environmental art

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

We’ve often talked about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, and earlier this year we brought you virtual tours of Meadow Park, Page’s Wood, and Fforest Fawr. We wanted to answer some of the questions people often have, so here is our quick guide to woodland sculpture trails.

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke: european lynx sculpture in redwood located in fforest fawr

Simon’s European Lynx in Fforest Fawr

What is a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

At their most basic, Woodland sculpture trails are a series of sculptures based on a specific theme. Those sculptures are then stationed around a guided walk in a woodland area. Guests follow a prescribed route, and view the sculptures as they walk. The theme can be anything from local animals to fictional characters. Simon is happy to create either, but usually, people want something connected with the local environment.
In the past Simon and Liz have written stories for two of the trails, so there is a strong tie between the individual sculpture. For a third there was no central character, but they provided information in verse form for each sculpture.

Wooden sculpture of an owl on top of a tree trunk. The sculpture is part of the meadow park sculpture trail by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the Owl is the central character of the Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture Trail

What Are the Benefits of Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Woodland sculpture trails have many benefits. We detail them more in this blog ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail?‘. In brief though, a few of the reasons include that they give individuals and families an extra reason to make the effort of visiting your site. They convey information in a fun, understandable way which is more likely to be retained than reading a flyer or placard. That means they help convey or reinforce your message, or tell your story. This is [probably the biggest reason we like these commissions so much. We are passionate about the environment and love that we can be part of educating people and calling them to take their part in caring for the earth.
In addition, they make great photo opportunities. As people post those photos online, it gives you some free publicity too!

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

Ruby the Owl meets new friends at Meadow Park, and learns about their homes.

What About the Story?

There are many reasons to have a story included in the trail. People engage more with characters and stories than with isolated snippets of information. They are fun, with an element of whimsy – like reading Wind in the Willows, or The Animals of Farthing Wood.
In turn, this means they are more likely to read the information and retain what they read. Simple verse form means that children can also join in and understand. One of the benefits to a story rather than stand-alone verses is that people are more likely to complete the full trail to, to discover the full story.
Simon and Liz have written the stories in the past. However, clients are free to choose other routes – including no story at all! They can provide the story themselves if they prefer, or could involve a local community group or school in the project.

sculpture of an owl watching a fox emerging from a hole in a tree trunk. It forms park of meadow park trail, one of simon o'rourke's sculpture trails

Ruby the Owl meets a fox at Meadow Park

What Goes in a Woodland Sculpture Trail Story?

Ideally, the story helps convey information about the local area. Simon and Liz then make the final sculpture a call to action, encouraging people to do their part in caring for the environment.
For the Meadow Park trail, Simon and Liz created the character of Ruby the Owl. Ruby was looking for a home for herself. She met other woodland animals along the way, saw their homes, and discovered why they wouldn’t work for her.
In the picture above, for example, the accompanying verse reads:

By the roots of a tree,
in a hole in the ground,
A fox with a bushy red tail is found.
Is this my home?
Lined with soil and bark?
I don’t like it here, it’s much too dark!

In Page’s Wood, the two protagonists (Verity Vole and Horatio Hedgehog) travel around the woodland, and the animals they meet tell them about their homes.

Wooden sculpture of a frog from Page's Wood, one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

The frog from the Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

How Much Do Woodland Sculpture Trails Cost?

There are too many variables to give a guide here. Things like size, number of sculptures, type of wood, and how the wood is being sourced are big factors. Whether the sculptures are carved on-site or in Simon’s workshop alters the cost too due to the need to hire additional equipment.
If you are interested, chat to Simon about it via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

The cost of a trail can seem offputting initially. However, woodland sculpture trails can help you adapt your site to having more outdoor activities (making them part of covid adaptations). They can be part of environmental education, or an arts and culture initiative. This means there may be grants available to help you with the cost of your woodland sculpture trail. We are also in an age where crowdfunding can be hugely successful and offset some of the costs.

woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. Photo shows a howling wolf in redwood, surrounded by trees. Located in Fforest Fawr.

This wolf forms part of the Fforest Fawr trail.

