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Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Visit

No, our blog title doesn’t refer to the movie released this weekend. We mean the real life setting for the series and movie: Highclere Castle. The castle is part of Lady and Lord Carnavon’s estate and is located in Hampshire, over 200 miles from the fictional setting. But for the fans of the series who enjoy a good tear-jerker, today’s blog about visiting the Highclere Castle Airman is just as good!

You may remember that last year Simon and Dan worked on a memorial for the Highclere Estate. For those who need a refresher, the project was a sculpture of a WWII airman and a series of benches that were unveiled at the Highclere Heroes weekend. They were made as a tribute to the airmen who lost their lives in the eight plane crashes that occurred there during WWII.  The benches even featured actual wreckage from one of the B17s that crashed on the estate. This weekend Simon and Liz had the privilege of visiting to see how the Highclere Castle airman is doing.

Keep reading to find out what that entails for Simon, but also a wonderful ‘plot twist’!

Simon and Liz O'Rourke at Highclere Castle, home of his airman sculpture

Simon and Liz at Highclere

Highclere Castle Airman with the house in the background

The beautiful setting for the airman and benches

The ‘Check Up’

Simon looks out for a few things when checking on a sculpture. One is obviously any damage that needs repairing. Thankfully there is no damage to either the airman or benches. That is, except for the inevitable bird deposits! He also reports that the Sculpture is weathering nicely. It’s already turned a lovely silvery grey colour, which was the intention.
When Simon re-visits a sculpture, he also looks at where the wood has opened up. When he is carving, he has to calculate where cracks will appear as it ages, and take this into account. Using wood in the right way can ensures it doesn’t split across the face or important parts of the sculpture as the wood dries. Again, thankfully all is well!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

Reflecting on the project

The estate is a beautiful place to  enjoy the British countryside, and the Highclere Castle Airman is located in a particularly tranquil spot. As Simon and Liz were able to sit and enjoy both countryside and sculpture, they took some time to reflect on the project.

The O’Rourkes still feel extremely honoured to have been involved in this memorial. They hope that people will be able to enjoy the sculpture and benches in this setting for years to come. They’re also still extremely grateful to Lord and lady Carnarvon for commissioning Simon and Dan, and for their hospitality to them. As at the original unveiling,  it was very moving for them to be in a place so many sacrificed their lives for others, and to be part of a project that makes that history a visible and ‘living memory’ for others.

Simon, Liz and Dan weren’t the only ones moved by this lovely tribute commissioned by Lady Carnarvon. Several news outlets picked up on the sculpture, but also some of the stories behind it. The BBC article focused on the story of Len Nitti; a serviceman who miraculously survived a crash. The Daily Post focused on the project itself, as does the Daily Mail who also reflect on how the commission was an example of life and art imitating each other, and mirrored the final scenes of Downton Abbey.

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

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

The 'B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes. Part of the Highclere Castle Airman memorial

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

And then…..

And now for that beautiful plot twist!

Simon and Liz met with families of the airmen who lost their lives as part of the project – a very meaningful part of the Highclere Castle Airman story for them. So much so in fact, they are still in touch with one of the families today. There was one family that they didn’t get to meet at the time though. The family of William Dutton were the only family who were unable to make the unveiling weekend last year. 2nd Lt Dutton died on May 5th 1945 in the B17 Flying Fortress. In fact, it’s parts from his plane that are in the bench legs!
Life is full of surprises though. Completely unexpectedly,  Simon and Liz got to meet Nancy Dutton Sanders this weekend – William Dutton’s sister!

Simon O'Rourke meets sister of deceased Highclere Castle Airman

Meeting with Nancy Dutton Sanders

It added a poignancy and beauty to the visit. As always, meeting the ‘real life people’ behind the stories, makes all of us feel afresh a thankfulness for those who fought in wars for our freedom. For Simon and Liz, meeting families and seeing how much it means to them to have their loved ones honoured, is also a privilege and a joy, and adds real purpose to a project. How much more fun when it is totally unexpected!

This really ‘made’ the visit. We only hope that people viewing Highclere on the Big Screen this weekend get as much of a happy ending!

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

A Bavarian Fairy Tale 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Event

Every two years friends of ours organise and host ‘Allgauer Schnitzevent‘ in the Bavaria region of Germany. As well as tree carving, there’s an opportunity to enjoy beautiful scenery and take part in family activities and games. Oh, and of course, there’s great German food and beer!

