design

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.

Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail

Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We’ve had some beautiful weather this week – perfect for a woodland walk! With Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still in lockdown though, we know that for many of us, that isn’t an option. And so, once again, we decided to bring the woods to you! This week we visit Tongwynlais, in South Wales, and the Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture trail….

Castell Coch viewed through fforest fawr

Castell Coch and Fforest Fawr

About Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail

Fforest Fawr is a beautiful woodland close to Castell Coch and a short walk from the centre of Tongwynlais. As well as beautiful woodland, it has trails for cycling and walking and a tea shop that serves delicious Bara Brith.
There was also sculpture trail to attract and encourage visitors. As it was deteriorating, Natural Resources Wales commissioned Simon to create a new trail, which was installed in April 2018. All the sculptures are made from a Giant Redwood which was removed from Oswestry as it was dying, and posing a threat to the public. A perfect repurposing of a stunning resource!

Tree carving chainsaw artist simon o'rourke photographed with the redwood lynx from the fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail he created

Simon photographed with the lynx

Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail: The Message

The commission from Natural Resources Wales asked for a trail that was engaging for families with young children. It was to make it have an educational aspect, and to be appealing to a broad range of ages as well. With that in mind, Simon returned to his illustrator roots. He wanted to give it a storybook feel which would encourage people to walk the whole thing, and so a new poem was born.

This is not unusual for Simon, as you will know if you read our blogs about Meadow Park and Page’s Wood.
Usually though, the trails focus on the current inhabitants of that area. However, in the case of the Fforest Fawr woodland sculpture trail, Simon also wanted to draw attention to what we  have lost……

close up of a redwood tree carving of a forest lynx from simon o'rourke's fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail

Close up of the lynx in the fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail

Past meets Present

Simon’s created story in poem form, about the wildlife that not only lives in the forest, but also species that are no longer there. The trail then ends with a call to action, encouraging the viewer to look after the woodland.
The aim of the trail is to make the viewer aware of what was there before, but also to highlight the need to preserve what is there now.

Bilingual Challenges!

The English form of the poem is in rhyming couplets which makes it fun and memorable for younger viewers. Translation always proves a challenge though. The Welsh translation isn’t in poetry form, but still conveys the feel, and – most importantly – the message of the story Simon and Liz wrote. 

Local press articles about the trail show it was very well received. We think you’ll like it too!
The concept sketches with the poem read as a beautiful children’s story book in themselves, so we have included those for you as well. We hope you enjoy them as much as the sculptures!

And so, without further ado, join us on a walk through the Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail!

Introductory Sculpture:

In Fforest Fawr, deep, and green,
There’s so much to discover, so much to be seen,
All kinds of creatures, great and small,
And wonderful trees, towering and tall!

Yn nyfnder a gwyrddni Fforest Fawr,
mae cymaint i’w ddarganfod… Cymaint i’w weld:
Pob math o greaduriaid, – mawr a bach,
a choedydd rhyfeddol, – tyrog a thal!

Simple redwood sculpture of trees as part of simon o'rourke's tree carving chainsaw art woodland sculpture trail in fforest fawr

 

A Forest Timeline

On the path we see wonders in the forest today
But there are stories and treasures along the way!
There were creatures living here in the past, you’ll see,
Let’s take a walk, back through history!

Heddiw, ar y llwybr, gwelwn ryfeddodau yn y fforest.
Ond, mae storïau a thrysorau ar hyd y ffordd!
Cewch weld bod creaduriaid yn byw yma yn y gorffennol.
Gadewch inni fynd am dro…yn ôl drwy hanes!

 

timeline from fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail carved from redwood, featuring wolf, lynx and pine marten

 

A Red Squirrel

A long time ago, in the tops of tall trees,
Leaping and climbing on branches and leaves,
A long fuzzy tail, and nimble toes,
It’s a little red squirrel, with a little pink nose!

Amser maith yn ôl, – ar ben prennau uchel,
yn neidio a dringo ar ganghennau a dail,
wele gynffon hir, grychiog, a bysedd traed heini
wiwer goch fechan, – gyda thrwyn bach pinc!

A redwood bench with red squirrel details as part of fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail

 

The Brown Otter

Diving in rivers and hunting for fish,
A long, strong tail that goes swish, swish, swish!
Swimming through reeds, and with barely a splash,
It’s a sleek brown otter, that’s gone in a flash!

