Illustration

Creating a sculpture trail. Photo shows a collection of oak woodland animals on a workshop floor ready to be transported.

Creating a Sculpture Trail Part One: Proposal and Preparation

Creating a Sculpture Trail Part One: Proposal and Preparation 800 600 Simon O'Rourke

In the blog “Why is Art Expensive?”, we explained there is a lot of work that goes into creating a sculpture. That work goes far beyond carving, and may even need to be completed before a commission is confirmed. That is especially the case when Simon bids for a commission, rather than someone approaching him. In this series we walk you through the process of creating a sculpture trail, starting from the point Simon either has an interest in a project or has been invited to submit a bid…

 

Creating a sculpture trail. Photo shows a collection of oak woodland animals on a workshop floor ready to be transported.

The Page’s Wood sculpture trail sculptures ready to be transported.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task One: Understanding the Brief

The first task for Simon is to understand fully what the project entails. This includes not just the artistic/aesthetic elements, but also technical considerations too. And this isn’t just something for his own understanding. Simon will create a document for potential clients outlining his understanding of the brief, and explaining how his design meets the requirements.

That document will include the sketches of the sculptures themselves. It will also explain how/why they tie in with Simon’s interpretation of the brief, any story that goes with the sculptures, technical aspects (such as measurements), environmental impact, any measures to ensure longevity, and maintenance. At this stage, Simon will have also researched any relevant history/associations of the client/venue/locale. That research informs his design, and he’ll also outline those connections in this proposal.

 

part of a proposal from simon o'rourke for a sculpture trail. the bidding process is the first stage of creating a sculpture trail

Extract from a sculpture trail bid Simon submitted but didn’t win

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Two: Costing

At this stage, Simon will also need to work out the costs of the trail. Like coming up with the concept, design, and explanation, this can be very time consuming and may involve Simon getting multiple quotes before he can calculate costs. The final cost however is an important factor in a client selecting a bid. This means it can’t wait until after he gets the commission.  Simon must complete the work before he knows if he will get the job.

The quote includes the cost of site visits prior to the trail being made, as well as materials and labour to make the sculpture. Simon will calculate transport and installation, including any equipment hire needed at this stage. Finally, it also includes the cost of any extra materials, such as bolts or bobbins for installing the sculptures. Although it is more work for Simon (especially as he may not actually receive the commission), it offers a much better experience for the client, knowing that what they pay covers everything.

 

sample from a bid for a sculpture trail, part of simon o'rourkes process in creating a sculpture trail

Another example of a page from a proposal for a sculpture trail

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Three: Health and Safety and Method

At this stage, Simon waits to hear if the client accepts his proposal. He may already have put a couple of day’s work into the proposal itself as well as time to create some initial designs/sketches. Especially if he produced additional documentation, such as proving the chain of custody on the timber he will use. This is an important part of his commitment to sustainability, which may also be a part of the brief.

If Simon gets the job, at this stage he will finalise the designs, but also has MORE documentation to produce! As you’ll know from our Acton Safety blog, Simon takes health and safety seriously. This isn’t just about checking a few boxes to meet requirements. Rather it is part of his ethos to always create the safest possible working environment for his wellbeing, and that of his employees.

Before he can begin any sculpture trail, he completes a risk assessment and a method statement which details how and where the sculptures will be made.

Page one of a 12 page risk assessment for creating a sculpture trail

The first page of a 12-page risk assessment for the Fforest Fawr sculpture trail.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Four: The Legal Bit!

Once all of the above is in place, Simon and the client can finally exchange a contract for the sculpture trail. It might sound boring, but it’s essential for running a business well! Although sculpture trails are a great way to create revenue, they are definitely a big financial investment. Having a clear, well written, and comprehensive contract means that all Simon’s clients can feel certain as they move forward, reassured about what they will be receiving, when, and how.

extract from Simon O'Rourke's proposal for fforest fawr, part of the process of creating a sculpture trail

An extract from the proposal for Fforest Fawr sculpture trail, showing the sculpture and accompanying story.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Five: Making the Trail!