The event is a wonderful way of preserving the Bavarian tree carving tradition, and it’s an honour to take part. This year Simon carved the Bavarian Fairy of our title. We hope you enjoy reading about some of the challenges in making her, and how they are overcome.

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

The Bavarian Fairy

The ‘Bavarian Fairy’ Simon created is in the video below. She beautifully balances realistic human form (especially with her wistful or pensive expression) and whimsy or fantasy (her toadstool seat, and delicately patterned wings). Whilst Simon often uses a lot of texture to bring life to his human sculptures, we love how her smooth limbs and delicate hands and feet add to the sense of a delicate, whimsical being.

Apologies the video I posted yesterday was the wrong one so I deleted it! This one walks around the whole sculpture!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Sunday, 7 July 2019

Challenges with the carving

Carving faces is no easy task. In fact, Simon had to actually cut this one right back and start again! Part of the challenge he faces (pun intended?!) is getting a sense of depth when carving right on top of the sculpture. The face can look great up close, but it’s only when stepping back that it’s possible to get a sense of depth, and see if it’s ‘correct’.
Do the nose, cheeks and lips protrude the right amount?
How deeply set are the eyes?
Is everything in the right place in relation to each other?

Even then, it’s often not easy to say what needs fixing. Sometimes it’s only when it’s ‘right’ that both artist and viewer can see what was wrong before.

The fairy with her face in profile.

The technical stuff!

This is where training, and technical knowledge come into play. Simon has found researching what’s under the surface is essential for carving human form accurately.
What bones are there?
What about muscle definition?
Does that part actually move that way from that joint?

When carving faces, like many artists before him, Simon has been fascinated by The Golden Ratio.
“What’s the golden ratio?” Keep reading!

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio has been studied by mathematicians since Euclid. It’s a ‘special number’ (1.618) and describes how the length and width of an object relate to each other. You can find a simple explanation here.

Throughout time people have studied how it appears in different areas. This includes, geometry, nature (eg the human face) and even man made systems, such as financial markets. The artist Dali is known to have incorporated it into his work. Others have speculated that Da Vinci did too, although he seems to deny this. Even architects (eg Le Corbusier) and composers (eg Ravel, Satie, Debussy) have used the golden ratio their work!

 

Applying The Golden Ratio

In recreating faces, the golden ration applies in how the different parts of the face relate to each other, as well as their size and shape. It applies in at least eight different ways, maybe more! For those who are interested, some examples can be found here.

Although studying the golden ration can get quite in-depth and intense, it can often be simplified into a few simple pointers. For example:

  • The distance between the crown of the head and chin, is equal to the distance between the nose and back of the head
  • The gap between the eyes is approximately the size of one eye
  • The tip of the nose and the pupils form a triangle
  • The spaces from the forehead to the eyebrows, from the eyebrows to the bottom of the nose, and from the bottom of the nose, will be a third of the face each

As you can tell from this short ‘lesson’, there’s a LOT more to recreating human form than just jumping in with a brush, pencil or even chainsaw! And to succeed and improve, art, like most areas of life, needs study, practice, and – as with this fairy – humility of the part of the artist to recognise when something isn’t quite right, and re-work it.

What are some of the things you’ve studied or tips you’ve been given that made most difference to your art? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

 

Pet Portraits

Pet Portraits 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Pet Portraits

11th April was National Pet Day. We loved seeing all the photos of pets online, daft bunch of animal lovers that we are! Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough though. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so in honour of the day, here are some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’:

Our first is ‘Cheila’, a German Shepherd completed around this time last year.

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Cheila

After purchasing Simon’s ‘Lion Cub’ sculpture at a Born Free charity dinner around 18 months ago (a charity very close to our heart due to our involvement with the ‘Pawtraits’ book and exhibition a few years ago which featured Virginia McKenna), our clients – Steven and Leslie Smith – decided that they would like to commission Simon to produce a life size sculpture of their beloved dog, Cheila, to immortalise her in wood.

Simon spent time measuring Cheila and photographing her here at the workshop when Steven and Leslie came to visit, to make sure that the sculpture was absolutely accurate and then drew a number of sketches of her in the pose that Steven had requested in order to best capture all of her wonderful features, characteristics and quirks that make her, ‘Cheila’.

