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visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!

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.