dragon

Huskycup 2019

Huskycup 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

And just like that, Huskycup 2019 is over! After a week of carving by some of the best chainsaw carvers in the world, Blockhausen now has several dragons added to its exhibits – including the fabulous Water Dragon by Simon and Japanese tree carver Keiji Kidokoro.

As we wrote in THIS BLOG, Simon and Keiji had the freedom to make anything relating to the theme ‘dragons’. They decided to create a dragon which would reflect both their cultures, in an ‘east meets west’ Water Dragon.

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Initially the dragon seems predominantly Asian because of the serpentine shape and the wave it rests on. Closer look shows a beautiful merging of the cultures though. For example, the wings are very much the scale of those seen in western interpretations of dragons. It also features a more typically western profile with the sloped nose. Up close, we can also see scales more consistent with the dragons of Hollywood movies than those of Asian design.
What other features can you see belonging to each culture?

Initial sketch of Water Dragon by Simon O Rourke and Keiji

The initial concept sketch by Simon

 

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Part of the success of this dragon was working to each of their strengths. Simon and Keiji have carved together before (Japan 2015 & 2016) which was an asset when designing the piece. Simon imagined and drew the initial design, but very much incorporated Keiji’s skill in fine detailing and consistent texturing. Keiji is also talented with an airbrush, and painted the eyes and a piece of tail. We think both are lovely finishing touches which help bring life to the sculpture.

Keiji painting the eye

Keiji painting the eye

 

View showing the scales over the entire body

View showing the scales over the entire body

 

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

One of Simon’s strengths is creating movement and story in his pieces. As such, he enjoyed working on the coils that create the shape and movement of the dragon. That meant creating the shape of each piece, but also working out placement, so it would be realistic and retain the overall flow of the sculpture. We think he did a great job!

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Those who follow us on our Facebook page will have seen that the dragon wasn’t without its challenges though! Reaching some parts of the dragon needed some serious climbing and balancing skills! They also drew the smallest pieces of timber in the lottery, and later discovered some rotten wood which meant pausing work to resource something more suitable. Small challenges though in a week which was otherwise packed with successful carving, being inspired by others and enjoying time with the tree carving community.

Their initial wood supply

 

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Simon also got to try some new tools. As always, Stihl (Stihl DE) were faithful to provide chainsaws which are always up to the task! He also got to try some new angle grinding tools provided by Korean company, Manpa. It can be a bit of a gamble working with unfamiliar tools, but in this case it worked out. Both the Stihl and Manpa tools turned out to be great choices for Simon.

Simon working on some fine detail

 

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Huskycup is about more than the carving though. Blockhausen itself is always worth a visit, but part of what makes the event great and draws back such a high calibre of artist, is the atmosphere and community. The venue even features its own Walk of Fame, honouring artists in the tree carving community! Simon received his star in 2012, and he felt this year’s additions were great choices.

The finished head

The finished head

 

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

Oh, and for those who noticed the little guy at the front right of the photo? This baby dragon is not only bringing the cute to your screen right now (and showing Simon’s versatility in dragon carving!), but will feature in a charity auction.

Baby dragon for charity auction

Baby dragon for charity auction

For those wanting to see more, the organisers have already started to upload photos and videos which you can enjoy HERE.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself! Huskycup is open to the public, and Blockhausen is open all year round where you can see the Water Dragon for yourself, as well as other creations from over the years.

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke

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

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

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

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

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

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

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

 

Home Is Where The Art Is

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

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

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

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

 

Simon with Nick Knowles

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

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

 

‘Dragon’

 

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

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

 

‘Dragon’

 

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

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.