where the Art is, which airs on week day afternoons. The show is a new format, and in each episode, three artists compete to win a commission from a mystery buyer.

Promotional material for Home is Where the Art is on BBC One

The three artists meet at the buyer’s house and receive a brief and a budget. For the episode Simon was involved with, he was pitted against a stainless steel sculptor and an acrylic pet portrait painter. Three very different mediums! The brief was to create something that captured the spirit and form of the buyer’s beloved horse, ‘Dragon’.

 

Simon with Nick Knowles

Simon says of this process:
“We all got to snoop around the buyer’s house to get a feel for the kind of things they might like. We also got to meet Dragon, which gave us all a flavour of his temperament and form. Each of us went away after this and were asked to come up with a two minute pitch, which was filmed at a studio in Manchester. The buyer then chose two artists to create the artwork they had pitched, and come back in a few weeks to present the artwork to the buyer. The buyer would then choose one to buy!   Nick Knowles is the host of the show, and made us feel really comfortable, and the buyer threw a couple of curveballs in by asking if any of us would be happy to change our designs!”

Simon was one of the two artists whose pitch was chosen to compete in the episode. He took around eight hours to carve a representation of Dragon out of cedar as his entry, capturing not only his form but his movement and character.

 

‘Dragon’

 

Now the episode has been aired, we can reveal the chosen commission wasn’t Simon’s, but rather, the stainless steel sculpture by Claire Bigger. Far from being disappointed, Simon shares “The buyer Delyse had a really difficult time choosing between us, but I feel she made a great choice, as I would have chosen Claire’s work!”

And not only is it a privilege to be invited to take part in something like this, but even the name of the horse has tied in with our ‘year of the dragon’ here at Simon O’ Rourke Tree Carving!

 

‘Dragon’

 

If you would like a portrait of your pet, Simon is available at [email protected] to chat about your commission. 
This particular sculpture which features in Home Is Where the Art is today (April 12th 2019) is available for purchase. Please contact Simon on the address above if you are interested.

Three Wise Dragons

Three Wise Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint!

This past week has featured more of Simon’s dragons being installed in Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. They will eventually be surround by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment – their ‘home’ is still being built around them, and in a few weeks they will be the perfect addition to a holiday selfie!

 

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

 

As well as the sleeping dragon bench, we have three lovable dragons: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – a Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure are more familiar to you than these characters! Although the saying itself can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century, it was actually a 17th century wooden carving of the monkeys that launched the characters into the renown they have today, so it seems fitting not only to have a dragon version for Wales, but to continue that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

 

Sleeping Dragon Bench

 

‘Hafan Y Mor’ can be translated as either ‘sea haven’ which makes it an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina. If you happen to be enjoying the area, why not tag us in a photo of yourself with our Three Wise Dragons, and let us know which one is your favourite?

Spring it On!!!!

Spring it On!!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, it was the first day of Spring this week and that means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays, even if we haven’t quite caught up!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sun shining, walks in the park, nature bursting into new life, and all the cute and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms, and even those wet, rainy days seem better as the newly budded blossom on the trees and the touch of colour of daffodils and tulips springing from the ground remind us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week as well as (hopefully) some inspiration for your own gardens!

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst keeping it realistic (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised, so what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate (anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!!) which means we also can’t help but think of Easter, and the ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny! As carving in a material like wood lends itself beautifully to garden ornaments, woodland trails etc, it’s no surprise that Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends, whether real or imagined…..

Our teams are also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’, and if you’re anything like us, are only just starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter, and beginning the preparation work that will pay off in summer when it’s all organised and in bloom, or in Autumn when you reap the harvest.

If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, or after cleaning up, find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, why not consider commissioning something unique from us?
Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up.

