tips and tricks

stihl chainsaw with standard bar in front of a fallen tree carved into a dragon by simon o'rourke

Carving Bar Maintenance for Chainsaw Carvers

Carving Bar Maintenance for Chainsaw Carvers 600 600 Simon O'Rourke

Simon is going to be making a series of videos and blogs to share maintenance tips with other chainsaw carvers. We kick that series off this week with this blog about carving bar maintenance for chainsaw carvers…

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke holds a large chainsaw and licks the blade

Thankfully this isn’t a recommended way of cleaning your chainsaw!

What Is a Chainsaw Bar?

For readers who aren’t regular chainsaw users, the bar has the vital job of guiding the chain – the part that does the cutting! Bars come in different lengths, and there are a few different types serving different purposes. For example, a standard bar with a fixed nose sprocket is good for light gardening. Carving bars are special Stellite bars with a smaller nose radius that minimises the possibility of kickback. Maintaining the bar well preserves the life span of not just the bar, but also the chain. It is also a good health and safety practice, as well maintained equipment equals less opportunity for accidents.

 

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke using a small stihl chainsaw to carve a sculpture of a woman

Simon uses one of his signature bars from Tsumura at a live carving event

Carving Bar Maintenance for Chainsaw Carvers Tip One: Filing

The first tip involves the bar rails. The bar rails enclose the groove along the edge of the guide bar, and that groove is the channel the chain runs along. With time and use, those bar rails can crack, chip, or become sloped. This can particularly happen if the chain is too slack and ‘clacks’ against it.
If the bar is no longer flat, it causes the tie strap on the chain to wear out. This in turn compresses the metal and causes what fellow chainsaw carver Mick Burns calls ‘stiff-slack’ syndrome. The result of this is a snapped chain!
So not only does good carving bar maintenance preserve the life of the bar, it preserves the life of the chain too.

The solution to this is maintaining its shape.

Check the bar each time you use it, and if you notice signs of wear and tear or a shape change, file it flat again. A vice may help you hold it in place while you file, and ensure you keep them parallel. Simon uses a diamond file from ChainsawBars.co.uk who sell a range of bar maintenance tools. They also have a fantastic selection of chainsaw bars and a loyalty scheme. They’re definitely one of Simon’s recommended resources!

 

A diamond file on a wooden table. Tool recommended by simon o'rourke as part of his carving bar maintenance for chainsaw carvers tips

Simon recommends using something similar to this Diamond Dressing knife from ChainsawBars.Co.UK to file carving bars flat

 

Carving Bar Maintenance for Chainsaw Carvers Tip Two: Cleaning

The second tip for effective carving bar maintenance is to make sure you clean it well.
This means regularly cleaning all dirt and debris from the bar and the bar groove. If you have bar groove cleaner and compressed air, this will give you the best results. There are also tools available, although you can still do a good job with a simple rag.
This is important because if a bar isn’t clean, it won’t oil well, and oil is key to cooling it down. In turn, a cool bar is key in the bar keeping its shape.
As with filing, ChainsawBars have a range of products for cleaning, and also have a series of videos with maintenance tutorials. You can find the video about cleaning bars HERE.

close up of a dirty chainsaw bar. cleaning the bar every use is one of simon o'rourke's tips for carving bar maintenance for chainsaw carvers.

 

Carving Bar Maintenance for Chainsaw Carvers Tip Three: Appropriate Use

Simon’s final tip for carving bar maintenance is a preventative one. Use it for its correct purpose!
As was mentioned in the description of chainsaw bars, carving bars are designed for the purpose of creating detail or improving performance in high-precision jobs. If they are used for big cuts and massive pieces of timber, they will soon pick up cracks and lose their shape. If you are making big cuts, Simon suggests it’s best to stick to a standard bar.
And if you are starting out and don’t want to invest in lots of equipment, don’t worry. In our blog about “Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving“, Simon recommends starting with a standard bar anyway!

stihl chainsaw with standard bar in front of a fallen tree carved into a dragon by simon o'rourke

Using a standard bar like this Stihl Rollomatic ES for bigger cuts will help preserve the life of your carving bar for precision work

More About Carving Bar Maintenance

If you are interested in knowing more, Simon also made a video with more detail about basic carving bar maintenance for chainsaw carvers. It’s about eight minutes long, and well worth the watch if you would like to better understand your equipment and how to preserve it. You can watch it below, or find it on his YouTube Channel, Simon O’Rourke.

If you have questions or suggestions for the maintenance series or would like to commission a sculpture, contact Simon using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.

 

Creating a sculpture trail. Photo shows a collection of oak woodland animals on a workshop floor ready to be transported.