How Do I Commission a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

A big commission can seem intimidating, but Simon makes the whole process as easy as possible and will guide you through each step.
Firstly, there will need to be a decision about the theme, and any specific sculptures. Researching and getting creative is something Simon loves though, so don’t worry if you feel stuck for ideas.
You can come to Simon with as vague or specific of a concept/vision as you have, and he will put together a proposal for you to discuss. This will include sketches, the story (if required), and costings.

picture shows the original sketch for a wooden bench designed by simon o'rourke for the page's wood sculpture trail

One of the original sketches and poetry for Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

Can I see Past Examples of Your Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Yes!
There are a few ways to do this.

1. Go and visit!
Trails are located in Fforest Fawr, Page’s Wood, and Meadow Park.

2. On Simon’s website
We have virtual tours of each of the woodland sculpture trails mentioned in this article at
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trails-meadow-park/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trail-pages-wood/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/fforest-fawr-woodland-sculpture-trail/
And there is also a Meadow Park case study.

3. Check local media
Each of the trails has been covered by local press, and can easily be found through a google search. It’s good to see how the trails were received by locals, and the excitement and enthusiasm they can generate for your woodland.

Simon O'Rourkes fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail: A Red Deer. Lifesized, created with chainsaws from redwood

I Don’t Have a Woodland But Could a Trail Work For Me?

YES! We’ve talked about woodland sculpture trails here because they have been popular commissions and tie in with Simon and Liz’s passion for the environment. But a sculpture trail can benefit ANY attraction, as we mentioned in ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail’.
A sculpture trail should serve you, and figures can be created to tie in with any theme, message or history of the area.
It can also be something just for fun! Simon has created two Alice in Wonderland trails in the past, as well as an ‘apple trail’ for a local National Trust property as part of their Autumn activities.
The only limit to the possibilities is imagination!

Alice in Wonderland and Queen of Hearts sculptures from one of Simon O'Rourke's wooden sculpture trails

The Queen of Hearts and Alice from one of Simon’s two Alice in Wonderland trails

How Do I Contact You?

Simon is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which are all great for viewing his work too. However, the best way is to use the contact form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.Whatever your idea or questions, we’d love to hear from you.
And if you do happen to participate in a trail, why not tag Simon in a photo? It’s always fun to see people enjoying his work!

 

The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy

The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy 1703 2560 Simon O'Rourke

In 2011 Simon carved what would become known as The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy. Simon wasn’t very well known at the time, and social media was only just in its early days. The hand gained some press coverage and attention, but it faded quite quickly. Recently pictures of the hand were re-shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s gone viral! Simon is getting lots of shares, comments and questions, which is incredible. Many people have never heard the story behind the sculpture though, so we thought we would revisit the story behind the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy.

the giant hand of vrynwy by simon o'rourke. Photograph is taken at night and shows an illuminated 50ft hand sculpture surrounded by woodland

The Giant Hand of Vrynwy by night

The Giant Hand of Vrynwy: About Vyrnwy

The history of Vyrnwy itself is controversial. Viewers of ‘The Crown’ may have heard it mentioned recently in season three of the popular Netflix show when Prince Charles visits the home of his language teacher in Aberyswyth. The topic is clearly painful, and it’s suggested that the Prince was deeply moved by the story.
Years on, less people are aware of its past, and nowadays the area is now known for its beauty and wildlife. And no wonder! It’s just on the edge of The Snowdonia National Park, set in the middle of the beautiful Berwyn Mountains. There is a 24,000 acre RSPB Reserve, with viewpoints and hides around the Lake to observe the amazing variety of birds and scenery, and lots of opportunities for walks, cycle rides, and adventure activities.

Simon O'roruke kneels in front of a giant hand carved into a tree trunk. He is using an angle grinder to add texture to the sculptire 'The GIant Hand of Vyrnwy'

Simon at work on the hand in 2011

The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy: The Commission

Simon’s commission to create the hand came about in a very roundabout way. One evening he watched an episode of Countryfile that featured Wales’ tallest tree. He learned it was damaged and needed to be felled. He then heard elsewehere that they were leaving a 50ft stump, and were looking to convert it into a piece of art. It seemed like a great opportunity, not just to create a sculpture, but to create something with a message. After a bit of research, he connected with the Forestry Commission and was given the brief for the project. He added his proposal to those from the other artists, and waited…

