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A Dutch Jungle Throne!

A Dutch Jungle Throne! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Setting

Every year the village of Garderen (Netherlands) is proud to be home to Zandsculpturenfestijn. It describes itself as  ‘Europe’s most beautiful sand sculpture park’  and has won several regional tourist awards. As well as sand sculpture, the outdoor part of the exhibit also features wooden carvings, completed each summer. Simon was invited to contribute again this year, and was excited to take part. This is the setting for this week’s featured sculpture: A Dutch Jungle Throne.

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

A Jungle Throne

The theme for the year (‘Journey Round the World’) gave a LOT of scope for the artists to create. With such an open title, they were free to sculpt natural wonders, architecture, people or animals. The artists who were there at the same time as Simon though all focused on nature, and created animal carvings. Wanting to help build a united exhibit, Simon decided to also focus on animals in his piece. As this wasn’t a commission where he had to replicate one specific animal, he decided to stretch himself and try something a little different, inspired by one of the indoor sand pieces.

The exhibit in question was a huge jungle scene with lots of different animals. Simon set himself the challenge of creating something similar which would feature lots of different animals. The result? A hollowed-out seat featuring not one or two animals, but 34! A ‘Jungle Throne’ fit for even King Louis, Jungle Book’s “King of the Swingers”!

The finished 'Jungle Throne'

The finished ‘Jungle Throne’

The Beginning….

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

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle throne

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle throne

Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke at Zandsculpturenfestijn

Two more angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

The Details

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

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

Close up of the sloth and crocodile

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

Simon is available for events around the world. If you would like to invite him to your tree carving event, contact [email protected]

 

Face to Face

Face to Face 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Earlier in May, Simon had the privilege of being one of the artists to take part in The Sculpture Garden 2019; the launch event of The Cookham Art Festival in Berkshire. He created this fantastic exhibit ‘Face to Face as part of that event.

THE FESTIVAL

The festival itself is over 40 years old, has around 15,000 attendees, and celebrates art in several forms. This year includes the sculpture garden, music, galleries, food, poetry, spoken word, and theatre to name a few. What an amazing, rounded celebration of creativity, talent and skill!

THE EVENT

The Sculpture Garden was a brilliant launch to the festival. It was held at The Odney Club, a private house and gardens owned by the John Lewis Partnership. The venue is not normally open to the public, so the exclusivity added to the festival atmosphere. Visitors to the sculpture garden enjoyed some beautiful carved creations, and live demonstrations of works in progress. They could also the beauty of creation itself as they walked round the stunning gardens. In total there were around 150 exhibits for people to enjoy over the two weeks of the show, created by around 30 different artists, all working in different mediums and styles. Such rich variety in this exhibition alone!

The Odney Club, venue for the 2019 Sculpture Garden

The Odney Club, venue for the 2019 Sculpture Garden

 

SIMON’S EXHIBITS

Simon’s contribution were two finished faces, one which was first created during the APF Show last year (you can flashback and watch the video here). He also exhibited a third smaller version which he completed at the exhibition as a demonstration. Watching him live is undoubtedly the most impressive, but for those who are reading this blog from a distance and won’t be able to catch him at any of the shows this year, here’s the video! For those who are fascinated by the chainsaws and tools, it’s a Milwaukee Cordless Angle Grinder!

 

Face I on display at The Sculpture Garden 2019

Face I on display at The Sculpture Garden 2019

 

ABOUT THE ART

These are a very different style from Simon’s typical human form work, so we asked him to share a little bit more about his inspiration and process:

“I have always had a passion for the human form, and to recreate the human race in a realistic manner can be difficult. I wanted to zone in on sections of the face, giving the impression you’re seeing a snapshot up close. With the one with the detailed eye I wanted to recreate the feel of a real eye sculpturally, and capture the reflection and depth without the use of colour. When we see a face our brains determine what we are seeing with the help of colour and light. When you remove the colour element it really helps you to break down what makes us see and perceive depth. I make cuts deeper than they would be in reality in order to cast a darker shadow to give the illusion of depth.”