Now the documentation and design are completed, both parties are protected, the project is well set out, and expectations are clear. The client can look forward to owning some amazing, sustainable art, and Simon can get excited about carving! This means….it’s time to carve! But that’s a story for another blog! Follow the blog for notifications to see when Part Two is published where we’ll talk about creating the trail itself.

 

Chainsaw artist Simon o'rourke and his apprentice Paul Ossum in a workshop creating a sculpture trail with chainsaws.

Simon and Paul in the workshop, working on a sculpture trail together

Final Thoughts

It would be lovely as an artist to sit around and create all day. However, that isn’t the reality for most artists. We hope this blog has given you some insight into the process of creating a sculpture trail. Or, more accurately, of the work that goes into a proposal that may actually never come to fruition. And that it also gives you an idea of the process if you yourself are interested in commissioning a sculpture trail!

If you would like to know more, invite Simon to bid on a project, or commission your own sculpture, contact him at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We look forward to hearing from you!

commissioning the best sculpture: a sketch of a lion by simon o'rourke. It is the head and front legs on a lion standing on a plinth. the lion is suggested to be Aslan from C S Lews' Narnia series.

Commissioning the Right Sculpture – Why Some Designs Make the Cut, (!!!!), and Others Don’t!

Commissioning the Right Sculpture – Why Some Designs Make the Cut, (!!!!), and Others Don’t! 1430 2048 Simon O'Rourke

It’s probably no surprise that Simon has an archive of sketches that never became sculptures. There are all kinds of reasons for this. It is SO important for a piece of commissioned art to be EXACTLY what the client wants. This means that no matter how great an idea, sometimes it just doesn’t work out for a sculpture to be realised. Perhaps the design just isn’t quite what the client wants. Sometimes the budget, location, timing, or feel just don’t come together. In this blog, we share some of Simon’s sketches that didn’t ‘make the cut’!!! (see what we did there?!) and explore some of his thoughts on those sculptures. We also have some tips on commissioning the right sculpture for yourself…

Commissioning the right sculpture means exploring a variety of designs. Picture shows a faded photo of a garden with a tree stump. Simon O'Rourke has sketched his proposed sculpture over the photo so the client can imagine what that piece would look like. Proposed sculpture is a Japanese dragon wrapped round the trunk.

Simon will often overlay his design over a photo of the tree to help the client visualise the finished piece.

Commissioning the Right Sculpture: The Process

Essentially, the first step in exploring a commission is for Simon to produce a sketch and costs for the sculpture. If the tree is a standing stump, he will often sketch his ideas over a photo of the tree which makes it easier for the client to visualise the finished piece. Sometimes there will be some conversation about modifications (design and budget). Sometimes though, the conversation ends at this point. The design may be revisited for another client in the future. Occasionally Simon may have the opportunity to use it for a competition. Often though, that idea is archived, and those are some of the sketches we’re sharing here today.

Picture shows sketches of two different potential horse sculptures by Simon O'Rourke. Above each is text explaining the size, material and costs. Proposals like this are a key part in commissioning the right sculpture by an artist.

Proposals include details of size, material, and costs, and often include more than one suggestion

Simon’s Perspective:

As well as sharing some of Simon’s unused sketches, we wanted to ask his perspective on these pieces that never became sculptures…

commissioning the right sculpture: a sketch of a lion by simon o'rourke. It is the head and front legs on a lion standing on a plinth. the lion is suggested to be Aslan from C S Lews' Narnia series.

An archived sketch for an Aslan sculpture

Q: Simon, how does it feel when a customer says no to a sculpture?

A: “It depends on why they say no if it’s because of budget, I will always offer an alternative option. I never the price to put off a customer.”

