Simon O’Rourke

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

Over the years Simon has created several Woodland Sculpture Trails. As we can’t easily go out and access our beautiful woodlands during lockdown, we thought we would bring them to you! Over the next few blogs we will share Simon’s Woodland Sculpture Trails so you can see them at home. And maybe once lockdown is over, you will feel inspired to go and see them for yourselves. We’ll also include some of the story behind their creation.
The first in our series, is Meadow Park, Ellesmere Port.

Original concept sketch of Ruby the Owl from meadow park woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Original sketch of Ruby the Owl

About Meadow Park

Meadow Park is a green space in the North West of England, on The Wirral.  The Friends of Meadow Park have been working on improving the space since 2013. Their vision is to involve local residents in improving the space and making it a centre for recreation, education and practical conservation.  If you read our previous blog about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, you’ll know this vision is something that is shared by him and his wife Liz. In fact, Liz is a qualified forest school teacher!
The idea for the sculpture trail was part of their improvements to the area. Simon worked on the project in the latter half of 2017, and the whole thing was installed in December of that year.

Ruby meets an adder from Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke

Wildlife Education

One of the goals when Simon creates woodland sculpture trails is to raise awareness of local wildlife. In the case of Meadow Park, he did this through story form.
Using stories actively encourages the viewer to follow the whole trail and brings about a connection to the wildlife through characterisation. It also aids the educational content, helping families with young children to engage with the message.
And so, to aid with that, he and Liz created Ruby the Owl.

The Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture trail follows Ruby as she explores the area and looks for a place to call home. Along the way she meets other animals in their habitat, creating a delightful range of characters, akin to classics such as Watership Down, Animals of Farthing Wood or Wind in the Willows.

Ruby the Owl by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the owl is searching for a home.
Looking for a place to call her own.
We’re sure you can help, we have no doubt,
Can you join her and seek it out?

Ruby’s Adventures

Ruby has proved very popular with the local population as well as visitors from further afield. However, she also had a few adventures that Simon and Liz didn’t author! After the successful opening of the trail, Ruby clearly caught the eye of some local thieves. She disappeared one night, and even made it on the local Television news! Thankfully Ruby was returned, and she was reinstalled in her home not long after.

And so, grab a cup of tea or coffee (maybe make it in a flask to make it seem authentic?!), and join us as we take you round the rest of the Meadow Park Sculpture Trail, along with the original sketch……

Ruby Meets an Adder
owl meets adder woodland sculpture by simon o'rourke

Along the path in the long long grass,
An adder slithered and wriggled past.
Is this my home? Said the owl with a frown,
I can’t stay here, it’s too low down!

Encounter with a Squirrel

Original sketch for ruby meets a squirrel by simon o'rourke

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Tree carving sculpture of ruby the owl and a squirrel

In the fork of a tree is a leafy drey,
And a sleek little squirrel, furry and grey.
Is this my home? It’s a cosy little ball,
But I can’t fit my head in, it’s far too small!

 

 

 

Meeting the Bat!

Bat sculpture from meadow park sculpture trail by simon o'rourke, original concept sketch

Ruby and the Fox

Owl and fox tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke

By the roots of a tree, in a hole in the ground, A fox with a bushy red tail is found Is this my home? Lined with soil and bark? I don’t like it here, it’s much too dark!

Meeting the Toad

Original concept sketch ruby and the toad simon o'rourke

On the edge of the brook, in an old wet log
A fat warty toad looks at home in the bog.
Is this my home? It looks a bit grimy,
I can’t live here, it’s far too slimy!

A Heron Along the Way

Heron meets ruby the owl in one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

Here’s a pond with reeds and trees
And a tall tall Heron, with knobbly knees
Is this my home? It’s not too flashy,
The watery pond is too wet and splashy!

Ruby and the Rabbits

Concept sketch by simon o'rourke for ruby the owl meeting the rabbits

Here’s a warren with holes and furrows
With Rabbits a plenty, making long long burrows.
Is this my home? It seems quite handy…
But the long long tunnels are far too sandy!

