big cats

Photo shows a half finished wood sculpture of an elf on a swing; one of Simon O'Rourke's 2021 sculpture commissions

2021 Sculpture Commissions

2021 Sculpture Commissions 1368 1824 Simon O'Rourke

Happy New Year! We hope that despite the turbulence, it has still started well for you.
After last week’s reflection on Simon’s sculptures from 2020, we thought this week we would look forward to this year. Simon already has some exciting 2021 sculpture commissions lined up.

2021 Sculpture Commissions: Animals

One of Simon’s upcoming 2021 sculpture commissions is a leopard. After a year of lions it’s nice to have a continuation of the theme, but with a bit of a change. The challenge with this one is that it will be lying down, and fixed into a real tree. Part art, part engineering!

In the category of ‘animals’, Simon also has an upcoming commission for a horse bench which we look forward to seeing.

treecarving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke of a Mountain lionness climbing down a pile of rocks.

This lioness and her cubs were one of five lion sculptures Simon created in 2020

2021 Sculpture Commissions: Poulton Hall

In 2021 Simon will also be adding to his works already at Poulton Hall, Wirral. During 2020 he created the fabulous Monkey Puzzle Ent and Gollum sculptures. This year he will undertake a commission of Shakespeare sitting on a bench, which fits in with the literary theme that flows throughout the grounds.

Gollum by Simon O'Rourke. One of Simon's 2012 sculpture commissions will be a sculpture of Shakespeare sitting on a bench to add to his sculptures already at Poulton Hall.

This Gollum sculpture at Poulton Hall was one of Simon’s most memorable 2020 sculptures

2021 Sculpture Commissions: Fantasy

With Netflix releasing their Narnia series this year, we can expect to see a lot of references to C S Lewis and the mystical world he created. In a complete coincidence, Simon actually already has a commission for a Narnia sculpture! He’ll be making Lucy with the lampost for Cedar Hollow, Oxford. The owner already has other Narnia sculptures – very fitting as it is next door to where C S Lewis once lived! The guest house is also going to have a Lord of the Rings area. Simon has actually already created an elf on a swing which will be installed there. If you follow us on social media, you might have spotted it already.

You can also expect to see another Ent in the near future too. After seeing the Ent at Poulton Hall and the incredible Oak Treefolk (Father and daughter at a property in Surrey) we can’t wait to see this next Ent!

Photo shows a half finished wood sculpture of an elf on a swing; one of Simon O'Rourke's 2021 sculpture commissions

The Cedar Hollow Elf in progress in Simon’s workshop

Your Own 2021 Sculpture Commission

Simon is super excited about all of these projects, and we can’t wait to share them with you as they are completed.
The good news is, he is still taking commissions for 2021. So, if you are interested in commissioning something whether it be a pet portrait or full sculpture trail, get in touch! The best way is via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
Until then, we’d love to know, what else would you like to see Simon create this year?
Drop us your answer in the comments!

a pair of lion sculptures: photo features the face of the oak lion mentioned in the accompanying blog

A Pair of Lion Sculptures

A Pair of Lion Sculptures 1824 1368 Simon O'Rourke

If you had been traveling on the M6 last weekend you might have seen a strange sight. A pair of lion sculptures making their way to their home in Colchester!

Photo shows a pair of wooden lion sculptures tied to the back of a flatbed trailer.

The lion sculptures in transit

A Pair of Lion Sculptures: The Client

The lions were commissioned by  The Lion Brasserie in East Bergholt. It doesn’t take much of a jump to see why they chose to commission a big cat sculpture! The larger lion sits in front of the building, and the second, smaller lion will be installed on the wall near the doorway. He’ll replace a fibreglass lion that is currently in place.

a wooden sculpture of a lions face with a pub sign in the background that says 'The Red Lion'

Photocredit to The Lion Brasserie

About the Redwood Lion Sculpture

Simon made the pair of lion sculptures in his workshop, then later transported them to Colchester. The smaller lion is made from redwood which is a similar colour to the current fibreglass sculpture. It’s a fitting choice as the name of the pub is The Red Lion!
For this sculpture, Simon had to work within a specific framework, as the pub is a listed building, and the sculpture was going to be mounted on the wall. This meant specific pose and size requirements.
This kind of thing can be intimidating to potential clients, but don’t worry! Simon is experienced and knows the right questions to ask. He will always ensure that your sculpture meets any necessary regulations as well as aesthetic preferences.