Yn plymio mewn afonydd ac yn hela pysgod, –
cynffon gref, hir sy’n siffrwd, siffrwd, siffrwd!
Yn nofio drwy gorsennau, – a phrin dynnu sylw, –
dyfrgi brown llyfn ydyw… ddiflanna mewn fflach!

 

A European Lynx

Crouching in the tall tall grass so green,
Silently stalking its prey, unseen,
The tufts on its ears, and the piercing eyes
It’s a European lynx! With its eyes on the prize!

Yng nghwrcwd yn y glaswellt tal, tal mor wyrdd, –
nas gwelir, – yn dawel ddilyn ei ysglyfaeth,
y cudynnau ar ei glustiau a’r llygaid treiddgar…
wele Lyncs Ewropeaidd, – a’i lygaid ar y wobr!

Fforest Fawr woodland sculpture trail by Simon O'Rourke: european lynx

 

A Red Deer

In the woodland we see a majestic sight,
With smooth red fur and a tail so white.
Velvety antlers that reach for the skies
It’s a stunning red deer, with big brown eyes!

Yn y goedlan, gwelwn olygfa urddasol
gyda ffwr coch llyfn, cynffon mor wen,
a chyrn melfedaidd sy’n cyrraedd i’r awyr…
Carw coch syfrdanol ydyw, – â llygaid mawr brown!

Simon O'Rourkes fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail: A Red Deer. Lifesized, created with chainsaws from redwood

 

The European Wolf

Hunting in packs, on the woodland floors,
Through forest and field, and across the moors,
Grey shaggy fur from its head to its paws,
It’s a European wolf, with strong, strong jaws!

Yn hela mewn cnudoedd ar loriau’r goedlan,
drwy fforest a chae, ac ar draws y rhosydd,
wele ffwr blewog, llwyd o’i ben i’w bawennau, –
blaidd Ewropeaidd, – gyda genau cryf, cryf.

fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke: european wolf

 

A Pine Marten

Hiding in old hollow trees, out of sight,
Climbing, and running, and hunting at night,
With soft sleek fur, and sharp little claws,
It’s a pine marten, foraging on the forest floor!

Yn cuddio mewn hen goed gwag, – allan o’r golwg, –
yn dringo a rhedeg ac yn hela’r nos, –
gyda ffwr graenus, llyfn, a chrafangau bach miniog…
wele Fela’r Coed, – yn casglu porthiant ar lawr y fforest!

Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke: Pine Marten

 

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

Crawling in leaves, and black as night,
With spindly legs, and jaws that bite.
When it raises its tail, you’d better beware,
Devil’s Coach Horse beetle leaves a stink in the air!

Yn ymlusgo mewn dail, a chyn ddued â’r nos,
Gyda choesau main, a genau sy’n brathu, –
gwell ichi ochel pan gwyd ei chynffon:
Mae Chwilen Gnoi yn gadael drewdod yn yr awyr!

 

Wildlife Still Present in the Forest

These creatures are gone from the forest now
But the ones who live here today can be found!
There’s badgers and dormice and buzzards I’ve heard,
Goshawks, owls, and other woodland birds!

Mae’r creaduriaid hyn wedi mynd o’r fforest ‘nawr,
ond, gellir dod o hyd i’r rhai sy’n byw yma heddiw!
Clywais fod moch daear a llygod daear a boncathod,
gwyddweilch, tylluanod ac adar y goedlan eraill.

 

 

A Final Call to Action

We’ve learned about creatures from times gone by,
And the ones living here, that walk, and that fly.
Fforest Fawr is a beautiful place as we’ve seen,
Help us to keep it tidy and clean!


‘Rydym wedi dysgu am greaduriaid o’r amseroedd a fu
a’r rhai sy’n byw yma, – sy’n cerdded ac sy’n hedfan.
Fel y gwelsom, mae Fforest Fawr yn le hardd.
Rhowch help inni i’w chadw yn daclus a glân!

Mike James, Woodland Manager from Natural Resources Wales said:

“We hope people will enjoy our new sculpture trail and the woodland characters will bring to life the story of the forest, its wildlife, and its history. And with the story comes a strong message – the importance of looking after our environment and our forest so the wildlife which currently live there can continue to thrive for years to come.”