Needless to say that they were absolutely thrilled with the finished piece and wrote us a fantastic testimonial to back that up which you can find here.

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Dachshund

Our most recent of Simon’s Pet Portraits was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process, and there’s no doubt; it’s fascinating to watch Simon work. To answer the ‘viewers’ he got out his Olfi Action Camera last week so you can see him working on this commission.

I finished a bust of a #Weimaraner dog yesterday! Here's some action footage shot on an Olfi action camera!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Saturday, 20 April 2019

 

Portrait Panels

Of course, not everybody has room for a sculpture of their pet, and as the saying goes, ‘We have an app for that’!!! Well, not really an app, but a solution! Other clients over the years have opted to take advantage of Simon’s illustration training, and commissioned instead, a portrait on flat wooden ‘panels’.

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

We leave you this week with some examples of other pets; Debbie the cat and Dan the horse!
And of course, no National Pet Day Blog would be complete without our own O’Rourke pet and Tree Carving mascot, Poppy . She’s photographed here ready for a day of work and – just like Simon –  wearing her Stihl clothing!

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving ‘mascot’ wearing her Stihl gear!

Get Your Own pet Portrait

Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, visit

https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/wildlife/

If you are interested in one of Simon’s Pet Portraits, get in touch with us at [email protected]

 

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint! So here they are: “Three Wise Dragons”.

The Setting

The dragons were a commission from Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. Eventually they’ll be surrounded by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment. In a few weeks when it’s finished, they will be the perfect backdrop for a holiday selfie!

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

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

The History

The full commission was for a bench and three dragons. Here we have a very lovable version of: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – our Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure you’re familiar with. And now for some trivia!

The saying itself dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century. It was actually a 17th century wooden carving though that made the characters famous. We already thought it was fitting to have a dragon version for Wales. Once we discovered that, we thought it even more fitting that we’re continuing that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

The commission also included a dragon bench. In keeping with being a family venue, and wanting the dragons to seem fun and approachable for children, this docile looking chap is even taking a nap! Perfect spot for a bit of a breather while the kids play, or snapping a family photo.

Sleeping Dragon Bench

The Location

‘Hafan Y Mor’ means ‘sea haven’. It seems an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina.

Before we finish for this week, we’re intrigued to know: which one is your favourite? Comment below to tell us!

Don’t forget, you can also commission your own dragon by emailing [email protected]

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the Air 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air this week. That means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sunshine, walks in the park, new life, and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms. Even those wet, rainy days seem better as the blossom on the trees and the appearance of daffodils and tulips reminds us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week.

Spring is in the air with this selection of baby animals and families by Simon O'Rourke

Spring is in the Air: Baby Animals

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst also keeping its realism (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised. That means what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

Spring is in the Air: The Easter Bunny

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate. Incidentally, anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!! That means we can’t help but think of Easter. In turn, we can’t think of Easter without thinking of the  ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny!  And whether real or fictional, Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends…..

Spring is in the air - easter bunny sculptures by Simon O'Rouke

Spring is in the Air: The Big Clean

We’re also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’. If you’re anything like us, you might only just be starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter. If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, why not consider commissioning something unique from us? Even if you finish the big clean and find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, Simon is on hand to help!

Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up. As well as looking great, a tree carving looks much more at home in the garden compared with plastic or stone ornaments. It’s also sourced sustainably. That means you can make your garden look great whilst also being environmentally responsible!

As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Although most of our carving is done by Simon O’Rourke, we have affiliates who work with us on certain projects that we can also recommend if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features one of those projects: The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant is a former quarry, which is now a forested area run by local communities, local to us here in North Wales. It features woodland trails and a children’s play area, and is of particular interest to conservationists because of the unusual Bee Orchid which can be found there.  Our work is found in a few different places, and visitors are actually greeted at the entrance to the park by ‘Stanley’ – a previous carve of Simon’s. Whilst it’s a privilege to be able to travel and see our work in places around the world, there is also something special about a local project that enables us more easily to see people enjoying it over the years.