Creating a Sculpture Trail Part One: Proposal and Preparation

Creating a Sculpture Trail Part One: Proposal and Preparation 800 600 Simon O'Rourke

In the blog “Why is Art Expensive?”, we explained there is a lot of work that goes into creating a sculpture. That work goes far beyond carving, and may even need to be completed before a commission is confirmed. That is especially the case when Simon bids for a commission, rather than someone approaching him. In this series we walk you through the process of creating a sculpture trail, starting from the point Simon either has an interest in a project or has been invited to submit a bid…

 

Creating a sculpture trail. Photo shows a collection of oak woodland animals on a workshop floor ready to be transported.

The Page’s Wood sculpture trail sculptures ready to be transported.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task One: Understanding the Brief

The first task for Simon is to understand fully what the project entails. This includes not just the artistic/aesthetic elements, but also technical considerations too. And this isn’t just something for his own understanding. Simon will create a document for potential clients outlining his understanding of the brief, and explaining how his design meets the requirements.

That document will include the sketches of the sculptures themselves. It will also explain how/why they tie in with Simon’s interpretation of the brief, any story that goes with the sculptures, technical aspects (such as measurements), environmental impact, any measures to ensure longevity, and maintenance. At this stage, Simon will have also researched any relevant history/associations of the client/venue/locale. That research informs his design, and he’ll also outline those connections in this proposal.

 

part of a proposal from simon o'rourke for a sculpture trail. the bidding process is the first stage of creating a sculpture trail

Extract from a sculpture trail bid Simon submitted but didn’t win

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Two: Costing

At this stage, Simon will also need to work out the costs of the trail. Like coming up with the concept, design, and explanation, this can be very time consuming and may involve Simon getting multiple quotes before he can calculate costs. The final cost however is an important factor in a client selecting a bid. This means it can’t wait until after he gets the commission.  Simon must complete the work before he knows if he will get the job.

The quote includes the cost of site visits prior to the trail being made, as well as materials and labour to make the sculpture. Simon will calculate transport and installation, including any equipment hire needed at this stage. Finally, it also includes the cost of any extra materials, such as bolts or bobbins for installing the sculptures. Although it is more work for Simon (especially as he may not actually receive the commission), it offers a much better experience for the client, knowing that what they pay covers everything.

 

sample from a bid for a sculpture trail, part of simon o'rourkes process in creating a sculpture trail

Another example of a page from a proposal for a sculpture trail

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Three: Health and Safety and Method

At this stage, Simon waits to hear if the client accepts his proposal. He may already have put a couple of day’s work into the proposal itself as well as time to create some initial designs/sketches. Especially if he produced additional documentation, such as proving the chain of custody on the timber he will use. This is an important part of his commitment to sustainability, which may also be a part of the brief.

If Simon gets the job, at this stage he will finalise the designs, but also has MORE documentation to produce! As you’ll know from our Acton Safety blog, Simon takes health and safety seriously. This isn’t just about checking a few boxes to meet requirements. Rather it is part of his ethos to always create the safest possible working environment for his wellbeing, and that of his employees.

Before he can begin any sculpture trail, he completes a risk assessment and a method statement which details how and where the sculptures will be made.

Page one of a 12 page risk assessment for creating a sculpture trail

The first page of a 12-page risk assessment for the Fforest Fawr sculpture trail.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Four: The Legal Bit!

Once all of the above is in place, Simon and the client can finally exchange a contract for the sculpture trail. It might sound boring, but it’s essential for running a business well! Although sculpture trails are a great way to create revenue, they are definitely a big financial investment. Having a clear, well written, and comprehensive contract means that all Simon’s clients can feel certain as they move forward, reassured about what they will be receiving, when, and how.

extract from Simon O'Rourke's proposal for fforest fawr, part of the process of creating a sculpture trail

An extract from the proposal for Fforest Fawr sculpture trail, showing the sculpture and accompanying story.

 

Creating a Sculpture Trail Task Five: Making the Trail!

Now the documentation and design are completed, both parties are protected, the project is well set out, and expectations are clear. The client can look forward to owning some amazing, sustainable art, and Simon can get excited about carving! This means….it’s time to carve! But that’s a story for another blog! Follow the blog for notifications to see when Part Two is published where we’ll talk about creating the trail itself.

 

Chainsaw artist Simon o'rourke and his apprentice Paul Ossum in a workshop creating a sculpture trail with chainsaws.

Simon and Paul in the workshop, working on a sculpture trail together

Final Thoughts

It would be lovely as an artist to sit around and create all day. However, that isn’t the reality for most artists. We hope this blog has given you some insight into the process of creating a sculpture trail. Or, more accurately, of the work that goes into a proposal that may actually never come to fruition. And that it also gives you an idea of the process if you yourself are interested in commissioning a sculpture trail!