Client tips:
  • Rather than being disappointed by a proposal for an unaffordable sculpture, mention your budget when you first begin exploring ideas.
  • If you are commissioning a piece for a public space it is also worth researching grants or considering crowdfunding.
sketch of a crocodile emerging from long grass. the sketch is a proposal by sculpture simon o'rourke. sketches like this are a vital part in commissioning the best sculpture.

An idea Simon had for a reptilian sculpture

Is it helpful when a customer has a firm idea of what they would like?

“Yes, it’s really helpful as it gives me a starting point for the design.”

Client tips:
  • Share as much as you can about what you are looking for in a sculpture. This can include pictures of other sculptures you like, artists you admire, or a specific style or story you want. Although Simon will never copy the work of another artist, it helps him come up with a design that is more likely to be perfect for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to come back to Simon with specific changes or tweaks. Your satisfaction with the finished piece is the most important thing, and dialogue (as we mentioned in our St George and the Dragon blog) is a big part of that.
Sketch of a proposed sculpture by Simon O'Rourke. It features a giant Prometheus leaning down and giving fire to a small human.

A proposal for a sculpture of Prometheus

Q: Are there any designs you have done or sketches that you have produced that you wish the client would have said yes to and why?

A: Yes, I designed a Marionnette for a client, similar to the one I’d done at the HuskyCup 2007!! Sadly the customer didn’t have the budget for it after the other sculptures he’d already commissioned from me!!!

Client tip:

Of course, we understand sometimes a sculpture just can’t happen. That said if you would like a collection of commissioned art pieces but budget is an issue, consider ways of using them to generate income. Could you open your garden on certain days as part of a town art trail? Or hire out the sculpture for events?

proposal sketch for a sculpture by simon o'rourke. the sketch shows a giant 'treefolk' while he talks to a young boy. marionette sitting

The original sketch for a marionette sculpture.

Q: If there was one thing that you could sculpt, that no other Sculptor had made, what would it be and why?

A: It would be a huge dragon, like, huge, that moved and breathed fire, and just looked awesome, and completely embodied all of the ideals of the mythological descriptions and imaginations of what we, today, think of as, a dragon!!!!!

Client tip:

Part of commissioning the best sculpture can be finding the right artist. If you have a sculpture in mind, research artists and see if any have a particular passion or focus that ties in with what you want. For example, somebody wanting a dancer in Impressionist style would do well to find a sculpture who admires and emulates Degas. For people wanting human form, dragons or fantasy sculpture, Simon has an incredible portfolio.

Sketch of a brick tower which has broken in half. Half lies on the floor. A dragon climbs the side of the standing tower. The sketch is a sculpture proposal by Simon O'Rourke, and sketches like this form an important part of commissioning the best sculpture for the client.

An archived ‘dragon and tower’ sketch.

Q: Have you got any regrets when it comes to some of the sketches you’ve done and jobs you’ve not got and if so, why?

A: I feel I could have been more adventurous with some of the public art commissions I’ve been asked to quote for. I’ve erred on the side of caution with some of my proposals and reckon if I’d have gone with my first instinct I would have got the job.

Client tip:

There is a better chance of commissioning the right sculpture if the artists bidding know what you are looking for. Mention particular styles, inspiration, mood etc when you announce a commission opportunity, and all your competing artists are more likely to propose something you love!

sketch of an ent by simon o'rourke.

Simon originally sketched this Ent as an idea for the HuskyCup

Commissioning the Right Sculpture for Yourself

If you are interested in commissioning your own sculpture, we suggest reading our blog “How to Commission a Sculpture“. It will help you understand the process. As you can tell from these unused sketches, we understand that an enquiry doesn’t commit you to a sculpture!
Simon would love to start the conversation with you though!

Or perhaps one of these sketches has caught your attention and you would like to know more about commissioning the piece?

Whatever your hopes for a tree carving sculpture, contact us via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will be in touch!