Picture shows scaffolding surround a tree stump. It is in the process of ebing carved into a giant hand by artist simon o'rourke. The piece is now known at the giant hand or vyrnwy

Simon’s Vision

Simon’s vision for the tree, was for it to not just be a sculpture, but for it to be an environmental statement in its own right. Having learned that the tree had been known as one of the ‘Giants of Vyrnwy’, Simon was inspired to create a giant hand.
He wanted it to be coming out of the earth, and reaching upwards; making one last attempt to reach the sky. He wanted to show the hand stretching and straining; fighting to reach its full height. This is why Simon highlighted veins and creases, and why there is visible tension and power in the hand. It reflects a battle against not only the elements, but also damage humans have done.
The changes in colour and tone of the wood have emphasised those features, so the sculpture tells its story more loudly now than when it was made.

close up view of the giant hand of vyrnwy, showing creases and veins and stretch in the hand

This close up shows the details Simon added to reflect the strain of the tree’s final reach for the sky.

The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy: Creating the Sculpture

Simon started work on the hand in October 2011, and it was definitely a challenge! Even today, it is the largest-scale work he has completed! In photos, it can be difficult to really understand the scale of the sculpture. The sculpture is also viewed from 30′ away too, so although up close the size is impressive, it can be hard to appreciate.
To help give some context, Simon used a scale of 1:10 when he worked out the size and proportions. This means that the length of the hand from wrist to fingertip is around 2.25m. Or 90″ in ‘old money’!!! An average male in the UK is 1.75cm (69″), so the hand itself is nearly 50% taller than the average person!

The wrist is the entire width of the original stump, and the hand is carved in the top. Simon did need to add onto the stump too, to create the thumb and little finger stretching beyond the width of the wrist.

View from below the giant hand of vyrnwy looking up towards the sky

Viewing the hand from below helps give a sense of the scale, as well as showing the details like popping veins

Revisiting the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy: Simon’s Final Thoughts

Winning this commission was an amazing opportunity for Simon. Not just as an artist, but also as someone who wanted to share an environmental message. That message seems even more poignant now in 2020 when we are even more aware of climate change. Simon believes that the environmental factor is partly why the hand has had more attention lately.
His hope is that the juxtaposition of a hand coming from the tree stump will cause people to think about our connection and relationship with the earth. That being witness to the tree’s battle for growth will cause us to think. That we will be conscious of the footprint we leave behind. And that we will remember our duty of care for the planet.

Listen to more from Simon himself here:

Revisiting the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy: Your Thoughts!

Over the years since he made the hand, Simon has heard many comments from people who were moved by the sculpture. Thank you to those who have taken time to write or comment. We appreciate all the feedback.
Simon is always interested to hear about the impact of his work. And so, we want to invite you to share your story!
If you have seen the hand in person, or via social media, would you take a few moments to let us know what you think? Not just a like or a share, great as they are!
What did it say to you? How did it make you feel? What message did you take from it?
Let us know by emailing Simon on [email protected], or through his Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

And for now, enjoy a few more of these little-shared photos of the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy…

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last? 2560 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Diary of a chainsaw carver – The ticking clock…

No this isn’t about actual clocks, although Simon did create a working longcase clock once!! This is actually about a question Simon is often asked: How will my wood sculpture age?
And it’s a very valid question. They say time waits for no man, and it certainly doesn’t hang around when it comes to how long wood lasts outdoors! When Simon is asked how long a sculpture will last, he usually has a two word answer: “it depends!”

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a wooden sculpture of a grandfather clock, turning an ashy grey colour. There are no signs of splits or cracks.

The grandfather clock made by Simon, now turning an ashy grey colour

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Structure of the Sculpture

One factor which determines how long your wood sculpture will last is the wood. Basically, different wood lasts for different lengths of time. And this differs again depending on the environment it’s in! Honestly, there are really no definite answers! With any of the factors creating numerous fluctuations in longevity, it’s not an exact science. This means although Simon may have an idea, there are no definite answers.

So which timber should you choose? Understanding that this much uncertainty means Simon only has personal experience and information from others to draw on, his conclusion is that Oak, Cedar, Redwood, Cypress, and Sweet Chestnut are among the longest lasting available timbers in this country. So he usually uses those for sculptures, although they are not the only possibilities.

