favourite tools

face of the gollum sculpture at poulton hall by simon o'rourke

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture 1368 1824 Simon O'Rourke

Over the last few weeks we posted photos on social media of a Gollum sculpture Simon created. Thank you to those of you who left kind comments. It’s always encouraging to hear and see you enjoying Simon’s pieces. As always, there were questions about how to see it in real life, and about how Simon made it. And so, in this week’s blog we walk you through the process of creating the Gollum sculpture.

Sculpture of Gollum carved into a standing tree trunk, surrounded by the gardens at Poulton Hall. Sculpture is the work of chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke

About the Sculpture

Regular readers will remember that in July Simon created an Ent sculpture from a Monkey Puzzle trunk in the grounds of Poulton Hall;  the seat of the Lancelyn-Green family. The father of the current incumbent was Roger Lancelyn Green – well known author, member of The Inklings, and friend of J R R Tolkien. This connection was the inspiration for a Lord of the Rings sculpture, which ties in with some of the other sculptures in the ground which are also based on Fastasy Literature.
As well as the standing monkey puzzle stump, there was a good, workable piece of the monkey puzzle trunk left over. It was perfect for creating another Lord of the Rings sculpture for the grounds of the hall. In this case Simon created something better known: Gollum.

3m tall scultpure of an Ent, created from the stump of a monkey puzzle tree by chainsaw artist Simon o'Rourke

The Ent at Poulton Hall

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Evaluating the Timber

The first thing Simon does when he starts a sculpture, is evaluate the timber. There are a few things he looks out for. However the first is definitely looking at what is useable, and where there is rot. For those who are interested, Simon explains a bit more in this video about different kinds of rot. For those who prefer to read, we also have this blog explaining the difference between white and brown rot.
In the case of this stump, it looked pretty nasty on the outside, but had some good, solid timber on the inside.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture step one. Simon evaluates the wood. Photo shows a large stump of monkey puzzle tree lying horizontally on the ground. It appears to be rotten. A chainsaw sits on the top.

The monkey puzzle stump Simon used to create the Gollum sculpture.

Simon also has to evaluate the timber from an artistic perspective. Using his original sketches as a guide, he has to imagine the figure within the stump. This includes thinking about the position of the figure, and what sections can be used. He pays attention to any visible branches, knots and other characteristics that he can use to help give shape to the figure. He also needs to find the point at which he wants the head to sit. From there he can work out the size and proportions.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows SImon O'Rourke's original sketches of the sculpture. It shows the face from three angles, and two full length sketches of the sculpture.

Simon’s original sketches for the Gollum sculpture.

 

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Removing Large Facets

The next part of Simon’s process as he created the Gollum sculpture was to remove large pieces of the wood and outline the basic figure of Gollum. For this, he will use a ‘meaty’ chainsaw like the Stihl MS500i. It’s well suited to harvesting and processing large timber, but also makes easy work of this part of creating a sculpture!
Simon will still consider the original sketch, but at this point may need to change or adapt certain parts. As we have said before, wood is unpredictable. At this stage he may find pockets of rot, cracks and knots as he strips back the timber. All of these may mean needing to alter angles or even change a pose.
In Simon’s own words, this stage of the process is all about “working into the wood and working with it”.

The process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows simon o'rourke using a chainsaw to remove large pieces of wood from the trunk of a monkey puzzle tree. he wears stihl clothing and uses a chainsaw. a figure is beginning to emerge in the top half or the timber.

This part of the process is when Simon discovers problems or characteristics which will determine the basic figure of a sculpture

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Whittling Down the Figure

The next stage in the process of creating Gollum was whittling down the basic figure so the pose and proportions were correct. Most human form sculptures have specific fixed points and proportions that need to be considered at this stage. There is sometimes a formula for working those out, for example, The Golden Ratio. In the case of Gollum though, he is almost a caricature with certain features in very different proportion to a typical human. So in creating something like Gollum, Simon had to forget normal proportions and ratios.
Things he had to particularly consider were Gollum’s large head in comparison with his much skinnier body and limbs!

process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows a very basic outline of gollum carved into a tree trunk. there are no details such as fingers, face or clothing

It’s important to get the basic shape of the body correct at this point before details are added

