dragon

Huskycup 2019

Huskycup 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Huskycup 2019

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

East meets West

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 for Huskycup 2019

The initial concept sketch by Simon

 

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Team Work

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

Not All Smooth Sailing (Carving)

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 at Huskycup 2019

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Only As Good As Your Tools!

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

 

Simon O'Rourke working on some detail for his Huskycup 2019 carve

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Beyond the Carve

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.

Huskycup 2019 finished carve by Simon O'Rourke and Keiji Kidokoro

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 the Huskycup 2019 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
,Honouring Earth Day 2019

We’re marking Earth Day 2019, by talking about one of Earth’s (and Tree Carving’s!) most vital resources: Trees!

Trees are 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

Why Tree Carving?

Simon definitely hadn’t planned on tree carving as a career. After A levels, he began a degree in illustration. He actually hoped and planned to be a freelance illustrator of children’s books. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon. The idea was, this would give him an income while he built up his illustration portfolio. And so, at this time he began working with chainsaws. In fact, the first saw Simon used was made by Stihl, . In one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, they are now his current sponsors!

Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, Simon 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”. After that discover, the rest – as they say – is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Part of this is in its ever-changing nature, which then shapes the finished product, beyond Simon’s first idea. He can plan a piece with detailed sketches and have an idea of what he wants it to look like. However 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.

Sourcing Wood Responsibly

On Earth Day 2019  when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from. Is tree carving damaging to the environment?

Far from it. Tree carving is one of the more sustainable mediums for sculpture. Working with a natural material means that although it weathers well, eventually it will degrade, as all wood does. At this point, it is returned to the earth – no land or ocean filling here!
In addition, Simon uses trees that have either fallen naturally, or trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location. This includes domestic housing and managed forests and woodlands. One example of this which went viral earlier this year, is his carving ‘ ‘The Dragon of Bethesda‘. This dragon commission actually came about because of 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

Forest Education

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!

You can talk to us about Simon tranforming your own damaged or fallen trees at [email protected]

 

Home Is Where The Art Is

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

Recently Simon was asked to take part in the BBC’s Home is Where the Art is.  In each episode, three artists compete to win a commission from a mystery buyer. Simon tells us a little more about his experience.

Nick Knowles promotes Home is Where the Art is

Home is Where the Art is on BBC One

What is Home is Where The Art Is?

The three artists met at the buyer’s house and received a brief and a budget. Each artist then produced a sketch to meet that brief. Simon competed against a stainless steel sculptor and an acrylic pet portrait painter in his episode. Three very different mediums! Their brief was to create something that captured both the spirit and the form of the buyer’s beloved horse, ‘Dragon’.

Simon O'Rourke with Nick Knowles and the horse sculpture he created for Home is Where the Art is

With presenter, Nick Knowles and his final piece

Simon Tells All!

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. 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 chosen to compete. 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.

Simon O'Rourkes final piece for Home is Where the Art is

‘Dragon’

The Results Are In!

Now that we won’t be revealing any spoilers, we can announce that sadly, Simon didn’t win.
Simon is extremely gracious in his defeat though. He says: “The buyer Delyse had a really difficult time choosing between us, but I feel she made a great choice. I would have chosen Claire’s work!”

‘Dragon’

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!

Making Dragon

If you would like a portrait of your pet, Simon is available at [email protected] to chat about your commission. 

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
For the Throne!

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date. He was invited to take part in HBO’s For the Throne (#forthethrone) campaign, to promote season eight of Game of Thrones.

The Campaign

18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO. Each artist was given an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and were given a brief to create something around that prop.

The Arrival of the Eggs

Simon was given the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, they were also inspiring as pieces of art in themselves. They had detailed scaly texture and amazing ombre, blended metallic colouring – things that aren’t obvious on screen.  Incredible to think of the time, skill and artistry that goes into even tiny props!

Simon’s task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It also had to fit with the era and location of the series. Watch this video to see Simon receiving the eggs!

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. This meant he had LOTS of ideas for shape, texture, and details. However, he also had to consider some practicalities.

The Practical Requirements
  • 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 securely so they could withstand travel (both on and off screen)
  • 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 that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

The Design Process

With those practicalities in place, Simon could then consider more aesthetic details.

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. It 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. 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 Created

Simon made the casket from yew, which had some beautiful markings and colouring.  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. Their random placement, irregular shape, and rough texture lend the feel of danger or uncertainty. There is also an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs: “Like a mutated dragon”. All this heightens the sense of danger.

Although they create caution, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth also invite touch – just like the eggs themselves. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series,  (Daenerys is the only one who feels life within 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

More Artistic Details

Abstract dragon wings shroud the dragon’s mouth. This casing 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’.


When asked about the biggest challenge, Simon told us it was difficult  “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 the greater challenge was keeping such an exciting project secret until now!

Get Involved!

This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series. They’re inviting artists to post their work on social media. When you post, just include the hashtag #forthethrone and your work might be included!