chainsaw

TV presneter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

A Fire Breathing Dragon

A Fire Breathing Dragon 768 1033 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon was featured on the series opener of Amazing Spaces. It was a great episode, featuring some spectacular architecture and engineering. Simon’s contribution? A 7ft fire breathing dragon!

The Clients

Local couple Guy and Tracey commissioned the fire breathing dragon. They were renovating a former bakehouse, and it was to be the finishing touch. When they approached Simon, he knew he couldn’t say no. He always loves a challenge, so a wall-mounted, fire breathing dragon was a project he couldn’t turn down!

TV presenter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

George Clarke with the fire breathing dragon

The Building

The building itself is incredible. When Guy and Tracey bought their property, it came with a small stone building, which was a former bakehouse. Although it only measures around 3m x 2.5m, they had the idea to turn it into a little crash pad/den. A mini-house!
Space was obviously going to be an issue. Guy is a gifted engineer though and came up with an ingenious fix. In his own words:

“Your bathroom only needs to be big when you’re in it, so I figured you could have the whole bathroom wall moved across and stuck on the wall, and when you need it, pull it towards you to create the bathroom”

That’s right! Guy created a disappearing bathroom to maximise the space! George Clarke was so impressed, the property now ranks in his top three builds!

A Dream Holiday Home

Now finished, the property is a beautiful little getaway, ideal for a couple. Once lockdown is over, it will be available to rent via www.thedragontower.co.uk. If you are impressed with the creativity and engineering, you can also follow them on Twitter where they share more about the process.

fire breathing dragin made from redwood by simon o'rourke mounted on a small stone two storey building

The Story of Maggon the Dragon

The idea for Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon came from Tracey. The fairytale look of the bakehouse captivated her, and she made a joke about needing a dragon to protect them. Tracey is also a big fan of children’s literature and illustration and had always wanted a piece of fantasy art. And so from there, the dragon commission was born! They also had the idea that he could breathe fire when the doorbell rang. Such a fun, and creative finishing touch to a creative and ingenious renovation!

Initially, they planned on making the dragon themselves. But then, they met Simon. His portfolio includes many incredible dragons, including the well-know Dragon of Bethesda. His background as an illustrator also tied in with Tracey’s love of children’s illustration. So all in all, he was the perfect fit for this commission.

redwood fire breathing dragon mounted on a small stone bake house in north wales

Making Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon

Maggon is 7ft and made from a fallen redwood tree. The warm red colour is perfect for this property in North Wales, as it reflects the red dragon on our flag.
Nerd alert! In dry climates, redwood actually becomes a lighter-silvery tan shade if left to weather naturally. These clients needn’t worry though. In damp climates, redwood darkens, so the North Welsh weather will mean that lovely red colouring is retained for years to come.

Engineering Challenges!

The most obvious challenge for this commission was how to make it breathe fire! In this case, Guy had a plan, and Simon’s role was to create a cavity within the sculpture for the propane pipe. If you saw the episode you will have heard Tracey joking about the dragon breathing fire when the doorbell rings. So, for the curious among you.. yes, it is really connected to the doorbell! However, Guy and Tracey wanted to make the fire breathing dragon as environmentally friendly as possible. For this reason, they limit his ‘bursts’ using their own control box – which also helps limit accident potential! Health and Safety matters!

Another problem for Simon to think through was the installation. The dragon not only needed to breathe fire but was going to be mounted on the wall of the house – as if it was climbing towards the window. This meant keeping strictly within certain specifications so it would fit the space. It also meant Simon needed to create the dragon in sections so it would be easier to mount on the wall. Being able to visualise this and take account of it in the design is an essential aspect of larger projects.

More About Making a Fire Breathing Dragon

Simon used a few different Stihl chainsaws with various bars to create the main shape of the dragon. He also used these to begin to add a few cuts that give depth, and some of the more general shape and texture. No dragon is complete without scales though! Simon created the scales with the Manpa Tools Multicutter with a round cutter attachment. The friendly grin (we didn’t want Maggon scaring off guests!) and other facial details were created using Saburrtooth burrs.  The flame-shaped burr is an especially useful tool for these projects. You can see a bit of a ‘before and after’ in this photo, Tracey and Guy took in the workshop. Simon has created the main shape and some details with the chain saw, and begun to add the scales with the multi cutter around the dragon’s hind legs.

close up of a dragon tail made out of redwood

Although it took several days to create Maggon, you can watch the process in under a minute! What are your guesses for who the sculpture in the background will be?

Being on Amazing Spaces

As an artist, it is always an honour to have a piece featured on television. The focus of the show was the build itself, but Simon did also get to meet George Clarke on unveiling day, and enjoyed a good chat! He also loved seeing the build too:
It’s incredible what they’ve managed to do with such a small space! It was great to be involved and to add to a project like that.

