Wood Carving

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant

Trees for Kids Sculpture at Maes Y Pant 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of Simon’s pieces that caught people’s attention recently was a little boy, kneeling to plant a tree. The Trees for Kids sculpture was commissioned by a local community association, and unveiled during their Trees for Kids event.

Trees for Kids 'Boy Planting Sapling' sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

About Maes Y Pant

Maes Y Pant is a 70 acre forest on the outskirts of Wrexham.
The site is open to the public, but the land is actually owned and managed by a community association. It is a conservation area, recreation area and also sustains itself with soft lumber sales. Regular readers will remember that Simon and some our our affiliates have produced other sculptures on the site, including Stanley, and the children’s fort.

Trees for Kids sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids sculpture in progress at the workshop

Trees for Kids

This particular commission was part of Trees for Kids, an event which was both sociable and educational. There was opportunity to explore the forest, as well as a story teller, stalls, and face painting. The HACK horse sanctuary brought a pony, and there were also educational stands to raise awareness of the importance of woodlands and taking care of the environment. The highlight of the day though, was planting saplings.

The Commission.

Each child who took part was able to plant a sapling to help sustain the forest. It’s easy to see how Simon’s sculpture tied in with such an event! One aspect that isn’t so easy to see though, is that like the forest around it, this sculpture will also grow and change!

What? How?!

Trees for Kids sculpture with rowan sapling. Simon O'Rourke for Maes Y Pant

With the planted sapling at Maes Y Pant

Growing and Changing

If you look closely at the photo above, you will notice what looks like a thick stick between his hands. That’s actually a Rowan sapling! In time, as well as gaining height, the tree trunk will broaden to fill his hands. The little boy was secured in the ground with a substantial foundation. This means that as the tree grows it will grow at a slight angle, giving room for the roots to establish. The community group will also manage and trim the tree so visitors will always have a good view of the sculpture.

Always a Story Teller

The boy is carved from Welsh Oak. The tree is native to the area, adding to the sense that the boy ‘belongs’. He makes a sweet addition to the forest. We love the look of concentration as he focuses on what he is planting! His haircut and outfit also seem to hint at a past age, and evoke memories of kids playing outside, and enjoying the outdoors.

We hope that the children (and adults!) who visit the area will be motivated to preserve not just this beautiful local area, but also our wider environment.

To commission Simon for your own special occasion, email us on [email protected]

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust

The Case of the Sherlock Holmes Bust 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sherlock Holmes. He may not have been the first recorded fictional detective, but Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed. Ever since his first appearance in 1887, we’ve seen him in books, comics, movies, TV series, art work and more. In fact, he’s been played by over 75 actors! Now, in 2019, we bring you: Simon O’Rourke’s tree carving ‘Sherlock Holmes Bust’.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

The Timber

The Sherlock Holmes bust was for a private client who commissioned it as a gift. He’s made from oak which means that although he is pale at the moment and has some yellow tones, in time he will get darker. The rings and markings will become black as it makes contact with rain, and the UV rays of the sun will cause the wood to pick up greyish hues. In combination with the natural darkening, it means that as he ages, the wood will become more reminiscent of the furniture and drawing room decor of the Sherlock’s own era.

Sherlock Holmes bust by Simon O'Rourke

It’s all in the Details!

Fans of the detective will have noticed a few interesting details on the Sherlock Holmes bust that refer to Conan Doyle’s original short stories, and four novels.
Incidentally, as well using his trusted Stihl and Manpa tools for this project, Simon also used the Saburrtooth burr bits on the die grinder and some of their small rotary tools to achieve the details and texture. But back to the details! Simon included nine ‘clues’ or references to the Sherlock Holmes stories on the bust. Can you spot them all? See how many you can find before we reveal all later!

Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Inspiration

One of the problems when creating a sculpture of a character from a book, is that there isn’t a definitive image to work from as there would be a historic figure. This is only heightened when he has been represented by so many different people on screen too! As the client is a fan of the fiction and not just a particular on-screen representation of Sherlock, Simon chose the Sidney Paget illustrations as his inspiration.

Paget illustrated the original Conan Doyle stories for The Strand magazine. With over 350 illustrations created by Paget, there was no shortage of imagery to work from! Simon not only used the facial features of the Paget artwork as the basis for his carving, but was also attentive to the original stories as he added details to the bust. One of the most obvious of these is the shape of the pipe. Although we have come to associate Sherlock Holmes with a large, curved meerschaum pipe, there is actually no reference to this in the original stories. By choosing something simpler and less iconic, Simon has ensured the bust is faithful to the original illustrations rather than the images that evolved over time.

