commission

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall

Sculpture for Historic Property

Sculpture for Historic Property 420 630 Simon O'Rourke

alsoOne of the things Simon has enjoyed over the years, is creating sculpture for historic property. These projects usually combine Simon’s love of human form with his passion for storytelling. They also add value for the owner in sometimes unexpected ways. Over the years Simon has created many pieces for historic properties, ranging from National Trust homes or places of worship to private home owners. He has also had a season as ‘artist in residence’ at Erddig, a local National Trust property.
This week we share examples from that extensive portfolio, and explore the value of commissioning sculpture for historic property.

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman at Highclere Castle

Reasons to Commission a Sculpture for Historic Property: Commemoration & Storytelling

There are many reasons to commission a sculpture for your historic property. One of those reasons is to have a commemorative piece, to mark an event or occasion.  The Airman at Highclere Castle (pictured above) is an example of this. He is also an example of another reason for commissioning a sculpture. That is, story telling.  If you ever read our blog about the Highclere Airman, you will know that he tells a part of the story of that property. Although people may be aware of the history of a building, a visual aid telling that story is always powerful. Even traditional school text books become much more interesting with a picture! How much more so when the visual story telling is in 3D?! If your building is open to the public, this enhances their experience, which is always a good thing!

Mungo Park sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

A Tourist Attraction!

Another reason that a sculpture can add value to a historic sculpture, is it can become an attraction in itself. Take Mungo Park for example, photographed above.
This likeness of the Scottish explorer was created in 2014 for a Wetherspoons in Peebles, Park’s home town. It reflects the history of the area, so enhances the experience of the visitor, and helps provide information about the town. It also helps to set that restaurant apart from the others in the area. It’s a focus point for visitors – something unique the other eateries in town don’t have. It’s also fun –  customers also sit alongside Mungo on the bench outside the pub, for a photograph. And we all know the power of a shared photograph on social media!

 

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall, Sculpture for historic property

Case Study: Angel at the Pool of Bethesda

One of Simon’s favourite sculptures that he has created for a historic property is the Angel at the Pool of Bethesda. She was carved from oak in 2016 as a commission for Biddulph Old Hall.  Although the property has an extensive history dating back to 1480, this commission relates to a 19th Century resident…..

The Story Behind the Sculpture

In 1871, attracted by the romance of the ruins in their moorland setting, artist Robert Bateman took up residence in the hall. He actually painted most of his best works in the Hall between 1871 and 1890. In 1874  he and the love of his life, Caroline Howard, were separated. Then, in 1876, Caroline married the Rev Charles Wilbraham. Bateman was heart broken, and painted The Pool of Bethesda as “an autobiographical cry of anguish”. The commission of the sculpture was to commemorate Robert and Caroline’s memory as part of the house’s story.

To read more about the history of the painting, click here.

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall is an example of sculpture for historic property

Creating the Sculpture

The setting with the angel stepping down a few steps towards a pool of water replicates the Bateman painting. The difficulty for Simon centered around the fact that all he had to work from was a flat 2D image. This meant that to begin with, he had to visualize what the painting would look like in 3D. From there, he then had to create what he was imagining. Which, according to owner Nigel Daly,  “he has done magnificently…. The piece fully represents the sense of Caroline stepping down into the water that Bateman created in the original painting.”

 

Testimonies of the Value Added

Obviously art always enhances or ‘adds’ something to a room, or wherever it’s located. However, in a historic property it does more than this. It captures the attention of the viewer. They are drawn in, as it narrates the story of that place. It also helps them envision, imagine and remember.

Nigel Daly is “thrilled” at the impact of the sculpture:
“Visitors never fail to gasp as they are led through a small octagonal tower from the ruins themselves into the small courtyard with the pool in its centre and Caroline at its head. As time has passed she has weathered beautifully to settle into the time-worn surroundings of the Hall.

The work has been much admired, and such is the skill of the work we are saving up for a second sculpture for the centre of the ruins based on Burne-Jones’s ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’, which we feel is just up Simon’s street!”

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

Your Own Commission

If you would like to enhance story-telling and scene-setting with a unique sculpture for your historic property, contact Simon on [email protected].