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke with TV presente George Clarke. They are pictured in front of The Dragon Tower, a stone bake house converted to a guest house in NOrth Wales. Simon is holding a Stihl chainsaw

Simon with George Clarke and a trusty Stihl chainsaw!

What’s Your Fire Breathing Dragon?

Thank you to those who took the time to comment on social media. It is always lovely to hear from you, and we’re touched by all the great feedback.

If you have a rental property, a novelty piece of art is a GREAT way to make it stand out, and to attract attention – and gain business! If you have an idea for your home or rental property, why not have a chat with Simon? Contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!

Thank you for reading our blog! Don’t forget to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our posts.

Perfect Portrait for You: Part Two

Perfect Portrait for You: Part Two 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

If you regularly read our blog, you’ll know that last week we began writing about the perfect portrait scultpure for you. We feel people sometimes shy away from commissioning a portrait. That can be for lots of different reasons. However, we also know that portraiture is extremely varied. Simon is also able to sculpt in many different styles and scales. This means there is ALWAYS a perfect portrait for you!

Last week we looked at some of Simon’s classic full length sculptures, and a classic bust. There is no doubt that every time Simon creates a new full full size portrait, it has impact. However, they may not be the perfect portrait for YOU. Space, budget, style preferences and more mean the perfect portrait for you might be something a little different….

Chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke standing with his life size sculptures of soccer players kenny dalglish and Bill Shankley

 

The Bobble Head!

If a classic sculpture isn’t quite your thing, and you want something more ‘relaxed’, what about a bobble head?

Typically bobble heads are a figurine with a disproportionately large head mounted on a spring. This allows it to bob up and down – hence the name! They are often made as a caricature of a famous person. You can find out more in this article about the history of the bobble head as a portrait.


The perfect portrait for you, your space and your preferences might be something fun like this bobblehead sculpture of Gary Barlow. In the photo simon o'rourke is pictured with three shots of a full size sculpture of gary barlow with a disproportionately large head!

A bobble head portrait can be created in any size to suit your space. Simon can create a flattering representation, or more of a caricature or the person. They definitely bring some fun to the idea of a portrait! If a bobbing head causes you concern, don’t worry. Simon can still carve in this style with a fixed head that stays firmly in place!

perfect portrait for you might be a bobble head like this life size carving of chainsaw artist steve backus depicted with an oversized head and carrying chainsaw carving equipment

A bobble head of fellow chainsaw artist Steve Backus

The Collage/Group Portrait

Maybe you’re looking for something unique instead of a family photo. Or something to commemorate a team. n which case, the perfect portrait for you may be some kind of collage.

A collage can be created in an endless number of ways, depending on the number of subjects and how you want to pose them. Again, they are something a little different to a classic portrait. The presenters from BBC’s Country File certainly loved the sculptures Simon created for them a few years ago!

 

a perfect portrait for you and your family might be a collage. this photo is of a sculpture of multiple faces in one piece of wood.

Stylised/Modern

Are you more of a modernist when it comes to sculpture? Perhaps something more stylised would suit you. These faces were exhibition pieces Simon created at a couple of different events in 2019. You can read about their story in our Face to Face blog.
Even though they appear simple, in-person, they are incredibly striking!
Although these are not direct likenesses, they are great examples of Simon’s versatility as a portrait artist.

The ‘Cheeky Nod’

The perfect portrait for you may not actually be an actual portrait! Rather, it may be that you incorporate the features or likeness of someone into something else. Kind of a cheeky nod to the person rather than a formal depiction.

One example of that is Simon’s dragon for St George’s hospital garden. Mark Owen (former Take that singer) was the special guest who would be opening the garden. So, when Simon carved the dragon, he chose to use Mark Owen’s features in the dragon. It’s subtle, but there is definitely a fun likeness!

When might this ‘cheeky nod’ be appropriate? Maybe your club or society is commisioning  a sculpture to commemorate an event or occasion. The sculpture itself can’t be of the individual, but using the features of a specific key person on a character or object can be a fun way of acknowledging them and their involvement.

Singer Mark Owen photographed next to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

A chainsaw carved dragon by simon o'rourke in cartoon style. The dragon's face has been carved to incorporate the features of singer Mark Owen so it bears a resemblance to him

If that’s a bit TOO subtle for you, what about using the faces of specific people on other objects? More of a ‘hybrid’ or combination than just a ‘cheeky nod’ to the person.

One client did just that. She wanted traditional ornaments for her garden, like pixies, fairies and gnomes. However, as a loving grandmother, she also wanted to depict her grandchildren. That led to the unique commission below. Simon carved these cute miniature pixies appropriately sized for her garden. Rather than imagining a character and featurs for each though, the face of each sculpture was one of the client’s granchildren!

