welsh dragon

TV presneter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

A Fire Breathing Dragon

A Fire Breathing Dragon 768 1033 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon was featured on the series opener of Amazing Spaces. It was a great episode, featuring some spectacular architecture and engineering. Simon’s contribution? A 7ft fire breathing dragon!

The Clients

Local couple Guy and Tracey commissioned the fire breathing dragon. They were renovating a former bakehouse, and it was to be the finishing touch. When they approached Simon, he knew he couldn’t say no. He always loves a challenge, so a wall-mounted, fire breathing dragon was a project he couldn’t turn down!

TV presenter George Clarkes standing in from of a small stone building with a wall mounted fire breathing dragon made from redwood by Simon O'Rourke

George Clarke with the fire breathing dragon

The Building

The building itself is incredible. When Guy and Tracey bought their property, it came with a small stone building, which was a former bakehouse. Although it only measures around 3m x 2.5m, they had the idea to turn it into a little crash pad/den. A mini-house!
Space was obviously going to be an issue. Guy is a gifted engineer though and came up with an ingenious fix. In his own words:

“Your bathroom only needs to be big when you’re in it, so I figured you could have the whole bathroom wall moved across and stuck on the wall, and when you need it, pull it towards you to create the bathroom”

That’s right! Guy created a disappearing bathroom to maximise the space! George Clarke was so impressed, the property now ranks in his top three builds!

A Dream Holiday Home

Now finished, the property is a beautiful little getaway, ideal for a couple. Once lockdown is over, it will be available to rent via www.thedragontower.co.uk. If you are impressed with the creativity and engineering, you can also follow them on Twitter where they share more about the process.

fire breathing dragin made from redwood by simon o'rourke mounted on a small stone two storey building

The Story of Maggon the Dragon

The idea for Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon came from Tracey. The fairytale look of the bakehouse captivated her, and she made a joke about needing a dragon to protect them. Tracey is also a big fan of children’s literature and illustration and had always wanted a piece of fantasy art. And so from there, the dragon commission was born! They also had the idea that he could breathe fire when the doorbell rang. Such a fun, and creative finishing touch to a creative and ingenious renovation!

Initially, they planned on making the dragon themselves. But then, they met Simon. His portfolio includes many incredible dragons, including the well-know Dragon of Bethesda. His background as an illustrator also tied in with Tracey’s love of children’s illustration. So all in all, he was the perfect fit for this commission.

redwood fire breathing dragon mounted on a small stone bake house in north wales

Making Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon

Maggon is 7ft and made from a fallen redwood tree. The warm red colour is perfect for this property in North Wales, as it reflects the red dragon on our flag.
Nerd alert! In dry climates, redwood actually becomes a lighter-silvery tan shade if left to weather naturally. These clients needn’t worry though. In damp climates, redwood darkens, so the North Welsh weather will mean that lovely red colouring is retained for years to come.

Engineering Challenges!

The most obvious challenge for this commission was how to make it breathe fire! In this case, Guy had a plan, and Simon’s role was to create a cavity within the sculpture for the propane pipe. If you saw the episode you will have heard Tracey joking about the dragon breathing fire when the doorbell rings. So, for the curious among you.. yes, it is really connected to the doorbell! However, Guy and Tracey wanted to make the fire breathing dragon as environmentally friendly as possible. For this reason, they limit his ‘bursts’ using their own control box – which also helps limit accident potential! Health and Safety matters!

Another problem for Simon to think through was the installation. The dragon not only needed to breathe fire but was going to be mounted on the wall of the house – as if it was climbing towards the window. This meant keeping strictly within certain specifications so it would fit the space. It also meant Simon needed to create the dragon in sections so it would be easier to mount on the wall. Being able to visualise this and take account of it in the design is an essential aspect of larger projects.

More About Making a Fire Breathing Dragon

Simon used a few different Stihl chainsaws with various bars to create the main shape of the dragon. He also used these to begin to add a few cuts that give depth, and some of the more general shape and texture. No dragon is complete without scales though! Simon created the scales with the Manpa Tools Multicutter with a round cutter attachment. The friendly grin (we didn’t want Maggon scaring off guests!) and other facial details were created using Saburrtooth burrs.  The flame-shaped burr is an especially useful tool for these projects. You can see a bit of a ‘before and after’ in this photo, Tracey and Guy took in the workshop. Simon has created the main shape and some details with the chain saw, and begun to add the scales with the multi cutter around the dragon’s hind legs.

close up of a dragon tail made out of redwood

Although it took several days to create Maggon, you can watch the process in under a minute! What are your guesses for who the sculpture in the background will be?

