tourist attraction

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint! So here they are: “Three Wise Dragons”.

The Setting

The dragons were a commission from Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. Eventually they’ll be surrounded by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment. In a few weeks when it’s finished, they will be the perfect backdrop for 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

The History

The full commission was for a bench and three dragons. Here we have a very lovable version of: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – our Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure you’re familiar with. And now for some trivia!

The saying itself dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century. It was actually a 17th century wooden carving though that made the characters famous. We already thought it was fitting to have a dragon version for Wales. Once we discovered that, we thought it even more fitting that we’re continuing that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

The commission also included a dragon bench. In keeping with being a family venue, and wanting the dragons to seem fun and approachable for children, this docile looking chap is even taking a nap! Perfect spot for a bit of a breather while the kids play, or snapping a family photo.

Sleeping Dragon Bench

The Location

‘Hafan Y Mor’ means ‘sea haven’. It seems an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina.

Before we finish for this week, we’re intrigued to know: which one is your favourite? Comment below to tell us!

Don’t forget, you can also commission your own dragon by emailing [email protected]

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

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

Heroes at Highclere

Heroes at Highclere 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We’re sure you can’t have missed that this week was the anniversary of 9/11. Certainly my social media feeds were full of people paying tribute to all the servicemen and law enforcement (human and canine!) who had willingly sacrificed their wellbeing, and even lives, to try and save others.

 

Whilst it is always sad to remember, it is also a beautiful thing to pay respect and honour, and here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving, we were honoured to pay tribute ourselves last weekend to another group of servicemen.

For readers outside the UK who may not have had the same media exposure, September 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War, culminating in the Armistice two months later. In this centenary year, we have already had many events, appeals, fly bys and exhibitions happening all around the country to honour the men and women who have selflessly served our nation, and this event we were just at was just one fantastic example.

 

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle (many of you will recognise it as ‘Downton Abbey’), chose to open their grounds for “Heroes at Highclere”: a charity weekend, honouring  those who have served and fundraising for charities related to our armed forces. Part of this weekend was the unveiling of an airman sculpture Simon was commissioned to create for this event, and we were invited to be there for the event.

It was an honour to be there in person at Highclere during the event, and as well as getting to unveil the sculpture, we were also able to take time to enjoy the exhibitions, planes, food, good weather and wonderful atmosphere as well as meet and talk with the families of those brave soldiers who lost their lives when their planes came down on and around the Highclere estate during World War 2. What a privilege too, to have been the one commissioned to create this piece honouring so many brave men and women who served during the world wars and in those 100 years that have followed – even more so, that it is housed in such a beautiful and iconic setting as the Highclere Estate!!

As well as the airman sculpture, Daniel, our carpenter and workshop manager, did a beautiful job of creating 3 benches based on the tail plane of a P38 aircraft; one of the types of aircraft that crash landed on the Highclere estate during World War two.

He thoughtfully designed the benches in a way that he could incorporate some pieces of shrapnel from the plane by using clear acrylic tubing for the legs, but sadly there was not any suitable shrapnel from this plane available at the time and so he used small pieces of shrapnel from the B17 aircraft that had also crashed there instead.

This actually ended up being the perfect combination as not only did it include more of the planes that had crashed on the estate in the design, but, on the day of the remembrance service and sculpture unveiling we actually met the family of the pilot of the B17 who had sadly died in the crash. We were so humbled and honoured to meet them and they absolutely loved the benches.

 

As well as the joy of seeing the completed pieces in their new home, and the fun of being able to take part in the heroes weekend, participating in this way also leaves us humbled and thankful for the men, women and animals in our armed forces and law enforcement. We hope that others who visit the castle and see our Airman and benches, will not only enjoy the artistry, but also take a moment to pause and reflect on their significance…

 

For those who would like to see the airman in situ, he will be on the lawns overlooking ‘Heaven’s Gate’ at the back of Highclere Castle for the foreseeable future. (Admission charges apply, please see the Highclere website for details)