redwood lion sculpture in a workshop

The redwood lion in Simon’s workshop

About the Oak Lion

The large oak lion stands around 2m (7′) tall. With his well-defined muscles, mane, and noble expression, he’s definitely a presence! If you follow Simon on Facebook, you will have seen he had a bit of a false start on this one. As we have mentioned in our blogs about rot and aging, wood is not an exact science. Sometimes it’s difficult to “read the log” and an old wound can lead to a pocket of rot that isn’t visible from the outside. That was the case with this lion…

an abandoned unfinished wood sculpture of a lion

The abandoned stump!

This isn’t always a bad thing though! In this case Simon wasn’t totally happy with the first lion’s pose. The rot allowed him to start over and create something he was much happier with.

a wood lion sculpture standing on a tree stump outside a red brick building

Thoughts on Carving Lions

This year Simon has actually had several lion commissions. Each one is an opportunity to build on his past experience while also creating something fresh. For readers who are curious about his process, he talks about it in this blog about creating big cats. One key point is always understanding the underlying anatomy. It might be surprising then that his biggest ‘trade secret’ is not a technical anatomy book for artists (although there are some great ones around). Rather, a great place to start your research for any artistic project is… PINTEREST!!!!
A simple search can bring up a wealth of resources and give you pictures to work from as well as directing you to blogs, videos and tutorials. Being able to save images to different boards is also a helpful way of organising research.

close up of the face of an oak lion sculpture

A Pair of Lion Sculptures: Customer Reactions

Although the second lion hasn’t been installed yet, customers have enjoyed the new addition. The oak lion has captured attention and imagination, and the owners say the reaction has been ‘amazing’. And that is the most important part!
If you happen to be in the area, we recommend checking out The Lion brasserie. The food is great, and the staff are lovely. And if you’re there, we’d love it if you tagged us in any photos of the lions, and drop us a comment to know what you think.

Your Own Lion Sculpture

If you would like your own lion sculpture, Simon would love to chat with you. You can find out more HERE about how to commission a sculpture. Simon makes it as easy as possible for you from the initial ideas through to installing the final piece. And as always, you can contact him via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

In conclusion, we leave you with a few thoughts from Simon on carving big cats…


 

tips for carving big cats: a large sculpture of a roaring lion shows the importance of accurate proportions when sculpting.

Tips for Carving Big Cats

Tips for Carving Big Cats 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

As a sculptor, there are certain subjects that Simon is known for, and often asked to create. Fictional characters and dragons are definitely in the top two. Another popular subject for sculptures is the lion. In fact, any big cat!
Over the years Simon has created many sculptures of big cats, including lions, tigers and cheetahs. A couple of those sculptures that people have especially enjoyed include The Guardian and the Sri Lankan Lion. Carving the same subject allows for a lot of learning and refining. Since Simon recently created the lion family photographed below, we thought we would share some of his tips for carving big cats…

Tips for carving big cats by simon o'rourke. Photo shows a lion family Simon created from two separate tree trunks. One shows a male lion twisted to look in the direction of the second trunk which shows a lioness climbing down the trunk to reach a cub.

A lion family diptych Simon created this year

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Research

The starting point for a realistic sculpture of a big cat, is research. The goal of that research is to understand the underlying structure of the animal. That includes the skeleton, how the muscles lie (and where), and how each individual body part is formed. For example, understanding the paws is an area of study in itself. This is important because the proportions of the animal are dictated by its skeleton and muscles. They also dictate what positions the big cat may be in, and the shape we see on the outside.
Other research includes things like texture and direction of the fur and how it contrasts between different parts of the body.
If you are looking for a good basic tutor, Deviant Art has a big cat blog series that is worth checking out.
Once you have a good understanding of anatomy, you can move forward with your sculpture.

tips for carving big cats: a large sculpture of a roaring lion shows the importance of accurate proportions when sculpting.