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 creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

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

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree 600 450 Simon O'Rourke

Many of you will have read in Simon’s biography that his is in illustration. Tree carving started for him while he was working for Acorn as a tree surgeon while building up his portfolio. He realised he could create beautiful things with the power tools he was using, and the rest is history!
That means not only is he able to create amazing sculptures, but he also has a portfolio of beautiful wall hangings and plaques. You might remember some of them from our Pet Portraits blog.
This week we want to share a recent commission with you which was for an entrance sign to a special place: Simon’s bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree for their new centre in Sandiway, Cheshire.

Wall hangings by Simon O'Rourke

Examples of Simon’s wall hangings at the gallery. Excuse the tinsel, this was taken during a Christmas fundraiser!

The Joshua Tree

Lynda and David Hill founded The Joshua Tree in 2006, after their son was diagnosed with leukaemia. They discovered a distinct lack in support services for all family members during the traumatic experience of childhood cancer, and wanted to provide something for other families in their situation.

Their goal is to support the whole family, from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. They especially recognise that post-treatment can be a challenging time,  as families have to adapt to a ‘new normal’, but many of the support services that are in place during treatment,  have come to an end.  The Joshua Tree offers support, and help bridge the gap when that safety net of treatment ends.

Even though it’s only 14 years since its inception, The Joshua Tree have received over 170 referrals! They estimate that in that time they delivered over 1700 family interactions delivered to families affected by childhood cancers.

Architect’s impression of The Joshua Tree’s new centre

The Joshua Tree Support Centre

One of the charity’s undertakings is a new support centre in Sandiway. It’s still under construction, but even a quick look at their blog shows it is going to be an amazing facility. As part of the finishing touches, Simon was commissioned to create a bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree centre.

The goal of the centre is to provide a safe and relaxing environment for families. It will cater for children of all ages, from toddlers to teens! It will have activity room, counselling suites, soft play, sensory equipment, as well as games room, office  accommodation, outdoor play and landscaped gardens. It’s definitely a special project, and we know it will make an incredible difference to so many.

The Joshua Tree Support Centre under construction. Simon O'Rourke created a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree.

The centre under construction

Simon’s Contribution.

The commission for a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree Centre came after one of the staff noticed Simon’s work online. It seemed a good fit from the beginning. Not only did they like his work, but as The Joshua Tree supports families in Wales, it seemed fitting to commission  a ‘local’ artist.

Simon made the sign of a lovely warm, cedar. His choice of timber has meant the placing of the logo still allows for some of the lovely knots and markings to come through, so it still has an organic feel. The building is also clad in cedar, so it will be a beautiful compliment to a great facility.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

Simon and Paul handing over the finished sign.

Simon is available for commissions of pet portraits, signs and wall hangings.

Email [email protected] to discuss the details.

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon

The Great Resc-yew (rescue): Two Towers and a Dragon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Two Towers and a dragon.
Sorry, nothing to do with the movie! Although if you enjoy Tolkien, you could read our blog about Simon’s Lord of the Rings sculpture.
Rather these two towers and a dragon were straight from Simon’s imagination. As well as telling a story, they are actually also a happy ending in themselves! Read on to find out more about ‘the great resc-yew’…

Two towers and a dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Resc-Yew Plan

These stunning sculptures began their life as yew trees (now the ‘rescue – rescyew puns make sense!) which had become problematic. Yew is a fascinating and beautiful wood which grows in all kinds of shapes and patterns. They are some of the oldest trees in the country, are great for making all kinds of things. This ranges from carving household objects and art to furniture. Most famously though, they have the reputation of making the best long bows! However, that wild beauty can sometimes cause problems for the landowners.
In this case, they were growing too close to the house.

Initially, the owners had the tops removed, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution. Rather than remove them completely, they decided to turn them into a different kind of beautiful – a Simon O’Rourke sculpture! All projects have their points of fun and excitement, but one of the things Simon enjoys about this kind of commission is the sense of giving life and purpose back to something that had either died, was damaged, or could no longer remain as it was. Even better when it’s something as fun and unique as this fairytale sculpture!

Incidentally, if you have trees which are becoming problematic, read our blog about Treetech, a tree surgeon we work with and recommend to give you an evaluation!

The dragon from Two Towers and a Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Creating the Sculptures

After chatting with the owners about what they would like, Simon went to work, employing not only his skill, but his creativity and imagination to create this scene from a story Tolkien or C S Lewis would be proud of!