You can expect an untreated sculpture made from any of these timbers to look weathered within a year to two years, and will still keep its shape and structure for a good 20 years or so. Given the fact that we still see solid Oak beams on the exterior of Tudor houses, I think it would last for over 100 years, and still have its shape, although the weather would have worn down the detail on the exterior!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a comparison of a redwood sculpture two years on. The sculpture is the brown otter in Fforest Fawr. In the first the wood is a warm, vivid red colour. After two years it is fully in tact, but the shadows appear deeper and it is turning a deep brown with cold tones.

This side by side shows a redwood sculpture in Fforest Fawr after about two years of being exposed to the elements.

How Long Will my Wood Sculpture Last: Colour

When Simon creates sculptures, he doesn’t usually add colour. This is because it will wear away eventually and detail that was painted on would be lost. Rather, he loves to over-exaggerate depth and form in his work to create contrast using shadow. This will stand the test of time and still work as a sculpture in decades to come. In fact, often as the wood changes colour, the shadows appear to deepen, and the sculpture is more striking.

All this said, creating something that lasts forever isn’t his goal. He loves the look of weathered wood and feels that the aging process is part of the creativity and part of the art. Environmental artists like   Andy Goldsworthy share this sentiment. Although it has to be said that Simon’s sculptures last MUCH longer – some Goldsworthy pieces change the instant the wind or tide changes!

This example shows how this Redwood face sculpture has taken on a different feel having been bleached by the sun and worn by the wind! Although always impressive, the sculpture is now striking. Just look at that pupil!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

This photo of one of Simon’s face sculptures shows some of the colour changes that take place over time.

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Telling A Story

Wood is always evolving, whether in life or death. The growth rings in wood tell their own history. As time passes, each growth ring becomes more prominent, as the faster-grown spring wood wears away quicker than the slower grown summer wood.

We often do so much to preserve art and keep it behind glass for future generations, but isn’t a reflection of a natural material. Life is fragile and temporary, and aging is a natural and beautiful process which we need to embrace, not fight.

Wood sculptures, like ourselves, will weather and deteriorate over time, but every split, knot, and wrinkle tells a story!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows Simon's European Lynx in fforest fawr. At two years old, it is now a deep reddish-brown.

The European Lynx in Fforest Fawr.

Your Own Sculpture.

If you would like to commission a sculpture, contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
He would love to hear from you!

Thank you to My Tongwynlais for the updated photos of the sculpture trail.

an example of brown rot on a piece of timber as part os simon o'rourke's blog on the difference between brown rot and white rot

All About Wood: The Difference Between Brown and White Rot

All About Wood: The Difference Between Brown and White Rot 533 358 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome to our blog and vlog series ‘All About Wood’.
In this series Simon will be answering some of the questions we receive about timber. Essentially, he’ll talk about how wood behaves. That is, how it reacts to different environments, the longevity, how it cracks etc. He is often asked about these things, and rightly so! As well as being fascinating, they all impact the life of a sculpture, so it’s good to research before commissioning.
In this first part of this educational series, Simon shares more about rot, specifically the difference between brown and white rot.

Aging, not Rotting:

Simon is often asked how long a sculpture will last. And the honest answer is, that nobody knows! There is no exact science, although this blog we found gives some idea about wood durability.

A sculpture will begin to age quite early on, especially if exposed to all weather conditions. However this is very different from rotting. Aging adds different tones and highlights, increases the depth of the shadows, and overall, enhances the sculpture. If you are interested, you can read more in our blog about choosing a bronze of wooden sculpture.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Side by side photos like this show that the aging process enhances the depth and beauty of a sculpture

Heartwood and Sapwood

Rot is something very different, and something Simon needs to be very aware of.

In the video above though, Simon begins with some simple tree anatomy. He first explains the difference between heart wood and sap wood:

Sapwood is the tree’s pipeline for water moving up to the leaves, and in very simple terms, is new wood. It is essentially the part of the tree that was growing most recently. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner cells lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.