We hope you enjoyed the tour through Fforest Fawr Woodland Sculpture trail, and feel inspired to do your part in ensuring we will still be enjoying the wildlife we see round us for decades to come – and beyond!

chainsaw art/tree carver simon o'rourke photogrpahed with a redwood red deer he carved for fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail

Commissioning a Woodland Sculpture Trail

If you are involved with managing or maintaining and green area, and would like an educational sculpture trail, you can find out more about prices, concept etc by reading our Page’s Wood Case Study.
To chat to Simon about details, email us via https://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Ice Carving for Christmas

Ice Carving for Christmas 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The countdown to Christmas is on! Shops are full of decorations, calendars are filling up, and Christmas music is starting to hit the radio. It’s also that time of year where Simon takes a break from wood for an evening or two, and turns his hand to ice sculptures. This year he’ll be digging out his thermals to take part in ‘Ice Carving for Christmas‘ organised by Wrexham Museums. Although Simon is privileged to travel nationally and internationally, it’s also fun for us when we get to participate in local events, and important to us to be engaged with our local community. We can’t wait for December 5th!

Wrexham Ice Carving for Christmas posters 2019 featuring Simon O'Rourke

The Event

Ice Carving for Christmas promises to be a great evening for all ages. Guests follow a trail that starts at St Giles Church and ends at the museum. They also have not one, not two, but THREE opportunities to see Simon carving along the way!

Station One is near to St Giles church and Victorian Market (5pm-6pm). After watching Simon carve, guests can spend time at the market which promises to be bigger and better than previous years. There’ll be all kinds of stalls ranging from local crafts to food and drink.

 After enjoying the market, guests can move on to work station two from 6-7pm. There will also be food and drink vendors along the street, as well as late night opening for some of our high street shops. 

Then it’s on to the Museum for the main event (7pm-9pm ). People who watched the first two stations can make their guess as to what the finished carve will be, with prizes for those who guess correctly. So, much as we would love to tell you, we’re keeping it quiet. No spoilers here! At the museum, there will also be opportunity to sing somecarols and join in the Christmas spirit with festive refreshments from the café.There’ll also be chance to get some photos with Simon and the finished carve. Perfect for sending out with family Christmas cards!

Past Ice Sculptures

Regular followers will know this isn’t Simon’s first time ice carving. This week we shared this Facebook post with a flashback to some spectacular ice carving he did for Cardiff Ice Kingdom in 2015.

Cardiff Ice Kingdom sculptures by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s work at 2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom

Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa Sculpture by Simon

Local Ice Carving

Simon also took part in Wrexham’s 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas. As he will in this year’s event too, Simon worked outside the museum. People could watch as he transformed these blocks of ice into beautiful, detailed penguins.

Simon O'Rourke at the start of 2017's Ice Carving for Christmas event

Simon at the start of 2017’s Ice Carving for Christmas event

Penguins in Ice by Simon O'Rourke

Finished penguin ice carving

From Wood to Ice

Obviously ice is a very different material to wood! When Simon makes the transition, there are a few things he has to keep in mind for a successful carve.  For example, time!

One thing we all know about ice, is it melts. Fast! So whereas Simon might work on a typical sculpture over several hours or days, with ice it is more like one of the ‘speed carving’ events.

Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving in progress 2017

Penguins in progress in 2017

Another difference is that ice is much more brittle.
This means when Simon begins thinking about his designs, he can’t include as many delicate shapes. The work focuses on bringing lots of detail and texture to larger shapes for the light to shine through and bounce off. Which leads to the final difference we’ll highlight here today: presentation.

When using wood, working with the tree’s natural lines, colours and shapes is crucial. The sculpture then speaks for itself as people view it. With ice, the success is often down to light. That includes the nature of the lighting itself e.g. will it be multicoloured? Shades of the same colour? How will the lighting help tell the story of the sculpture and set the scene?

It also includes how the sculpture will ‘interact’ with the light. Where will the light hit and bounce off? At what points will it shine through? Where will it help bring depth to a particular part of the sculpture? And so, Simon must consider this both as he plans, and as he progresses.

These photos show perfectly both the texture and the impact of lighting on his 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas penguins.

Close up of penguin ice carving by simon o'rourke

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Penguin Ice Carving by Simon O'Rourke for Ice Carving for Christmas 2017

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Not All Change!

Of course, it isn’t all change! Some things will stay the same as Simon switches from wood to ice this year.

He will still be using his faithful Stihl chainsaws, and their battery chainsaws are perfect for events like this. He’ll also be thankful for their thermal clothing and waterproof protective trousers! Whether wood or ice, or any other outdoors work, nobody wants to be cold and wet! Obviously, whatever he’s carving (remember, no spoilers here!) and whether wood or ice, the level of excellence, creativity and skill that Simon brings will stay the same.

Ice carving penguins by Simon O'Rourke