Being on Amazing Spaces

As an artist, it is always an honour to have a piece featured on television. The focus of the show was the build itself, but Simon did also get to meet George Clarke on unveiling day, and enjoyed a good chat! He also loved seeing the build too:
It’s incredible what they’ve managed to do with such a small space! It was great to be involved and to add to a project like that.

chainsaw artist simon o'rourke with TV presente George Clarke. They are pictured in front of The Dragon Tower, a stone bake house converted to a guest house in NOrth Wales. Simon is holding a Stihl chainsaw

Simon with George Clarke and a trusty Stihl chainsaw!

What’s Your Fire Breathing Dragon?

Thank you to those who took the time to comment on social media. It is always lovely to hear from you, and we’re touched by all the great feedback.

If you have a rental property, a novelty piece of art is a GREAT way to make it stand out, and to attract attention – and gain business! If you have an idea for your home or rental property, why not have a chat with Simon? Contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!

Thank you for reading our blog! Don’t forget to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our posts.

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Last night Simon was on ‘home territory’ as he took part in the annual Victorian Christmas market in Wrexham. Don’t worry though, he hasn’t traded his chainsaw for a stall and money pouch! Simon’s contribution to the evening was much cooler, if we do say so ourselves. He swapped timber for something much wetter, and did some ice carving for Wrexham Museum.

Crowds watching ice carving for Wrexham Museum

Outside Wrexham Museum*

About the Victorian Market

Wrexham’s Christmas Market has become one of the most eagerly awaited events in the town’s calendar and successfully attracts thousands of shoppers year after year.  This year there was a Victorian theme to the market with Punch and Judy shows throughout the day, and period street performers. The main feature though was 100 stalls from Queens Square right up to and inside St Giles’ Church.

Punch and Judy show at Wrexham Victorian Christmas Market

Punch & Judy on Hope Street

About Ice Carving for Christmas

To coincide with the event, Wrexham Museums also organised and hosted an event: Ice Carving for Christmas. As well as Simon’s ice carving, the museum was open for the public and people could do Christmas shopping in the gift shop and enjoy a hot chocolate or mulled wine in the cafe. Various school choirs performed, including Bryn Hafod Primary who sang in both Welsh and English, and Libby and Sign of the Times. As you can see from the first photo we shared, plenty of people came to enjoy the evening.

Crowds watching Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

Crowds watching Simon Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum*

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum

If you read the blog we wrote a couple of weeks ago about the event (visit it here) then you’ll know Simon didn’t just complete one carving. The Ice carving for Wrexham Museum was actually a trail through the town. It began at St Giles church, where most of the market stalls were located, and ended at the Museum.

In the first location, Simon began by carving one block of ice, which was a clue as to what the final ice sculpture would be. People could then follow him to second location where he carved a second block, giving people a second clue.

They could then follow him to the museum where they could submit their guesses as to what his final carving would be, and any correct answers won a prize.

*spoiler alert*

For those who know that 2019 was a year full of dragons for us, it will come as no surprise that the final sculpture was this stunning dragon head.

It lives!! The dragon head, complete with smoke!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Thursday, 5 December 2019

Let us take you back though through the evening as the audience experienced it though…..

Setting up:

Working in the multiple areas gave Simon and Paul the first challenge of the night – getting all the equipment through the thousands of people attending the Victorian Market! They had everything loaded up on a cart, and the high vis jackets definitely helped them get noticed so the crowds could part a little. It definitely wasn’t the quickest or easiest transportation of equipment though!

Paul and Simon making their way through the crowds attending the market!

Simon O'Rourke safety jacket

Paul and Simon making their way through the crowds attending the market!

St Giles Location

The first location was St Giles church where Simon carved this stunning dragon’s eye. Standing it the crowd, it was fun to be able to hear people’s awe as they watched. Especially as the chain saw went all the way through the ice to carve the space that became the eye! Several people were also commenting on how clear the ice was. Many guessed correctly that we didn’t just freeze water from our hosepipe to make the blocks. Rather, they are especially made for events like this. There’s a science behind it, but you can actually do it at home! Read all about how crystal clear ice is made at Barschool.Net. We’re happiest to leave it to the professionals, but if you try it yourselves, let us know if it works!

