female form

Memorial sculpture for Robyn by Simon O'Rourke

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

A Memorial Sculpture for Robyn 1824 1368 Simon O'Rourke

In our blogs,  the perfect portrait sculpture for you part one and part two, we mentioned commissioning a portrait as a memorial. This week we would like to share a memorial portrait Simon recently created. In fact, it was Simon’s first piece after lockdown began to lift. Thank you to the family for allowing us to write about this memorial aculpture for Robyn.

A memorial sculpture for Robyn carved by Simon O'Rourke depicting a young girl as a fairy with a robin on her open hand

The Commission

Several years ago, Simon received a commission to create a sculpture for a local High School, in memorial of a young student who had tragically passed away. The family were touched by the way the sculpture captured their daughter’s character, even though Simon had never met her. More specifically, they were moved by the way Simon’s portrayal of Robyn captured her loving and caring nature. A

Memorial sculpture for Robyn, carved in oak, depicting a young girl reading a book

Simon’s original memorial for Robyn

Any death of a young person is difficult. However, for this family, there were also questions that took several years to settle. Thankfully they were recently able to find closure and resolution.
To mark the ending of this horrendous time in their lives they wanted to celebrate Robyn’s life. They also wanted to do something that would help eradicate the legal battle which had prevented them from being able to grieve their beautiful daughter. And so, when they moved house, they created a garden that would honour and remember her. Remembering the original memorial scultpure for Robyn that Simon had created, they commissioned a portrait for their garden.

 

memorial sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke in process. picture depicts a metal stool with a very basic outline carved in oak of a young girl sitting, woth a robin on her outstretched hand

The memorial sculpture for Robyn underway in Simon’s garden

Creating the Memorial Sculpture for Robyn

Although the commission was small in scale compared to many Simon has undertaken (have you seen the Giant Hand of Vrynwy or the Marbury Lady?!), in some ways, it was a big undertaking.
Ensuring a memorial sculpture captures and reflects the person is SO important as it is often a key part of the grieving process, and impacts the way the person will be remembered. Simon understands this, and takes time to ‘get to know’ the person through photos and conversation. He is then able to create a memorial sculpture that is truly honouring to the person.

In the case of Robyn, she was a caring, and loving young lady. The many cards the family received after losing her showed them how respected and valued she was for being a good friend. This sculpture shows Robyn at peace, and serene. It also reflects that caring and gentle nature through her body language and relationship with the robin on her hand.

close up of the face of the oak memoral sculpture for robyn by simon o'rourke. a young girls face is shown in an oak carving with a serene expression

Working from Home

Simon didn’t just face creative challenges with this sculpture. There was also the very real practical challenge of …… LOCKDOWN!

Health and safety of all the team is important to Simon and Liz. So, like many of the population, Simon had to work from home! Also like many of the population, that meant learning to deal with new interruptions (like the dog moving the video camera) and new distractions (a beautiful garden to tend) In case you didn’t catch them on our Facebook page, here are some of the videos of the memorial sculpture for Robyn in progress….

Back on the chainsaw after 8 weeks! It's been good for me to have a break though …

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

What a scorcher!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Finished Sculpture

As you can see in the videos, Simon used his Stihl cordless chainsaws for the bulk of the carving. He then used Saburrtooth bits to add details and texture. The memorial sculpture for Robyn is oak, which means it is sturdy and stands up well to the chainsaws! It also means it is durable, and will withstand wind and rain – essential for an outdoor sculpture. Oak tends to pull out more brown hues than blacks or greys. This means as the sculpture ages, it will both deepen in colour and become much ‘warmer’ in tone.  This video shows the finished piece from several different angles.

 

Here's a little video to show a different angle!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Friday, 22 May 2020

Testimonial

Simon received a lot of lovely feedback on social media when he originally shared the picture of the memorial for Robyn. Thank you to those who commented! The most important thing though is that the client is happy…..

I do need to thank you for undertaking the carving. As soon as I saw it I was so moved. It is beautful and I thank you for creating a carving in remembrance of Robyn

It is ALWAYS humbling to receive such lovely comments. Even more so when the piece marks the ending of something as challenging as these clients have walked through. Being a part of the healing journey for clients is truly an honour. We think Robyn looks beautiful in the garden created in her memory, and we hope this sculpture will bring the family joy for years and years to come.

Photo provided by client and used with permission.

Commissioning Your Own Memorial Sculpture

If you would like to commission a sculpture in memorial of a loved one, Simon would love to hear from you. Visit us on http://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to connect.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019

English Open Chainsaw Competition 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The August bank holiday means one thing in the Tree Carving Calendar – The English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition! This year it took place at the Cheshire Game and Country Fair during one of our warmest weekends of the year. We’re happy to announce that Simon took a first and second place!
english open chainsaw competition

THE COMPETITION

Simon entered the ‘Combo’ competition this year. This meant he had up to ten hours on day one to create a piece using ONLY a chainsaw.  He then had up to 15 hours on the Sunday and Monday for the ‘Full Power Event’. The artist can use any power or hand tools, paints, oils and varnishes for this category. For both events the timber is provided and the artist can’t add any fixtures.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at The English Open Chainsaw Competition

The fairy which took second place in the chain saw only event

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition

The angel which took first place in the ‘full power’ event

THE CHAINSAW COMPETITION

The Chainsaw-only piece was this fairy, created with Simon’s trusty Stihl chainsaws. Although using only chainsaws typically means less detail, we love the texture of her sassy bob, the movement of her dress, and the intricate twisted base. Although she is clearly a more modern take on a fairy, she also has hints of the form you expect from a classic renaissance cherub, and hints of light whimsy with the detail in her wings. The fairy took second place and was part of the auction where all the competing artists sell their work.

Fairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw CompetitionFairy carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

THE FULL POWER COMPETITION

Simon’s ‘Full Power’ angel took first place in the competition. Simon has recently been sponsored by Manpa Tools, and this was his first piece using their equipment since their sponsorship. This video shows Simon using their angle grinder to create the ‘drapery’ on the angel. Although the fairy doesn’t lack texture by any means, the Manpa angle grinders create more subtle texture and details. As a private commission, the angel wasn’t part of the auction, but as always, if you like her, Simon is available to talk about a commission.

Loving these grinder attachments from Manpatools!! Here's me using them to create some drapery!

Posted by Simon James O'Rourke on Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Angel carved by Simon O'Rourke at the English open Chainsaw Competition

Altogether there were 30 carvers representing 14 nations who took part over the three days. As well as the classic and combo competitions, there were also speed carvings over the three days, which somehow Simon also managed to fit in! The event was a great time to see talented artists at work, and to connect with the community.
When asked about the event, Simon commented: “It was great to be back at the English Open and I’m really thrilled I placed 1st and second in the combo competition, there were a lot of great pieces!