Three traditional pixies carved in miniature on a small tree stump.

The Wall Hanging

Finally, maybe space doesn’t allow for you to have a 3D sculpture. Maybe it just isn’t your thing. In which case, these illustrated wall hangings could be the perfect portrait commission for you.

If you have read his biography, you’ll know Simon trained in illustration. He initially had aspirations to be an illustrate children’s books, and stumbled into tree carving! An alternative to a sculpture is a portrait in wood. Like all Simon’s portraits (except a bust!), wall hangings can be for individiual or group portraits. They can be created in a wood to suit your room, and make a great gift or commemorative piece.

prefect portrait for you series featuring a pyrography portrait of marilyn monroe by simon o'rourke

 

The faces of the four beatles created by simon o'rourke through burning and etching a wood panel

We hope you have enjoyed exploring some of Simon’s portrait work. We also hope you feel inspired, and know that there really is a perfect portrait for you, no matter your preference, budget, space, or occasion!

If you would like to explore commissioning a portrait, contact Simon at http://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

We’d love to hear from you!

The Perfect Portrait Sculpture for You: Part One

The Perfect Portrait Sculpture for You: Part One 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

There’s an app for that!
We often hear that when we need a digital solution. But did you know, when it comes to portraits, Simon’s ‘got a carve for that!’
It’s true!  Portraiture has changed a lot over the centuries, and there are lots of different ways to capture and represent a person. Whatever your preferences  or the occasion, we’re pretty sure there’s a perfect portrait sculpture for you!

 

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

Portrait of explorer Mungo Park

When Portraits Go Wrong!

The idea of having a portrait done can be daunting though.
Let’s face it, there are enough comedic moments on TV shows and movies based on unveiling a portrait that horrifies the subject!
Most often, that horror seems to be because the portrait looks like a child’s drawing, or Picasso on steroids! Remember Martin’s portrait of Jackie in Friday Night Dinner?!
Before we look at some of the different portraits Simon has created, let’s look at why people sometimes don’t consider a sculpture portrait.

Actress Tamsin Greig in character as Jackie from Friday Night Dinner, standing next to the comedic portrait her onscreen husband painted.

Tapping Into Insecurities

Other times the onscreen comedy (or real life fear) is the possibility of seeing something that picks out or exaggerates features we don’t like. Like the time  James Cordon pranked David Beckham with a sculpture of himself! This fear is usually unfounded though. Portraits have almost always been flattering, and Simon’s goal is ALWAYS to create something beautiful. Not just that, but a portrait that goes beyond physical features and captures character and countenance.

David Beckham and the sculpture James Cordon used as a prank

And speaking of soccer-related sculptures, thankfully Simon’s Queen of the South footballer portraits are a MUCH better likeness than James Cordon’s David Beckham!

Simon’s Billy Houliston side by side with one of the pictures Simon used for reference

Sometimes our discomfort with the idea of a portrait isn’t so much that it DOESN’T look like us, so much as it might look  bit TOO familiar! There were certainly plenty of laughs when Steve McCroskey was ‘caught’ standing by his portrait in the movie Airplane!

Steve McCroskey by his likeness in Airplane

It was HOW BIG?!

The scale of a portrait is often find it is used for comedy too. Although entertaining, moments like that can genuinely put us off commissioning a portrait! Who else watched the Gilmore Girls scene where Loralei sees a stern Richard looming over the family home for the first time? And who else watched it and, putting themselves in that position, secretly hoped nobody ever did that to them?!

Loralei sees Richard’s portrait for the first time

Moving Beyond the Fear

All in all, TV and movies have done a great job of convincing us that portraits are associated with words like ‘pretenious’ or just plain awkward. That truly isn’t the realty though, and many people have been moved by a meaningful portrait. They can be a beautiful way to honour and commemorate somebody. Human form sculptures are one of Simon’s favourite things to carve, and his skill and versatility as an artist mean he can produce a wide range of styles and types. In this series we’ll walk through a few Simon has created over the years and explore some forms you may not have considered. We’re sure that whatever your preferences, setting or occasion, one of them is the perfect portrait sculpture for you……

A portrait created as part of Huskycup

The Classic

One of the most common sculpture portraits Simon makes are full length ‘statues’. They are always met with admiration, appreciation and even awe, no matter the subject or setting. No matter how large scale the sculpture portrait, Simon is still all about the details that make the difference between a good sculpture and a stunning piece of art.
The direction of a glance
Some texture to show the age of a face
A hair that doesn’t quite lie flat
The angle of an arm which tells a whole story

All of these and more combine to make sure that each and every full length portrait is a piece of art worthy of the person it honours.