Stanley greets guests at the entrance ***

The brief for this project was to construct a play area and fort within a palisade for families to use, which would also reflect and portray the wildlife on the site. The bulk of the job was completed by our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes over nine days in Spring 2017 , and was constructed using part of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  Not only did this provide an affordable and easy-to-access source of timber, it also ensured that the build is totally sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

This then left Nathan with one day for detailing – the sign, carved weaponry, and the dragons on the see-saw. After all, what’s a fortress without some weapons?! These are all historical weapons such as bows and arrows and swords, which is in keeping with the historic aesthetic of a fort, and not only looks great, but helps encourage and inspire imaginative play in the children using the area.
In asking him about the project, Nathan reflected that “Thankfully the weather was unusually kind for the time of year and the work, whilst being ‘intensive’ went according to plan” – something that is never guaranteed carving at this time of year, and that we are ALWAYS thankful for when it happens!

Nathan’s weaponry detailing on individual posts in the fort*

The second phase was completed in January of this year, when Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and welcoming ladybird seat –  further reflecting the local wildlife, and creating a rest space for families to pause and enjoy the environment or watch their children play.

Bee totem pole and ladybird bench*

If you happen to be in the area, why not tag us in your photos? It’s lovely when a project is both beautiful and functional, for us to be able to see it being used and enjoyed.

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

 

Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver, and has worked for/with us for just over 10 years, over many different projects ranging from when we were just a tent in a frozen field to the current set-up! He can  currently only be commissioned for work through Tree Carving.
Daniel is a gifted carpenter and has worked with us for four-and-a-half years. He specialises in high quality, bespoke work and especially enjoys making and installing kitchens and doors, and creating furniture in its organic form. He can also currently be contacted through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website

It Takes a (Lego) Village

It Takes a (Lego) Village 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

What could the well-known proverb in the title and Lego possibly have to do with tree carving?!

Well, it’s our privilege and joy both as a company and in our personal lives to be able to share what we have, and use it to help, support, sow into, and encourage others – whether that be with time, energy, or finances. In the past Simon has auctioned off various carvings and the gift of bespoke carving to order for a range of charities including local hospices and national charities. This week we were excited to pop over to England and plant a Lego tree which represented our donation to The Big Lego Brick Hospital fundraiser for a new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Read on for the full story……!!!

Planting our Lego tree on the model Clatterbridge

 

A chance encounter last year led to us running a  fundraiser for Clatterbridge Hospital from our workshop in North Wales. They are building a new Cancer Centre in Liverpool, and have been running a scheme where people can sponsor things like bricks, flower beds, benches and even figures of staff, to help build a model hospital out of Lego, which is a copy of the actual hospital which is currently under construction.
With half a million bricks and an army of builders, the Lego hospital itself is something worth checking out! When it’s finished it’ll be just under three metres long and almost two metres high. It will taken around 1000 hours over two years to build, and will hopefully have raised £500,000 for the Clatterbridge charity by the time it is completed. If you look closely you will find over 100 rooms with chemotherapy clinics, radiotherapy machines, toilet blocks, kitchens, lift shafts, MRI scanners, and more, including 150 hospital beds! As an artist, and a team that loves creativity and ingenuity, we can’t help but be impressed! OK, and let’s be honest, aside from the artistry and engineering, nobody ever really outgrows their appreciation of all things Lego!

Comparison of the lego construction with the current build as of 17/01/19

 

Our fundraiser itself was held just before Christmas, and we opened the doors of our workshop and welcomed people for mince pies, cake, tea and coffee. They had the opportunity to wander round the workshop and see works in progress as well as completed pieces, and even got to have their photo taken with a dragon! With donations and the raffle, we raised around £250, which enabled us to buy a tree in the model hospital.

One of our youngest visitors exploring the workshop – photographed with Groot and Hemlock the Dragon

 

Jo, one of our team at the fundraiser where she was able to share about the great care she has received from Clatterbridge staff with some of the other guests

 

It’s always a privilege to be able to contribute and invest in something which will play such a vital part in the lives of others. This fundraiser took on more meaning for us though, when we realised that one of our team (Jo) here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving has often been taken care of on a Clatterbridge ward! And so, it was an even greater privilege to be able to go this week and plant our tree, knowing that we are investing in something that not only benefits and serves the wider community, but directly impacts and helps one of our own team and friends.

Jo pictured with two of the nurses who have helped look after her recently – thanks to Leanne and Aysha who are not only awesome nurses, but were still willing to take a photo for their patient at the end of a shift!

A huge thank you to those who came and visited the workshop and donated to the fundraiser. Every little helps, and whether it be investing to get a facility built, or walking alongside those who will need to use this hospital, it really does ‘take a village’, and we are thankful for ours!