Then Ruby Finds her Home

original concept sketch from meadow park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke of all the animals gathered together

Here’s a hole in a hollow tree
Out of the rain and lined with dry leaves.
Is this my home? Yes yes, You’ll see,
It’s warm, and dry and perfect for me!

As you can see, in the final sculpture where Ruby finds her home, Simon cleverly incorporated all the characters.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, that’s something that we, as humans get to decide for them in many ways. Our hope is that through trails like these we are able to encourage people to engage with their environment in positive ways. We hope that the characterisation makes the wildlife more real to them. Then, in turn, they will become part of a movement that helps sustain and not plunder the earth.

We hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Meadow Park Sculpture Trail. Next week in our Woodland Sculpture Trails series, we will take you to Page’s Wood in the South East of England.

Until then, enjoy the outdoors in your area, whilst also staying safe.

Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke. This is one of his many sculptures of myths and legends.

St George and the Dragon Sculpture

St George and the Dragon Sculpture 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

It’s a day late, but Happy St George’s Day to my English friends!
It’s actually quite the week for important days. The Queen’s birthday, St George’s Day, and the anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and death. Definitely lots of choice there for a blog that fits the calendar! We decided to balance out all the dragons on this blog a little though, and share about this St George and the Dragon sculpture. I actually carved the piece earlier this year, so you might have seen the pictures on social media already. Every sculpture has its own story though,  so keep reading to find out about this one…..

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Subject

This St George and the dragon sculpture was a commission from a client in the south of England. She had an oak stump in the garden, and began exploring ideas with Simon as to what it could become.
Commissioning a sculpture is never just one email requesting a particular subject. There is the actual timber itself to consider (is the size, shape etc suitable), client preferences, artist vision and skill, and the overall impact in its environment. Investing in a piece of art isn’t a small decision, especially when it’s a tree stump and physically not so easy to move as selling a small picture!

In this case, of the ideas discussed, St George was most meaningful to the client. St George’s Day is special to her as it is also her birthday! The sculpture will now be part of her annual celebration as, in her own words, she can “raise a glass every year standing by [her] stunning tree carving!”

Original client concept sketch of St George and the Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

Original sketch for the commission overlaying the stump

Finalising the Design
Once a subject is chosen, there is still more discussion between Simon and a client. Simon will share some of his ideas, as well as talking about how to make that happen. He will take into account not only the kind of piece the client wants, but also the timber. Sometimes there may be cracks that need to be taken into account. Other times there may be a beautiful grain pattern. Sometimes knots or the shape of the branches will lend themselves to a particular feature.
Close up of St Georg in the St George and the dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Refining an Idea
In this case, some of the main conversation points were focused on:
Scale
Given the diameter of the trunk, St George couldn’t be life size. Simon suggested that instead, he could be stood on a precarious pile of rocks, which would give a nice context. Ultimately, St George would need to be no higher than 18″. This ‘miniature’ turned out to be a fun contrast for Simon, as it immediately followed the Marbury Lady!
Story
Those of you familiar with Simon’s work, know he takes his inspiration from artists like Rodin and Bernini. They changed the concept of portrait work from being static, to telling a story. In the same way, Simon’s work always invites the viewer into a narrative. In this case there was a natural story to tell…..the legend of St George and the Dragon.
St George and the Dragon sculpture by Simon O'Rourke
Choosing the Narrative
SPOILER ALERT!
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of St George and the Dragon, basically an English knight tames and slays a dragon. Simon suggested that this sculpture incorporate that story. His suggestions included portraying George in the act of stabbing the dragon with a spear.
Alternatively, he suggested the dragon could be underneath him, or it could be rearing up above him, even adding wings on to give a striking silhouette.
This is where dialogue is important, as although these ideas could look fantastic, they weren’t fully what the client was after. She had concerns stabbing the dragon could look a little macabre (and who wants to celebrate a birthday that way!!), and wanted the emphasis on St George.
With this in mind, Simon decided to include the dragon as part of the story, but to merge it into the trunk. As well as hinting at the legend, this would also have the effect of emphasising the figure of St George. And so, the St George and the Dragon sculpture was decided!
Dragon from Simon O'Rourke's St George and the Dragon sculpture
Creating the St George and the Dragon Sculpture

As you look at the concept sketch next to the finished design, you will notice it wasn’t identical. This is part of the process of working with wood. When Simon saw the stump in person, the design changed due to the centre of the tree being offset. This meant that as it ages, it won’t split as much, as if he had used the original design.