If you would like to know more, invite Simon to bid on a project, or commission your own sculpture, contact him at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We look forward to hearing from you!

A small chainsaw is sufficient

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving 800 600 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome to the second in our series on starting out in chainsaw carving. In the first blog, Simon shared basic pointers. You can find it at www.treecarving.co.uk/tips-for-getting-started-in-chainsaw-carving/ if you missed it.  This week we move on to share a few tips on putting together a basic kit for starting chainsaw carving…

 

Life size wood sculpture of a WWI soldier in progress. There is scaffolding in front of him, and three chainsaws sit around

Simon uses multiple saws (as pictured above) but it isn’t necessary to splash out in the beginning.

 

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving: Safety Gear

The first purchase should be safety gear. The minimum that Simon recommends is:

  • chainsaw boots
  • trousers
  • ear defenders
  • eye protection
  • gloves.

Gloves are actually a debated item, as many chainsaw gloves are cumbersome and awful when they’re wet. It would be amiss to skip them though, and it’s good to at least give them a go for maximum safety.

There are many good brands for buying PPE. As a Stihl ambassador though, Simon obviously has a clear preference! You can explore their range by clicking HERE. Simon also highlights a few favourite pieces of chainsaw carving workwear in our blog ‘When Poppy Met Stihl‘.

 

Poppy Stihl with the MS500i

Poppy models some of Simon’s preferred workwear

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving: Footwear

There are two aspects of footwear that are important: Safety and comfort. Proper chainsaw boots have protective toe caps and sturdy soles, both of which are essential. Finding a pair that works for you is also important. We can all testify that spending all day in an uncomfortable pair of shoes is pretty horrible. And nobody does their best work when in pain!

This is where Simon can’t really make a recommendation because our feet and their needs are pretty individual! As we can’t try things on in shops at the moment, it’s worth reading reviews to see how people talk about the fit, width, toe space etc. Then there is more likelihood of finding a pair that fits well first time.

If finances are an issue, then there is an alternative that doesn’t compromise on safety. Some companies also make chainsaw wellies. You can wear these with thick socks and still get a good level of protection. Stihl make Chainsaw Wellies with both Class one and Class three ‘cut protection’, and both can be purchased for less than their basic boot.

Simon O'Rourke and Keiji Kidokoro wear stihl safety gear as they carve a CHinese Waterdragon at Huskycup 2019. safety gear is an important part of your Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving

Simon and Keiji are both wearing a variety of basic safety gear while they work on their dragon from Huskycup 2019

 

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving: Chainsaws

And now for the obvious piece of basic chainsaw carving kit. A chainsaw!

It can be tempting to think bigger and more expensive is better. However, there is no need to go all out on expensive saws. That said, if noise is an issue then battery saws are a great solution. The Stihl Ms181 is a great starter saw, and there are other similar packages you can get from chainsawbars.co.uk.

 

Stihl chainsaw in front of a carved apple. A small chainsaw like this is good to include in your Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving

A small chainsaw is good enough to start out chainsaw carving

 

Basic Kit for Starting Chainsaw Carving: Chainsaw Bar

Our last piece of kit to start out in chainsaw carving is a bar. There are SO many options out there for carving bars! And like other artists’ tools, personnal preference plays a big part. However, first, it’s wise to get used to a standard bar with a sprocket nose. This will teach you about how the saw handles. There’s also a LOT you can do with a standard tip before moving on to a carving bar.

When it comes to brands, this is one area where Stihl haven’t had the reputation among carvers that their saws and PPE have. Simon has discovered though that with good, careful maintenance, they are as good as other brands he has tried. Again, he recommends chatting to the team at Chainsawbars.co.uk and they can set you up with a good package that suits you. And bar maintenance will definitely be a future blog!

For those in doubt about this, the photo below is an early carving of Simon’s from 20 years ago. This was done with a standard bar on a small saw…

 

chainsaw carving of a rabbit jumping over a cat

This was an early piece created with a small saw and a standard bar

 

Building a More Advanced Kit

Once you have worked with a basic kit for a while, you are able to better identify exactly what it is you need to be able to expand. Once you know that, you can explore purchases one at a time. For example, one artist may want to stay small and focus on a wider range of tool for minute detail. Another may want more power and scale and want to buy a larger saw. The best way to expand your kit will become clearer with time and experience. For those who are interested in burrs and angle grinder cutters though, you could check out the Simon’s favourite Manpatools for creating texture blog or this blog about burr bits for carving faces.

