legend

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

June 25th was Global Beatles Day. Yes, there is such a thing! It was created to honour and celebrate the ideals of The Beatles, and we couldn’t let it pass without a flashback to Simon’s Beatles carvings – our own tribute to the legendary musicians.

Simon carving The Beatles

Work in progress!

The Beatles were carved over four days in Liverpool in August 2017. It was part of an event at the pier head, so locals were able to watch Simon at work. Needless to say, they loved seeing their very own ‘fab four’ coming to life!


Each figure was carved out of its own piece of timber and took around six hours. From facial details to posture, each one is a great representation, and reflects Simon’s talent for human form. The ‘Fab Four’ were auctioned off in aid of Variety charity, and ended up raising over £15,000!

Simon with the finished band!

Since then Simon has recreated lots of figures from the airman at Highclere Castle to other Liverpudlians like Cilla Black and Ken Dodd. You can see some of his human form portfolio here.

If there are events, anniversaries etc that you would like marked with your own sculpture, get in touch with us at [email protected] to find out more.

Huskycup 2019

Huskycup 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

And just like that, Huskycup 2019 is over! After a week of carving by some of the best chainsaw carvers in the world, Blockhausen now has several dragons added to its exhibits – including the fabulous Water Dragon by Simon and Japanese tree carver Keiji Kidokoro.

As we wrote in THIS BLOG, Simon and Keiji had the freedom to make anything relating to the theme ‘dragons’. They decided to create a dragon which would reflect both their cultures, in an ‘east meets west’ Water Dragon.

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Initially the dragon seems predominantly Asian because of the serpentine shape and the wave it rests on. Closer look shows a beautiful merging of the cultures though. For example, the wings are very much the scale of those seen in western interpretations of dragons. It also features a more typically western profile with the sloped nose. Up close, we can also see scales more consistent with the dragons of Hollywood movies than those of Asian design.
What other features can you see belonging to each culture?

Initial sketch of Water Dragon by Simon O Rourke and Keiji

The initial concept sketch by Simon

 

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Part of the success of this dragon was working to each of their strengths. Simon and Keiji have carved together before (Japan 2015 & 2016) which was an asset when designing the piece. Simon imagined and drew the initial design, but very much incorporated Keiji’s skill in fine detailing and consistent texturing. Keiji is also talented with an airbrush, and painted the eyes and a piece of tail. We think both are lovely finishing touches which help bring life to the sculpture.

Keiji painting the eye

Keiji painting the eye

 

View showing the scales over the entire body

View showing the scales over the entire body

 

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

One of Simon’s strengths is creating movement and story in his pieces. As such, he enjoyed working on the coils that create the shape and movement of the dragon. That meant creating the shape of each piece, but also working out placement, so it would be realistic and retain the overall flow of the sculpture. We think he did a great job!

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Those who follow us on our Facebook page will have seen that the dragon wasn’t without its challenges though! Reaching some parts of the dragon needed some serious climbing and balancing skills! They also drew the smallest pieces of timber in the lottery, and later discovered some rotten wood which meant pausing work to resource something more suitable. Small challenges though in a week which was otherwise packed with successful carving, being inspired by others and enjoying time with the tree carving community.

Their initial wood supply

 

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Simon also got to try some new tools. As always, Stihl (Stihl DE) were faithful to provide chainsaws which are always up to the task! He also got to try some new angle grinding tools provided by Korean company, Manpa. It can be a bit of a gamble working with unfamiliar tools, but in this case it worked out. Both the Stihl and Manpa tools turned out to be great choices for Simon.

Simon working on some fine detail

 

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Huskycup is about more than the carving though. Blockhausen itself is always worth a visit, but part of what makes the event great and draws back such a high calibre of artist, is the atmosphere and community. The venue even features its own Walk of Fame, honouring artists in the tree carving community! Simon received his star in 2012, and he felt this year’s additions were great choices.

The finished head

The finished head

 

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

Oh, and for those who noticed the little guy at the front right of the photo? This baby dragon is not only bringing the cute to your screen right now (and showing Simon’s versatility in dragon carving!), but will feature in a charity auction.

