tourist attraction

Rauschwitz Angel

Rauschwitz Angel 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Germany has a big tree carving tradition, and throughout the year there are events, festivals and competitions. We love that we get to be part of the events themselves. Bigger than this though, we love that we are able to be part of the tree carving community. Each time we participate we meet wonderful people and grow friendships whilst helping to maintain the tradition.

This week’s blog is from one of the newer events, hosted by Rauschwitzer Wood Culture Community. This particular event is run by Christian Schmidt who himself is a talented tree carver. It featured several artists carving angels (read on for the explanation) and a speed carving competition.

In Rauschwitz, there is an open air church, where the ‘walls’ are all trees, and a space cleared between them, with benches for the congregation to sit on. The task this year for all the participants, was to carve an angel for the end of each of the church benches.

Rauschwitz Church Angel by Simon O'Rourke

Rauschwitz Angel by Simon O’Rourke – notice the photobomb by @poppystihl!

The angel ‘theme’ really helped to tie the carvings together. There was incredible diversity as each artist was free to carve their own interpretation. There is also a real unity though as they all carved the same subject. This is a great depiction of what church is supposed to be – a celebration of diversity within unity.

Rather than just focus on Simon’s sculpture, we thought we would also share some others from the event. What do you like about each, and why? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Griffon Ramsey angel

Angel by Griffon Ramsey

Angel at Rauschwitz by Dieter Kruger

Angel by Andrej Lochel

Angel by Andrej Lochel

Angel by Andrej Lochel

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

A Bavarian Fairy Tale 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

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.

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

This year Simon carved this fairy. 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

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.

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?”
For those wanting to know more about the technical side to Simon’s work, read on!

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

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!

 

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!

 

Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every commission has its own story, and some go back further than others. This week our blog is the story behind Our Lady of Pen Llyn. It is steeped in a rich history that spans generations and continents. Our thanks go to Father Huw Bryant of Bro Enlli who helped us understand the history and significance. He graciously supplied far more than we could include in this blog, and if it catches your attention, we recommend visiting their Facebook page to find out more, or visiting any of the links.

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn (Mair Forwyn Y Mor) was commissioned by St Peter’s Church in Pwllheli as part of their redevelopment of the church as a site for pilgrimage. When people think of sacred sites in North Wales, they usually name Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). However, in centuries past, Pwllheli was also a significant site for pilgrimage. Three years ago the shrine was re-opened. Believers began to come once again to St Peter’s to spend time in quiet, prayer and contemplation.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon O'Rourke's workshop

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon’s workshop

The idea for this sculpture began when one such visitor donated a relic believed to be a piece of the veil worn by Mary (the mother of Jesus) at the cross. The church began looking for a way of displaying the relic, to make it accessible to visitors. Writings of Hywel Rheinallt describe a statue of Mary in the area, believed to have been lost during the reformation. In wishing to reinstate that heritage, Fr Huw Bryant began to talk with Simon about a new statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s Pwllheli

Obviously a figure like Mary has been depicted many times, and one of the challenges with being commissioned to create such a sculpture is where to start. What age should she be depicted as? What mood? Standing, sitting, kneeling?
Simon and Father Huw began their conversation around the original statue, and the ancient seal of Pwllheli which also depicted Mary. Although all images of both seem to have been lost, there are descriptions of a vision of Mary at Uwchmynydd (a holy well in the area). They have been depicted by local artist Su Walls, and these formed the basis for early conversation about the statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Simon’s statue was unveiled last weekend, accompanied by a performance “The Protecting Veil” by Sir John Tavener. The piece is a journey with Mary through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection in music, and provided a beautiful backdrop of sound for viewing the sculpture.

In keeping with a tradition of religious statues going on tour, Our Lady of Pen Llyn is currently rotating round churches in the area (view dates HERE). She will return to St Peter’s on 15th August and will stay in the shrine area of the church where the relic is already on display. It is hoped she will be part of the devotional life of the shrine, another way of helping people enter the story of faith.

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Father Huw Bryant has said of the sculpture:

“It’s great to be able to have something that is both ancient and new, something to replace the medieval statue which is part of our cultural heritage that had been lost but made new for a new generation of Christians. What could symbolise such a fresh and new approach to an ancient practice than to carve it with a chainsaw!

It is a privilege over the last 3 years to see a shrine re-born and begin to bear fruit and this statue is the next step in the life of the Shrine being re-established for generations to come. Given that the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham has been used by Christian’s to guide them to Christ for over 950 years, it’s humbling to think Simon’s carving may be helping people find their way to God for hundreds of years to come.”
Indeed, it’s humbling for us think of the people who will view this and be impacted over the decades and maybe centuries to come!
Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

St Peter’s Church and Shrine are open Tuesday – Sunday for pilgrims to visit, and there is a shrine mass every Saturday at 10am.