 

Tips for carving big cats: SImon O'Rourke uses a saburrtooth flame burr bit to create texture on a lion's face. Burr bits can be part of basic kit for starting chainsaw carving but aren't essential.

Burr bits are one of the tools you can add to your kit at a later date

Questions and Commissions

If you have questions about chainsaw carving kit, Simon will do his best to answer, but please be patient! He will also be making more videos and blogs in future to asnwer some of the most frequently asked questions. Until then, you can contact him with questions (or to ask about a sculpture) using the contact page www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

tips for chainsaw carving in the sun: wear a powered air filter mask so it passes air across your face. in the photo simon o'rourke is carving an angel wearing such a mask.

Tips for Chainsaw Carving in the Sun

Tips for Chainsaw Carving in the Sun 800 600 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things Simon loves about his work is that he gets to spend a lot of time outdoors. However, carving in all weather does come with its challenges! So today we want to share some tips for chainsaw carving in the sun…

 

Tips for chainsaw carving in the sun. Photo shows simon o'rourke wearing protective headgear, carving a female sculpture from wood using a stihl chainsaw.

Simon carving in the sun at Woodfest 2017. Photo credit: Andy Grady.

 

#1: Stay Hydrated.

Hydration is always the most important factor when we’re in the sun. And chainsaw carving is no different! With so many great environmentally-friendly water bottle options around at the moment, and even some fun options for hydration backpacks with a straw, there’s no excuse not to drink water throughout the day.

 

Simon O'Rourke carving a wood sculpture of the god Svantevit in Putgarten, Germany

Another sunny carving day creating Svantevit in Putgarten, Germany

 

#2: Invest in Weather-Appropriate Clothing

The next of our tips for chainsaw carving in the sun is clothing. We’ve all heard it said that there is no bad weather, just the wrong clothes. How true that is! Simon is fortunate that he isn’t climbing, so can wear class A trousers, and favours the Stihl Advance X Light. However, many chainsaw trousers have vents in the legs these days, so it should be easy to find a pair that works for you.

 

Tips for chainsaw carving in the sun: wear appropriate trousers like the stihl advance x light. front and rear view pictures. black trousers with logo on side

Simon favours these Advance X-Light trousers made by Stihl. Photos from the Stihl website.

 

#3: Wear Appropriate PPE

Not all PPE is made equally! So the third of our tips for chainsaw carving in the sun is to find appropriate PPE for all weathers. For example, the JSP Powercap (or a similar powered air filter mask) can be good as it constantly passes filtered air across your face.

 

tips for chainsaw carving in the sun: wear a powered air filter mask so it passes air across your face. in the photo simon o'rourke is carving an angel wearing such a mask.

Simon wearing the powercap while he carves in Germany in 2019

 

#4: Create Shelter

The photo of Simon carving in Germany leads nicely to the fourth of our tips for chainsaw carving in the sun: create a place of shelter if you can. Sunstroke is no joke for anyone, at any time. But it’s definitely not a good idea to combine dizziness and nausea with a chainsaw! Using a canopy can help avoid this danger, like the ones used at the Huskycup pictures below. These can be purchased at any outdoor store.

 

chainsaw carver simon o'rourke stands with two men dressed in traditional german mining uniform, and their portraits carved out of oak. Behind them is a Stihl canopy.

The Stihl canopy behind Simon is ideal for avoiding the direct glare of the sun

 

#5: Take Regular Breaks

And the last of our tips is to put down the chainsaw! Taking regular breaks gives you a chance to cool down, but it also allows you to take a look at your sculpture from different angles, which is really important for keeping the proportions looking good.

simon o'rourke carving an old German miner at the Huskycup

Simon at the Huskycup in 2018

More About Health and Safety

If you would like to know more about chainsaw carving safety, make sure you follow this blog (or any of my social media channels) so you receive notifications about future blogs on this topic. As we mentioned in the tips for getting started in chainsaw carving blog, it can also be good to talk to experts. Simon has invested in the services of Acton Health and Safety to advise and help keep him compliant with safety codes and laws, and we wholeheartedly recommend them.

And lastly, while we’re talking about carving in the sun, if you would like to book Simon for live carving or demonstration at an outdoor event, or talk to him about a commission, please email him via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

simon o'rourke carving an old German miner at the Huskycup

Tips for Getting Started in Chainsaw Carving

Tips for Getting Started in Chainsaw Carving 900 600 Simon O'Rourke

Simon is often asked about how to start chainsaw carving. The reality is, everyone’s journey will look a little different. However, there are some principles that are pretty much universally true.  And there are definitely things that Simon and his team have learned over the years, that could benefit others. So, these are his top tips for getting started in chainsaw carving…

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke next to one of his early pievces, a fairy on a swing. c 2009.