Baby dragon for charity auction

Baby dragon for charity auction

For those wanting to see more, the organisers have already started to upload photos and videos which you can enjoy HERE.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself! Huskycup is open to the public, and Blockhausen is open all year round where you can see the Water Dragon for yourself, as well as other creations from over the years.

Recreating an Icon

Recreating an Icon 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
  • She was originally created in 1909
  • She’s based on the then company secretary, Eleanor Thornton
  • The owner of the company didn’t agree with her presence, even though today she is synonymous with the brand
  • She has been made from silver and gold plated nickel or steel, stainless steel, crystal, with adaptations such as black matte paint, diamond studding or even ‘faberge’ styling
  • She has had many names, and is sometimes still known today as Emily, Silver Lady, or Flying Lady
  • We’re featuring her in this blog because it ties in with the London Motor Show which is being held this week

Can you guess what today’s blog is about yet?

What about from these photos of the work in progress?

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

Today’s featured work in progress

Some of that was probably a bit obscure, so we won’t leave in any more suspense!

Today we’re featuring Simon’s representation of ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’; the figurine found on the bonnet of Rolls Royce Vehicles. If you were to wander around the Motor Show this weekend, we’re pretty sure you’d see a few different examples of her – but none quite as tall as this one!  We also have a feeling she’s the only one carved out of oak!

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O’Rourke

This particular sculpting of the iconic figure was a private commission for the garden of a Rolls Royce enthusiast. She was quite the undertaking as she is ‘larger than life’, and took several days to complete. With her grace and elegance though we think that she’s the perfect addition to this car-lover’s garden, especially months on, when the plants have matured around her plinth.

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke with matured plants

Spirit of Ecstasy with matured plants

The figure of ‘The Flying Lady’ lends itself nicely to becoming a classical-looking garden statue. It got us wondering though, for all the other car lovers out there, what other emblems or figurines would you like to see Simon carve?

Perhaps the Ferrari horse for their head office in Maranello?

Maybe a jaguar for a fountain of the grounds of ….well, Jaguar?

Or, for something really obscure, a Marlin for a classic car collector?

Comment or tweet to let us know your ideas!

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O’Rourke

If you would like a carving for your offices, community area, home or garden to reflect your passion or hobby, contact @[email protected] to commission something truly unique to you.

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information

 

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS

A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more (it was attributed to J R R Tolkien for a long time), but it seems it still holds true that there is just something about a dragon story which captures imagination, and keeps being retold – especially here in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 7th century!

Having shared already that the year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, last week saw us working on a dragon sculpture which was carved on location in beautiful North Wales: ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon).
Even in process, our latest dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, and since then we have been overwhelmed by the positive messages we’ve received, the volume of shares online, and the number of people choosing to re-tell the story of this carving. Even the Daily Post  and BBC reported our story! We’re grateful and humbled by it all, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

THE COMMISSION

Several years ago, a 200 year old oak split, and half that fell was lying across a rock.  Sometimes in carving, we find the tree and sometimes the tree finds us! In this case it was the latter. The type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter meant this was a piece of timber begging to be carved! The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 

 

THE CARVE

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. It was carved entirely on-site which also meant a good work out, as we had decided to create a ‘full dragon’, which meant carrying pieces up to use for the wings and legs! With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

THE FINISHED PIECE

The finished sculpture is about 25′ long, and overlooks the road. With its craning head and open mouth, it looks like a guard dragon, roaring over those who would seek to enter its territory! Although it is on private land, there are a few public footpaths nearby for viewing, and it is visible from the southbound A5 between the first and second exits.

VISTING THE DRAGON

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s in a bit of a tricky spot to stop for photos. We’d love for you to see him in person, but encourage you all to do it safely please! For exact location and tips for parking, please visit THIS POST on our Facebook page (it’s public, so you don’t need Facebook to see it).

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and to those of you who have also shared photos – it’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces.

PS For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have one of our dragons come to you? Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for shows, weddings, parties etc, and is always a big hit!

 

Photos of Y Ddraig Derw at night are taken by local photographer Derfel Owen and used with permission