Heartwood is the central, supporting pillar of the tree. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are still intact. At this point the timber is actually hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin. And di you know that when cellulose and lignin combine to make timber, it can be as strong as steel?! For example,  a piece of timber 12″ long and 1″ by 2″ in cross section can support a weight of twenty tons! This is the part that Simon usually uses to create his sculptures.

cross section of a tree trunk showing the heartwood and sapwood

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: White Rot

In the video above, Simon highlights where the outer edges of the cedar are already beginning to rot. In this specific case, the lignin (the part that brings the rigidity) is rotting away, leaving only the cellulose. This means the timber is beginning to get soft and fibrous and it now peels away easily. This kind of rot means the timber simply won’t take shape or hold its shape if it did – meaning Simon can’t carve a sculpture in wood affected by white rot. It would also degrade extremely quickly, which is one difference between brown and white rot.

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: picture shows a piece of timber which has become fibrous, soft and stringy. It peels away easily. This is an example of white rot

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: Brown Rot

The other major type of rot in trees (and something to look out for in selecting or working with timber) is a brown rot. In white rot, the lignin has rotted away. In the major difference between brown rot and white rot, in brown rot, it is the cellulose that has rotted away. This means the soft flexible fibres in the timber are gone, leaving something much more rigid. You’re left with a hard, sometimes sharp, biscuit-like, crumby texture. In fact, one of its other names is ‘Biscuit Rot’!
However, although it will take shape better than timber affected by white rot, it is still not suitable for sculpting.

an example of brown rot on a piece of timber as part os simon o'rourke's blog on the difference between brown rot and white rot

Any Questions?

We hope you’ve found this blog about basic tree anatomy and the difference between brown rot and white rot to be informative. Over the next few months we’ll be looking at lots of other aspects of how timber behaves in our ‘All About Wood’ series.
If you have questions you would like answering, reach us via our Facebook page or at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and your question could feature in our series!

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke stands between life size wood sculptures of Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish, two of many sporting sculptures made by simon

Sporting Sculptures made by Simon

Sporting Sculptures made by Simon 1536 2048 Simon O'Rourke

by  This week on Twitter we shared a portrait of sporting legend Bill Shankly that Simon made. He was one of four famous Liverpudlians that Simon created live at the Pierhead in 2018. Afterwards, the sculptures were all auctioned off for children’s charity, Variety. It got us thinking about other sports figures Simon has carved in the past and inspired this blog! And so, we hope you enjoy revisiting these sporting sculptures made by Simon over the years…

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke stands between life size wood sculptures of Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish, two of many sporting sculptures made by simon

Simon with his portraits of Kenny Dalglish and Bill Shankly

Sporting Sculptures Made by Simon: Queen of the South Footballers

Staying with the football (soccer for our international readers!) theme, our first flashback is to the Queen of the South players from 2019. This sculpture was installed outside the Queen of the South ground in Dumfries and represents three generations of football. Each of the players represents a different era, achievement, and contribution to the club. We think you’ll agree that each one is a fantastic likeness to the person…

photograph of billy houliston in his soccer kit shown alongside a wooden lifesized sculpture of the player made by artist simon o'rourke

Sculpture of Billy Houliston next to one of the photos Simon worked from to create the sculpture

Making the sculpture definitely had its challenges though! Originally, the hope was to create the sculpture out of a single piece of oak. However, as Simon began to work, he discovered a large crack in the timber. He initially thought he could overcome that by turning the piece upside down. BUT! Once he also factored in the Scottish weather, he realised that crack was going to cause problems. Thankfully he found another suitable piece of wood to use and attached that sculpture to the other two. Despite this hiccup, the club, fans, and players were all delighted with the finished sculpture. If you would like to know more about the story behind this sculpture, why not read our blog: Queen of the South Legends Unveiled?

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke. Photo shows sculpture of three soccer players standing back to back with onlookers admiring the piece

Stephen Dobbie pictured at the unveiling with his likeness

 

Sporting Sculptures Made by Simon: Vintage Cricketer

Moving on to another classic British sport now, we bring you Simon’s vintage cricketer!
The cricketer has had lots of attention in the past. Whenever we share the photos it’s definitely a popular sculpture! Contrary to what people expect though, it isn’t actually based on anybody in particular.
It was a commission from Hopkins Homes in 2019, and they just wanted ‘a vintage cricketer’. The company was building a housing estate on the former site of Norfolk County Cricket Club and felt the sculpture would be a meaningful addition to one of the green spaces. The site certainly had a lot of history. Five first-class and 13 a-list matches were played there during its time as a cricket ground!
Simon researched what the sport looked like during the 19390s, and created a sculpture of a player recognisable as being from that era.