Concept sketch with finished st george and the dragon sculpture

Creating this in the client’s garden involved copious use of the Stihl battery saws. As he was carving, Simon hit a few nails, hence the dark blue staining on the inside of the tree. Luckily he had spare chain with him for the saw he was using for detail. Hitting metal with that delicate chain is usually terminal for the cutters!!

 

St george and the dragon in process

The sculpture as Simon finished with the chainsaws, and was ready to begin with the smaller tools.

Saburrtooth burrs also played a bit part in the detailing. The detail on the face was made using the 3/8″ eye cutter and 1/4″ taper – a couple of staple tools that Simon relies on.

 

Visible detail on St George and the Dragon Sculpture by Simon O Rourke

Visible detail on the rocks and dragon

And that brings to an end our story of the St George and the Dragon sculpture!
We hope you enjoyed hearing a little more about the process behind finalising a design.
If you would like Simon to create something truly unique for your own home, garden or business, contact him on [email protected]
Although at the moment he is unable to carve at the moment, he is still able to sketch ideas and work on initial concepts and quotes, as well as working on his upcoming online art courses.

Next week, as we can’t go outdoors and travel as much, we will be bringing some of the UKs forest trails to you instead!

We leave you with the time lapse of the creation of this stunning St George and the Dragon sculpture.
Stay safe, and stay well.

 

 

 

Thinking about superheroes: spierman by simon o'rourke

Thinking About Superheroes

Thinking About Superheroes 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

This week we’ve been looking through old photos and videos, and remembering some fun commissions.  There are several comic book characters among Simon’s past pieces, which got us thinking about Superheroes. Come and join us on this walk down memory lane, thinking about superheroes Simon has made before…..

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Some superheroes like Batman have great physical strength, intellect, wealth, and some awesome technology! This batman sculpture also helped sell a house!

Thinking about superheroes: spierman by simon o'rourke

Other superheroes have incredible agility. And let’s not forget their unfortunate back story (radioactive spider bite anyone?) and profound quotes!

thinking about superheroes: superman wooden illustration by simon o'rourke

When thinking about superheroes, we can also be impressed by their lightning speed. Or their ability to fly. Or,  and the way they somehow still ‘get the girl’ whilst wearing their underwear on the outside!

groot tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke

Other superheroes warm our hearts with their likeability and loyalty. And sometimes wow us by growing body parts whenever they’re needed!

comic book illustration in wood by simon o'rourke

When we’re thinking about superheroes, they usually defy expectations, and can perform superhuman feats. All whilst looking great in lycra! This one even controls the elements – something I bet we all wish we could do from time to time!

Thinking about superheroes illustrated wooden panel y simon o'rourke

Beyond the Comic Books

It’s fun thinking about those superheroes. It’s also fun to sculpt those superheroes, and we hope you enjoyed this flashback to some of Simon’s work from the past decade. But in thinking about superheroes of comic books and movies, we also can’t help but think about the superheroes all around us at the moment.

We see superhero parents, trying to balance working from home whilst educating their children.

Superhero shop workers and public transport drivers, often working without PPE to ensure we still have what we need.

There are superheroes volunteering with foodbanks, donating money and helping neighbours.

Lockdown can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. And we honour all of you every day superheroes today.

BUT as we’re thinking about superheroes, we especially want to take this opportunity to public thank and honour our NHS heroes. We see the numbers, we see the online photos of the damage done wearing PPE all day. We see you carrying on and making sacrifices for the wellbeing of others. And we’re thankful.

Some superheroes wear lycra and a cape. Others wear stethoscopes and facemasks.

So to all our NHS and Healthcare Superheroes out there, we thank you.