Simon with one of his competition pieces at the start of his career

No 1: Safety First!

The first of our tips for getting started in chainsaw carving is very simple. Get your chainsaw certificate.
Although you don’t need one for ‘messing round’ at home, you will if you are going to become a business and sell your work.
Safety matters. Confidence matters. And you will build both through getting certified. Occasional users should recertify every two to three years. More frequent users around every five.
You can find out more at www.hse.gov.uk/treework/site-management/training.htm

No. 2: Invest in Good Basic Equipment

The next blog in this series will have more information about what this should include. There are some basics where you could buy budget products, but others, where it’s much better to invest in something reliable that you know, will last. Simon recommends Stihl chainsaws but also enjoys using Milwaukee tools and Saburrtooth burr bits.

 

stihl chainsaw. stihl are one of the brands simon recommends buying as one of his top tips for getting started in chainsaw carving.

Stihl Chainsaw – can be used for creative or practical purposes, but either way, safety is paramount!

 

No 3: Get a Mentor

If you can, find a chainsaw artist to be a mentor. Even better if you can actually apprentice with them. Even if it’s on a very low key level at the beginning, input from someone more experienced is invaluable. And being alongside a paid artist in this way will ensure some variety in your subjects that we sometimes don’t get if there isn’t a customer challenging and stretching us to try new things.

No 4: Watch Other Artists

The fourth of our tips for getting started in chainsaw carving is to watch other artists. If you can do this live, it’s amazing! If not, plenty of us in the community have social media, youtube channels etc where you can watch, slow down the action and pause. Watching others is an inspiration but you can also see how they approach different things, and different techniques they employ. If you’re looking for live events (when things open up!) in the UK, Woodfest and the English Open are good places to start. In Europe, Huskycup, Holz-Flori and Friends and Zandsculpturenfestijn in Garderen are worth checking out.

simon o'rourke carving an old German miner at the Huskycup

Simon O’Rourke at the Huskycup in 2018

No 5: Get to Know a Good Tree Surgeon!

Getting to know good, reliable tree surgeons/arborists is a key part of sourcing quality wood. Being able to recommend each other to clients doesn’t hurt either! Simon has also found it helpful to know reliable tree surgeons for assistance moving timber and finished sculptures.

No 6: Employ Experts

When you build a business as a chainsaw artist, there are a LOT of things that happen behind the scenes. So our sixth tip is to employ experts. This ensures things are being done well, and it also frees you up to focus on the creative side. Accounting, Health and Safety, business strategy, web and marketing, social media, video editing… these are just some of the areas where it’s worth seeing if you can delegate or employ an expert.

tips for getting started in chainsaw carving No 5 - know a good tree surgeon. photo shows a Treetech truck.

Sourcing and transporting the raw materials is one of the expenses underlying the cost of a sculpture

No 7: Just Do It!

Tip seven? Just do it! Give it a go! Find time to experiment and try different things. It’s worth remembering that sometimes we hold ourselves back as artists when we are more worried about the product than the process. To grow in skill and style, especially in the beginning, you will need to just keep trying. Go for it and HAVE FUN!

No 8: Pace Yourself

At the beginning of the blog, we said that every journey is unique. It’s good to have goals and objectives and plans for how to achieve them. But if the pace isn’t working for you, take a step back. Building a thriving business as a chainsaw carving artist (or any art!) is a marathon, not a sprint. Initially, it may look like going to some country shows or fairs and selling some small sculptures you made once or twice a month. And then you may pick up a couple of commissions through social media. And then you get a commission but not much else so you’re back at fairs. Stick with it, don’t be discouraged, and go at the pace that suits your life priorities, finances and health/energy.

It’s OK if it takes time, and it’s OK if it doesn’t look like the same route someone else took.

a pair of lion sculptures: photo features the face of the oak lion mentioned in the accompanying blog

Final Thoughts

We hope you found these tips helpful. Watch out for the next in the ‘How to’ series where Simon will share his recommended basic tool kit to get started.

As always, if you have questions for Simon about a commission, contact him using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.

Simon O'Rourke uses a chainsaw to carve a lifesize portrait of Ken Dodd

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health 1920 1080 Simon O'Rourke

This week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Although the focus was ‘nature’, we’ll be highlighting the benefits art has on mental health…

Simon O'Rourke uses a chainsaw to carve a lifesize portrait of Ken Dodd

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health: The Benefits

There’s growing agreement in the world of mental health professionals about the way art can benefit people. The Mental Health Foundation website states that it can help with ageing and loneliness. Their research shows being involved with arts helps boost confidence, and leads people to be more engaged/present/mindful as well as more resilient. Creative arts can also help create community, and alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress.

sculptures based on movies: simon o'rourke creating a giant groot marionette for Wales Comic Con 2015

 

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health: Application

Obviously ‘arts and creativity’ covers a wide range of skills, hobbies, interests and possibilities. So what exactly are we talking about? Well, in terms of ‘arts’ we mean anything creative! Sketching, painting, sculpting, music, dance, baking, writing….the list goes on! Pretty much anything that involves creating!