Cricketer in Situ:

For those who would like to see the cricketer in situ, we recently found a website with photos of varying sporting sculptures – and the cricketer is there!  Visit http://www.offbeat.group.shef.ac.uk/statues/STUK_Anonymous_50.htm to have a peak!

sporting sculptures by simon o'rourke. diptych of his vintage cricketer made in cedar

man wearing protective ear wear carves a face out of cedar using a stihl chainsaw

Sporting Sculptures Made by Simon: Jockey

The next of our sporting sculptures flashbacks is a very different sport. Horse racing!

Simon created this sculpture in 2015. Like the cricketer, it isn’t based on anybody in particular, but one of Simon’s employees thought it looked like Norman Wisdom! What do you think?!

triptych showing different angles a jockey carved in oak, one of many sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke

 

Sporting Sculptures Made by Simon: ‘Skater Chick’

Did you know skateboarding was going to make its debut in the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year? Even though The Games didn’t happen, we think it means we can definitely include this sculpture of a ‘Skater Chick’ that Simon made in 2010. You can find her in Eirias Skate Park in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. As always, Simon invites us into a moment in a bigger story with this sculpture. We love that she is ‘mid trick’ and that the movement Simon has created throughout the clothes and with his attention to anatomy, really shows the energy, passion, and skill of this fictional skateboarding girl.

wooden life size sculpture of a female skateboarder standing on one hand to perform a trick

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke: a wooden sculpture of a female skateboarder performing a trick on one hand

Sporting Sculptures Made by Simon: Timbersports

Did you know Timbersports is a thing? There’s actually a world championship where people from around the globe compete against each other. The athletes compete in the use of axes and saws in manners typical for ‘lumberjacks’. Stihl founded the world championship in 1985 and it grew over the years. It now includes six different disciplines, and collegiate and rookie leagues. As you may expect, this year’s championship was cancelled. However, we look forward to a return in 2021!
Anyway, back to the sculptures!

life-sized wooden sculptures of four timbersports athletes stand in front of a large building

In 2018 the Timberpsports championship was held in Simon’s hometown of Liverpool. Stihl commissioned him to create life-sized sculptures of some of the participating athletes. The sculptures stood in the entrance and greeted spectators as they arrived. So fun!
Once again these sculptures show Simon’s ability to create an accurate likeness and tell a story in his portraits. Jason Wynard definitely seems to approve of his!

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke: jason wynard stands next to a life-sized wooden portrait of himself. They are outside a dock building.

 

Commissioning a Sporting Sculpture by Simon

As you can see, sporting sculptures can make a perfect addition to a sports ground or an event. They help tell stories of a place and honour the people who take part. They can connect generations too in the love of a hero, team or sport. And they always make a fine attraction!

Bizarrely for someone who lives in Wales, Simon is yet to create a rugby sculpture. Could you be the first?! Or maybe you’re more of a tennis, swimming or even cheese rolling fanatic?!

Whatever the sport, if you would like to commission a sporting sculpture, we would love to hear from you. As always, although you can reach us on social media, we recommend filling out the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Which is Better: Wood or Bronze Sculpture?

Which is Better: Wood or Bronze Sculpture? 1875 1875 Simon O'Rourke

Wood or bronze sculpture? Is the longer lasting sculpture a better sculpture? Which one should I choose? Simon is often asked “Why make a sculpture from something that will eventually degrade and return to nature?” In this blog we explore why Simon loves working with wood, and why it might be the choice for you…

Wood or ronze sculpture? Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall. Photo shows the beautiful effect of an aging wood sculpture against the hostoric building and gardens.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Benefits of Bronze.

A bronze sculpture is first created in clay, wax, or other materials. That sculpture is used to create a mould, and finally, molten bronze is poured into that mould.

A bronze statue will last for thousands of years of course. We have seen this from ancient bronze sculptures still in existence today. For example, ‘Dancing Girl’ from Mohenjo-Daro is the oldest known bronze sculpture in the world, dating back 2500 years.

Wood on the other hand is a material that will eventually rot away and break down over the years…

Wood or Broze sculpture? Photo shows the bronze sculpture of dancing girl of mohenjo-daro

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Why make something that will rot?