Stay safe.

simon o'rourke carving ken dodd sculpture using chainsaw with bar in collaboration with chainsawbars.co.uk

Collaboration with ChainsawBars.Co.Uk

Collaboration with ChainsawBars.Co.Uk 1200 900 Simon O'Rourke

We thought we’d take the opportunity of a lull in new sculptures to share some more from ‘behind the scenes’.  There are so many companies and individuals that are part of treecarving.co.uk. In the past we’ve shared about Acton Safety, OlfiCam and Treetech. This week we’re going to share a bit about our collaboration with ChainsawBars.Co.Uk.

simon o'rourke carving ken dodd sculpture using chainsaw with bar in collaboration with chainsawbars.co.uk

What is a Chainsaw Bar?

Firstly, let’s explain what a chainsaw bar is!
Basically, the ‘bar’ is the long piece of metal at the front of the saw, that the chain goes on. It’s typically an elongated bar with a round end of wear-resistant alloy steel. They are usually 40 to 90 cm (16 to 36 in) in length, although that can vary for more specialised work.  An edge slot guides the cutting chain. Specialized loop-style bars were also used at one time for bucking logs and clearing brush, although they are pretty rare now due to increased hazards of operation.

Not every bar or chain is right for every saw. For example, larger chainsaw bars work best with more powerful saws because it takes more energy to drive a chain around a long bar. That’s why electric saws use bars 18″ and shorter.

Chainsaw bars also have different specifications, such as coatings that make them more rust or water resistant. Add different chain options, and you get a LOT of different performance options. It’ll come as no surprise to you then that having a good choice of equipment is essential when we look for equipment suppliers, as well as them needing to have solid product knowledge. That’s where our collaboration with ChainsawBars.Co.Uk comes in.

close up of a chainsaw bar from a carving in process by Simon O'Rourke

About ChainsawBars.Co.Uk

ChainsawBars.Co.Uk is a British company run by Rob Dyer.  It has the largest online stock of chainsaw chains in the country, suitable for most chainsaw makes and models. Importantly for Simon, they are the only importer of Sugihara guide bars and ManpaTools in the UK.  One of their ‘claims to fame’ is that they supply 80% of the Japanese pro market. ChainsawBars.Co.UK is not just a retailer though, and they have been manufacturing bars themselves since 1967.

Those who follow Simon on social media will know that his ManpaTools angle grinders are an essential on his equipment list. Being able to obtain their tools easily and efficiently (such as the multicutter Simon is using to create fur in THIS VIDEO) is extremely important to us, so we’re thankful ChainsawBars.Co.UK make that possible!

Simon O'Rourke work in progress using chainsaw bars from our collaboration with chainsawbars.co.uk

Our Collaboration with ChainsawBars.Co.UK

Simon has been a loyal customer of Chainsawbars.Co.UK for several years now. But the relationship goes beyond that.  As well as buying Sugihara carving bars and ManpaTools before, Simon also reviews products for him.

One of the great things about ChainsawBars.Co.UK is their product review videos on their YouTube Channel. As Simon has been involved with creating these, we know that when you watch a review, it is genuine – something that’s SO important when buying equipment.  Below you can see Simon’s review of one of the products Rob Dyer created, the Panther Chainsaw Mill.

More Reviews
For those who are interested in finding out more about the equipment Simon uses, he will be producing some more review videos soon which you can find on his Facebook page, or YouTube Channel.
If you are looking to purchase chainsaw bars, chains, mills, we definitely recommend ChainsawBars.Co.Uk. They are knowledgeable, innovative, efficient and friendly. They also have some great loyalty discounts as an incentive! We are thankful for our collaboration with Chainsawbars.co.uk and the opportunity it gives us not just for great service and easy purchase of essentials, but also to see and try new products as they are released, and be part of the process of improving and developing them through our reviews and feedback.
Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall

Sculpture for Historic Property

Sculpture for Historic Property 420 630 Simon O'Rourke

alsoOne of the things Simon has enjoyed over the years, is creating sculpture for historic property. These projects usually combine Simon’s love of human form with his passion for storytelling. They also add value for the owner in sometimes unexpected ways. Over the years Simon has created many pieces for historic properties, ranging from National Trust homes or places of worship to private home owners. He has also had a season as ‘artist in residence’ at Erddig, a local National Trust property.
This week we share examples from that extensive portfolio, and explore the value of commissioning sculpture for historic property.