But what does it look like? There are a few different ways we can go about using the arts to improve our mental health. These are just a few applications…

Art for Art’s Sake

Simply take time to create for the sake of creating something that brings you pleasure – whether that be the process, the product, or both. Whatever your craft, just do it and enjoy it!

Journalling

Creative journalling has grown in popularity a lot in recent years. And it’s no wonder!
Taking time to journal creatively (writing, sketching, vlogging…there’s no limit!) improves mental health in and of itself. But it also leaves us landmarks so we can see growth and progress, helps us tell our story, aids us as we process, and can help reveal patterns so we learn both our stressors and the things that bring us joy.

Therapy

Lastly, formal art therapy. This area is a growing speciality, and there is an increasing number of art therapists available. Always make sure though that you find someone who is accredited and works in association with a supervising body. The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) is the best place to start if you are looking to explore this form of counselling.

Chainsaw artist SImon O'Rourke works on a life size oak sculpture of a man

 

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health: Simon’s Story

The opportunity to create has helped Simon over the years. In his own words…

“I find working with wood very cathartic, although the chainsaw is such a loud and aggressive tool.
I’ve also found that returning to my roots as an illustrator and creating artwork using pen and ink is relaxing and helps me to focus. I have had times though when I’ve really struggled to be creative and it can be pressure when income depends on completing work within a certain timeframe.”

If you can relate to that and sometimes struggle to be creative (whether that’s because it feels forced or something like feeling overwhelmed by the mess or effort), Simon has learned it’s OK in those times to walk away for a little bit. Go off and do something else you love, like gardening or walking or play a computer game and then come back to it. A ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘not ever’!

Simon sketching the face of ayrton senna. Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health

Simon’s Story Continued…

“Over the last 20 years of sculpting, I’ve had numerous ups and downs and have sometimes felt like giving up entirely. It can be difficult sometimes even with a job I love to see past the need to generate income, and I think that happens for anyone. I’ve found it really important to slow down even if it means a drop in revenue for a time. It’s so important for overall health to take time to recuperate and allow yourself to breathe.
I’m not very public with my emotions and feelings and not great at being open with people, but I’ve found that taking time to create something just because I want to, not because someone is paying me to do so is one of the best things. It allows me some freedom to enjoy the creative process without time constraints.”
Impact of creativity and art on mental health - simon o'rourke pictured using a chainsaw to carve a dragon's mouth egg casket. He finds the process cathartic and beneficial for mental wellbeing.

The Impact of Creativity and Art on Mental Health: Final Thoughts

If this has piqued your interest, we definitely recommend finding out more, or just pulling out a camera, pen, pencils or even playdough and having a go! Or perhaps you have a story to share about how engaging in the arts has positively impacted your own mental health. We’d love to hear it!

And as always, to commission a sculpture, connect with Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

 

 

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture?

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture? 600 600 Simon O'Rourke

I’m often asked is how to care for a sculpture after it’s installed. It’s a really good question! I’m also often asked how to treat the wood to help preserve its life. If you want to retain the colour on a sculpture then there are several things you can do to help. And so, today’s blog explores care for a tree carving sculpture…

 

Hiker in oak by SImon O'Rourke

Preservation of a commissioned sculpture is a natural concern

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing an Oil

I’ve always said decking oil is the best thing for sculptures outdoors due to its containing fungicide and UV protection. This is your best option if you want to treat the wood in any way.
There are several different levels of decking oil to choose from, so it can seem a bit overwhelming.
The brands I’ve used in the past are Rustins, Cuprinol, Ronseal, and Osmo. I’ve also tried own brands from B&Q and Wickes.
Quite often, the cheaper the oil, the less viscous it is. This has advantages such as being easier to spray on, but it isn’t often as hardy against the weather.
A lot of oils today are water-based emulsions. This makes them safer for the environment, which is great. However, I’m less sold on how well they do over time, and the finish can be a little gloopy.

 

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

Decking oil can help protect sculptures.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Application

One of the most difficult things about oils is the application. My sculptures tend to have lots of rough surfaces which means it’s not always easy to cover with a brush. It can be even more difficult to get an even coat across the sculpture. It’s worth taking the time to do this though.
It’s possible to thin down most oils with good quality thinners or white spirit and use them in a sprayer. However, bear in mind you will need more coats and therefore more time. The sprayers can be very difficult to clean too.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: many of simon's sculptures are rough and textured and this makes it difficult to apply even coats of oil. photo shows an example of the texture of a lion's face.