Simon kept some of the bark to allow the trees to blend in more with the rest of the garden. This also adds age and authenticity to the towers, as if they are something from an long-ago, far away adventure. He created the initial shapes using Stihl chainsaws, then used his Manpa angle grinders and chainsaw bars, and Saburrtooth bits to create the details and added texture. The beautiful natural patterns within the yew combined with Simon’s deeper cuts that mark the stone and tiles, to create the feel of ancient stone towers that have been weathered over the years.

The Two Towers from Two towers and a dragon by simon o'rourke

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the fun things about a sculpture like this, is it not only looks great, but sparks the imagination. This is something that is important to Simon in every sculpture he creates, and even shares in his biography that he wants “people to feel like they’ve experienced part of a story”

In this story, with the two towers and a dragon, the castle is under threat from the dragon. As we look at him, we see he is quietly watching, formulating his plan, and resting his wings, which although relaxed at this moment, are clearly powerful and large.

But what happens next?

Simon has set the scene and created a stunning piece of art, but the rest is up to you.
Can the towers withstand the attack?
Who or what is within them to attract the dragon?
Who will be victorious and how?

We think it would be wonderful to spend a summer’s evening in this garden – perhaps after a BBQ with a glass of your favourite drink in hand – inviting family and friends to tell the rest of the story. What do you think happens next? How would you end this great resc-yew story? Why not comment below and let us know!

As always, if you feel inspired by this week’s featured carving, you can talk to Simon about commissioning something unique for your home and garden. Contact us on [email protected].

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of Simon’s pieces that caught people’s attention recently was a little boy, kneeling to plant a tree. The Trees for Kids sculpture was commissioned by a local community association, and unveiled during their Trees for Kids event.

Trees for Kids 'Boy Planting Sapling' sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

About Maes Y Pant

Maes Y Pant is a 70 acre forest on the outskirts of Wrexham.
The site is open to the public, but the land is actually owned and managed by a community association. It is a conservation area, recreation area and also sustains itself with soft lumber sales. Regular readers will remember that Simon and some our our affiliates have produced other sculptures on the site, including Stanley, and the children’s fort.

Trees for Kids sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids sculpture in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids

This particular commission was part of Trees for Kids, an event which was both sociable and educational. There was opportunity to explore the forest, as well as a story teller, stalls, and face painting. The HACK horse sanctuary brought a pony, and there were also educational stands to raise awareness of the importance of woodlands and taking care of the environment. The highlight of the day though, was planting saplings.

The Commission.

Each child who took part was able to plant a sapling to help sustain the forest. It’s easy to see how Simon’s sculpture tied in with such an event! One aspect that isn’t so easy to see though, is that like the forest around it, this sculpture will also grow and change!

What? How?!

Trees for Kids sculpture with rowan sapling. Simon O'Rourke for Maes Y Pant

With the planted sapling at Maes Y Pant

Growing and Changing

If you look closely at the photo above, you will notice what looks like a thick stick between his hands. That’s actually a Rowan sapling! In time, as well as gaining height, the tree trunk will broaden to fill his hands. The little boy was secured in the ground with a substantial foundation. This means that as the tree grows it will grow at a slight angle, giving room for the roots to establish. The community group will also manage and trim the tree so visitors will always have a good view of the sculpture.

Always a Story Teller

The boy is carved from Welsh Oak. The tree is native to the area, adding to the sense that the boy ‘belongs’. He makes a sweet addition to the forest. We love the look of concentration as he focuses on what he is planting! His haircut and outfit also seem to hint at a past age, and evoke memories of kids playing outside, and enjoying the outdoors.

We hope that the children (and adults!) who visit the area will be motivated to preserve not just this beautiful local area, but also our wider environment.

To commission Simon for your own special occasion, email us on [email protected]

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sherlock Holmes. He may not have been the first recorded fictional detective, but Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed. Ever since his first appearance in 1887, we’ve seen him in books, comics, movies, TV series, art work and more. In fact, he’s been played by over 75 actors! Now, in 2019, we bring you: Simon O’Rourke’s tree carving ‘Sherlock Holmes Bust’.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

The Timber

The Sherlock Holmes bust was for a private client who commissioned it as a gift. He’s made from oak which means that although he is pale at the moment and has some yellow tones, in time he will get darker. The rings and markings will become black as it makes contact with rain, and the UV rays of the sun will cause the wood to pick up greyish hues. In combination with the natural darkening, it means that as he ages, the wood will become more reminiscent of the furniture and drawing room decor of the Sherlock’s own era.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

It’s all in the Details!

