portraiture

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces

FAQs: Favourite Tools for Carving Faces 2048 2047 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask what tools Simon uses to create sculptures. Sometimes that’s hobbyists and professionals, keen to learn from fellow artists. Sometimes it’s from people watching Simon carve live. People are often amazed to find out the chainsaws are the same tools used by tree surgeons!
When it comes to chainsaw, Simon has a long-standing relationship with Stihl. In fact, that relationship actually goes back to the very first time he used a chainsaw! Their quality and functionality make them a firm favourite. However, Simon also uses other powertools to refine his work. In this blog we will talk about his favourite tools for carving faces.

3m tree trunk in the process of being carved into a sculpture of a woman. She is surrounded by scaffolding, and two stihl chainsaws used for carving are photographed in front of the work in progress. Sculpture is the Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke, and the photograph is to show his favourite tools for carving faces.

Simon’s preferred chainsaws are Stihl, for their quality, innovation, and functionality.

 

Favourite Tools for Carving Faces: Saburrtooth Bits

In recent years, Simon has been using Saburrtooth Burr Bits to refine and detail his faces. They have become some of his favourite tools for carving faces especially, and an essential part of his kit. Each of the different shapes come in various sizes and levels of coarseness and can be bought separately or in complete kits. They really help take faces to a whole other level, whether that be the shape and structure or texture.

a close up of Billy Houliston's face carved in oak by simon o'rourke. The face is coarsely textured and demonstrates the impact of some of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces

The texture on the face of Billy Houliston was created with a large flame bit, extra coarse

1: Large Extra Coarse Flame Bit

The first of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the large flame bit, in extra coarse. It’s often the first of the smaller tools that Simon uses to create faces. It’s not only great for shaping, but also leaves the fantastic textured finish seen in sculptures like The Queen of the South footballers.

extra coarse large flame bit by saburrtooth, which is one of Simon O'Rourke's favourite tools for carving faces

Extra coarse large flame bit by Saburrtooth.

 

This particular bit is extremely versatile, has all kinds of uses when carving faces. Simon uses it to shape the corner of the eyes, form the bridge of the nose, and create the outline of the eye sockets. It’s also his tool of choice for the shaping underneath the chin, down the side of the mouth, and other gentle creases. This photo of it in action on the face of The Marbury Lady Sculpture again demonstrates the great texture it creates.

close up of a sculpture in process. the sculpture is a female face created by simon o'rourke and her face is being detailed using a daburrtooth flame bit, one of Simon's favourite tools for carving faces.

The extra coarse large flame bit in action on The Marbuty Lady

2: Large Coarse Taper Bit

Just like the flame bit, it’s obvious how the taper bit got its name! Like the flame bit, this taper is also essential in Simon’s kit.

coarse taper bit made by saburrtooth. photo demonostrates simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

One of the saburrtooth large taper bits in coarse grit

It’s another extremely versatile tool, and has two main uses depending on which side is used. Simon uses the point to shape the corners of the eyes, in both animal and human faces. It can also be used for the nostrils or lip line. As the tip is still quite wide, there won’t be very strong definition in these facial features yet, but it’s a useful starting point.
The other benefit comes from the flat side which is amazing for creating outlines and rounded shapes.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to use a flat edge for rounded features, the flat edge is definitely superior for creating convex curves, such as cheeks. The forehead, cheeks, neck and chin on Our Lady of Pen Llyn are perfect examples of curves you can create with this tool.

life size sculpture of a young female carved from oak by Simon O'Rourke

Simon often uses the flat side of the large taper bit for gentle convex curves like the cheeks, forehead and chin on Our Lady of Penllyn

3: Small Flame Bit

The next of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is (in his words) “a brilliant little tool“. It’s the small flame bit, and as with all the bits, comes in a variety of grains from fine to extra coarse.

small flame bit by saburrtooth. photo is included to show one of simon o'rourke's favourite tools for carving faces.

