education

simon o'rourke carving an old German miner at the Huskycup

Tips for Getting Started in Chainsaw Carving

Tips for Getting Started in Chainsaw Carving 900 600 Simon O'Rourke

Simon is often asked about how to start chainsaw carving. The reality is, everyone’s journey will look a little different. However, there are some principles that are pretty much universally true.  And there are definitely things that Simon and his team have learned over the years, that could benefit others. So, these are his top tips for getting started in chainsaw carving…

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke next to one of his early pievces, a fairy on a swing. c 2009.

Simon with one of his competition pieces at the start of his career

No 1: Safety First!

The first of our tips for getting started in chainsaw carving is very simple. Get your chainsaw certificate.
Although you don’t need one for ‘messing round’ at home, you will if you are going to become a business and sell your work.
Safety matters. Confidence matters. And you will build both through getting certified. Occasional users should recertify every two to three years. More frequent users around every five.
You can find out more at www.hse.gov.uk/treework/site-management/training.htm

No. 2: Invest in Good Basic Equipment

The next blog in this series will have more information about what this should include. There are some basics where you could buy budget products, but others, where it’s much better to invest in something reliable that you know, will last. Simon recommends Stihl chainsaws but also enjoys using Milwaukee tools and Saburrtooth burr bits.

 

stihl chainsaw. stihl are one of the brands simon recommends buying as one of his top tips for getting started in chainsaw carving.

Stihl Chainsaw – can be used for creative or practical purposes, but either way, safety is paramount!

 

No 3: Get a Mentor

If you can, find a chainsaw artist to be a mentor. Even better if you can actually apprentice with them. Even if it’s on a very low key level at the beginning, input from someone more experienced is invaluable. And being alongside a paid artist in this way will ensure some variety in your subjects that we sometimes don’t get if there isn’t a customer challenging and stretching us to try new things.

No 4: Watch Other Artists

The fourth of our tips for getting started in chainsaw carving is to watch other artists. If you can do this live, it’s amazing! If not, plenty of us in the community have social media, youtube channels etc where you can watch, slow down the action and pause. Watching others is an inspiration but you can also see how they approach different things, and different techniques they employ. If you’re looking for live events (when things open up!) in the UK, Woodfest and the English Open are good places to start. In Europe, Huskycup, Holz-Flori and Friends and Zandsculpturenfestijn in Garderen are worth checking out.

simon o'rourke carving an old German miner at the Huskycup

Simon O’Rourke at the Huskycup in 2018

No 5: Get to Know a Good Tree Surgeon!

Getting to know good, reliable tree surgeons/arborists is a key part of sourcing quality wood. Being able to recommend each other to clients doesn’t hurt either! Simon has also found it helpful to know reliable tree surgeons for assistance moving timber and finished sculptures.

No 6: Employ Experts

When you build a business as a chainsaw artist, there are a LOT of things that happen behind the scenes. So our sixth tip is to employ experts. This ensures things are being done well, and it also frees you up to focus on the creative side. Accounting, Health and Safety, business strategy, web and marketing, social media, video editing… these are just some of the areas where it’s worth seeing if you can delegate or employ an expert.

tips for getting started in chainsaw carving No 5 - know a good tree surgeon. photo shows a Treetech truck.

Sourcing and transporting the raw materials is one of the expenses underlying the cost of a sculpture

No 7: Just Do It!

Tip seven? Just do it! Give it a go! Find time to experiment and try different things. It’s worth remembering that sometimes we hold ourselves back as artists when we are more worried about the product than the process. To grow in skill and style, especially in the beginning, you will need to just keep trying. Go for it and HAVE FUN!

No 8: Pace Yourself

At the beginning of the blog, we said that every journey is unique. It’s good to have goals and objectives and plans for how to achieve them. But if the pace isn’t working for you, take a step back. Building a thriving business as a chainsaw carving artist (or any art!) is a marathon, not a sprint. Initially, it may look like going to some country shows or fairs and selling some small sculptures you made once or twice a month. And then you may pick up a couple of commissions through social media. And then you get a commission but not much else so you’re back at fairs. Stick with it, don’t be discouraged, and go at the pace that suits your life priorities, finances and health/energy.