Fans of the detective will have noticed a few interesting details on the Sherlock Holmes bust that refer to Conan Doyle’s original short stories, and four novels.
Incidentally, as well using his trusted Stihl and Manpa tools for this project, Simon also used the Saburrtooth burr bits on the die grinder and some of their small rotary tools to achieve the details and texture. But back to the details! Simon included nine ‘clues’ or references to the Sherlock Holmes stories on the bust. Can you spot them all? See how many you can find before we reveal all later!

Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Inspiration

One of the problems when creating a sculpture of a character from a book, is that there isn’t a definitive image to work from as there would be a historic figure. This is only heightened when he has been represented by so many different people on screen too! As the client is a fan of the fiction and not just a particular on-screen representation of Sherlock, Simon chose the Sidney Paget illustrations as his inspiration.

Paget illustrated the original Conan Doyle stories for The Strand magazine. With over 350 illustrations created by Paget, there was no shortage of imagery to work from! Simon not only used the facial features of the Paget artwork as the basis for his carving, but was also attentive to the original stories as he added details to the bust. One of the most obvious of these is the shape of the pipe. Although we have come to associate Sherlock Holmes with a large, curved meerschaum pipe, there is actually no reference to this in the original stories. By choosing something simpler and less iconic, Simon has ensured the bust is faithful to the original illustrations rather than the images that evolved over time.

Sherlock Holmes by Simon O'Rourke

The Big Reveal!

All good detective stories end with a ‘big reveal’. Thankfully, when this sculpture was revealed to the birthday person, it was received better than the surprise the characters often get in crime fiction! We are glad to say that the client told us Sherlock arrived this afternoon and is now in its final location. We’re absolutely delighted – it is stunning!”

And now, for our other ‘big reveal’: The clues within the Sherlock Holmes Bust……

Snake and Baker Street Detail from Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Hidden Clues

As you look at the various views of Sherlock, you should hopefully find the following ten references to stories:

1. Stiletto dagger he used to pin correspondence to the mantle piece
2. Pince nez glasses – The Golden Pince-nez
3. Honeycomb – His Last Bow
4. Broken crown – Musgrave ritual
5. Persian slipper he used for storing tobacco

Sherlock Holmes tree carving statue by Simon O'Rourke

6. Handgun
7. 221b plaque
8. Snake – The Speckled Band
9. Violin
10. Stick Men – The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Oak Sherlock Holmes Bust by Simon O'Rourke

We loved this commission, because as well as being an opportunity for Simon to show his talent for human form, it was such a unique gift to create. If you need a beautiful, unique and sustainable gift for somebody, contact us on [email protected] to talk about the details.

World War I Memorial Soldier

World War I Memorial Soldier 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who lost their lives in war.
We don’t take that sacrifice lightly, so it’s always an honour when Simon receives a war memorial commission.  Whether it’s a statue or a giant poppy, it’s an opportunity to both do his best as an expression of his own respect thankfulness. It’s also an opportunity to help others remember and be thankful. His best known example is probably the Airman at Highclere Castle. However, today, we’re going to revisit this World War I memorial soldier.

World War I Memorial Soldier, Astley Park

The Commission.

The World War I Memorial Soldier was commissioned by Chorley Council, and is installed in Astley Park. It is not their only tribute to those who died during war, and guests can take part in a  whole World War One experience which includes this Garden of Reflection. Estimates suggest nine to 11 million military personnel died during World War I. This soldier standing alone though encourages us to think not of the masses, but of the individual soldier who lost his life. The son, brother, uncle, friend.

World War One memorial soldier by Simon O'Rourke Chorley

The Soldier

Looking at this soldier, it is easy to see some of the cost of war. The slump of his shoulders, and slightly hunched posture speaks of a fatigue. Maybe a disenchantment. His disheveled uniform and minimal weaponry tells us of men ill-prepared for the horrors of battle. And his face makes it clear he has seen loss and pain. The weathering of the wood and imperfections that appear over time, only enhance this portrait. This is not a soldier freshly out of boot camp, immaculate and passionate about his calling. This is a man who has given up everything and seen too much. And this man, and the millions like him are what we remember, with thanks.

