north wales

A Throne Fit for a King Officer

A Throne Fit for a King Officer 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sometimes you don’t need an excuse like an anniversary to install a piece of art.
Do you ever see something you admire and think ‘I’d like one of those’? That’s kind of what happened with this week’s featured sculpture: The RAF dragon throne.

Close up of the RAF Valley Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Behind the RAF Dragon Throne

The story of this sculpture actually began back in February, not long after Simon revealed The Dragon of Bethesda . Squadron Leader Leah Richmond at RAF Valley, Anglesey (North Wales) saw the dragon Simon had carved as a private commission. She had a space on the RAF base that needed ‘something’, so she contacted Simon about getting their very own dragon! Or at least, that’s the quick summary! Simon created this rather dignified looking beast in the Spring, and it was unveiled this week during the annual base reception and sunset parade.

RAF Valley Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Early work on the dragon throne

The Dragon Throne’s New Home

RAF Valley provides fast-jet training as well as training for aircrew working with search and rescue. The base became known throughout the UK when Prince William was stationed there 2010-2013. The North Waelsh population knew of it a long time before that however. Many a holiday-goer in Snowdonia is treated to the sight (and sound!!!) of a low flying Hawk!

The dragon was a meaningful choice for this base, as not only is the dragon on the national flag of Wales, but it is also on the RAF Valley emblem. This side by side shows how Simon has taken the very simplistic image from the badge, and re-imagined how that would translate into a real animal. The dragon’s expression and more rugged texturing (rather than smooth, even scales) really enhance the sense of a rugged,  aged guardian.

Comparison of RAF Valley Dragon with Simon O'Rourke's Sculpture

Comparison of the dragons

The Making of the Throne

Making the dragon took six days of work, from the initial hollowing out of the oak that is the main frame for the thone, to completing the fine detail. The shape of the wings which provide the back and sides of the throne, remain faithful to the dragon on the badge, and the overall scale provides a fittingly regal overall impression. Truly a throne fit for an officer!

As the oak ages, it will take on a much darker colour and warmer tones. In time, those tones will contrast beautifully with the seat which is made from Cedar of Lebanon. The cedar will also darken in time, but take on grey hues – coincidentally reminiscent of the RAF uniforms!

As always, Simon used his faithful Stihl chainsaws to create the throne. For those who are interested in this side of what Simon does, check out the MS 500i and the MSA 200 which were both used for this sculpture. Both have been great additions to his collection of tools. The MS500i is great for its power, lightweight design and how easy it is to operate when there is heavy duty ‘chopping’, hollowing and shaping to do! The MSA 200 gives Simon the usual Stihl functionality as well as all the benefits of using a battery operated saw – and is quiet enough to use on site in residential or public areas.

Completed Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke

The finished throne!

Unveiling the RAF Dragon Throne

The unveiling of the throne happened at the annual base reception this week. It made quite the impact, and was admired by the staff, local dignitaries and other attendees. It also created some entertaining Twitter conversation that you can read here!

Simon O'Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

Simon O’Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

 

Liz O'Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

Liz O’Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

This sculpture began life when somebody saw and admired another of Simon’s pieces. Which carvings have you seen and thought ‘I want one of those’? Drop us a comment below!
Even better, why not email [email protected] and have a chat about how you could have your own?

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint! So here they are: “Three Wise Dragons”.

The Setting

The dragons were a commission from Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. Eventually they’ll be surrounded by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment. In a few weeks when it’s finished, they will be the perfect backdrop for a holiday selfie!

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The History

The full commission was for a bench and three dragons. Here we have a very lovable version of: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – our Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure you’re familiar with. And now for some trivia!

The saying itself dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century. It was actually a 17th century wooden carving though that made the characters famous. We already thought it was fitting to have a dragon version for Wales. Once we discovered that, we thought it even more fitting that we’re continuing that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

The commission also included a dragon bench. In keeping with being a family venue, and wanting the dragons to seem fun and approachable for children, this docile looking chap is even taking a nap! Perfect spot for a bit of a breather while the kids play, or snapping a family photo.

Sleeping Dragon Bench

The Location

‘Hafan Y Mor’ means ‘sea haven’. It seems an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina.

Before we finish for this week, we’re intrigued to know: which one is your favourite? Comment below to tell us!

Don’t forget, you can also commission your own dragon by emailing [email protected]

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Simon is the artist behind most of the work we get at www.treecarving.co.uk. However, we have a few affiliates who work with us on certain projects. We also recommend them to clients if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features a project two of them worked on. The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant
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.  You can find Simon’s work in a few different places around the site. In fact, visitors are actually greeted by ‘Stanley’ at the entrance to the park. Pictured below, he is one of Simon’s older pieces.

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 Commission

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. Our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes completed most of the work over nine days in Spring 2017. The fort is made from some of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  This was a great idea because it gave us affordable and easy-to-access source of timber. It also ensured that the finished project is totally sympathetic to its environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

Finishing Touches
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.
We asked Nathan about the project.
“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*

Phase Two
The second phase was completed in January of this year. Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and a welcoming ladybird seat. These additions further reflect the local wildlife, and create a rest space so families can 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? We love seeing you enjoy our work!

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

About Nathan
Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver. He 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 is currently only available for work through Tree Carving.
About Dan
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 is also available through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website

Carving Dragons

Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Carving Dragons

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! OK, it isn’t quite as entertaining when we admit it means carving dragons, not training them or something. But still, pretty cool!

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised about how often Simon is asked to create a dragon. We’re based in North Wales where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century! They have long been used as a symbol of national identity, and we even have one on our flag!

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

Y Ddraig Derw

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 dragons in the past. As ‘carving dragons’ is definitely our theme for the year, we thought we’d give you a bit of a round up of some of the dragons Simon has made so far. And don’t forget to look out for more!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

Imagine Dragons

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Let’s face it, nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like! Although we have a pretty set idea, Simon still gets to use a lot of imagination and creativity 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

Receiving their Wings

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are outstretched, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance. There’s also then the question of 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! Alternatively if Simon uses other material instead of wood (as he did with Hemlock), what material 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

Telling Their Story

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

The (Dragon) is in the Details!

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. Whoever it was, it still holds true that there is something about a dragon story which captures imagination. That’s even more true in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 600AD! And it certainly seems the case with Y Ddraig Derw who has gone viral this week!

Y ddraig derw in Bethesday, North Wales

An Adventure Worth Telling

We already shared that this year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, and last week saw us working on another dragon sculpture. This time, Simon carved on location in beautiful North Wales, and it has been named ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon) by locals.
This dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, even before it was finished,and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages, and the number of people sharing online. It even appeared in the Daily Post  and BBC!
We’re grateful and humbled, 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. This piece of timber was simply begging to be carved! Everything about it was perfect, from the type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter. The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 Fallen oak that was to be transformed into Y ddraig derw

 

The Process

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. Simon completed the entire dragon on-site rather than transporting things from the workshop. This meant carrying large pieces up to the site use for the wings and legs. Definitely a good work out!
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 Dragon

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.

Simon O'Rourke pictured with Y ddraig derw in Bethesda, North Wales

Simon at work!

Visiting the Dragon

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s 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 for sharing your photos. It’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces. We’d love it if you could tag us in your posts so we can see them too! Use #simonorourke and #dragonofbethesda for this dragon.

Y ddraig derw by night.

PS: For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have 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