Sherlock Holmes by Simon O'Rourke

The Big Reveal!

All good detective stories end with a ‘big reveal’. Thankfully, when this sculpture was revealed to the birthday person, it was received better than the surprise the characters often get in crime fiction! We are glad to say that the client told us Sherlock arrived this afternoon and is now in its final location. We’re absolutely delighted – it is stunning!”

And now, for our other ‘big reveal’: The clues within the Sherlock Holmes Bust……

Snake and Baker Street Detail from Sherlock Holmes Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Hidden Clues

As you look at the various views of Sherlock, you should hopefully find the following ten references to stories:

1. Stiletto dagger he used to pin correspondence to the mantle piece
2. Pince nez glasses – The Golden Pince-nez
3. Honeycomb – His Last Bow
4. Broken crown – Musgrave ritual
5. Persian slipper he used for storing tobacco

Sherlock Holmes tree carving statue by Simon O'Rourke

6. Handgun
7. 221b plaque
8. Snake – The Speckled Band
9. Violin
10. Stick Men – The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Oak Sherlock Holmes Bust by Simon O'Rourke

We loved this commission, because as well as being an opportunity for Simon to show his talent for human form, it was such a unique gift to create. If you need a beautiful, unique and sustainable gift for somebody, contact us on [email protected] to talk about the details.

World War I Memorial Soldier

World War I Memorial Soldier 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who lost their lives in war.
We don’t take that sacrifice lightly, so it’s always an honour when Simon receives a war memorial commission.  Whether it’s a statue or a giant poppy, it’s an opportunity to both do his best as an expression of his own respect thankfulness. It’s also an opportunity to help others remember and be thankful. His best known example is probably the Airman at Highclere Castle. However, today, we’re going to revisit this World War I memorial soldier.

World War I Memorial Soldier, Astley Park

The Commission.

The World War I Memorial Soldier was commissioned by Chorley Council, and is installed in Astley Park. It is not their only tribute to those who died during war, and guests can take part in a  whole World War One experience which includes this Garden of Reflection. Estimates suggest nine to 11 million military personnel died during World War I. This soldier standing alone though encourages us to think not of the masses, but of the individual soldier who lost his life. The son, brother, uncle, friend.

World War One memorial soldier by Simon O'Rourke Chorley

The Soldier

Looking at this soldier, it is easy to see some of the cost of war. The slump of his shoulders, and slightly hunched posture speaks of a fatigue. Maybe a disenchantment. His disheveled uniform and minimal weaponry tells us of men ill-prepared for the horrors of battle. And his face makes it clear he has seen loss and pain. The weathering of the wood and imperfections that appear over time, only enhance this portrait. This is not a soldier freshly out of boot camp, immaculate and passionate about his calling. This is a man who has given up everything and seen too much. And this man, and the millions like him are what we remember, with thanks.

World War I soldier by Simon O'Rourke, Chorley

Lest We Forget

This World War One memorial soldier is only one of thousands of tributes around the country. We hope that as people look at this one, Simon’s skill in portraying this soldier’s story through sculpture will speak to them. That it will help people to think about what it is that was lost, not in terms of millions, but the cost to each family of ‘the one’.

Of course, we couldn’t JUST revisit this soldier. Another name for remembrance day is ‘poppy day’, so to finish, we naturally had to include some of the poppies he has made. Skilled as Simon is with human form, these sculptures have also helped to catch attention and capture beautifully the flowers which appeared in Flanders after World War I.

Poppy scultpure by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy outside wrexham museum by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy in 2014

If you are interested in having your own memorial carved by Simon, why not email us on [email protected]

Whether it’s a specific person or thing, or something general, Simon is able to use his skills, imagination, creativity and attention to history and detail to create something perfect for your tribute.

Ice Carving for Christmas

Ice Carving for Christmas 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

The countdown to Christmas is on! Shops are full of decorations, calendars are filling up, and Christmas music is starting to hit the radio. It’s also that time of year where Simon takes a break from wood for an evening or two, and turns his hand to ice sculptures. This year he’ll be digging out his thermals to take part in ‘Ice Carving for Christmas‘ organised by Wrexham Museums. Although Simon is privileged to travel nationally and internationally, it’s also fun for us when we get to participate in local events, and important to us to be engaged with our local community. We can’t wait for December 5th!