World War I soldier by Simon O'Rourke, Chorley

Lest We Forget

This World War One memorial soldier is only one of thousands of tributes around the country. We hope that as people look at this one, Simon’s skill in portraying this soldier’s story through sculpture will speak to them. That it will help people to think about what it is that was lost, not in terms of millions, but the cost to each family of ‘the one’.

Of course, we couldn’t JUST revisit this soldier. Another name for remembrance day is ‘poppy day’, so to finish, we naturally had to include some of the poppies he has made. Skilled as Simon is with human form, these sculptures have also helped to catch attention and capture beautifully the flowers which appeared in Flanders after World War I.

Poppy scultpure by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy outside wrexham museum by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy in 2014

If you are interested in having your own memorial carved by Simon, why not email us on [email protected]

Whether it’s a specific person or thing, or something general, Simon is able to use his skills, imagination, creativity and attention to history and detail to create something perfect for your tribute.

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Back in May we started sharing videos and photos of a statue of three footballers that Simon was working on. Five months later, we’re proud to see the statue of the Queen of the South legends finally installed and unveiled!

Queen of the South Legends statue by Simon O'Rourke unveiled in Dumfries

Queen of the South Legends Statue unveiled October 2019

The Commission

The statue was commissioned by The People’s Project and stands outside the Queen of the South stadium in Dumfries. The People’s Project exists to help rekindle community within Dumfries. It does this through practical projects, funding of community initiatives, and creating opportunities to remind people of the heritage of their town. This statue isn’t their first commission, and they have also restored or commissioned statues of Robert De Bruce, and Peter Pan.

This particular commission commemorates three of the legends of Queen of the South FC: Billy Houliston, Alan Ball, and Stephen Dobbie. Each player represents a different era, achievement and contribution to the club. To find out more about each player, visit http://www.qosfc.com/news-4765. We think it’s always inspiring to read about passion t,alent and dedication, even if football may not be your thing!

Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling of the Queen of the South Legends by Simon O'Rourke

Current player Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling

Making the Statue

This statue was always going to be a challenge. The original goal was to make the three life-sized players out of one piece of oak:

About to begin a project that will be a big challenge… And for once it isn't a dragon!!Three life size footballers in one log…

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

If you watched the video, you would have seen Simon refer to a crack throughout the timber. That obviously meant he had to react immediately, and think about how to work with and around that crack. In the beginning this seemed to have a simple solution. Just turn the trunk upside down!

In addition though, he had to think not only about what that crack is like in the moment, but what would happen in years to come. It turned out that when he considered the Scottish weather, that crack was going to create some problems. Simon ended up having to cut out one player, and use a second piece of timber, as you can see in the next video. Every cloud has a silver lining though! Removing that player helped Simon overcome one of the other challenges in a 360° statue – reaching the backs of the other players!

An update on the footballers!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 1 July 2019

Queen of the South FC statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

The statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

Creating a Likeness

As well as technical challenges, there was then the task of creating an accurate likeness. As we’ve mentioned in this blog, this means not only dealing with correct shape and ratio, but also the challenge of depth. In this case too, it also has to be true to life, and there isn’t as much artistic license. Especially in the case of a statue like this where the purpose is to honour people, Simon always wishes to capture them in a way which is accurate and tells a story of who they really are. For those who wonder how possible that is when using power tools, this comparison says it all!

Close up of Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from to create The Queen of the South legends

Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from

Creating Community – Not Just a Statue.

Part of the purpose of this statue was to commemorate the Queen of the South legends. It is has a bigger purpose that goes beyond this though.

The reason for commemorating these players is to remind the Dumfries community of their heritage. To remind them of town and community achievements they can be proud of. It reminds them of things they have in common like the love of a sport or a hero. It gives a focus for unity and remembering positive moments in their community. For the younger person looking at these players immortalised in wood, it gives something to aspire to. And for the older generation, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that brings joy and encouragement. The kits from the different eras clearly show achievements across the years and history, and so it helps unite generations in a mutual appreciate of their team and its history.

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling of the Queen of the South legends statue by Simon o'Rourke

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling

And so, statues like this are more than just pieces of art to be admired. They also help unite, inspire, and promote community. Even the simple act of coming together for an unveiling ceremony helps create all these things.

If you are part of a town, club, society or community and would like to explore a similar idea, why not send us a message? As always, Simon is available on [email protected] to talk about your vision, hopes and the practical details.