Wooden sculpture portrait of a pilgrim sitting on a bench by simon o'rourke

 

Timbersports Full length Portraits

Simon has a real desire to understand his subject, what they did and who they were, and to bring that out in his sculptures. Look at these portraits of the Stihl Timbersports athletes! Simon created them in 2018 when his home town of Liverpool hosted the tournament. Each sculpture is a to-scale portrait of one of the athletes who took part from around the world.

Perfect sculpture portrait for you series, stihl timbersport athlete sculptures in front of the liver building

So, where and when might you commission a full length portrait sculpture?

They are most popular in public places, where they commemorate a person, event or tie in with a theme. They make a wonderful addition to village greens, halls, stadiums, theatres, and even pubs and restaurants like Mungo Park pictured at the start of the blog. Sometimes they are historic figures, relevant to a place, such as Friedrich Froebel pictured below. Other times they are deeply personal, such as the sculpture he made as a memorial to a young girl who died of leukaemia.

Classic Bust

Not everyone is looking for something so ….. large!
Full length, full size portraits are great in entrances to public buildings, open spaces and large gardens, but not always viable for the average home! If a full length, to-scale portrait is not the perfect sculpture portrait for you, a good alternative might just be a bust….

Perfect sculpture portrait for you example of elvis presley bust by simon o'rourke

These also work brilliantly indoors or out, which opens up your choices of wood too. You can read about why that’s a factor in our blog about Is my tree suitable for carving?
In brief though, indoor sculptures can be made from less durable woods, as they aren’t exposed to the elements.

As a bust can be less visible to the public, it can also be more personal. Private. Reflect aspects of our story or passions we may not want everyone to see. Maybe some ‘fan art’ of a favourite TV show or character, or a famous person we admire. We might want something as a tribute but – not want it on a scale where it has to be in front of our house for everyone to see! A bust in that case makes a wonderful gift or treat to yourself, such as the Ayrton Senna and Sherlock Holmes Simon made.

Perfect portrait sculpture for you series sherlock holmes tree carving bust by simon o'rourke

Ayrton senna chainsaw carving scultped bust by Simon O'Rourke

And Yet More Options!

These are just two options when it comes to finding the perfect sculpture portrait for you. Next week we will explore four other possibilities that you may like to consider for commemorating or honouring someone in your own life.

 

If you would like to talk to Simon about possibilities for a portrait or other commission, visit our contact page to send an inquiry.

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood

Woodland Sculpture Trail: Pages Wood 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome back to our woodland sculpture trail series!

If you read our blogs about the Pages Wood commission, and the Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail, you will know that sculpture trails are a great way to encourage people to get outside. They also encourage engagement with the environment and its care – something Simon and Liz are both passionate about. At the moment, we obviously can’t get out to enjoy our beautiful woodlands and parks, so we thought we would bring them to you!

Last time we visited the Wirral and Meadow Park. This week we take you to revisit the Pages Wood sculpture trail….

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

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

About Pages Wood

Pages Wood is the Forestry Commission’s largest site in Thames Chase and home to 100,000 trees. The wood offers 6.5km of walking and cycling paths and 2.2km of bridlepaths. This valley of green space offers excellent views as well as a rich mosaic of habitats for wildlife – all reflected in Simon’s sculptures.

Extensive views, an excellent path network, developing woodlands, and (of course) Simon’s woodland sculpture trail  all make Pages Wood a “must-visit” site – either for some brisk exercise or just simple relaxation.

As with Meadow Park, Simon and Liz wrote a story to engage the viewer. The trail follows the adventures of Horatio Hedgehog and Verity Vole as they meet other animals in the forest.

Verity Vole Woodland Sculpture Trail

This is Verity! She wanders through Pages Wood, and teaches about the friends she meets through verse, and the visual of the sculpture. See how many of the animals you recognise and knew inhabited the south east of England.

Original Woodland sculpture trail concept sketch by simon o'rourke, Verity Vole

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

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

 

dragonfly bench concept sketch by simon o'rourke for pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Did Verity teach you anything new? And which was your favourite sculpture from her story?

Horatio Hedgehog Woodland Sculpture Trail

Next we have Horatio! You can scroll through and follow him on his adventure, not only as he meets his woodland friends, but also from his concept sketch to fully installed sculpture!

 

 

 

 

hedgehog and badger tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke from pages wood woodland sculpture trail

 

 

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

 

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

We love that each trail ends with a bench so people can sit and relax and enjoy being in our great British outdoors. It also gives time to ponder on anything they learned it the trail. Our hope is that when Simon makes a woodland sculpture trail, it isn’t just fun to look at, but actually inspires people to action too.

If you are involved in running a local conservation area, and would like to consider adding an educational sculpture trail, why not check out the Meadow Park Case Study on on website for ideas and information?

To talk more about specifics, email Simon on [email protected] Can’t wait to hear from you!

visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

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

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

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

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!

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.

 

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

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.