It’s important for Simon to get this right at this stage. If he began working on details like facial features before this is done, it would be easy to make a mistake that can’t be corrected once the wood is removed. In particular, an anatomically correct head shape gives Simon the reference points to begin adding facial features.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: photo shows simon o'rourke using a chainsaw to create the head shape of gollum's head from a monkey puzzle stump

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Creating the Face

Once Simon is happy with the shape and pose, he can begin working on the facial features. One of Simon’s strengths as an artist is that his work always tells a story and invites the viewer to participate. The face is a key part in that. And that means Simon always needs to have a back-story in mind which will determine the facial expression. In the case of the Gollum sculpture, Simon wanted to go for a look of surprise. The sculpture is more reminiscent of Gollum’s alter-ego, Smeagal. He has just caught a fish which he is about to eat, and is caught off guard by someone or something disturbing him. The moment Simon captures in this sculpture is when Gollum turns to face the thing that has disturbed him, surprise on his face.

Surprisingly, at this stage, Simon doesn’t usually switch to smaller tools yet, and will still use a chainsaw! He is still able to create a lot of detail just by using a smaller chainsaw (such as the Stihl MSA 200c) and a smaller blade.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: simon o'roruke uses a stihl msa200c chainsaw to add facial features to the sculpture

Simon uses the Stihl MSA 200c to add facial features to Gollum

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Refining the Facial Detail

The final stage of creating a sculpture is to refine the details on the face – and indeed the rest of the sculpture. At this point Simon will use a Milwaukee angle grinder with Manpatools multicutter or Saburrtooth burr bits. The latter are especially great for adding shape and texture. For those who are interested in finding out more about how to use these tools, we have a blog about Simon’s favourite burr bits and how he uses them HERE. We also have a blog about the Manpatools tools he favours HERE.

Simon O'Rourke uses saburrtooth burr bits and a milwaukee angle grinder to add texture to the face of a Gollum sculpture

Simon will often use these smaller tools to get into small nooks and crannies and create small, deep features. The gaps in Gollum’s teeth in the photo above are a great example of this.
Unlike visual art where there are different tones and colours that can be used, Simon is dependant on different depths of cut creating shadows which create the illusion of shape and texture. This means that at this stage he may need to exaggerate some cuts and create depths or gaps that are deeper than they would be in real life. Examples of this in the Gollum sculpture are the eyes, toes, and the tunic.

close up of the face of the gollum sculpture created by chainsaw artist simon o'rourke

The Eyes

In the case of the eyes, Simon used the eye bit to create a deep cavity, where our eyes would usually be a ball shape. He left wood in place, and so created the illusion of a pupil.

close up of the toes on simon o'rourke's gollum sculpture.

The Toes

We can also see this exaggerated cut in the toes. Simon has created much deeper cuts than we actually have if we examine our bare feet. The shadow this creates help give the impression of five distinct digits. If he didn’t do this, the viewer would have only the impression of a foot rather than a realistic representation.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: close up of the tunic shows the exaggerated cuts simon uses to create shadow

The Tunic

The final example of these exaggerated cuts is the tunic, photographed above. In reality, this tunic would lie flat against Gollum’s legs. Simon, however, has made a deep cut along the edge of the tunic, which creates a thicker edge to the tunic, several centimetres removed from the leg underneath. This trick is what allows us to see that Gollum is indeed wearing clothing! Without that exaggerated gap and with no difference in the colour between the body and clothing, we wouldn’t be able to see the clothing from a distance.

process of creating the gollum sculpture: close up of simon o'rourke using a saburr tooth eye bit to create the cavity that will be gollum's eye

Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Knowing When to Finish

The final stage of creating a sculpture is refining the rest of the sculpture. This may include texture or folds in clothing, wrinkles in the skin or the fold of an elbow or knee. At this point though, the key part in the process is…. knowing when to finish!

Simon – like most artists – is committed to excellence. In a quest for perfection though, it can be easy to ‘over do’ it. There will always be small tweaks and refinements that can be made. However, Simon has to consider that those things may actually take away from a sculpture of this nature.
Simon also can’t rely on ‘am I happy with this?’ to determine if something is finished. Like most artists, he can be over critical and see flaws or things he would do differently next time, so that point may never come!