 

Face II on display at The Sculpture Garden 2019

Face II on display at The Sculpture Garden 2019

Face I, Face II and Face III are on show as part of the sculpture garden and can be purchased by contacting curator Lucy Irvine on [email protected]. If you who would like to commission a bespoke ‘Face’, email [email protected]

For those who enjoy watching the videos of Simon working, we are now in festival and competition season, so he will be competing and demonstrating in various locations over the next few months. If you would like to see him in action, watch this space or our Facebook page for details!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
,Honouring Earth Day 2019

We’re marking Earth Day 2019, by talking about one of Earth’s (and Tree Carving’s!) most vital resources: Trees!

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

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Why Tree Carving?

Simon definitely hadn’t planned on tree carving as a career. After A levels, he began a degree in illustration. He actually hoped and planned to be a freelance illustrator of children’s books. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon. The idea was, this would give him an income while he built up his illustration portfolio. And so, at this time he began working with chainsaws. In fact, the first saw Simon used was made by Stihl, . In one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, they are now his current sponsors!

Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, Simon tried his hand at carving. There was something special for him in discovering that “such a potentially destructive tool can be used to create beauty”. After that discover, the rest – as they say – is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Part of this is in its ever-changing nature, which then shapes the finished product, beyond Simon’s first idea. He can plan a piece with detailed sketches and have an idea of what he wants it to look like. However it has to evolve a lot once the carving actually begins. The grain dictates where the natural strength of the timber is and can give so much inspiration for the shape of a sculpture. Every tree is unique and you never know what you’re going to find when you cut into a piece.

 

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

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

Sourcing Wood Responsibly

On Earth Day 2019  when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from. Is tree carving damaging to the environment?

Far from it. Tree carving is one of the more sustainable mediums for sculpture. Working with a natural material means that although it weathers well, eventually it will degrade, as all wood does. At this point, it is returned to the earth – no land or ocean filling here!
In addition, Simon uses trees that have either fallen naturally, or trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location. This includes domestic housing and managed forests and woodlands. One example of this which went viral earlier this year, is his carving ‘ ‘The Dragon of Bethesda‘. This dragon commission actually came about because of an arboretum owner wishing to do something with a storm-damaged fallen tree.

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

Forest Education

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

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

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

You can talk to us about Simon tranforming your own damaged or fallen trees at [email protected]

 

Home Is Where The Art Is

Home Is Where The Art Is 2448 2448 Simon O'Rourke

Recently Simon was asked to take part in the BBC’s Home is Where the Art is.  In each episode, three artists compete to win a commission from a mystery buyer. Simon tells us a little more about his experience.

Nick Knowles promotes Home is Where the Art is

Home is Where the Art is on BBC One

What is Home is Where The Art Is?

The three artists met at the buyer’s house and received a brief and a budget. Each artist then produced a sketch to meet that brief. Simon competed against a stainless steel sculptor and an acrylic pet portrait painter in his episode. Three very different mediums! Their brief was to create something that captured both the spirit and the form of the buyer’s beloved horse, ‘Dragon’.

Simon O'Rourke with Nick Knowles and the horse sculpture he created for Home is Where the Art is

With presenter, Nick Knowles and his final piece

Simon Tells All!

Simon says of this process:
“We all got to snoop around the buyer’s house to get a feel for the kind of things they might like. We also got to meet Dragon, which gave us all a flavour of his temperament and form. Each of us went away after this and were asked to come up with a two minute pitch, which was filmed at a studio in Manchester. The buyer then chose two artists to create the artwork they had pitched, and come back in a few weeks to present the artwork to the buyer. The buyer would then choose one to buy!   Nick Knowles is the host of the show, and made us feel really comfortable. The buyer threw a couple of curveballs in by asking if any of us would be happy to change our designs!”

Simon was one of the two artists chosen to compete. He took around eight hours to carve a representation of Dragon out of cedar as his entry, capturing not only his form but his movement and character.

Simon O'Rourkes final piece for Home is Where the Art is

‘Dragon’

The Results Are In!

Now that we won’t be revealing any spoilers, we can announce that sadly, Simon didn’t win.
Simon is extremely gracious in his defeat though. He says: “The buyer Delyse had a really difficult time choosing between us, but I feel she made a great choice. I would have chosen Claire’s work!”