Environmental artists the world over operate at the opposite end of the scale. Artists like Andy Goldsworthy create artworks from nature that are gone in a short space of time. “It’s not about art,” he has explained. “It’s just about life and the need to understand that a lot of things in life do not last.

This momentary art is a powerful medium for drawing the attention to the natural world and its inherent beauty. Wood has also been used as a material for sculpture for thousands of years and also lasts well, depending on the species and how it is looked after. We shared more about which species are most enduring in our blog “Is my tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture“.

However, unlike bronze, it will always weather and begin to wear away over time.

Wood or Bronze sculpture? A close up of 'The Guardian' by Simon O'Rourke. It shows cracks in the nose of the oak lion, and the changing colours of oak sculpture.

Close up of The Guardian which shows the effects of aging on wood sculpture

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: The Beauty of Aging Wood

Weathering wood reveals much more of the character and growth patterns that form during the time the tree is growing. As an artist, Simon loves to see the process of weathering: that transformation of the freshly shaped timber to ancient-looking textures and cracks. He loves the revealing of the shapes of growth, and the natural progression of decay. For him, there is something warm about wood that captures a moment in history, the timeline of the tree, from seed to sculpture.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Picture shows large praying hands carved in oak by Simon O'Rourke. The wood has taken on grey hues due to weathering to give the hands character.

These praying hands have taken on more character and grey hues as the wood has aged and weatherted.

Wood or Bronze: Simon’s Philosophy as an Artist

Simon feels this compliments his artwork, and philospophy as an artist. He loves to capture a moment in time, a scene from a story, and leave the viewer feeling like they have momentarily been part of a bigger picture. The process of decay also captures an essence of the fragility of life.
Simon is very aware that his work isn’t permanent. This isn’t discouraging for thim though. Rather, he shares that:
Although some of my sculptures will eventually outlive me, their inevitable return to the earth to become part of the perpetual circle of life, is for me, a humbling experience“.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Side by side photos like this show that the aging process enhances the depth and beauty of a sculpture

Bronze or Wood: An Evolving Piece of Art

As well as reflecting Simon’s philosophy as an artist, this aging process creates an ever-evolving piece of art. The photo above of a stylised woman’s face, shows that aging process actually enhances the beauty and intensity of a piece. In particular the pupil and iris are much more striking as the wood has darkened and taken on grey hues. The more varied hues and tones in the wood create something much more life-like and organic looking.

Close up of a face of a wooden sculpture showing the cracks created by weathering

Character created over time by aging and weathering of the wood.

Bronze or Wood Sculpture: Environmental Benefits

We have talked about the humbling aspect and cyclical journey of a sculpture returning to the earth. However, this is also an environmental consideration too. Simon sources his wood responsibly, and loves to transform storm-damaged and diseased trees into sculptures, giving life back to the timber. The wood will eventually return to the earth, and make no permanent footprint.

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda by Simon O'Rourke. View is from behind showing the Angel standing by a pool against the background of Old Biddulph Hall

This view from behind of Angel at the Pool of Bethesda at Biddulpho Old Hall shows how a wood sculpture perfectly compliments historic property and mature gardens

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A Summary

Commissioning a piece of art is a big decision and an investment, and it needs to reflect your preferences and values as the buyer. All mediums have their beauty and benefits, so we would never claim one is definitively ‘better’ than another. However, if anything of the philosophical, environmental or aesthetic benefits of wood mentioned here resonate with you, it is likely a wooden sculpture is the best choice for you.

If you would like to commission a wooden sculpture, you can contact us using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ .

We’d love to hear from you!

 

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

Over the years Simon has created several Woodland Sculpture Trails. As we can’t easily go out and access our beautiful woodlands during lockdown, we thought we would bring them to you! Over the next few blogs we will share Simon’s Woodland Sculpture Trails so you can see them at home. And maybe once lockdown is over, you will feel inspired to go and see them for yourselves. We’ll also include some of the story behind their creation.
The first in our series, is Meadow Park, Ellesmere Port.