One of the small flame bits by Saburrtooth

When sculpting human form, Simon can’t rely on some on colour to create expression and shape. This means he has to create a realistic appearance, life, and expression through the shape and crucially,  differing depths of ‘cuts’.
This bit has a fine tip which can create a finer, deeper cut to refine the face. Some of the applications would be cleaner, clearer nostrils and lips than the taper bit. Simon also used this bit for fine curves and creases, laughter lines, eyebrows, and other creases in the skin caused by movement of the subject. This kind of detail is especially useful for sculptures which will be seen up close, such as the Ayrton Senna bust. Creating something this realistic out of wood replies heavily on the kind of fine, deep lines that the small flame bit creates.

a wood carved bust of F1 driver Ayrton senna in the workshop of creator Simon O'Rourke

close up of simon o'rourke using a fine taper bit to shape the face of a female sculpture. the bit is one of his favourite tools for carving faces.

Fine taper in action on Simon’s Oak Maiden

4: Extra Fine Taper Bit

The fourth of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces is the extra fine taper. This is used with a small rotary tool, such as a dremel.

Extra fine taper bit by saburrtooth, one of simon o'rourkes favourite tools for carving faces

Extra fine taper bit

If you watch the video on Simon’s Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/p/CEVNCZ6jGFW/, you will see this is an extremely thin bit. And thin, fine bits, create thin, fine details! Simon uses this bit for features like creating lines inside of eyelids for a sharper line and more emphasis. He also uses it for the top of eyelids and between the lips. But basically, it is ideal for anywhere you want to create a sharp, fine line.
As you can see, working with these smaller powertools means getting up close and personal with the sculpture! Being right on top of the sculpture can make it hard to get a real sense of what you are creating though. With that in mind, if you are using these tools, be sure to step back often to check. It’s also important when you do that, to assess your piece from multiple angles.

Sculptor Simon O'Rourke carving a wooden fairy at the Englihs Open CHainsaw competition

Some details require getting up close and personal!

5: Eye Bit

There’s a reason the eye bit has its name! With two flat edges moving to round, it’s shaped like a human eye. And – unsurprisingly – is another useful tool for sculpting eyes!

Eye bit by Saburrtooth

Example of an eye bit from the Saburrtooth range

The video below shows it best, but Simon uses this bit for shaping the eye when it is on its side. He also uses the point to emphasise the corners. Either way, it’s another of his favourite tools for carving faces as it provides great results.

Not Just For Humans!

Our examples so far of sculptures made with these favourite saburrtooth bits have all been human form. Although Simon’s favourite subject to sculpt is human form, he is also known for his amazing fantasy and wildlife sculptures. If you haven’t seen any by the way, why not check out the range of his portfolio at https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/ or follow on Instagram or Facebook?
But back to favourite tools!
In the same way that the bits we talked about today can be used for human faces, Simon also uses them when sculpting features on animal carvings. This Sri Lankan Lion sculpture shows how effective these bits are for creating those same textures and lines in fur!

a large coarse flame bit is being used by simon o'rourke to create texture in the mane of a lion sculpture

Large coarse flame bit in action on a lion sculpture

How Do You Use Yours?

We’re sure that tools this versatile have many more applications too. Why not drop us a comment with your favourite bits and how you use them? We’d love to hear from you, and it’s important to learn from other artists. Maybe you picked up some tips? Leave us a comment and photo of what you made – we’d love to see your work!

That just about finishes today’s blog, which we hope you found helpful in helping you select tools for your own projects. Before we go through, we couldn’t resist sharing one last sculpture featuring details created with some of Simon’s favourite tools for carving faces. This one is Radagast the Brown from Lord of the Rings, and we just love the texture and lines in the beard and wisened face that help depict Tolkien’s character so perfectly.

radagast the brown from Lord of the Rings carved in wood by simon o'rourke

As always, if you feel inspired by some of the sculptures in this blog and would like to commission your own, contact us through the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

 

Perfect Portrait for You: Part Two

Perfect Portrait for You: Part Two 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

If you regularly read our blog, you’ll know that last week we began writing about the perfect portrait scultpure for you. We feel people sometimes shy away from commissioning a portrait. That can be for lots of different reasons. However, we also know that portraiture is extremely varied. Simon is also able to sculpt in many different styles and scales. This means there is ALWAYS a perfect portrait for you!