If groups are interested in coming and would like services and devotions laid on, you can message them via their Facebook page or calling 01758 614693.

As always, Simon is available to talk about similar commissions at [email protected]

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

June 25th was Global Beatles Day. Yes, there is such a thing! It was created to honour and celebrate the ideals of The Beatles, and we couldn’t let it pass without a flashback to Simon’s Beatles carvings – our own tribute to the legendary musicians.

Simon carving The Beatles

Work in progress!

The Beatles were carved over four days in Liverpool in August 2017. It was part of an event at the pier head, so locals were able to watch Simon at work. Needless to say, they loved seeing their very own ‘fab four’ coming to life!


Each figure was carved out of its own piece of timber and took around six hours. From facial details to posture, each one is a great representation, and reflects Simon’s talent for human form. The ‘Fab Four’ were auctioned off in aid of Variety charity, and ended up raising over £15,000!

Simon with the finished band!

Since then Simon has recreated lots of figures from the airman at Highclere Castle to other Liverpudlians like Cilla Black and Ken Dodd. You can see some of his human form portfolio here.

If there are events, anniversaries etc that you would like marked with your own sculpture, get in touch with us at [email protected] to find out more.

Huskycup 2019

Huskycup 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

And just like that, Huskycup 2019 is over! After a week of carving by some of the best chainsaw carvers in the world, Blockhausen now has several dragons added to its exhibits – including the fabulous Water Dragon by Simon and Japanese tree carver Keiji Kidokoro.

As we wrote in THIS BLOG, Simon and Keiji had the freedom to make anything relating to the theme ‘dragons’. They decided to create a dragon which would reflect both their cultures, in an ‘east meets west’ Water Dragon.

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Simon and Keiji with the finished water dragon

Initially the dragon seems predominantly Asian because of the serpentine shape and the wave it rests on. Closer look shows a beautiful merging of the cultures though. For example, the wings are very much the scale of those seen in western interpretations of dragons. It also features a more typically western profile with the sloped nose. Up close, we can also see scales more consistent with the dragons of Hollywood movies than those of Asian design.
What other features can you see belonging to each culture?

Initial sketch of Water Dragon by Simon O Rourke and Keiji

The initial concept sketch by Simon

 

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Profile view of the finished Water Dragon

Part of the success of this dragon was working to each of their strengths. Simon and Keiji have carved together before (Japan 2015 & 2016) which was an asset when designing the piece. Simon imagined and drew the initial design, but very much incorporated Keiji’s skill in fine detailing and consistent texturing. Keiji is also talented with an airbrush, and painted the eyes and a piece of tail. We think both are lovely finishing touches which help bring life to the sculpture.

Keiji painting the eye

Keiji painting the eye

 

View showing the scales over the entire body

View showing the scales over the entire body

 

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

View from the tail shows another airbrushed touch of colour

One of Simon’s strengths is creating movement and story in his pieces. As such, he enjoyed working on the coils that create the shape and movement of the dragon. That meant creating the shape of each piece, but also working out placement, so it would be realistic and retain the overall flow of the sculpture. We think he did a great job!

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Focus on the coils that gave the eastern serpentine feel

Those who follow us on our Facebook page will have seen that the dragon wasn’t without its challenges though! Reaching some parts of the dragon needed some serious climbing and balancing skills! They also drew the smallest pieces of timber in the lottery, and later discovered some rotten wood which meant pausing work to resource something more suitable. Small challenges though in a week which was otherwise packed with successful carving, being inspired by others and enjoying time with the tree carving community.

Their initial wood supply

 

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Carving those hard-to-reach places!

Simon also got to try some new tools. As always, Stihl (Stihl DE) were faithful to provide chainsaws which are always up to the task! He also got to try some new angle grinding tools provided by Korean company, Manpa. It can be a bit of a gamble working with unfamiliar tools, but in this case it worked out. Both the Stihl and Manpa tools turned out to be great choices for Simon.

Simon working on some fine detail

 

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Working on some fine detail on the wings

Huskycup is about more than the carving though. Blockhausen itself is always worth a visit, but part of what makes the event great and draws back such a high calibre of artist, is the atmosphere and community. The venue even features its own Walk of Fame, honouring artists in the tree carving community! Simon received his star in 2012, and he felt this year’s additions were great choices.

The finished head

The finished head

 

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

A final photo of the finished Water Dragon

Oh, and for those who noticed the little guy at the front right of the photo? This baby dragon is not only bringing the cute to your screen right now (and showing Simon’s versatility in dragon carving!), but will feature in a charity auction.

Baby dragon for charity auction

Baby dragon for charity auction

For those wanting to see more, the organisers have already started to upload photos and videos which you can enjoy HERE.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself! Huskycup is open to the public, and Blockhausen is open all year round where you can see the Water Dragon for yourself, as well as other creations from over the years.