The skeleton abnd muscle structure determin the proportions and shape of the sculpture.

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Determining a Realistic Pose

Understanding the underlying structure of a big cat allows you to move forward into creating your sculpture. It’s important to consider what your big cat is doing; what’s the story behind the sculpture? Once you have a sense of the story, you can create the basic shape of the animal.
At this point there is sometimes a plot twist or two as Simon discovers cracks or cavities in the wood.
That was the case with the male lion. However, that cavity meant Simon moved the position of the legs slightly, which ultimately created more drama and a sense of story. So don’t worry if you have a surprise or two! With some creative thinking (whilst still considering the basic skeleton and muscle structure) a re-think can actually be a blessing in disguise!

A tree carving by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke. The photo shows a large male lion with his front paws on a pile of rocks. He is twisted to glance over his shoulder. This realistic pose is one of simon's tips for carving big cats.

How realistic that pose will appear is determined not just by the basic shape, but also by emphasis. Simon will often use the tip of a bar to emphasise an indent, curve or a flap of skin. These are the things that help to show which muscles are flexed or relaxed, and where the pose is causing the animal to stretch. They also show the size and shape of the muscles which help to give Simon’s big cat sculptures their sense of strength and power.

a chainsaw carving or a lion in process in a workshop.

This photo of the lion in process shows where Simon is choosing to emphasise specific dips, flaps and twists, such as the flank.

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Keep Looking at Your Reference

Especially with big sculptures, being right on top of the sculpture while you carve can mean you lose a sense of perspective. This means it’s important to keep stepping back and looking at your sculpture. Check the proportions. And always check it against your reference for the animal, whether that’s your rough sketches or a series of animal photos. This principle isn’t unique to big cats. Simon often also talks about the importance of this in carving faces which you can read more about in this blog about the golden ratio.

close up of a lion cub carved into a tree trunk by simon o'rourke

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Adding Texture

Once you are happy with the shape of your sculpture, you can begin to add details and texture. Those details are key in conveying the story of a sculpture. For example, in what direction are the eyes looking? If the mouth is open, is the nose smooth showing a more relaxed animal, or is it wrinkled in a snarl?

At this point, Simon will often use something like the Manpatools multicutter. In this video Simon uses the triangle cutter head effectively to create this striking Sri Lankan lion mane.

At this stage, Simon often also uses his favourite range of Saburrtooth burr bits to create texture. They are especially useful for smaller details like claws, eyes, nose, mouth and ears. However, they can also add subtle rounded shapes like cheeks, or the shape of a paw. They really make a big difference and help take his sculptures to a whole new level!

Tips for carving big cats: SImon O'Rourke uses a saburrtooth flame burr bit to create texture on a lion's face

Tips for Carving Big Cats: Practice Makes Perfect

Simon’s final tip is true of everything. If your first big cats aren’t what you want, don’t give up. Practice is are really the biggest factor in improving your big cat sculptures. It really is true that practice makes perfect!

Friday ramblings about my thought process while carving big cats!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Friday, 21 August 2020

Your Own Big Cat Sculpture

Do you have a favourite of the big cat sculptures Simon has made? Drop us a comment and let us know!
And if you would like to commission your own big cat sculpture, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

a roraring lion carved by simon o'rourke

 

 

Sri Lankan Lion Sculpture

Sri Lankan Lion Sculpture 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Back in February Simon began posting photos of a Lion sculpture Ihewas working on. Last week he was able to deliver and install the finished piece. Keep reading to find out more about the Sri Lankan Lion sculpture!

a 12' sri lankan lion sculpture in oak in progress. the head is carved but the rest is stripped timber with scaffolding in the foreground

Early work on the Sri Lankan Lion

 

The Beginning….

Simon was first contacted by this client at the end of 2019. She was looking for a unique and significant gift for her husband’s retirement after 32 years working in the NHS. They had seen and admired the Dragon of Bethesda and initially reached out to ask about something similar.
Initially they talked about a lion-dragon combination. This would certainly have given lots of room for Si’s imagination!