It can be difficult to achieve an even finish when oiling heavily textured sculptures like this lion.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Pre-Treatment

It can be a good idea to treat a sculpture with a clear wood preserver prior to oiling, as this helps prevent things from growing on the surface.
I’ve also been told that raw linseed oil can be good to treat exterior green oak. I’ve had no personal experience using it yet though, so I can’t really comment. But I will be trying it on a scrap piece to see what happens! Watch this space to see if it works!
picture shows a dragon carved in oak by simon o'rourke

Hemlock endures a lot while hired out for events, so oil is essential for protecting the sculpture.

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Retouching

The next question is then how often it’s necessary to repeat this process. As with many questions about the lifespan of a wood sculpture, there are no definite answers. The frequency of oiling will vary based on the environment, and it’s important to note that as soon as the oil wears off the surface then the sun will bleach the wood very quickly. You can’t get the natural colour back again at this stage, unless the wood is sanded or cut back.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: a man is sanding a piece of wood.

People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing the Right Timber

I’ve shared before that not every timber is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. All wood has different longevity. So I try to make sure that the sculptures I make are created from long lasting timber like oak, cedar, sweet chestnut, certain cypress varieties or redwood. However, I will occasionally carve a tree stump on a property that is from timber with less lastability, like beech or willow. I will always make sure the client understands that the sculpture won’t be as enduring. I also always recommend a good coat of clear wood preserver prior to oiling for these timbers to give them the best start.

 

Simon O'rourke using a chainsaw to cut into wood

Choosing durable wood is a key part of creating a long-lasting sculpture.

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Installation

The other thing to note is with free-standing sculptures, it’s wise to place them on a surface with good drainage, or have some airflow underneath them. The Queen of the South Soccer Players are a great example of this. They have been elevated so no water will collect. They are also on a wooden plinth which is where moisture will begin to gather first and travel upwards, preserving the players for longer.

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke. Photo shows sculpture of three soccer players standing back to back with onlookers admiring the piece

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Going Natural

The reality is, no wood sculpture will last forever. Really, the only way to ensure the longest life possible would be to keep it indoors! As I have shared before in this blog about wood versus bronze sculptures, I like the ageing process though. I think it adds character and beauty, and is more in keeping with using a material that once had a life of its own. It’s important to know what sort of finish you’re aiming for when you commission a sculpture. Discussing the finish and creating something you will love is all part of the process when you commission a sculpture.

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

Get in Touch!

If you would like to commission a sculpture, you can contact me at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ And whatever finish you choose for your own piece, I will be able to help with recommendations and tips for upkeep!

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask how to prevent cracking in the wood used for sculptures. The simple answer is you can’t! However, Simon has learned a lot over the years about working with and around the natural behaviours of wood. There are ways to minimise the impact of cracking on your sculpture to ensure it lasts as long as possible. The biggest of those is positioning, and so in this blog, we share how to best position a sculpture within a log.

How best to position a sculpture within a log: ensure cracking enhances the sculpture. This photo shows a close up of an oak face sculpture. It has vertical cracks along the cheek.

Cracks are an unavoidable part of wood sculptures

 

Understand We Can’t Eliminate Cracks

Simon’s first tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is actually nothing to do with positioning or carving! The first tip is to understand that it’s impossible to eliminate cracking when working with wood. Cracks and changes in the colour are all part of the ageing and drying process, as Simon shares in this blog about how long a sculpture will last. It’s a natural material and therefore can be unpredictable. Understanding that and being OK with ‘imperfections’ are important as it means that rather than worrying about cracking, you can focus your energy on the best ways of working with it.

 

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

 

Find the Centre of the Timber

Once we understand we can’t control cracking, we can focus on working with and around it. The first step towards that is finding the centre of the timber. This is important because it impacts the direction and amount of cracking, Wood shrinks faster circumferentially than radially. This means cracks start at the centre and move out, so the further from the centre, the more stable the wood. You will sometimes see cracks coming from the centre like wheel spokes. Usually, the centre is the middle of the log, but not always, so spend some time looking at the log and pay attention to where the cracks begin. This is your centre.

 

Photo shows a tractor with a fork lift attachment carrying a large tree trunk. Finding the centre of the trunk is essential in learning how to best position a sculpture within a log.

Finding the centre of a log like this means you can make the most of the solidity and stability of the timber.

 

Identify the Most Important Features of Your Design.