It’s OK if it takes time, and it’s OK if it doesn’t look like the same route someone else took.

a pair of lion sculptures: photo features the face of the oak lion mentioned in the accompanying blog

Final Thoughts

We hope you found these tips helpful. Watch out for the next in the ‘How to’ series where Simon will share his recommended basic tool kit to get started.

As always, if you have questions for Simon about a commission, contact him using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask how to prevent cracking in the wood used for sculptures. The simple answer is you can’t! However, Simon has learned a lot over the years about working with and around the natural behaviours of wood. There are ways to minimise the impact of cracking on your sculpture to ensure it lasts as long as possible. The biggest of those is positioning, and so in this blog, we share how to best position a sculpture within a log.

How best to position a sculpture within a log: ensure cracking enhances the sculpture. This photo shows a close up of an oak face sculpture. It has vertical cracks along the cheek.

Cracks are an unavoidable part of wood sculptures

 

Understand We Can’t Eliminate Cracks

Simon’s first tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is actually nothing to do with positioning or carving! The first tip is to understand that it’s impossible to eliminate cracking when working with wood. Cracks and changes in the colour are all part of the ageing and drying process, as Simon shares in this blog about how long a sculpture will last. It’s a natural material and therefore can be unpredictable. Understanding that and being OK with ‘imperfections’ are important as it means that rather than worrying about cracking, you can focus your energy on the best ways of working with it.

 

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

 

Find the Centre of the Timber

Once we understand we can’t control cracking, we can focus on working with and around it. The first step towards that is finding the centre of the timber. This is important because it impacts the direction and amount of cracking, Wood shrinks faster circumferentially than radially. This means cracks start at the centre and move out, so the further from the centre, the more stable the wood. You will sometimes see cracks coming from the centre like wheel spokes. Usually, the centre is the middle of the log, but not always, so spend some time looking at the log and pay attention to where the cracks begin. This is your centre.

 

Photo shows a tractor with a fork lift attachment carrying a large tree trunk. Finding the centre of the trunk is essential in learning how to best position a sculpture within a log.

Finding the centre of a log like this means you can make the most of the solidity and stability of the timber.

 

Identify the Most Important Features of Your Design.

The next key in how to best position a sculpture within the log is to identify the most important features of your design. These are the parts that you most want to preserve. When sculpting human form, Simon finds it is most often the face. An example of this is the fairy sculpture below. Although there is a lot to see, the face is the part Simon wants people drawn to, so he will position the sculpture so her face is the least impacted by the cracks already appearing.
However, if your sculpture is more abstract, this may not be the case.
Where do you want the focus to be?
What details do you want to preserve?
Once you know this, you can work out the positioning.

 

Photo shows a chainsaw carving workshop with a sculpture in progress in the middle. The shape of a female sitting on a swing is blocked out in a large piece of oak, but no features are visible

The face of this fairy sculpture is the part Simon most wants to preserve from cracking

 

chainsaw carving sculpture of a 5' elf sitting on a swing

Simon carved this so the cracks are part of the shoulder. In this way the details of the face will be preserved.

Tactically Position the Sculpture

Now you know which parts are most important, you can work out whereabouts you position the sculpture in the log. If the face or front is most important, start carving so the centre of the log is at the back of the sculpture. That way as the sculpture ages and dries, the cracks will start at the back.

For this WWI soldier, Simon was able to cut the log and create the sculpture using the front part. If he had carved it in the centre of the timber (which is often instinctual), the cracks would be in the middle of the soldier, and potentially split him in half!!!
By moving the sculpture to the front half, it means the centre of the log becomes the soldier’s back. In this way, the cracks will appear in his back. This will not only preserve the facial details but also means the sculpture is much more stable.

 

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

The base of the sculpture shows hows Simon positioned the sculpture in front of the centre of the log.