Original concept sketch of Ruby the Owl from meadow park woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Original sketch of Ruby the Owl

About Meadow Park

Meadow Park is a green space in the North West of England, on The Wirral.  The Friends of Meadow Park have been working on improving the space since 2013. Their vision is to involve local residents in improving the space and making it a centre for recreation, education and practical conservation.  If you read our previous blog about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, you’ll know this vision is something that is shared by him and his wife Liz. In fact, Liz is a qualified forest school teacher!
The idea for the sculpture trail was part of their improvements to the area. Simon worked on the project in the latter half of 2017, and the whole thing was installed in December of that year.

Ruby meets an adder from Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke

Wildlife Education

One of the goals when Simon creates woodland sculpture trails is to raise awareness of local wildlife. In the case of Meadow Park, he did this through story form.
Using stories actively encourages the viewer to follow the whole trail and brings about a connection to the wildlife through characterisation. It also aids the educational content, helping families with young children to engage with the message.
And so, to aid with that, he and Liz created Ruby the Owl.

The Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture trail follows Ruby as she explores the area and looks for a place to call home. Along the way she meets other animals in their habitat, creating a delightful range of characters, akin to classics such as Watership Down, Animals of Farthing Wood or Wind in the Willows.

Ruby the Owl by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the owl is searching for a home.
Looking for a place to call her own.
We’re sure you can help, we have no doubt,
Can you join her and seek it out?

Ruby’s Adventures

Ruby has proved very popular with the local population as well as visitors from further afield. However, she also had a few adventures that Simon and Liz didn’t author! After the successful opening of the trail, Ruby clearly caught the eye of some local thieves. She disappeared one night, and even made it on the local Television news! Thankfully Ruby was returned, and she was reinstalled in her home not long after.

And so, grab a cup of tea or coffee (maybe make it in a flask to make it seem authentic?!), and join us as we take you round the rest of the Meadow Park Sculpture Trail, along with the original sketch……

Ruby Meets an Adder
owl meets adder woodland sculpture by simon o'rourke

Along the path in the long long grass,
An adder slithered and wriggled past.
Is this my home? Said the owl with a frown,
I can’t stay here, it’s too low down!

Encounter with a Squirrel

Original sketch for ruby meets a squirrel by simon o'rourke

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Tree carving sculpture of ruby the owl and a squirrel

In the fork of a tree is a leafy drey,
And a sleek little squirrel, furry and grey.
Is this my home? It’s a cosy little ball,
But I can’t fit my head in, it’s far too small!

 

 

 

Meeting the Bat!

Bat sculpture from meadow park sculpture trail by simon o'rourke, original concept sketch

Ruby and the Fox

Owl and fox tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke

By the roots of a tree, in a hole in the ground, A fox with a bushy red tail is found Is this my home? Lined with soil and bark? I don’t like it here, it’s much too dark!

Meeting the Toad

Original concept sketch ruby and the toad simon o'rourke

On the edge of the brook, in an old wet log
A fat warty toad looks at home in the bog.
Is this my home? It looks a bit grimy,
I can’t live here, it’s far too slimy!

A Heron Along the Way

Heron meets ruby the owl in one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

Here’s a pond with reeds and trees
And a tall tall Heron, with knobbly knees
Is this my home? It’s not too flashy,
The watery pond is too wet and splashy!

Ruby and the Rabbits

Concept sketch by simon o'rourke for ruby the owl meeting the rabbits

Here’s a warren with holes and furrows
With Rabbits a plenty, making long long burrows.
Is this my home? It seems quite handy…
But the long long tunnels are far too sandy!

Then Ruby Finds her Home

original concept sketch from meadow park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke of all the animals gathered together

Here’s a hole in a hollow tree
Out of the rain and lined with dry leaves.
Is this my home? Yes yes, You’ll see,
It’s warm, and dry and perfect for me!

As you can see, in the final sculpture where Ruby finds her home, Simon cleverly incorporated all the characters.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, that’s something that we, as humans get to decide for them in many ways. Our hope is that through trails like these we are able to encourage people to engage with their environment in positive ways. We hope that the characterisation makes the wildlife more real to them. Then, in turn, they will become part of a movement that helps sustain and not plunder the earth.

We hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Meadow Park Sculpture Trail. Next week in our Woodland Sculpture Trails series, we will take you to Page’s Wood in the South East of England.

Until then, enjoy the outdoors in your area, whilst also staying safe.