dragons

A Throne Fit for a King Officer

A Throne Fit for a King Officer 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sometimes you don’t need an excuse like an anniversary to install a piece of art.
From time to time, you just have to see something you admire and think ‘I’d like one of those’ – and that’s kind of what happened with this week’s featured sculpture: The dragon throne!

Close up of the RAF Valley Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The story of this sculpture actually began back in February, not long after Simon revealed The Dragon of Bethesda . Squadron Leader Leah Richmond at RAF Valley ( a Royal Air Force base on Anglesey in North Wales) saw the dragon, had a space on the base that needed ‘something’, and contacted Simon about getting their very own dragon! Or at least, that’s the quick summary! Simon got to work on this rather dignified looking beast in the Spring, and it was unveiled this week during the annual base reception and sunset parade.

RAF Valley Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Early work on the dragon throne

RAF Valley provides fast-jet training as well as training for aircrew working with search and rescue. It became known in the UK when Prince William was stationed there 2010-2013, but was known long before that to the North Welsh population. Many a holiday-goer in Snowdonia has been treated to the sight (and sound!!!) of a low flying Hawk!

The dragon was a meaningful choice for this base, as not only is the dragon on the national flag of Wales, but it is also on the RAF Valley emblem. This side by side shows how Simon has taken the very simplistic image from the badge, and re-imagined how that would translate into a real animal. The dragon’s expression and more rugged texturing (rather than smooth, even scales) really enhance the sense of a rugged,  aged guardian.

Comparison of RAF Valley Dragon with Simon O'Rourke's Sculpture

Comparison of the dragons

Making the dragon took six days of work, from the initial hollowing out of the oak that is the main frame for the thone, to completing the fine detail. The shape of the wings which provide the back and sides of the throne, remain faithful to the dragon on the badge, and the overall scale provides a fittingly regal overall impression. Truly a throne fit for an officer!

As the oak ages, it will take on a much darker colour and warmer tones. It will contrast beautifully with the seat which is made from Cedar of Lebanon. The cedar will also darken in time, but take on grey hues – coincidentally reminiscent of the RAF uniforms!

As always, Simon used his faithful Stihl chainsaws to create the throne. For those who are interested in this side of what Simon does, check out the MS 500i and the MSA 200 which were both used for this sculpture. Both have been great additions to his collection of tools. The MS500i is great for its power, lightweight design and how easy it is to operate when there is heavy duty ‘chopping’, hollowing and shaping to do! The MSA 200 gives Simon the usual Stihl functionality as well as all the benefits of using a battery operated saw – and is quiet enough to use on site in residential or public areas.

Completed Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke

The finished throne!

The throne was unveiled at the annual base reception and was admired by the staff, local dignitaries and other attendees who saw it.

Simon O'Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

Simon O’Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

 

Liz O'Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

Liz O’Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

This sculpture began life when somebody saw and admired another of Simon’s pieces. Which carvings have you seen and thought ‘I want one of those’? Drop us a comment below!
Even better, why not email [email protected] and have a chat about how you could have your own?

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.

Three Wise Dragons

Three Wise Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint!

This past week has featured more of Simon’s dragons being installed in Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. They will eventually be surround by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment – their ‘home’ is still being built around them, and in a few weeks they will be the perfect addition to a holiday selfie!

 

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

 

As well as the sleeping dragon bench, we have three lovable dragons: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – a Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure are more familiar to you than these characters! Although the saying itself can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century, it was actually a 17th century wooden carving of the monkeys that launched the characters into the renown they have today, so it seems fitting not only to have a dragon version for Wales, but to continue that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

 

Sleeping Dragon Bench

 

‘Hafan Y Mor’ can be translated as either ‘sea haven’ which makes it an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina. If you happen to be enjoying the area, why not tag us in a photo of yourself with our Three Wise Dragons, and let us know which one is your favourite?

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.

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information

 

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS

A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more (it was attributed to J R R Tolkien for a long time), but it seems it still holds true that there is just something about a dragon story which captures imagination, and keeps being retold – especially here in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 7th century!

Having shared already that the year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, last week saw us working on a dragon sculpture which was carved on location in beautiful North Wales: ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon).
Even in process, our latest dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, and since then we have been overwhelmed by the positive messages we’ve received, the volume of shares online, and the number of people choosing to re-tell the story of this carving. Even the Daily Post  and BBC reported our story! We’re grateful and humbled by it all, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

THE COMMISSION

Several years ago, a 200 year old oak split, and half that fell was lying across a rock.  Sometimes in carving, we find the tree and sometimes the tree finds us! In this case it was the latter. The type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter meant this was a piece of timber begging to be carved! The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 

 

THE CARVE

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. It was carved entirely on-site which also meant a good work out, as we had decided to create a ‘full dragon’, which meant carrying pieces up to use for the wings and legs! With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

THE FINISHED PIECE

The finished sculpture is about 25′ long, and overlooks the road. With its craning head and open mouth, it looks like a guard dragon, roaring over those who would seek to enter its territory! Although it is on private land, there are a few public footpaths nearby for viewing, and it is visible from the southbound A5 between the first and second exits.

VISTING THE DRAGON

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s in a bit of a tricky spot to stop for photos. We’d love for you to see him in person, but encourage you all to do it safely please! For exact location and tips for parking, please visit THIS POST on our Facebook page (it’s public, so you don’t need Facebook to see it).

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and to those of you who have also shared photos – it’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces.

PS For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have one of our dragons come to you? Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for shows, weddings, parties etc, and is always a big hit!

 

Photos of Y Ddraig Derw at night are taken by local photographer Derfel Owen and used with permission

Autumnal fun!

Autumnal fun! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The wonderful fruits of the season are upon us, and boy have we been enjoying them!

September saw us heading down to London for Landscape 2017,  our very first landscape and design trade show. That was really good fun and we made some good contacts.

October has been busy making an apple trail for Erddig house, Wrexham,  where Simon’s ‘Artist in Residency’ is going very well indeed, and he has also been making a large bespoke sculpture trail for a community group on the Wirral that he has written the actual story for.

This colourful month has also had Dan making some stunning Oak table legs for our new friends at Concrete designs in Cheshire, and Simon and I attending the Llangollen food festival,  where the general public got to ride Hemlock the Dragon in aid of the Welsh Air Ambulance service,  and others registered to take part in the first official Welsh pumpkin carving championships that Simon proudly precided over.

Winner to be announced on Halloween!

Other exciting news is that our Shop page is now LIVE on our website, and so you can now see all the fab items we have for sale in our mezzanine gallery at the workshop!!

Off now for a very well earned few days rest whilst Dan holds the fort!

More adventures soon!

 

 

 

 

Summer events!!

Summer events!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It’s going to be a very busy summer for us, involving the Beatles, dragons, nature sculpture and more!

Here’s the definitive list…

Artist residency at Erddig: July 11th and 12th August dates tbc…

The Rhug Country Fair: July 8th and 9th

Sculpture and outdoor furniture featured in two Tatton RHS gardens: July 19th – 23rd

Woodfest Country Show: July 29th and 30th

Junk sculpture and Nature sculpture workshops at Chester Cathedral: Every Friday in August

Creating a 3 metre sculpture at Chester Cathedral: every Saturday in August

Creating the Beatles at Pier Head Village in Liverpool: 12pm – 6pm, August 6th, August 13th, August 27th, August 28th

Hemlock the Dragon, appearing at the Denbigh Show: August 17th

Landscape 2017 in Battersea: September 19th and 20th

Halloween trail at Erddig National Trust: October

Pumpkin Carving Workshops at Hamper Food Festival Llangollen: October 14th and 15th