 

Have a Positioning Plan B!

Obviously positioning cracks so they are hidden at the back isn’t always going to be possible. Sometimes we just don’t have a log big enough. If that happens, use plan b in how to best position a log within a sculpture… Position it so there are lots of small cracks across a feature.

It’s better to have lots of small cracks that one big central crack. This way as they swell and shrink with the different weather changes, the impact on the sculpture is less.

An example of this from Simon’s work is his recent horse bench. He positioned the sculpture so the centre was to the far side of the horse. The cracks are all across the mane. In this way, they become part of the texture and there’s no risk of the mane looking like it’s been divided in half! More importantly, it also means the sculpture is the most stable and solid that it can be.

 

Tree carving workshop with a sculpture in progress. The sculpture is a bench, and one end is a horse with flame like mane

Simon used one half of the log for the horse head, and position it so the centre is on the far side of the horse.

 

Horse bench by chainsaw carving artist simon o'rourke

The centre of the log is now this side of the horse to ensure minimal cracking and most stability.

 

Know When to Say No!

Simon’s last tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is to recognise when a piece of timber simply isn’t suitable. Sometimes there is just too much rot. We actually have a blog about types of rot to help you with that. Sometimes when you cut into the log you find a crack that is already large and would impact the design. If this is the case, there is often little you can do. At this point, you need to either accept that this sculpture will have a short life, or start again.

This happened with the lion Simon made before Christmas. You’ll be able to see in the photo how the crack is already moving up into the lion’s body. In addition, the rot meant the wood was too soft to carve and would have begun rotting away much quicker. As this was for a commission, Simon wasn’t prepared to compromise on quality, and had to start over on a fresh log. This timber can still be used, but for a much smaller sculpture that wouldn’t incorporate the wood or crack.

At the end of the day, wood is a natural material and is unpredictable. It’s part of its beauty, and working with that and allowing it to enhance the sculpture is part of the challenge Simon enjoys. If you are choosing wood sculpture over something like bronze or marble, hopefully it’s something you like too! But occasionally it really does mean starting over!

 

How best to position a sculpture within a log... photo shows the start of a tree carving sculpture. The shape is blocked out but there is a large crack and split at the centre making it an usuitable log for sculpture.

Sometimes you just have to abandon a piece of timber!

 

Over to You!

Learning to work with cracking is something that will come with experience. If you are very concerned about a crack, it is possible to fill them, and Simon will do this very occasionally. However, he does recommend the tips he has shared here.

To the other chainsaw artists out there, what are some of your tips and tricks for working with cracks?

If you enjoyed this article, there is a  10 minute video below where Simon expands on these points. Please excuse the wind in one of the sections – the Welsh weather doesn’t always co-operate with plans for outdoor filming!

And, as always, if you are interested in commissioning a tree carving sculpture from Simon, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Our Affiliates: Working with Treetech

Our Affiliates: Working with Treetech 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

A while ago we shared this blog about the importance of teamwork. We rely on good teamwork in all kinds of ways: our employees, sponsors, affiliates and contractors, and we’re thankful to work alongside so many great people. So, this week, while Simon is working on a longer project we can’t share yet (but you can get a sneak peak on this Facebook post), we want to introduce you to one of the companies we partner with: Treetech.
We have been working with Treetech for around five years now, and consider them an essential part of our team. For those who feel the name is familiar, that’s because they even sponsored our Christmas Ice Carving this year.

Simon o'Rourke Working with Treetech

About Treetech

Treetech is a Wrexham based tree surgery business run by Shaine Bailey. Although he is based in Wrexham, he operates throughout the North Wales, North West and Midlands areas.

Shaine first took an interest in tree surgery when he’d watch his father use chainsaws round the garden for firewood. After starting out in landscaping and gardening, he began to take a particular interest in trees. After a family member taking that interest further, he took steps towards becoming a tree surgeon.

He now has over ten years experience in the business, and provides an excellent service, as you can tell from these reviews.