Last week we looked at some of Simon’s classic full length sculptures, and a classic bust. There is no doubt that every time Simon creates a new full full size portrait, it has impact. However, they may not be the perfect portrait for YOU. Space, budget, style preferences and more mean the perfect portrait for you might be something a little different….

Chainsaw carving artist Simon O'Rourke standing with his life size sculptures of soccer players kenny dalglish and Bill Shankley

 

The Bobble Head!

If a classic sculpture isn’t quite your thing, and you want something more ‘relaxed’, what about a bobble head?

Typically bobble heads are a figurine with a disproportionately large head mounted on a spring. This allows it to bob up and down – hence the name! They are often made as a caricature of a famous person. You can find out more in this article about the history of the bobble head as a portrait.


The perfect portrait for you, your space and your preferences might be something fun like this bobblehead sculpture of Gary Barlow. In the photo simon o'rourke is pictured with three shots of a full size sculpture of gary barlow with a disproportionately large head!

A bobble head portrait can be created in any size to suit your space. Simon can create a flattering representation, or more of a caricature or the person. They definitely bring some fun to the idea of a portrait! If a bobbing head causes you concern, don’t worry. Simon can still carve in this style with a fixed head that stays firmly in place!

perfect portrait for you might be a bobble head like this life size carving of chainsaw artist steve backus depicted with an oversized head and carrying chainsaw carving equipment

A bobble head of fellow chainsaw artist Steve Backus

The Collage/Group Portrait

Maybe you’re looking for something unique instead of a family photo. Or something to commemorate a team. n which case, the perfect portrait for you may be some kind of collage.

A collage can be created in an endless number of ways, depending on the number of subjects and how you want to pose them. Again, they are something a little different to a classic portrait. The presenters from BBC’s Country File certainly loved the sculptures Simon created for them a few years ago!

 

a perfect portrait for you and your family might be a collage. this photo is of a sculpture of multiple faces in one piece of wood.

Stylised/Modern

Are you more of a modernist when it comes to sculpture? Perhaps something more stylised would suit you. These faces were exhibition pieces Simon created at a couple of different events in 2019. You can read about their story in our Face to Face blog.
Even though they appear simple, in-person, they are incredibly striking!
Although these are not direct likenesses, they are great examples of Simon’s versatility as a portrait artist.

The ‘Cheeky Nod’

The perfect portrait for you may not actually be an actual portrait! Rather, it may be that you incorporate the features or likeness of someone into something else. Kind of a cheeky nod to the person rather than a formal depiction.

One example of that is Simon’s dragon for St George’s hospital garden. Mark Owen (former Take that singer) was the special guest who would be opening the garden. So, when Simon carved the dragon, he chose to use Mark Owen’s features in the dragon. It’s subtle, but there is definitely a fun likeness!

When might this ‘cheeky nod’ be appropriate? Maybe your club or society is commisioning  a sculpture to commemorate an event or occasion. The sculpture itself can’t be of the individual, but using the features of a specific key person on a character or object can be a fun way of acknowledging them and their involvement.

Singer Mark Owen photographed next to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

A chainsaw carved dragon by simon o'rourke in cartoon style. The dragon's face has been carved to incorporate the features of singer Mark Owen so it bears a resemblance to him

If that’s a bit TOO subtle for you, what about using the faces of specific people on other objects? More of a ‘hybrid’ or combination than just a ‘cheeky nod’ to the person.

One client did just that. She wanted traditional ornaments for her garden, like pixies, fairies and gnomes. However, as a loving grandmother, she also wanted to depict her grandchildren. That led to the unique commission below. Simon carved these cute miniature pixies appropriately sized for her garden. Rather than imagining a character and featurs for each though, the face of each sculpture was one of the client’s granchildren!

Three traditional pixies carved in miniature on a small tree stump.

The Wall Hanging

Finally, maybe space doesn’t allow for you to have a 3D sculpture. Maybe it just isn’t your thing. In which case, these illustrated wall hangings could be the perfect portrait commission for you.

