nature

It’s a Jungle Out There!

It’s a Jungle Out There! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every year the village of Garderen (Netherlands) is proud to be home to Zandsculpturenfestijn. It describes itself as  ‘Europe’s most beautiful sand sculpture park’  and has won several regional tourist awards. As well as sand sculpture, the outdoor part of the exhibit also features wooden carvings, and Simon was invited to contribute again this year.

Simon working on his exhibit – easily identifiable by his Stihl clothing!

The theme for the year (‘Journey Round the World’) gave a LOT of scope for the artists to create natural wonders, architecture, people and animals. The artists who were there at the same time as Simon though all focused on nature, and created animal carvings. Animals make up the majority of Simon’s work at the moment, but as this wasn’t a commission where he had to replicate one specific animal, he decided to stretch himself and try something a little different, inspired by one of the indoor sand pieces.

The exhibit that inspired him was a huge jungle scene with lots of different animals. Simon set himself the challenge of creating something similar which would feature lots of different animals. The result? A hollowed-out seat (or throne) featuring not one or two animals, but 34!

The finished Jungle Seat

The finished Jungle Seat

Simon had a few ideas, but the decision about the final piece was settled by the piece of wood itself! Nick Lumb of Acorn Furniture (where Simon began his carving work) recently said that one of the enjoyable things with working with wood is that you never reach the end of learning about it. Other materials behave a specific way under a specific set of conditions. However, wood is different every time – you never know fully what you will get  until you begin to cut. In this instance, Simon discovered some defects in the centre, so decided to hollow out the timber, and so the ‘seat’ concept was born!

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke at Zandsculpturenfestijn

Two more angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Creating 3d, realistic animals like this is no easy task. Simon had to find a way to create depth when the piece of wood didn’t allow for large, dramatic shapes. The effectiveness of the piece is all down to deep relief cuts to create the shapes of the animals and foliage, with much more shallow cuts and markings to create the outstanding details, such as the smile in the eyes of the sloth, or the slightly grumpy crocodile as well as the varying textures of fur, feather and scales.

Close up of the sloth and crocodile in the Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the sloth and crocodile

Much as we love them, photos of all 34 animals would be a bit much for one blog post. Why don’t you take a look at them here and let us know your favourite? You can also watch this video (posted below for those who can see it) to see Simon’s own explanation of the seat too!

 

 

 

 

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke

In honour of this year’s Earth Day, we thought that we would spend some time in this blog talking about one of Earth’s most vital resources, and the basis for all of Simon’s work: trees!

As the biggest plants on the planet, they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They are also the material that forms the basis for everything that Simon produces , whether life size human form commission, furniture, or accessories (have you ever seen his bowties?!)

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Working with trees as a ‘medium’ wasn’t something Simon had planned as a career when he left school and began his degree in illustration. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon while he built up his illustration portfolio, and began working for the first time with chainsaws – notably Stihl, who, in one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, are now his current sponsors!
Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, he tried his hand at carving. There was something special for him in discovering that “such a potentially destructive tool can be used to create beauty”, and the rest, as they say, is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Even though a sculpture may be planned with sketches drawn and an idea of what it should look like when realised, it has to evolve a lot once the carving actually begins. The grain dictates where the natural strength of the timber is and can give so much inspiration for the shape of a sculpture. Every tree is unique and you never know what you’re going to find when you cut into a piece.

 

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

On a day like earth day when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from and how good it is for the environment.

One advantage of working with a natural material is that although it weathers well (the colouring changes very quickly once outside, and becomes even more interesting with age), eventually it will degrade as all wood does, and is returned to the earth. In addition, all of Simon’s work is carved from trees that have either fallen naturally, or on trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location, such as domestic housing or managed forests and woodlands.One of the most popular examples of this is his carving from earlier in the year of The Dragon of Bethesda, a commission that had its birth in an arboretum owner wishing to do something with a storm-damaged fallen tree.

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

As lovers of the outdoors and environmentally aware citizens, Simon and his wife Liz enjoy the opportunities that they get to educate others too about the resources we have and how to take care of them through their work. Whether it takes the form of educational captions on a nature trail commission, sharing their hearts in interviews, or through Liz’s role as a forest school teacher, their appreciation for the world around them is clear, and not only do they model responsible use of the world’s resources as individuals and businesses, but they also inspire others to do the same.

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the re-purposed wood, using off-cuts from scupltures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the repurposed wood, using off-cuts from sculptures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

If you find yourself with a tree that has fallen or been damaged, why not talk to us about giving it new life as a sculpture for your home or garden? Simon is available to talk about possibilities at [email protected]

 

International Pet Day

International Pet Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

11th April was International Pet Day and as a bunch of animal lovers, we loved seeing all the photos of pets that appeared online. Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so we thought that in honour of International Pet Day, we’d use this blog to share with you 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

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

Our most recent Pet Portrait was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process and are fascinated watching Simon in action, so last week he got out his Olfi Action Camera, so you can see him at work!

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

 

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

If you are interested in having a Pet Portrait, whether sculpture or illustration, please get in touch with us at [email protected]
Simon is able to work from photos or in-person ‘sittings’ and we’d love to talk with you about your vision.
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, just visit his portfolio on the new website.