They offer a massive range of services from advice, to full commercial site clearance, and everything in between. If you have trees in your garden that are beginning to block light, have been damaged by winter storms or are diseased, we fully recommend Treetech to you.

Working with treetech to deliver sculptures

Shaine delivering various pieces including the Dragon Throne for RAF Valley and the Queen of the South Footballers.

Working with Treetech

As we said, Simon has been working with Treetech for around five years now, and they compliment each other well. As a tree surgeon, Shaine is able to source wood for Simon. He is also invaluable to us as he collects timber, and helps with delivering and installing Simon’s work. In fact, it’s Shaine’s truck you see in many of our photos of sculptures being transported.

We don’t just recommend Treetech as a competent service provider either. Shaine is a hard worker and a real team player as you can see from this video of us loading the Dragon Throne for delivery.

Contacting Treetech

If you live in North Wales, the North West or Midlands and are in need of Treetech’s service, you can contact them on [email protected], calling 07759 128232 or through https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

 

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Image of A 'recipe for success' we recently spotted online.

Recipe for Success

We recently saw this poster showing the recipe for success. We totally, agree about ALL those ingredients. When we think about Tree Carving though, we’d like to add a few more. Talent is one for sure! Studying and technical know-how would be another (remember this blog about the golden ratio?). We would also love to add teachability, humility, and – our focus for today – teamwork and character.

Teamwork and character image by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

On Being A Team

Although an art and business like Tree Carving could seem like a one-person operation, the reality is far from it. Whether it be accounts, social media, organising a calendar, editing videos, providing equipment, maintaining chainsaws, bringing creative ideas for new projects, promotion, helping create a commission, or simply moving equipment and timber, Tree Carving wouldn’t be what it is without a team.

We like thinking of it as being like the human body. Every person represents a different part, with a different role to play. Each part (person) is uniquely created to fulfill that role best. That means  we respect that person, and honour what they bring. I mean come on, feet are great for getting us places, but have you tried using them to type? And while the heart is GREAT for pumping blood round the body, it wouldn’t be great at filtering that blood the way the kidneys do! That sense of team isn’t just our permanent employees either. We also think of our affiliates, sponsors and people we contract specific jobs out to as being part of our team – and hope they feel that way too!

Teamwork Moments

We’ll talk a bit more further into the blog about how we develop our sense of teamwork and character. For now though, we thought we would relive some of our more obvious examples of teamwork.
Can you imagine moving this much dragon (read more about this dragon throne here) without being able to effectively communicate with others? Or if you couldn’t trust the others to fulfill their role? Which reminds us! For us, teamwork isn’t just about atmosphere, efficiency and efficacy. When it comes to chainsaws, scaffolding and large sculptures, it’s also what helps keep us safe!

Transporting the RAF Dragon throne by Simon O'Rourke

Transporting the RAF Valley Dragon Throne

Building Teamwork and Character

As teamwork and character are so important to us we are intentional about creating opportunities to grow in both. We do this through our everyday choices, but also through specific, focused times of personal development and team building.

One example of this is that recently Simon and Dan took part in a 4MUK weekend. The weekend is called ‘XCC‘ or ‘Extreme Character Challenge’, and it is definitely an appropriate name!

The XCC

The XCC is an active and challenging endurance event for men, out in the wild. For 72 hours men face significant physical challenges, deep camaraderie and profound moments of moral and spiritual input. It’s a time to find perspective, build meaningful connection and become a support network to each other. The men honestly evaluate their struggles and successes and examine how to move forward to live and experience life at its fullest.

Not only did Simon and Dan survive the Welsh Autumn weather, but they can both testify to what an amazing weekend it was. Both would say that it changed them in positive ways, and will strengthen and improve their ability to work as a team. Thank you to Stihl for providing some goodies from their awesome clothing range to help keep them warm and dry!

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

More Than Just A Weekend

Weekends like this are great. They help develop trust, get us out of our routines, and give us a place to share safely, openly and honestly so we can help each other take steps to self improvement. BUT! They obviously aren’t be the only things that contribute to us working effectively as a team.