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman at Highclere Castle

Reasons to Commission a Sculpture for Historic Property: Commemoration & Storytelling

There are many reasons to commission a sculpture for your historic property. One of those reasons is to have a commemorative piece, to mark an event or occasion.  The Airman at Highclere Castle (pictured above) is an example of this. He is also an example of another reason for commissioning a sculpture. That is, story telling.  If you ever read our blog about the Highclere Airman, you will know that he tells a part of the story of that property. Although people may be aware of the history of a building, a visual aid telling that story is always powerful. Even traditional school text books become much more interesting with a picture! How much more so when the visual story telling is in 3D?! If your building is open to the public, this enhances their experience, which is always a good thing!

Mungo Park sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

A Tourist Attraction!

Another reason that a sculpture can add value to a historic sculpture, is it can become an attraction in itself. Take Mungo Park for example, photographed above.
This likeness of the Scottish explorer was created in 2014 for a Wetherspoons in Peebles, Park’s home town. It reflects the history of the area, so enhances the experience of the visitor, and helps provide information about the town. It also helps to set that restaurant apart from the others in the area. It’s a focus point for visitors – something unique the other eateries in town don’t have. It’s also fun –  customers also sit alongside Mungo on the bench outside the pub, for a photograph. And we all know the power of a shared photograph on social media!

 

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall, Sculpture for historic property

Case Study: Angel at the Pool of Bethesda

One of Simon’s favourite sculptures that he has created for a historic property is the Angel at the Pool of Bethesda. She was carved from oak in 2016 as a commission for Biddulph Old Hall.  Although the property has an extensive history dating back to 1480, this commission relates to a 19th Century resident…..

The Story Behind the Sculpture

In 1871, attracted by the romance of the ruins in their moorland setting, artist Robert Bateman took up residence in the hall. He actually painted most of his best works in the Hall between 1871 and 1890. In 1874  he and the love of his life, Caroline Howard, were separated. Then, in 1876, Caroline married the Rev Charles Wilbraham. Bateman was heart broken, and painted The Pool of Bethesda as “an autobiographical cry of anguish”. The commission of the sculpture was to commemorate Robert and Caroline’s memory as part of the house’s story.

To read more about the history of the painting, click here.

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall is an example of sculpture for historic property

Creating the Sculpture

The setting with the angel stepping down a few steps towards a pool of water replicates the Bateman painting. The difficulty for Simon centered around the fact that all he had to work from was a flat 2D image. This meant that to begin with, he had to visualize what the painting would look like in 3D. From there, he then had to create what he was imagining. Which, according to owner Nigel Daly,  “he has done magnificently…. The piece fully represents the sense of Caroline stepping down into the water that Bateman created in the original painting.”

 

Testimonies of the Value Added

Obviously art always enhances or ‘adds’ something to a room, or wherever it’s located. However, in a historic property it does more than this. It captures the attention of the viewer. They are drawn in, as it narrates the story of that place. It also helps them envision, imagine and remember.

Nigel Daly is “thrilled” at the impact of the sculpture:
“Visitors never fail to gasp as they are led through a small octagonal tower from the ruins themselves into the small courtyard with the pool in its centre and Caroline at its head. As time has passed she has weathered beautifully to settle into the time-worn surroundings of the Hall.

The work has been much admired, and such is the skill of the work we are saving up for a second sculpture for the centre of the ruins based on Burne-Jones’s ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’, which we feel is just up Simon’s street!”

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Your Own Commission

If you would like to enhance story-telling and scene-setting with a unique sculpture for your historic property, contact Simon on [email protected].

Poppy met stihl helmet and ear protection

When Poppy met Stihl!

When Poppy met Stihl! 1536 2048 Simon O'Rourke

We thought this would be a good week for something a little different, and a little fun. Simon has been sponsored by Stihl since 2017. It’s a perfect partnership, and a truly authentic one, as he really does love the quality, and range of products. Whether it’s a chainsaw he needs or protective clothing, Stihl have it covered! In this blog, we’ll share some of their products that are used almost daily – featuring our very own pet (and unofficial Tree Carving mascot), POPPY! Scroll down to see what happened when Poppy met Stihl!