As we have said before, it is the lighting that makes the difference when ice carving. This green lighting reflecting off the scales Simon created is definitely eerie and mysterious, which helped add to the sense of mystery and anticipation of what the final carving would be.

Viewers outside St Giles*

Early on in the work on the dragon’s eye

Simon O'Rourke working on an ice carving of a dragon's eye, Wrexham 2019

Adding textured to create the scales*

Dragon eye at Ice Carving for Wrexham by Simon O'Rourke

The finished dragon’s eye*

Henblas Square

The second location of the night was Henblas Square.
Here, as well as the general admiration of what Simon was doing, I could hear many more questions about the equipment.

“His hands must be freezing” was also a pretty common theme!

Unlike most people were thinking, Simon wasn’t using specialist ‘ice carving’ equipment. He used his faithful Stihl battery powered chainsaws (complete with the handy backpack you will have noticed for the battery packs) for most of the initial carving. This meant they were lightweight and didn’t need a power supply. Perfect for this kind of mobile evening. He also used his Manpa tools angle grinder, with burr bits by Saburrtooth. And, while we’re speaking of Saburrtooth, we’re excited to announce Simon will become one of their ambassadors in 2019!

It was nice to see so many people stay and watch the entire carve here. For a long time people were guessing it was going to be eagles, rather than (as you can see) this amazing dragon claw (clue number two)! It really is fascinating to watch, but the audience were also encouraged to stay by the unusually warm evening. After several nights of hard frost, it was 10°c! Although being a warmer night was helpful for the audience and shoppers, the warmer weather meant Simon had to carve extra fast as the ice was melting far more quickly that he’d hoped!

Simon O'Rourke ice carving: dragon claw

Simon o Rourke Ice Carving for Wrexham Museums 2019 Dragon Claw

The finished dragon claw, clue number two in the ice carving trail

The finished dragon claw, clue number two in the ice carving trail*

Wrexham Museum

The museum location was the longest of Simon’s carves, and he used six blocks of ice rather than the one that he used at the other locations. Even before he arrived, people were fascinated by the ice on the museum forecourt.

ice blocks for carving wrexham museum 2019

Blocks of ice waiting for carving!

Simon was challenged here not only by the ice melting in the warmer weather, but also an impressive wind. At one point the leaves spiraling in the air looked like a scene from The Wizard of Oz! It didn’t put people off watching though, and in some cases it was hard for parents to pry their children away.

Ice Carving for Wrexham museum 2019

Watching outside Wrexham Museum*

Simon o'Rourke ice carving dragon Wrexham 2019

Adding texture with an angle grinder

Simon O'Rourke adding detail to an ice carving dragon, Wrexham 2019

Adding detail to the dragon

One of the perks of Simon being on ‘home turf’ is being able to watch him. Another is being able to hear and see other people’s reactions. The audiences at all the locations were a mix of people who have followed Simon and his work for years, and others who had never even imagined creating something with a chainsaw!

“The precision is unbelievable”

“I’m so impressed with the talent and detail he is able to produce with a chainsaw”

“I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s bold and beautiful”

“I was only going to stay ten minutes but once I started watching, I had to stay until the end”

“The detail is unbelievable”

“Stunning. Simply stunning”

We can’t help but agree! The lighting bouncing off the textured scales and the smoke  just made it perfect. Even still in process, it looked spectacular in the light.

Dragon Ice carving in process by Simon O'Rourke

The Finished Piece.

Thank you to Wrexham Museums for organising and hosting the event so well (and for the mulled wine the staff not wielding chainsaws enjoyed!). Thank you too to Shaine Bailey and Treetech for sponsoring the event. And to everybody who came and watched, shared on social media, and complimented Simon on his work. It’s lovely to be able to meet people, and to have such a lovely and encouraging audience. It’s also great to finish our year as it began, with a dragon that captured the attention and hearts of the people who saw it (read about the first dragon, Y Ddraig Derw here).

And so, we leave you with the finished piece for 2019’s Ice Carving for Christmas*:

Ice Carving for Wrexham Museum Christmas 2019 Finished dragon head by Simon O'Rourke

 

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

Dragon head in ice by Simon O'Rourke

If you would like to book Simon for your event (ice or timber!) email us on [email protected] to talk about details.

*photo credit to Gareth Thomas from Wrexham Museums.

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