Later this year, Simon will be leading a team building weekend for Stihl employees. Putting together a week of teaching and exercises like that, means needing to be clear on what it is that facilitates good teamwork. As we’re reflecting on that, we thought we would share some of our pointers and practices with you.

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Our Top Tips!
WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE:

We mentioned that we like to embrace everyone we work with as part of the team. For us, that means making room for them and all their skills, knowledge and personality. It means accepting them as they are, embraching our similarities and honouring our differences. Liz in particular is great at this, and a big part in creating a sense of family or team.

COMMUNICATION & VULNERABILITY:

We value honesty and integrity. And we value being able to admit to our weaknesses and struggles and being able to ask others. It’s important to communicate our needs to each other. That might be something simple like needing a specific document, or somebody to take the weight of a sculpture in a specific place. It might also be something harder like needing time off or a quiet chat.
It’s also super important to feel safe to ASK! Especially if there’s something we don’t understand or needs clarification for us to do it safely.We also want to celebrate the good stuff. Amazing how much difference it can make to somebody to just communicate that something they did well is appreciated!

Nest and rigging by Simon O'Rourke - example of good teamwork

An example of ‘during’ and ‘after’ for a project in Southampton that needed good teamwork.

CONFRONT CHALLENGES AND DIFFICULTIES

Another tough one! We find our challenges come in all shapes and sizes. There are practical challenges like trying to figure out how to assemble and disassemble giant sculptures. We also have our own personal and relational bumps that come up. It isn’t easy, but making sure we acknowledge and own them and (see the two points above) face them TOGETHER is a big part of being a team that works well together.

EMBRACE THE PROCESS

Our own character determines how well we are able to be a team player, and growing that takes time. Good teamwork is also something that comes through consistent work and practice. Neither of them are quick things, so we also need to embrace the idea of being in process. It can be difficult in a world of quick answers and solutions. Being willing to allow time and ‘baby steps’  and staying committed to that journey is a big part of good teamwork though.

FORGIVE!

Our final one is perhaps the biggest part of good teamwork. We are all human. That means we all have our strengths and weaknesses, our good days and our bad days. Being quick to apologise and quick to forgive isn’t easy, but makes for much better relationships, a happier and more focused work place, and sets the stage for some great teamwork.

B17 Benches, part of the Highclere Castle Aiurman memorial by Simon O'Rourke and Dan Barnes

Highclere Airman and benches highlight Simon and Dan playing to their strengths as sculpter and carpenter.

We love our Tree Carving team, no matter their role. It’s a journey, and we know we don’t do team work perfectly, but we definitely know how important it is, and work towards it. We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about how we’re committed to the process, and maybe even picked up some pointers for your own teams.

What are some of your top tips for enabling good team work? Comment below and let us know!

 

Blood Donor Day!

Blood Donor Day! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

 

June 14th is WHO Blood Donor Day. The event raises awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products. It is also used to thank donors for their life-saving gifts of blood. Working with chainsaws, there’s obviously a lot that can go wrong, so we’re thankful that nobody on the team has ever needed to be the recipient of donor blood!!!!

We wanted to take the opportunity though to highlight Blood Donor Day (if you’re a healthy adult, have you ever thought about being a donor?). We also thought it’s a good excuse to look at some of the good practice that has kept Simon and the other staff away from A&E, and give some tips to anybody thinking of exploring chainsaw carving.

stihl chainsaw

Stihl Chainsaw – can be used for creative or practical purposes, but either way, safety is paramount!

The Legal Stuff

The first thing is GET YOUR CHAINSAW LICENSE! This ensures you are trained to work competently with a chain saw. There are several ways you can go about this, but a good starting point is the TKF website.

Simon always has a health and safety policy in place wherever he works. This includes things like roping up when necessary, safe use of scaffolding, storage of equipment, and safe distances for others. Although health and safety assessments can seem tedious, they really do help think through the possibilities. In turn, this ensures everybody is doing their best to stay safe. If you are planning on some chainsaw art, even if you don’t need to write a policy, think through the possibilities, assess your site, project, tools and personnel and stay safe!