Poppy Stihl with the MS500i

When Poppy Met Stihl: The Stihl MS500i

Obviously chainsaw art can’t happen without good, dependable chainsaws! The Stihl MS500i is a high performance saw that makes easy work of large pieces of timber. It uses innovative technology to achieve rapid acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in an unbelievable 0.25 seconds! Definitely not for use on your garden hedge!  In fact, Simon describes it as a ‘beast’! With that kind of power, it’s his first choice for the large cuts to block out big sculptures.
With a hint back to our blog about Acton Health and Safety, this saw also features STIHL’s anti-vibration system. This is important for Simon for minimising some of the well-documented health challenges associated with vibrations from power tools.

When Poppy met stihl clothing

When Poppy Met Stihl: Advance X-TREEm Jacket

If a dog’s got to be out working in all conditions, they need a decent jacket.  The Stihl X-Treem jacket (see what they did there?!)  featured in all these photos does it ALL! We think Poppy makes it look pretty good too! Anyone know any canine modeling agents?
But back to the jacket!
Attachment points for saw guard…… Removable sleeves, spacer material on the shoulders and adjustable ventilation openings for comfortable regulation of body temperature……Ceramic dots on the elbows offer abrasion protection…..Outer shoulder zone has grip dot abrasion protection…… Large areas of high visibility orange with contrast areas for excellent visibility……Two breast pockets, one inside pocket and one sleeve pocket…..
What more could a dog want? Works pretty well for Simon too!

Poppy wasn’t so keen on wearing them, but Simon also relies on the cut-proof and waterproof trousers and lightweight jackets, whether working in the workshop or outdoors.

When poppy met stihl ear protection

When Poppy Met Stihl: Ear Protection

Ear protection is an essential….at least for Simon! Stihl have a great range of gloves, safety glasses, head and ear protection.  Notice the cap too. According to Poppy, Stihl clothing is also for leisure time and not just work!

Poppy met stihl helmet and ear protection

When Poppy Met Stihl: Safety Helmet

Poppy’s final photo features another essential piece of protection. Did you spot it? That’s right, a blanket – an essential for tree carving trips.
OK, not really!
As you may have seen in our blogs about the Marbury Lady, the Spirit of Ecstasy, or the Giant Hand of Vrnwy, Simon often has to climb some fairly tall scaffolding. When he has projects that need him to work at height, he always wears his Stihl safety helmet. Safety is incredibly important, and their helmets have all kinds of ‘add ons’ or design features specific to this kind of work. These range from integrated ear or face protection to vents, or lightweight versions.

If you work with machinery, heights, or just in any area of your work, we do encourage you to follow safety protocols. It may be uncomfortable initially, but optimum health and safety is always worth the initial discomfort.

Poppy, Simon, Liz O'Rourke with the Game of Thrones eggs and casket

Poppy Stihl!

For those who enjoyed our blog featuring Poppy, she actually has her own Instagram account. You can follow her at www.instagram.com/poppystihl. If you come out and see us at the workshop, a show, or an appearance of Hemlock the Dragon, you may also meet her in person as she often comes along. She may be a bit trickier to spot though, as she isn’t always wearing ‘Stihl Orange’!

We hope you enjoyed something slightly different, and (hopefully) more ‘fun’ this week.
We leave you with this video from Simon, sharing a little more about his partnership with Stihl.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.

 

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

Simon O'Rourke carving a fairy

On Working with Acton Health and Safety

On Working with Acton Health and Safety 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

One of our goals for this year, is to share a few blogs that take you behind-the-scenes, to give you a better idea of ‘life behind the sculpture’. A few weeks ago we shared a blog about working alongside Treetech as part of that. This week we want to introduce you to another company who are invaluable to us, and share a little about working with Acton Health and Safety.
As you’ll know if you read our Blood Donor Day blog about safety with chainsaws, you’ll know that keeping our whole team safe is hugely important to us. Many people are put off when they hear ‘health and safety’. It’s often seen as something boring, or full of petty limitations. It’s SO important though, and we hope you’ll stick with us, and enjoy finding out more about our experience working with Acton Health and Safety…..