If you have read his biography, you’ll know Simon trained in illustration. He initially had aspirations to be an illustrate children’s books, and stumbled into tree carving! An alternative to a sculpture is a portrait in wood. Like all Simon’s portraits (except a bust!), wall hangings can be for individiual or group portraits. They can be created in a wood to suit your room, and make a great gift or commemorative piece.

prefect portrait for you series featuring a pyrography portrait of marilyn monroe by simon o'rourke

 

The faces of the four beatles created by simon o'rourke through burning and etching a wood panel

We hope you have enjoyed exploring some of Simon’s portrait work. We also hope you feel inspired, and know that there really is a perfect portrait for you, no matter your preference, budget, space, or occasion!

If you would like to explore commissioning a portrait, contact Simon at http://www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

We’d love to hear from you!

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

A Bavarian Fairy Tale 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Event

Every two years friends of ours organise and host ‘Allgauer Schnitzevent‘ in the Bavaria region of Germany. As well as tree carving, there’s an opportunity to enjoy beautiful scenery and take part in family activities and games. Oh, and of course, there’s great German food and beer!

The event is a wonderful way of preserving the Bavarian tree carving tradition, and it’s an honour to take part. This year Simon carved the Bavarian Fairy of our title. We hope you enjoy reading about some of the challenges in making her, and how they are overcome.

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

The Bavarian Fairy

The ‘Bavarian Fairy’ Simon created is in the video below. She beautifully balances realistic human form (especially with her wistful or pensive expression) and whimsy or fantasy (her toadstool seat, and delicately patterned wings). Whilst Simon often uses a lot of texture to bring life to his human sculptures, we love how her smooth limbs and delicate hands and feet add to the sense of a delicate, whimsical being.

Apologies the video I posted yesterday was the wrong one so I deleted it! This one walks around the whole sculpture!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Sunday, 7 July 2019

Challenges with the carving

Carving faces is no easy task. In fact, Simon had to actually cut this one right back and start again! Part of the challenge he faces (pun intended?!) is getting a sense of depth when carving right on top of the sculpture. The face can look great up close, but it’s only when stepping back that it’s possible to get a sense of depth, and see if it’s ‘correct’.
Do the nose, cheeks and lips protrude the right amount?
How deeply set are the eyes?
Is everything in the right place in relation to each other?

Even then, it’s often not easy to say what needs fixing. Sometimes it’s only when it’s ‘right’ that both artist and viewer can see what was wrong before.

The fairy with her face in profile.

The technical stuff!

This is where training, and technical knowledge come into play. Simon has found researching what’s under the surface is essential for carving human form accurately.
What bones are there?
What about muscle definition?
Does that part actually move that way from that joint?

When carving faces, like many artists before him, Simon has been fascinated by The Golden Ratio.
“What’s the golden ratio?” Keep reading!

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio has been studied by mathematicians since Euclid. It’s a ‘special number’ (1.618) and describes how the length and width of an object relate to each other. You can find a simple explanation here.

Throughout time people have studied how it appears in different areas. This includes, geometry, nature (eg the human face) and even man made systems, such as financial markets. The artist Dali is known to have incorporated it into his work. Others have speculated that Da Vinci did too, although he seems to deny this. Even architects (eg Le Corbusier) and composers (eg Ravel, Satie, Debussy) have used the golden ratio their work!

 

Applying The Golden Ratio

In recreating faces, the golden ration applies in how the different parts of the face relate to each other, as well as their size and shape. It applies in at least eight different ways, maybe more! For those who are interested, some examples can be found here.

Although studying the golden ration can get quite in-depth and intense, it can often be simplified into a few simple pointers. For example:

  • The distance between the crown of the head and chin, is equal to the distance between the nose and back of the head
  • The gap between the eyes is approximately the size of one eye
  • The tip of the nose and the pupils form a triangle
  • The spaces from the forehead to the eyebrows, from the eyebrows to the bottom of the nose, and from the bottom of the nose, will be a third of the face each

As you can tell from this short ‘lesson’, there’s a LOT more to recreating human form than just jumping in with a brush, pencil or even chainsaw! And to succeed and improve, art, like most areas of life, needs study, practice, and – as with this fairy – humility of the part of the artist to recognise when something isn’t quite right, and re-work it.

What are some of the things you’ve studied or tips you’ve been given that made most difference to your art? Leave us a comment below and let us know!