Scaffolding in place for work on a sculpture

Scaffolding in place for work on a sculpture

Top Tips for Chainsaw Safety

Our other top tips include:

  • maintain the chainsaws properly.
  • always wear the correct safety equipment.
  • time invested in best practice is always worth it.
  • take time to think through best positioning of equipment, especially ladders and scaffolding, and work within the guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
  • know you limits!
    Tiredness, being distracted by hunger, using equipment too heavy for your fitness level and physical capability etc can all compromise a person’s safety. There’s no shame in knowing when to stop and take a break. This is also key in avoiding things like Repetitive Strain Injury.

We love when people get creative and try new things. BUT!!! Let’s stay safe and make sure the only blood-giving we do on world blood donor day is intentional!!!!

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]

 

At Home in Page’s Wood – Installation of the Sculptures

At Home in Page’s Wood – Installation of the Sculptures 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Return to Page’s Wood

Last week Simon traveled down to London to install the sculpture trail in Page’s Wood that we featured in our blog two weeks ago. We can now say that the 12 sculptures are safely in their new home. It’s just in time for the warmer weather and the Easter holidays (free time for exploring outdoors) too! We thought you might like to see the sculptures installed and at home in Page’s Wood….

 

Owl by Simon O'Rourke at home in Page's Wood

Page’s Wood Tawny Owl

 

The Journey of a Sculpture

It’s a satisfying feeling to see a sculpture go from a sketch and a proposal, through the process of bringing it shape and life in the timber, to the final stage of seeing it in its new home. Often, once it’s sitting it its ‘right’ environment there seems to be much more life and colour to the piece. This collage shows the original sketch, the frog in the workshop and finally at home in Page’s Wood. What do you think?

 

Frog by Simon O'Rourke at home in Page's Wood

Page’s Wood Frog by Simon O’Rourke

More Than Just A Sculpture: Our Role As Educators

We believe art will always have purpose for its own sake, but it’s also a privilege for us when our art also serves a greater purpose. In the case of this sculpture trail, it hopefully serves to encourage people (children especially) to finish a walk when it might be more tempting  to return to a game of Fortnite (if your kids are anything like some of the ones we know!), or for the grown ups, return to the to-do list of jobs around the house!

The animal sculptures themselves reflect the local population too and help raise awareness of the environment. Then, the stories with each one, help educate the reader about what we can do to help steward and protect that environment. We hope that as people wander these two trails, not only will they enjoy finding and viewing the sculptures, but they will also warm to the characters and feel inspired to take small steps to help protect their beautiful surroundings.

Enjoy the Trail!

We’ll leave you with the full range of sculptures in their woodland setting, in the order of the stories. If you happen to be walking through Page’s Wood why not take a photo with the animals along the trail, and tag us in it. We’d love to see you ‘meeting’  our timber friends, and hear what you thought!

 

TRAIL ONE

Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

Verity Vole at home in Page’s Wood

 

Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

The dragonfly Verity encounters

 

Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

The One Where Verity meets a frog!

 

Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

The newt and Verity meet

 

Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

Verity meets a Reed Warbler

 

Bench as part of the Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke in Page's Wood

Riverside reed bench reflecting the animals and environment along the riverbank

 

TRAIL TWO

Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

Introducing Horatio Hedgehog

 

Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

The wise owl Horatio meets

 

Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

An encounter with a badger

 

Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

Horatio meets a squirrel

 

Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

When Horatio meets a fox

 

Final bench of Sculpture Trail Two in Page's Wood by Simon O'Rourke

Final bench of the woodland trail, reflecting the animals and environment

Page’s Wood Commission Part One: The Concept

Page’s Wood Commission Part One: The Concept 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Page’s Wood Commission

This month so far, Simon has been spending time working on 12 sculptures commissioned by The Forestry Commission. The pieces will form two sculpture trails scheduled to be installed in Page’s Wood in Upminster at the end of the month.