And so, at this point, Simon will be asking is the pose correct? Are all the proportions correct? Is the overall effect as it should be?
Yes?
Then the sculpture is finished!
And in the case of Gollum, we hope you agree that it’s another fantastic piece.

gollum sculpture by simon o'rouke

Sculpture of Gollum carved into a standing tree trunk, surrounded by the gardens at Poulton Hall. Sculpture is the work of chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about Simon’s process as an artist, we would love to answer them! You can contact Simon through his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or by filling out the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
That form is also the contact if you would like to commission your own sculpture.

Lastly, if you would like to see Simon creating this sculpture and hear his own thoughts on the process, we will have a video on Simon’s YouTube channel soon. Watch this space!

 

 

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces 2048 2047 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask what tools Simon uses to create sculptures. Sometimes that’s hobbyists and professionals, keen to learn from fellow artists. Sometimes it’s from people watching Simon carve live. People are often amazed to find out the chainsaws are the same tools used by tree surgeons!
When it comes to chainsaw, Simon has a long-standing relationship with Stihl. In fact, that relationship actually goes back to the very first time he used a chainsaw! Their quality and functionality make them a firm favourite. However, Simon also uses other powertools to refine his work. In this blog we will talk about his favourite tools for carving faces.

3m tree trunk in the process of being carved into a sculpture of a woman. She is surrounded by scaffolding, and two stihl chainsaws used for carving are photographed in front of the work in progress. Sculpture is the Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke, and the photograph is to show his favourite tools for carving faces.

Simon’s preferred chainsaws are Stihl, for their quality, innovation, and functionality.

 

Favourite Tools for Carving Faces: Saburrtooth Bits

In recent years, Simon has been using Saburrtooth Burr Bits to refine and detail his faces. They have become some of his favourite tools for carving faces especially, and an essential part of his kit. Each of the different shapes come in various sizes and levels of coarseness and can be bought separately or in complete kits. They really help take faces to a whole other level, whether that be the shape and structure or texture.

a close up of Billy Houliston's face carved in oak by simon o'rourke. The face is coarsely textured and demonstrates the impact of some of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces

The texture on the face of Billy Houliston was created with a large flame bit, extra coarse

1: Large Extra Coarse Flame Bit

The first of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the large flame bit, in extra coarse. It’s often the first of the smaller tools that Simon uses to create faces. It’s not only great for shaping, but also leaves the fantastic textured finish seen in sculptures like The Queen of the South footballers.

extra coarse large flame bit by saburrtooth, which is one of Simon O'Rourke's favourite tools for carving faces

Extra coarse large flame bit by Saburrtooth.

 

This particular bit is extremely versatile, has all kinds of uses when carving faces. Simon uses it to shape the corner of the eyes, form the bridge of the nose, and create the outline of the eye sockets. It’s also his tool of choice for the shaping underneath the chin, down the side of the mouth, and other gentle creases. This photo of it in action on the face of The Marbury Lady Sculpture again demonstrates the great texture it creates.

close up of a sculpture in process. the sculpture is a female face created by simon o'rourke and her face is being detailed using a daburrtooth flame bit, one of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces.

The extra coarse large flame bit in action on The Marbuty Lady

2: Large Coarse Taper Bit

Just like the flame bit, it’s obvious how the taper bit got its name! Like the flame bit, this taper is also essential in Simon’s kit.

coarse taper bit made by saburrtooth. photo demonostrates simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

One of the saburrtooth large taper bits in coarse grit

It’s another extremely versatile tool, and has two main uses depending on which side is used. Simon uses the point to shape the corners of the eyes, in both animal and human faces. It can also be used for the nostrils or lip line. As the tip is still quite wide, there won’t be very strong definition in these facial features yet, but it’s a useful starting point.
The other benefit comes from the flat side which is amazing for creating outlines and rounded shapes.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to use a flat edge for rounded features, the flat edge is definitely superior for creating convex curves, such as cheeks. The forehead, cheeks, neck and chin on Our Lady of Pen Llyn are perfect examples of curves you can create with this tool.

life size sculpture of a young female carved from oak by Simon O'Rourke

Simon often uses the flat side of the large taper bit for gentle convex curves like the cheeks, forehead and chin on Our Lady of Penllyn

3: Small Flame Bit

The next of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is (in his words) “a brilliant little tool“. It’s the small flame bit, and as with all the bits, comes in a variety of grains from fine to extra coarse.

small flame bit by saburrtooth. photo is included to show one of simon o'rourke's favourite tools for carving faces.