It’s a Jungle Out There!

It’s a Jungle Out There! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

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, and Simon was invited to contribute again this year.

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

The theme for the year (‘Journey Round the World’) gave a LOT of scope for the artists to create natural wonders, architecture, people and animals. The artists who were there at the same time as Simon though all focused on nature, and created animal carvings. Animals make up the majority of Simon’s work at the moment, but 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 that inspired him 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 (or throne) featuring not one or two animals, but 34!

The finished Jungle Seat

The finished Jungle Seat

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 so the ‘seat’ concept was born!

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Two different angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

Jungle Seat by Simon O'Rourke at Zandsculpturenfestijn

Two more angles showing the animals in the jungle seat

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 explanation of the seat too!

 

 

 

 

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.

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 exhibits and demonstrations, 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, not normally open to the public. Coming to see the exhibits not only allowed people to enjoy some beautiful creations (and demonstrations of works in progress), but also the beauty of creation 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 many of the portraits Simon does, so we asked him to share a little bit more about his inspiration and the process of carving something this striking:

“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Wise Dragons

Three Wise Dragons 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint!

This past week has featured more of Simon’s dragons being installed in Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. They will eventually be surround by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment – their ‘home’ is still being built around them, and in a few weeks they will be the perfect addition to a holiday selfie!

 

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

 

As well as the sleeping dragon bench, we have three lovable dragons: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – a Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure are more familiar to you than these characters! Although the saying itself can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century, it was actually a 17th century wooden carving of the monkeys that launched the characters into the renown they have today, so it seems fitting not only to have a dragon version for Wales, but to continue that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

 

Sleeping Dragon Bench

 

‘Hafan Y Mor’ can be translated as either ‘sea haven’ which makes it an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina. If you happen to be enjoying the area, why not tag us in a photo of yourself with our Three Wise Dragons, and let us know which one is your favourite?

Maes Y Pant Fort

Maes Y Pant Fort 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
Although most of our carving is done by Simon O’Rourke, we have affiliates who work with us on certain projects that we can also recommend if Simon is not available for a commission. This week our blog features one of those projects: The Maes Y Pant fort.

The fort at Maes Y Pant, Marford*

Maes Y Pant is a former quarry, which is now a forested area run by local communities, local to us here in North Wales. It features woodland trails and a children’s play area, and is of particular interest to conservationists because of the unusual Bee Orchid which can be found there.  Our work is found in a few different places, and visitors are actually greeted at the entrance to the park by ‘Stanley’ – a previous carve of Simon’s. Whilst it’s a privilege to be able to travel and see our work in places around the world, there is also something special about a local project that enables us more easily to see people enjoying it over the years.

Stanley greets guests at the entrance ***

The brief for this project was to construct a play area and fort within a palisade for families to use, which would also reflect and portray the wildlife on the site. The bulk of the job was completed by our affiliates Nathan Woods and Daniel Barnes over nine days in Spring 2017 , and was constructed using part of the commercial softwood crop that helps fund the site.  Not only did this provide an affordable and easy-to-access source of timber, it also ensured that the build is totally sympathetic to the surrounding environment.

Welcome sign by Nathan Woods at the Maes Y Pant fort*

This then left Nathan with one day for detailing – the sign, carved weaponry, and the dragons on the see-saw. After all, what’s a fortress without some weapons?! These are all historical weapons such as bows and arrows and swords, which is in keeping with the historic aesthetic of a fort, and not only looks great, but helps encourage and inspire imaginative play in the children using the area.
In asking him about the project, Nathan reflected that “Thankfully the weather was unusually kind for the time of year and the work, whilst being ‘intensive’ went according to plan” – something that is never guaranteed carving at this time of year, and that we are ALWAYS thankful for when it happens!

Nathan’s weaponry detailing on individual posts in the fort*

The second phase was completed in January of this year, when Nathan returned for two days to complete this wonderful bee totem pole, and welcoming ladybird seat –  further reflecting the local wildlife, and creating a rest space for families to pause and enjoy the environment or watch their children play.

Bee totem pole and ladybird bench*

If you happen to be in the area, why not tag us in your photos? It’s lovely when a project is both beautiful and functional, for us to be able to see it being used and enjoyed.

Local boys enjoying the fort this summer**

 

Nathan is a hugely experienced tree carver, and has worked for/with us for just over 10 years, over many different projects ranging from when we were just a tent in a frozen field to the current set-up! He can  currently only be commissioned for work through Tree Carving.
Daniel is a gifted carpenter and has worked with us for four-and-a-half years. He specialises in high quality, bespoke work and especially enjoys making and installing kitchens and doors, and creating furniture in its organic form. He can also currently be contacted through Tree Carving.
* Photo credit Nathan Woods
** Photo credit Yvonne Ankers
*** Photo taken from Maes Y Pant website