‘Dragon’

Not only is it a privilege to be invited to take part in something like this, but even the name of the horse has tied in with our ‘year of the dragon’ here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving!

Making Dragon

If you would like a portrait of your pet, Simon is available at [email protected] to chat about your commission. 

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the Air 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air this week. That means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sunshine, walks in the park, new life, and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms. Even those wet, rainy days seem better as the blossom on the trees and the appearance of daffodils and tulips reminds us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week.

Spring is in the air with this selection of baby animals and families by Simon O'Rourke

Spring is in the Air: Baby Animals

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst also keeping its realism (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised. That means what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

Spring is in the Air: The Easter Bunny

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate. Incidentally, anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!! That means we can’t help but think of Easter. In turn, we can’t think of Easter without thinking of the  ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny!  And whether real or fictional, Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends…..

Spring is in the air - easter bunny sculptures by Simon O'Rouke

Spring is in the Air: The Big Clean

We’re also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’. If you’re anything like us, you might only just be starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter. If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, why not consider commissioning something unique from us? Even if you finish the big clean and find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, Simon is on hand to help!

Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up. As well as looking great, a tree carving looks much more at home in the garden compared with plastic or stone ornaments. It’s also sourced sustainably. That means you can make your garden look great whilst also being environmentally responsible!

As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.

Imagine Carving Dragons

Imagine Carving Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It isn’t everyday you hear someone saying they count working with dragons among their job description! But that’s exactly what we get to say when people ask! Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised as we are based in North Wales – a land where recorded legends about dragons date back to the 7th century, and they have long been used as a symbol of national identity.

Y Ddraig Derw, Bethesda

 

Earlier this year Simon carved “Y Ddraig Derw“, or “The Dragon of Bethesda” (above) and we have continued to be overwhelmed by the number of appreciative messages and amazing photos that are coming in from those of you who have stopped by to see it. Y Ddraig Derw was far from our first dragon carving though, and talking dragons for a couple of weeks triggered some fun for us reminiscing about other dragon carves in the past. Scroll on to join our trip down memory lane!

Prize-winning Hemlock the Dragon on display at Wrexham Museum

 

Carving dragons represents some great challenges and a lot of fun. Nobody REALLY knows what a dragon looks like, so although we have a pretty set idea, there is still a lot of imagination Simon gets to employ in deciding the scale, proportions, shape and details – more so than when carving an animal we all know such as his owls, horses, labradors, eagles etc where although there is variety, there is still a very definite and specific anatomical structure to be represented.

Ever wanted to BE a dragon? This carve of dragon wings in Japan was intended for just that reason! The ultimate selfie/photo prop!

 

Dragons also mean portraying a contrast between the great size and strength of their bodies, wings and snouts with minute details such as teeth, a tongue, individual scales, and even the texture of those scales.

Welsh dragon carve in process

There’s also the wings to consider. If they are to be outstretched and carved from wood, there is an engineering challenge to be able to scale them in a way the dragon won’t overbalance as well as how best to attach them securely, especially if the dragon will be out in the elements and at the mercy of the wind and rain. Or, if using other material as we did with Hemlock, what will best represent the density and texture of the animal whilst also fitting in with the style of carving and colouring and texture the timber will take on?

Carving a dragon image into a storm-damaged tree

 

And then there’s the story. Dragons appear in many contexts from national legends to epic movies like The Hobbit or Harry Potter through to the cute and humorous beasts we find in family stories like Pete’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon. Which of these is the finished carve to represent? And how is that done? A glint in an eye? The shape of an open mouth? The angle of the head? So much possibility!

Crouching Dragon from a few years ago

 

Dragons also have so many different details and aspects that are unique to them, that it can be fascinating to incorporate them into something else (like this arch below), and for it still to be distinctly ‘dragon’. Maybe it’s a bench, or an arch, or a box, or a walking stick, but whatever the commission, a dragon will always create a technical and aesthetic challenge, which, like the dragon in flight, we are more than happy to rise to! Indeed, “Watch this space” for more dragons later this year!

Dragon mouth archway

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of our favourite dragon carves from the last few years. Which is your favourite?

As well as accepting commissions, Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for weddings, parties, events etc. Please email us at [email protected] for information

 

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