We hope that whatever the start of Spring has looked like for you, that it’s one that, just like the season, is full of new life and hope.
As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Although most of our carving is done by Simon O’Rourke, we have affiliates who work with us on certain projects that we can also recommend if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features one of those projects: The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant is a former quarry, which is now a forested area run by local communities, local to us here in North Wales. It features woodland trails and a children’s play area, and is of particular interest to conservationists because of the unusual Bee Orchid which can be found there.  Our work is found in a few different places, and visitors are actually greeted at the entrance to the park by ‘Stanley’ – a previous carve of Simon’s. Whilst it’s a privilege to be able to travel and see our work in places around the world, there is also something special about a local project that enables us more easily to see people enjoying it over the years.

Stanley greets guests at the entrance ***

The brief for this project was to construct a play area and fort within a palisade for families to use, which would also reflect and portray the wildlife on the site. The bulk of the job was completed by our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes over nine days in Spring 2017 , and was constructed using part of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  Not only did this provide an affordable and easy-to-access source of timber, it also ensured that the build is totally sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

This then left Nathan with one day for detailing – the sign, carved weaponry, and the dragons on the see-saw. After all, what’s a fortress without some weapons?! These are all historical weapons such as bows and arrows and swords, which is in keeping with the historic aesthetic of a fort, and not only looks great, but helps encourage and inspire imaginative play in the children using the area.
In asking him about the project, Nathan reflected that “Thankfully the weather was unusually kind for the time of year and the work, whilst being ‘intensive’ went according to plan” – something that is never guaranteed carving at this time of year, and that we are ALWAYS thankful for when it happens!

Nathan’s weaponry detailing on individual posts in the fort*

The second phase was completed in January of this year, when Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and welcoming ladybird seat –  further reflecting the local wildlife, and creating a rest space for families to pause and enjoy the environment or watch their children play.

Bee totem pole and ladybird bench*

If you happen to be in the area, why not tag us in your photos? It’s lovely when a project is both beautiful and functional, for us to be able to see it being used and enjoyed.

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

 

Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver, and has worked for/with us for just over 10 years, over many different projects ranging from when we were just a tent in a frozen field to the current set-up! He can  currently only be commissioned for work through Tree Carving.
Daniel is a gifted carpenter and has worked with us for four-and-a-half years. He specialises in high quality, bespoke work and especially enjoys making and installing kitchens and doors, and creating furniture in its organic form. He can also currently be contacted through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website

A Very Wooden Valentines

A Very Wooden Valentines 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

After a January seemed to last forever, February is finally here and that means love is in the air! Or at least, all things pink and glittery are!
Whether you view Valentines Day as a romantic celebration or a money-making Hallmark Holiday, we thought you might enjoy some of these ‘love’ themed creations from Simon, and maybe be inspired for some of your own gifts for loved ones, whether for Valentines, birthday, anniversary or even a wedding.

Beauty and the Beast

 

For many of us, Disney was our first introduction to romance, and Beauty and the Beast has enthralled and entertained since Celine Dion first sang ‘Tale As Old As Time’ in 1992. We often get asked about the colouring in this sculpture. It was actually accidental (steel in the log) but has really grown on us, and as the wood weathers, will make for a stunning rustic look in a few year’s time.

 

 

These elephants in love already warm our hearts, but will take on an even more whimsical, fairy tale look when the magnolia behind them is in full bloom! Designs like this are perfect to make something more personal and romantic out of a practical/functional gift like this bench. Ideal for that fifth (wooden) or ninth (willow) wedding anniversary!

 

Photo used by permission of Abbi Photography

 

If it’s going to be a wooden gift, it doesn’t just have to be a sculpture. Last year our friends wanted something truly unique and personal to them, and commissioned these wedding rings for their colourful autumn wedding. Jewelry is a classic gift for a loved one, and if the source is something meaningful to you like a tree from your favourite park or a first home, how much more special!

 

Custom wedding rings and ring stand

 

Whether you spend Valentines Day with a loved one, friends, or going solo, we hope you enjoy the day and feel loved and appreciated – and find plenty of discount priced chocolate in the days that follow!!!!!

Wedding rings and bouquet photo supplied by and used by permission of Abbi Photography

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information