The woodland itself is the largest in the area. It boasts close to 183 acres of land, and around 100,000 trees. Can you imagine having the job of counting them?! It also has close to 7km of path for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. All of this provides a rich variety of different habitat for wildlife. Simon’s sculptures will join others designed by local children and appear throughout the woodland.

Jobs like this Page’s Wood commission don’t happen overnight, so we thought we would use this blog to share some of the process.

Owl for the Page's Wood Commission in progress in Simon O'Rourke's workshop

 

A Team Approach

Projects like this are perfect for us. Simon creates amazing animals full of texture, expression and character, so wildlife commissions suit his skills. Beyond that though, the thinking and vision behind the project are an extremely good fit for the whole team. Simon and his wife Liz enjoy spending time outdoors. In their daily lives they also consider how to best steward and care for, the resources we have. Not only that, but Liz is also a qualified Forest School teacher. That means the educational aspect of this project – teaching about the area, encouraging people to connect with the environment and wildlife, and to think about how to look after it – is something very much on her heart too. Liz is also a natural writer.  She has vision, passion and inspired ideas for using story to connect with and teach children – Cue some team work…..!!!!

Vole concept sketch by Simon O'Rourke for Page's Wood Commission

Concept sketch and poetry for Verity the Water Vole

 

The Beginning of the Page’s Wood Commission

In the early stages, there are many emails back and forth. These include talk about budgets, safety, and legalities, as well as the proposal for the project itself. These details are not just artistic, but include things like where the timber will be sourced.

For this commission Simon and Liz had to focus on two separate trails through the area, and chose to tell the story of the habitat through the eyes of two key characters: Horatio Hedgehog, and Verity the Water Vole. Using poetry that can easily be read and understood by readers of all ages and stages, they introduce the viewer to key animals and aspects of the environment, sculpture by sculpture. The hope is, that as well as enjoying the art, the trail will be educational. It will hopefully raise awareness of local wildlife, and show the viewer how we can look after the environment, even through simple acts like taking litter home and supporting the vital work of the Forestry Commission.

 

Hedgehog concept sketch by Simon O'Rourke for Dragonfly concept sketch by Simon O'Rourke for Page's Wood Commission

Concept sketch and poetry for Horatio the Hedgehog

Dragonfly concept sketch by Simon O'Rourke for Page's Wood Commission

Concept sketch and poetry for Dragonfly encounter

Have our concept sketches caught your eye? You can see them realised and installed in part two of the blog!

You can also commission Simon for your own sculpture trail by emailing [email protected]

 

 

Woodland Friends

Woodland Friends 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon (photographed here on day one) has been working on a couple of commissions for local gardens; transforming the trunks into some woodland friends.

Working on the first sculpture of the week

 

The Sculpture

During the week, a fox, owls, woodpecker and squirrels appeared in the timber. What a delightful group of woodland friends! Simon also gave the stripped-back timber the shape and texture of a tree. He did this by adding details like knots, branch stumps, and a nut hatch. He also created twists and imperfections in the shape and direction of the trunk. These all help capture the attention of the viewer and make the piece seem more realistic.

In addition to the texture detail, each of the woodland friends was actually given a story of its own.
Simon does this by paying attention to the focus, expression and movement of each animal. Each one of them sits, stands, flies or moves in a different direction, with a different expression.

Woodland scene number two from the week

Visual Storytelling

One of the beautiful things about Simon’s storytelling is that they are not so prescriptive that they tell the whole story. |Simon gives clues, but leaves aspects to the imagination of the onlooker:

Who or what is the fox watching?

What is it behind the owl that has caught his attention?

Is the squirrel running for play, or returning to its home in a hurry to avoid a storm? Perhaps it’s looking for escape as a local dog on a walk has broken free and is giving chase?

Maybe something about the eyes and expression or the movement reminds you of a scene from a childhood story of woodland creatures?

Visit our Facebook page for yourselves to see more photos and videos of the finished pieces. Feel free to leave a comment on our photos and videos too, letting us know what you thought!