A Sri Lankan Lion sculpture in oak by simon o'rourke against a vivid sunset. The lion holds a sword as he does on the sri lankan flag.

Progress on the Sri Lankan Lion Sculpture

Evolution of an Idea

Deciding a final design is often a conversation though, and progression of ideas. This commission was no different. Early on, the client assessed their garden to see if they had any trees suitable to be carved as they stood. This is a great starting point, and it saves the step of sourcing timber. The shape, size, and unique characteristics of that tree are then the starting point for a design. In this case, there were no trees suitable though. The client realised too that they would rather have a free-standing sculpture so it could move with them if they ever moved.
We sourced a large piece of oak from JRB Tree & Timber Services, and work began!

felled oak tree wth a stihl chainsaw

The chainsaw is here to show the girth of the tree used for the Sri Lankan lion sculpture

 

15' oak on the back of a trailer ready for transportation

Ready to be brought to the workshop!

Behind the Lion…

The client had come back to Simon at this point and settled on the idea of a Sri Lankan lion sculpture. Her husband is half-Irish, half-Sri Lankan and is proud of his heritage. The flag of Sri Lanka features a lion, and he even has a tattoo of this lion on his shoulder! This gave Simon a great starting point.

The lion on the Sri Lankan flag has been around since around 500bc and was seen carrying a sword from around 160bc.  The lion represents strength and bravery, and the ethnicity of the Sinhlaese people, so Simon’s lion sculpture needed to reflect that same strength. No cute and cuddly Disney Simbas for this sculpture! That pose, the clear muscle and the pose are striking and awesome, in the true sense of the word. A definite depiction of the bravery and strength the lion represents. And carrying a sword makes it clear this is the lion of the Sri Lankan flag.
By the way, if you enjoy learning about the history and symbolism of flags, you can find out more about the symbolism in the Sri Lankan flag on this blog.

An oak sri lankan lion sculpture by artist Simon O'Rourke depicting a 'real life' version of the sri lankan lion holding a sword. The lion is in the workshop surrounded by tools and carving paraphernalia

The finished lion in the workshop

Creating the Sri Lankan Lion Sculpture

As you can see from the previous photos which show the lion in progress, Simon began with a rough outline of the lion. The first areas he started cutting detail into were the mane and face. This is important, as they were to be the focal point of the sculpture. Starting with them makes it easier to ensure the rest matches them,  rather than making the focal point fit something that is less important in terms of focus. By carving them first, Simon really can make sure that everything else about the sculpture compliments and directs the viewer’s gaze towards the ‘main feature’.

Gradually he was able to add more details, with attention being given to even the tiniest aspect of this Sri Lankan Lion sculpture. Check out his lion dentistry with the Saburrtooth coarse flame bit

A bit of careful dentistry!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Saturday, 22 February 2020

In fact, Simon used the full arsenal of power tools on this commission! Here he is using the Manpa Tools Multicutter tool with the triangle head to create the lion’s fur. For those wondering where to get their own, Manpa Tools are not easily available in the UK, but Simon sources them through www.chainsawbars.co.uk. We thoroughly recommend Chainsawbars as a company too, as you can find out in our blog  Collaboration with Chainsawbars.co.uk.

Using the Manpa tools Multicutter with the triangle cutter head to create fur texture.

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Tuesday, 11 February 2020

A Roaring Success

Seven months on from the first conversation, and Singha the Sri Lankan Lion sculpture (named after the Sinhalese people and meaning ‘Lion’) is in his new home. He looks magnificent in place. Most importantly though, the couple love him, describing him as ‘absolutely wonderful’ and ‘fabulous’.
32 years of service to the NHS is no small thing. This Sri Lankan lion sculpture is a wonderful gift to recognise that service and honour their heritage.

Sri Lankan Lion sculpture by simon o'rourke standing in a paved area of a private garden

 

12' oak sri lankan lion sculpture by simon o'rourke pictured with the clients in a paved area

The client and her husband with Singha the lion

A Unique Gift

If you are looking for your own unique, significant, and personal gift, we would love to hear from you. Contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will get back to you to chat about design and costs.