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The Rauschwitz Angel

The 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 these events and the tree carving community. Each time we participate we meet wonderful people and grow friendships whilst helping to maintain the tradition. Simon’s recent Rauschwitz Angel carving was one of those opportunities.

The Rauschwitz Angel is from one of the newer events in the Tree Carving calendar. The event is hosted by Rauschwitzer Wood Culture Community and is run by Christian Schmidt – a talented tree carver himself. It featured several artists creating exhibits, as well as a speed carving competition.

The location was an open air church in Rauschwitz. The ‘walls’ of the church are trees, and there is a clear space 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’ tied the carvings together, and created the effect of an exhibition. Whilst there was incredible diversity as each artist was free to carve their own interpretation, there is also a real unity as they all carved the same subject. Obviously, this makes for a good exhibit! This diversity within unity is a also great depiction of what church is supposed to be too.

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

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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!

 

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.

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