One of the small flame bits by Saburrtooth

When sculpting human form, Simon can’t rely on some on colour to create expression and shape. This means he has to create a realistic appearance, life, and expression through the shape and crucially,  differing depths of ‘cuts’.
This bit has a fine tip which can create a finer, deeper cut to refine the face. Some of the applications would be cleaner, clearer nostrils and lips than the taper bit. Simon also used this bit for fine curves and creases, laughter lines, eyebrows, and other creases in the skin caused by movement of the subject. This kind of detail is especially useful for sculptures which will be seen up close, such as the Ayrton Senna bust. Creating something this realistic out of wood replies heavily on the kind of fine, deep lines that the small flame bit creates.

a wood carved bust of F1 driver Ayrton senna in the workshop of creator Simon O'Rourke

close up of simon o'rourke using a fine taper bit to shape the face of a female sculpture. the bit is one of his favourite tools for carving faces.

Fine taper in action on Simon’s Oak Maiden

4: Extra Fine Taper Bit

The fourth of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the extra fine taper. This is used with a small rotary tool, such as a dremel.

Extra fine taper bit by saburrtooth, one of simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

Extra fine taper bit

If you watch the video on Simon’s Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/p/CEVNCZ6jGFW/, you will see this is an extremely thin bit. And thin, fine bits, create thin, fine details! Simon uses this bit for features like creating lines inside of eyelids for a sharper line and more emphasis. He also uses it for the top of eyelids and between the lips. But basically, it is ideal for anywhere you want to create a sharp, fine line.
As you can see, working with these smaller powertools means getting up close and personal with the sculpture! Being right on top of the sculpture can make it hard to get a real sense of what you are creating though. With that in mind, if you are using these tools, be sure to step back often to check. It’s also important when you do that, to assess your piece from multiple angles.

Sculptor Simon O'Rourke carving a wooden fairy at the Englihs Open CHainsaw competition

Some details require getting up close and personal!

5: Eye Bit

There’s a reason the eye bit has its name! With two flat edges moving to round, it’s shaped like a human eye. And – unsurprisingly – is another useful tool for sculpting eyes!

Eye bit by Saburrtooth

Example of an eye bit from the Saburrtooth range

The video below shows it best, but Simon uses this bit for shaping the eye when it is on its side. He also uses the point to emphasise the corners. Either way, it’s another of his favourite tools for carving faces as it provides great results.

Not Just For Humans!

Our examples so far of sculptures made with these favourite saburrtooth bits have all been human form. Although Simon’s favourite subject to sculpt is human form, he is also known for his amazing fantasy and wildlife sculptures. If you haven’t seen any by the way, why not check out the range of his portfolio at https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/ or follow on Instagram or Facebook?
But back to favourite tools!
In the same way that the bits we talked about today can be used for human faces, Simon also uses them when sculpting features on animal carvings. This Sri Lankan Lion sculpture shows how effective these bits are for creating those same textures and lines in fur!

a large coarse flame bit is being used by simon o'rourke to create texture in the mane of a lion sculpture

Large coarse flame bit in action on a lion sculpture

How Do You Use Yours?

We’re sure that tools this versatile have many more applications too. Why not drop us a comment with your favourite bits and how you use them? We’d love to hear from you, and it’s important to learn from other artists. Maybe you picked up some tips? Leave us a comment and photo of what you made – we’d love to see your work!

That just about finishes today’s blog, which we hope you found helpful in helping you select tools for your own projects. Before we go through, we couldn’t resist sharing one last sculpture featuring details created with some of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces. This one is Radagast the Brown from Lord of the Rings, and we just love the texture and lines in the beard and wisened face that help depict Tolkien’s character so perfectly.

radagast the brown from Lord of the Rings carved in wood by simon o'rourke

As always, if you feel inspired by some of the sculptures in this blog and would like to commission your own, contact us through the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.