The next key in how to best position a sculpture within the log is to identify the most important features of your design. These are the parts that you most want to preserve. When sculpting human form, Simon finds it is most often the face. An example of this is the fairy sculpture below. Although there is a lot to see, the face is the part Simon wants people drawn to, so he will position the sculpture so her face is the least impacted by the cracks already appearing.
However, if your sculpture is more abstract, this may not be the case.
Where do you want the focus to be?
What details do you want to preserve?
Once you know this, you can work out the positioning.

 

Photo shows a chainsaw carving workshop with a sculpture in progress in the middle. The shape of a female sitting on a swing is blocked out in a large piece of oak, but no features are visible

The face of this fairy sculpture is the part Simon most wants to preserve from cracking

 

chainsaw carving sculpture of a 5' elf sitting on a swing

Simon carved this so the cracks are part of the shoulder. In this way the details of the face will be preserved.

Tactically Position the Sculpture

Now you know which parts are most important, you can work out whereabouts you position the sculpture in the log. If the face or front is most important, start carving so the centre of the log is at the back of the sculpture. That way as the sculpture ages and dries, the cracks will start at the back.

For this WWI soldier, Simon was able to cut the log and create the sculpture using the front part. If he had carved it in the centre of the timber (which is often instinctual), the cracks would be in the middle of the soldier, and potentially split him in half!!!
By moving the sculpture to the front half, it means the centre of the log becomes the soldier’s back. In this way, the cracks will appear in his back. This will not only preserve the facial details but also means the sculpture is much more stable.

 

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

The base of the sculpture shows hows Simon positioned the sculpture in front of the centre of the log.

 

Have a Positioning Plan B!

Obviously positioning cracks so they are hidden at the back isn’t always going to be possible. Sometimes we just don’t have a log big enough. If that happens, use plan b in how to best position a log within a sculpture… Position it so there are lots of small cracks across a feature.

It’s better to have lots of small cracks that one big central crack. This way as they swell and shrink with the different weather changes, the impact on the sculpture is less.

An example of this from Simon’s work is his recent horse bench. He positioned the sculpture so the centre was to the far side of the horse. The cracks are all across the mane. In this way, they become part of the texture and there’s no risk of the mane looking like it’s been divided in half! More importantly, it also means the sculpture is the most stable and solid that it can be.

 

Tree carving workshop with a sculpture in progress. The sculpture is a bench, and one end is a horse with flame like mane

Simon used one half of the log for the horse head, and position it so the centre is on the far side of the horse.

 

Horse bench by chainsaw carving artist simon o'rourke

The centre of the log is now this side of the horse to ensure minimal cracking and most stability.

 

Know When to Say No!

Simon’s last tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is to recognise when a piece of timber simply isn’t suitable. Sometimes there is just too much rot. We actually have a blog about types of rot to help you with that. Sometimes when you cut into the log you find a crack that is already large and would impact the design. If this is the case, there is often little you can do. At this point, you need to either accept that this sculpture will have a short life, or start again.

This happened with the lion Simon made before Christmas. You’ll be able to see in the photo how the crack is already moving up into the lion’s body. In addition, the rot meant the wood was too soft to carve and would have begun rotting away much quicker. As this was for a commission, Simon wasn’t prepared to compromise on quality, and had to start over on a fresh log. This timber can still be used, but for a much smaller sculpture that wouldn’t incorporate the wood or crack.

At the end of the day, wood is a natural material and is unpredictable. It’s part of its beauty, and working with that and allowing it to enhance the sculpture is part of the challenge Simon enjoys. If you are choosing wood sculpture over something like bronze or marble, hopefully it’s something you like too! But occasionally it really does mean starting over!

 

How best to position a sculpture within a log... photo shows the start of a tree carving sculpture. The shape is blocked out but there is a large crack and split at the centre making it an usuitable log for sculpture.

Sometimes you just have to abandon a piece of timber!

 

Over to You!

Learning to work with cracking is something that will come with experience. If you are very concerned about a crack, it is possible to fill them, and Simon will do this very occasionally. However, he does recommend the tips he has shared here.

To the other chainsaw artists out there, what are some of your tips and tricks for working with cracks?

If you enjoyed this article, there is a  10 minute video below where Simon expands on these points. Please excuse the wind in one of the sections – the Welsh weather doesn’t always co-operate with plans for outdoor filming!

And, as always, if you are interested in commissioning a tree carving sculpture from Simon, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

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

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

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

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

The Bavarian Fairy

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

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

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

Challenges with the carving

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

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

The fairy with her face in profile.

The technical stuff!

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

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

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

The Golden Ratio

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

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

 

Applying The Golden Ratio

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

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

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

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

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