Acton Health and Safety logo

About Acton Health and Safety

Acton Health and Safety are a Wrexham based company. They provide a MASSIVE range of services in the area of ‘health and safety’. This ranges from assessments of workplaces to helping companies stay compliant with legislation, through to providing a HUGE range of training and equipping. Again, the list of what they provide is extremely comprehensive and incorporates things like food safety through to fire training, electrical safety, fork lift truck operating procedures, and – you guessed it – chainsaw licensing!

Simon O'Rourke adding detail to an ice carving dragon, Wrexham 2019

Working with the Manpa Angle Grinder. Acton Health and Safety help us keep our work with power tools as safe as possible.

How We Started Working with Acton Health and Safety

We first met Martin from from Acton Health and Safety about four years ago. Over the next few months we then crossed paths with him again at various networking events. Through these meetings, we discovered the company offers a free initial site visit, and invited him to the workshop. In that first visit he reviewed all our health and safety, and fire safety policies and procedures. He also asked questions, and observed our operating practices. We found Martin to be a genuinely lovely man who cares about both his work and his clients, and knew we could really benefit from working with Acton Health and Safety. One of the things we found particularly helpful was that they don’t just complete a review and give a list of things to improve. Rather, as a company, they are then also able to help us fulfill those requirements.

A view of Simon O'Rourke's tree carving workshop. Working with Acton Health and Safety has kept us compliant.

The workshop is a place with lots of potential dangers, but Acton Health and Safety help us minimise those risks

Our Ongoing Relationship with Acton Health and Safety

We have now been clients of Acton Health and Safety Fire Safety for four years. They ensure all policies and procedures are up to date, and our health and safety is in line with current regulations. They help us keep staff and all visitors safe (both on and off site) and assist with risk assessments. This includes giving us guidance for daily, weekly and monthly checks.
This has been SO important to us as a company. We’ve found over the years that having good health and safety practices is about much more than just checking boxes. Knowing we have the best practice possible gives us greater peace of mind. This enables us all to enjoy what we are doing – as well as obviously keeping us safe and healthy!

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on a sculpture. Acton help us ensure all our site work is the safest it can be for Simon and the public.

Mutual Clients!

One of the things we like about working with Acton Health and Safety, is ongoing mutual relationship and connection. Since working with us, Martin has been around the workshop a lot. It meant he was able to see some projects from drawing stage to completion and says he found it “fascinating”. As a result, he has even asked Simon to create myself a few special things for birthday surprises!

“We have a penguin in our garden at home which was a present for my wife… to this day it looks as good as it did when Simon delivered it and secured it down. You need an incredible eye for detail to do the work Simon and Liz do, and they do the work to the highest level whilst obviously ensure all the safety aspects of their works are adhered too!”

Penguin by Simon O'Rourke created for martin working with acton health and safety

 

A Word from Acton Health and Safety

When we were preparing to write this blog, we asked Martin a few questions. We wanted to know what motivates him to work in a field most people avoid. His answer perfectly expresses why we enjoy working with them, and the experience we have. So, we thought in closing, we would let Martin speak for himself:

“When you talk to someone about health and safety they shy away about it, but Acton are not here to scare anyone.  We are here to provide advice, guidance and help build with the client the best environment for the workplace and staff. Our main priority is our clients and to make sure they are confident with the regulations and know the procedures in place. We do this job as we enjoy helping others and making sure everyone is safe.”

Simon O'Rourke carving a fairy

Wearing the right protective clothing is an important part of staying safe!

Final Thoughts

We know health and safety regulations can be a minefield. Having right procedures and policies in place is SO important though. It’s how we stay safe, and how we keep our visitors or the public safe. It creates a more pleasant and productive work environment too when we know we are working within the framework of best heath and safety practice. We love that it means that as clients you can also have peace of mind when Simon is working at your house or place of work too!

If you find compliance overwhelming, we encourage you to connect with Acton Health and Safety. If not them, a company like them. And don’t just take our word for it. You can visit https://www.actonhealthandsafety.co.uk/ and see testimonials from us and other clients too! We’re thankful for our experiences working with Acton Health and Safety, and believe you will be too.