Travel

A Hydra Rising

A Hydra Rising 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Commission

Last week Simon was in Surrey completing a private commission for a client: A Hydra rising from the ground.

The nature of tree carving means really having to go with the flow. Or we should say, go with the grain.
And the flaws.
Plus the cracks and future cracks.
The knots too.
And more!
In this case, Simon had seen photos and had an idea of creating an animal emerging from the ground. However, it was only when he saw the timber in person, that he could fully commit to a design. A hydra rising from among the fallen tree.

A work-in-progress photo of a Hydra rising from the ground by Simon O'Rourke

The hydra in process

The Timber

The timber in question was willow, which is technically a ‘medium hard’ wood. That description is a little deceiving though, as it is actually lightweight, and very soft. That softness is actually why it’s a popular choice for whittling and wood carving. It means that it doesn’t make good  lumber for furniture or construction though. It also isn’t a good choice for firewood, as it gives off relatively little heat compared with other woods. That means a fallen willow is a perfect excuse for having something unique created in your garden!

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Process

Once he got to work, Simon enjoyed creating heads from each of the branches. He used a range of Stihl, Milwaukee, and Manpa tools to create the faces and scales that make it appear a hydra is rising from the ground. In part, this effect is enhanced by the choice of leaving some bark and leaves lower down the individual branches. He was especially thankful for the Stihl MS193c petrol chainsaw as there was nowhere to charge any batteries! That said, there is an upgraded Stihl MS 151 C-E out now that he can’t wait to get his hands on. It promises an increase in power and torque, whilst still being their most lightweight back handle saw.

Hydra tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Sponsorship News.

While we’re speaking of Stihl, it seems a good opportunity to share that they have renewed their sponsorship of Simon. We’re delighted by this, as they provide such consistent quality tools and customer service. You can see their full range of products at https://www.stihl.co.uk/products.aspx . We also thought we’d share this video from their website which shares a little more as to why we love this partnership.

The Finished Product.

But back to the hydra! After many hours playing with power tools, we have a finished hydra rising. For Greek Mythology purists, Simon suggests not counting the heads as it has a few more than tradition says! And speaking of Greek Mythology, whether it be the intricacies or the teeth and scales, or the ferociousness of expression that wins him over, we reckon even Heracles wouldn’t want to chop any of the heads off this particular hydra!

Close up of the Hydra Heads. A private tree carving commission by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the heads showing the detail and texture.

Simon is available for bespoke sculptures from your damaged or fallen trees. Contact him using our online form or on [email protected] for quotes or just to find out more.

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Visit

No, our blog title doesn’t refer to the movie released this weekend. We mean the real life setting for the series and movie: Highclere Castle. The castle is part of Lady and Lord Carnavon’s estate and is located in Hampshire, over 200 miles from the fictional setting. But for the fans of the series who enjoy a good tear-jerker, today’s blog about visiting the Highclere Castle Airman is just as good!

You may remember that last year Simon and Dan worked on a memorial for the Highclere Estate. For those who need a refresher, the project was a sculpture of a WWII airman and a series of benches that were unveiled at the Highclere Heroes weekend. They were made as a tribute to the airmen who lost their lives in the eight plane crashes that occurred there during WWII.  The benches even featured actual wreckage from one of the B17s that crashed on the estate. This weekend Simon and Liz had the privilege of visiting to see how the Highclere Castle airman is doing.

Keep reading to find out what that entails for Simon, but also a wonderful ‘plot twist’!

Simon and Liz O'Rourke at Highclere Castle, home of his airman sculpture

Simon and Liz at Highclere

Highclere Castle Airman with the house in the background

The beautiful setting for the airman and benches

The ‘Check Up’

Simon looks out for a few things when checking on a sculpture. One is obviously any damage that needs repairing. Thankfully there is no damage to either the airman or benches. That is, except for the inevitable bird deposits! He also reports that the Sculpture is weathering nicely. It’s already turned a lovely silvery grey colour, which was the intention.
When Simon re-visits a sculpture, he also looks at where the wood has opened up. When he is carving, he has to calculate where cracks will appear as it ages, and take this into account. Using wood in the right way can ensures it doesn’t split across the face or important parts of the sculpture as the wood dries. Again, thankfully all is well!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

Reflecting on the project

The estate is a beautiful place to  enjoy the British countryside, and the Highclere Castle Airman is located in a particularly tranquil spot. As Simon and Liz were able to sit and enjoy both countryside and sculpture, they took some time to reflect on the project.

The O’Rourkes still feel extremely honoured to have been involved in this memorial. They hope that people will be able to enjoy the sculpture and benches in this setting for years to come. They’re also still extremely grateful to Lord and lady Carnarvon for commissioning Simon and Dan, and for their hospitality to them. As at the original unveiling,  it was very moving for them to be in a place so many sacrificed their lives for others, and to be part of a project that makes that history a visible and ‘living memory’ for others.

