storytelling

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails

FAQs: Woodland Sculpture Trails 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

We’ve often talked about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, and earlier this year we brought you virtual tours of Meadow Park, Page’s Wood, and Fforest Fawr. We wanted to answer some of the questions people often have, so here is our quick guide to woodland sculpture trails.

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke: european lynx sculpture in redwood located in fforest fawr

Simon’s European Lynx in Fforest Fawr

What is a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

At their most basic, Woodland sculpture trails are a series of sculptures based on a specific theme. Those sculptures are then stationed around a guided walk in a woodland area. Guests follow a prescribed route, and view the sculptures as they walk. The theme can be anything from local animals to fictional characters. Simon is happy to create either, but usually, people want something connected with the local environment.
In the past Simon and Liz have written stories for two of the trails, so there is a strong tie between the individual sculpture. For a third there was no central character, but they provided information in verse form for each sculpture.

Wooden sculpture of an owl on top of a tree trunk. The sculpture is part of the meadow park sculpture trail by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the Owl is the central character of the Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture Trail

What Are the Benefits of Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Woodland sculpture trails have many benefits. We detail them more in this blog ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail?‘. In brief though, a few of the reasons include that they give individuals and families an extra reason to make the effort of visiting your site. They convey information in a fun, understandable way which is more likely to be retained than reading a flyer or placard. That means they help convey or reinforce your message, or tell your story. This is [probably the biggest reason we like these commissions so much. We are passionate about the environment and love that we can be part of educating people and calling them to take their part in caring for the earth.
In addition, they make great photo opportunities. As people post those photos online, it gives you some free publicity too!

Woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. sculpture of an owl hanging upside down next to a group of bats in Meadow Park

Ruby the Owl meets new friends at Meadow Park, and learns about their homes.

What About the Story?

There are many reasons to have a story included in the trail. People engage more with characters and stories than with isolated snippets of information. They are fun, with an element of whimsy – like reading Wind in the Willows, or The Animals of Farthing Wood.
In turn, this means they are more likely to read the information and retain what they read. Simple verse form means that children can also join in and understand. One of the benefits to a story rather than stand-alone verses is that people are more likely to complete the full trail to, to discover the full story.
Simon and Liz have written the stories in the past. However, clients are free to choose other routes – including no story at all! They can provide the story themselves if they prefer, or could involve a local community group or school in the project.

sculpture of an owl watching a fox emerging from a hole in a tree trunk. It forms park of meadow park trail, one of simon o'rourke's sculpture trails

Ruby the Owl meets a fox at Meadow Park

What Goes in a Woodland Sculpture Trail Story?

Ideally, the story helps convey information about the local area. Simon and Liz then make the final sculpture a call to action, encouraging people to do their part in caring for the environment.
For the Meadow Park trail, Simon and Liz created the character of Ruby the Owl. Ruby was looking for a home for herself. She met other woodland animals along the way, saw their homes, and discovered why they wouldn’t work for her.
In the picture above, for example, the accompanying verse reads:

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!

In Page’s Wood, the two protagonists (Verity Vole and Horatio Hedgehog) travel around the woodland, and the animals they meet tell them about their homes.

Wooden sculpture of a frog from Page's Wood, one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

The frog from the Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

How Much Do Woodland Sculpture Trails Cost?

There are too many variables to give a guide here. Things like size, number of sculptures, type of wood, and how the wood is being sourced are big factors. Whether the sculptures are carved on-site or in Simon’s workshop alters the cost too due to the need to hire additional equipment.
If you are interested, chat to Simon about it via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

The cost of a trail can seem offputting initially. However, woodland sculpture trails can help you adapt your site to having more outdoor activities (making them part of covid adaptations). They can be part of environmental education, or an arts and culture initiative. This means there may be grants available to help you with the cost of your woodland sculpture trail. We are also in an age where crowdfunding can be hugely successful and offset some of the costs.

woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke. Photo shows a howling wolf in redwood, surrounded by trees. Located in Fforest Fawr.

This wolf forms part of the Fforest Fawr trail.

How Do I Commission a Woodland Sculpture Trail?

A big commission can seem intimidating, but Simon makes the whole process as easy as possible and will guide you through each step.
Firstly, there will need to be a decision about the theme, and any specific sculptures. Researching and getting creative is something Simon loves though, so don’t worry if you feel stuck for ideas.
You can come to Simon with as vague or specific of a concept/vision as you have, and he will put together a proposal for you to discuss. This will include sketches, the story (if required), and costings.

picture shows the original sketch for a wooden bench designed by simon o'rourke for the page's wood sculpture trail

One of the original sketches and poetry for Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

Can I see Past Examples of Your Woodland Sculpture Trails?

Yes!
There are a few ways to do this.

1. Go and visit!
Trails are located in Fforest Fawr, Page’s Wood, and Meadow Park.

2. On Simon’s website
We have virtual tours of each of the woodland sculpture trails mentioned in this article at
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trails-meadow-park/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/woodland-sculpture-trail-pages-wood/
https://www.treecarving.co.uk/fforest-fawr-woodland-sculpture-trail/
And there is also a Meadow Park case study.

3. Check local media
Each of the trails has been covered by local press, and can easily be found through a google search. It’s good to see how the trails were received by locals, and the excitement and enthusiasm they can generate for your woodland.

Simon O'Rourkes fforest fawr woodland sculpture trail: A Red Deer. Lifesized, created with chainsaws from redwood

I Don’t Have a Woodland But Could a Trail Work For Me?

YES! We’ve talked about woodland sculpture trails here because they have been popular commissions and tie in with Simon and Liz’s passion for the environment. But a sculpture trail can benefit ANY attraction, as we mentioned in ‘Why Commission a Sculpture Trail’.
A sculpture trail should serve you, and figures can be created to tie in with any theme, message or history of the area.
It can also be something just for fun! Simon has created two Alice in Wonderland trails in the past, as well as an ‘apple trail’ for a local National Trust property as part of their Autumn activities.
The only limit to the possibilities is imagination!

Alice in Wonderland and Queen of Hearts sculptures from one of Simon O'Rourke's wooden sculpture trails

The Queen of Hearts and Alice from one of Simon’s two Alice in Wonderland trails

How Do I Contact You?

Simon is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which are all great for viewing his work too. However, the best way is to use the contact form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.Whatever your idea or questions, we’d love to hear from you.
And if you do happen to participate in a trail, why not tag Simon in a photo? It’s always fun to see people enjoying his work!

 

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.