We leave you this week with some examples of other pets; Debbie the cat and Dan the horse!
And of course, no International Pet Day Blog would be complete without our own O’Rourke pet and Tree Carving mascot, Poppy – 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!

Spring it On!!!!

Spring it On!!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, it was the first day of Spring this week and that means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays, even if we haven’t quite caught up!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sun shining, walks in the park, nature bursting into new life, and all the cute and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms, and even those wet, rainy days seem better as the newly budded blossom on the trees and the touch of colour of daffodils and tulips springing from the ground remind 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 as well as (hopefully) some inspiration for your own gardens!

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 keeping it realistic (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised, so what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate (anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!!) which means we also can’t help but think of Easter, and the ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny! As carving in a material like wood lends itself beautifully to garden ornaments, woodland trails etc, it’s no surprise that Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends, whether real or imagined…..

Our teams are also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’, and if you’re anything like us, are only just starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter, and beginning the preparation work that will pay off in summer when it’s all organised and in bloom, or in Autumn when you reap the harvest.

If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, or after cleaning up, find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, why not consider commissioning something unique from us?
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.

We hope that whatever the start of Spring has looked like for you, that it’s one that, just like the season, is full of new life and hope.
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

A Very Wooden Valentines

A Very Wooden Valentines 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

After a January seemed to last forever, February is finally here and that means love is in the air! Or at least, all things pink and glittery are!
Whether you view Valentines Day as a romantic celebration or a money-making Hallmark Holiday, we thought you might enjoy some of these ‘love’ themed creations from Simon, and maybe be inspired for some of your own gifts for loved ones, whether for Valentines, birthday, anniversary or even a wedding.

Beauty and the Beast

 

For many of us, Disney was our first introduction to romance, and Beauty and the Beast has enthralled and entertained since Celine Dion first sang ‘Tale As Old As Time’ in 1992. We often get asked about the colouring in this sculpture. It was actually accidental (steel in the log) but has really grown on us, and as the wood weathers, will make for a stunning rustic look in a few year’s time.

 

 

These elephants in love already warm our hearts, but will take on an even more whimsical, fairy tale look when the magnolia behind them is in full bloom! Designs like this are perfect to make something more personal and romantic out of a practical/functional gift like this bench. Ideal for that fifth (wooden) or ninth (willow) wedding anniversary!

 

Photo used by permission of Abbi Photography

 

If it’s going to be a wooden gift, it doesn’t just have to be a sculpture. Last year our friends wanted something truly unique and personal to them, and commissioned these wedding rings for their colourful autumn wedding. Jewelry is a classic gift for a loved one, and if the source is something meaningful to you like a tree from your favourite park or a first home, how much more special!

 

Custom wedding rings and ring stand

 

Whether you spend Valentines Day with a loved one, friends, or going solo, we hope you enjoy the day and feel loved and appreciated – and find plenty of discount priced chocolate in the days that follow!!!!!

Wedding rings and bouquet photo supplied by and used by permission of Abbi Photography

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

 

Taking Flight

Taking Flight 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Happy New Year to all our readers!

After a lovely Christmas with family, friends, birthday celebrations and some travel, our work for 2019 started by completing this carving of an eagle coming in to land.

As this new year takes flight (see what we did there?!), it has been exciting to meet as a team and look forward to the exciting projects it holds, and we look forward to sharing them with you in the weeks to come. Look out for pet portraits, woodland trails (including some story writing!), beautiful gifts and commissions for homes and gardens, competitions, demonstrations, and more. We are delighted about a pitch that was won this week (to be revealed in the coming weeks) as well as one particular extra-exciting completed project which we will be able to share with you later in the year, and – as always – we are thankful to all our customers and supporters for making this adventure possible.

Returning to our first project of the year, in many traditions and cultures, the eagle represents:

  • Strength
  • Courage
  • Hope
  • Resilience
  • Healing
  • Vision
  • Rising above problems

and the ability to soar to heights that others are unable to reach.

However your new year started, we would like to wish all of our customers and supporters all of those things the eagle represents in this year to come, as well as the confidence and strength of the eagle to reach heights you never thought possible.

Woodland Friends

Woodland Friends 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon (photographed here on day one) has been working on a couple of commissions for local gardens; transforming the trunks into woodland themed sculptures.

Working on the first sculpture of the week

 

During the week, a fox, owls, woodpecker and squirrels appeared in the timber, as well as the timber being given the realistic-looking shape and texture of a tree, with added details like knots, branch stumps and nut hatch that regular followers will know are typical of Simon’s sculptures. Each of the animals carved was given a story of its own too, with attention being given to the focus, expression and movement of each. Although each of the animals is clearly alive and participating in the life of a forest, one of the beautiful things about these sculptures is that they are not so prescriptive that they tell the whole story, leaving aspects to the imagination of the onlooker.

Woodland scene number two from the week

 

Who or what is the fox watching?

What is it behind the owl that has caught his attention?

Is the squirrel running for play, returning to its home in a hurry to avoid a storm, or looking for escape as it’s chased by a local dog out walking?

Maybe something about the eyes and expression or the movement reminds you of a scene from a childhood story of woodland creatures?

Visit our Facebook page for yourselves to see more photos and videos of the finished pieces, and fill in those gaps in the stories for yourselves. Feel free to leave a comment on our photos and videos too, letting us know what you thought!