Simon, Liz and Dan weren’t the only ones moved by this lovely tribute commissioned by Lady Carnarvon. Several news outlets picked up on the sculpture, but also some of the stories behind it. The BBC article focused on the story of Len Nitti; a serviceman who miraculously survived a crash. The Daily Post focused on the project itself, as does the Daily Mail who also reflect on how the commission was an example of life and art imitating each other, and mirrored the final scenes of Downton Abbey.

B17 Benches, part of the Highclere Castle Aiurman memorial by Simon O'Rourke and Dan Barnes

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

The 'B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes. Part of the Highclere Castle Airman memorial

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

And then…..

And now for that beautiful plot twist!

Simon and Liz met with families of the airmen who lost their lives as part of the project – a very meaningful part of the Highclere Castle Airman story for them. So much so in fact, they are still in touch with one of the families today. There was one family that they didn’t get to meet at the time though. The family of William Dutton were the only family who were unable to make the unveiling weekend last year. 2nd Lt Dutton died on May 5th 1945 in the B17 Flying Fortress. In fact, it’s parts from his plane that are in the bench legs!
Life is full of surprises though. Completely unexpectedly,  Simon and Liz got to meet Nancy Dutton Sanders this weekend – William Dutton’s sister!

Simon O'Rourke meets sister of deceased Highclere Castle Airman

Meeting with Nancy Dutton Sanders

It added a poignancy and beauty to the visit. As always, meeting the ‘real life people’ behind the stories, makes all of us feel afresh a thankfulness for those who fought in wars for our freedom. For Simon and Liz, meeting families and seeing how much it means to them to have their loved ones honoured, is also a privilege and a joy, and adds real purpose to a project. How much more fun when it is totally unexpected!

This really ‘made’ the visit. We only hope that people viewing Highclere on the Big Screen this weekend get as much of a happy ending!

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!

 

Huskycup Flashback: Miners & Vikings

Huskycup Flashback: Miners & Vikings 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It canIn a week’s time (8th-10th June) Simon and his wife Liz will be in Germany for The Huskycup.
The Huskycup is an annual event in Blockhausen with demonstrations, exhibits, and a speed-carving competition. At one time it was a competition, but is now a more relaxed demonstration and exhibition event. Artists pair up over the week to create something that ties in with the theme, without the pressure of competition. Simon has often participated, and took first place in 2016 with our first Huskycup Flashback: Viking Raid

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

About Huskycup 2019

Simon will partner with Japanese artist Keji Kedokoro for this year’s event. They will join five other teams to produce the best sculpture they can over the two days. This year’s theme is especially fitting for 2019 for us – Dragons!

The teams can produce anything their imagination allows! It can be realistic, comic, imagined or recognisable from a movie or TV show. The choice is theirs! We’ve seen Simon create amazing dragons in all those styles, so we can’t wait to see what he makes this time!

Until then, here’s another Huskycup flashback: The Bergmen (Miners)….

Simon O'Rourke's Bergmen in progress at Huskycup 2018s

Simon O’Rourke’s Bergmen in progress at Huskycup 2018

Revisiting Huskycup 2018

Simon’s challenge was to recreate a likeness of 15th Century German miners. He loves sculpting human form, so this was a project he could really sink his teeth into. This carve allowed him to show his skill in creating not only lifelike human form, but also historically accurate, realistic clothing through details like buttons on the uniform or the sense of movement of the cloth.

Simon O'Rourke miner carving

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

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Simon’s inspiration for his human form sculpting comes from Rodin and Bernini. Both are artists known for their use of texture, and for pioneering a style where they created motion and ‘story’ in their sculptures. Simon was faithful to that ideal when he carved these miners. Rather than being presented in a pose, they invite us into a story. It’s pretty clear these re-enactment 15th century Bergmen are delighted with their likeness!

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

Looking Forward

As well as the opportunity to carve, one of the fantastic parts of events like this is the community. The website shows it is going to be an amazing event. There will be great food and drink and entertainment. The speed carve features Germany against a combined Czech Republic and Slovakian team – who are keen to win after their defeat to Germany last time. There will be various demonstrations and craft stands as well as machinery exhibits and even glass work. We just hope the weather co-operates!

We’ll be sharing Simon’s work and news from the event on our Facebook and Instagram.  We wish all the artists good luck, and look forward to sharing with you the finished dragon!

Huskycup 2018

Simon is available for competitions, events and commissioned work. Email [email protected] or use the form on our contact page for information, quotes and availability.

 

 

 

 

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]

Into the Jungle…

Into the Jungle… 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This is of a Lion Cub for a client in central London. We were delighted to be able to finally deliver this little cutie to his ‘forever’ home near Regents Park in Central London earlier this month. He had been keeping us company at our workshop for a little while whilst we figured out the best time to deliver him into the jungle that is our glorious capital! I am pleased to say that all went off without a hitch and he now looks rather splendid in his new surroundings!

Greetings from the Other Side! (of the planet)

Greetings from the Other Side! (of the planet) 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

japan-photo

My wife, Liz, and I are off to Japan today for a carving competition. Last year’s trip was fantastic, and I’m sure this one will be just as great – if not, better! We’ll be away for two weeks, but will still keep the blog and our social media up to date while we’re gone.

See you on the other side!