Wrexham Ice Carving for Christmas posters 2019 featuring Simon O'Rourke

The Event

Ice Carving for Christmas promises to be a great evening for all ages. Guests follow a trail that starts at St Giles Church and ends at the museum. They also have not one, not two, but THREE opportunities to see Simon carving along the way!

Station One is near to St Giles church and Victorian Market (5pm-6pm). After watching Simon carve, guests can spend time at the market which promises to be bigger and better than previous years. There’ll be all kinds of stalls ranging from local crafts to food and drink.

 After enjoying the market, guests can move on to work station two from 6-7pm. There will also be food and drink vendors along the street, as well as late night opening for some of our high street shops. 

Then it’s on to the Museum for the main event (7pm-9pm ). People who watched the first two stations can make their guess as to what the finished carve will be, with prizes for those who guess correctly. So, much as we would love to tell you, we’re keeping it quiet. No spoilers here! At the museum, there will also be opportunity to sing somecarols and join in the Christmas spirit with festive refreshments from the café.There’ll also be chance to get some photos with Simon and the finished carve. Perfect for sending out with family Christmas cards!

Past Ice Sculptures

Regular followers will know this isn’t Simon’s first time ice carving. This week we shared this Facebook post with a flashback to some spectacular ice carving he did for Cardiff Ice Kingdom in 2015.

Cardiff Ice Kingdom sculptures by Simon O'Rourke

Simon’s work at 2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom

Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

2015 Cardiff Ice Kingdom Santa Sculpture by Simon

Local Ice Carving

Simon also took part in Wrexham’s 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas. As he will in this year’s event too, Simon worked outside the museum. People could watch as he transformed these blocks of ice into beautiful, detailed penguins.

Simon O'Rourke at the start of 2017's Ice Carving for Christmas event

Simon at the start of 2017’s Ice Carving for Christmas event

Penguins in Ice by Simon O'Rourke

Finished penguin ice carving

From Wood to Ice

Obviously ice is a very different material to wood! When Simon makes the transition, there are a few things he has to keep in mind for a successful carve.  For example, time!

One thing we all know about ice, is it melts. Fast! So whereas Simon might work on a typical sculpture over several hours or days, with ice it is more like one of the ‘speed carving’ events.

Simon O'Rourke Ice Carving in progress 2017

Penguins in progress in 2017

Another difference is that ice is much more brittle.
This means when Simon begins thinking about his designs, he can’t include as many delicate shapes. The work focuses on bringing lots of detail and texture to larger shapes for the light to shine through and bounce off. Which leads to the final difference we’ll highlight here today: presentation.

When using wood, working with the tree’s natural lines, colours and shapes is crucial. The sculpture then speaks for itself as people view it. With ice, the success is often down to light. That includes the nature of the lighting itself e.g. will it be multicoloured? Shades of the same colour? How will the lighting help tell the story of the sculpture and set the scene?

It also includes how the sculpture will ‘interact’ with the light. Where will the light hit and bounce off? At what points will it shine through? Where will it help bring depth to a particular part of the sculpture? And so, Simon must consider this both as he plans, and as he progresses.

These photos show perfectly both the texture and the impact of lighting on his 2017 Ice Carving for Christmas penguins.

Close up of penguin ice carving by simon o'rourke

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Penguin Ice Carving by Simon O'Rourke for Ice Carving for Christmas 2017

Close up of ice penguin showing the impact and importance of lighting

Not All Change!

Of course, it isn’t all change! Some things will stay the same as Simon switches from wood to ice this year.

He will still be using his faithful Stihl chainsaws, and their battery chainsaws are perfect for events like this. He’ll also be thankful for their thermal clothing and waterproof protective trousers! Whether wood or ice, or any other outdoors work, nobody wants to be cold and wet! Obviously, whatever he’s carving (remember, no spoilers here!) and whether wood or ice, the level of excellence, creativity and skill that Simon brings will stay the same.

Ice carving penguins by Simon O'Rourke

 

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Back in May we started sharing videos and photos of a statue of three footballers that Simon was working on. Five months later, we’re proud to see the statue of the Queen of the South legends finally installed and unveiled!

Queen of the South Legends statue by Simon O'Rourke unveiled in Dumfries

Queen of the South Legends Statue unveiled October 2019

The Commission

The statue was commissioned by The People’s Project and stands outside the Queen of the South stadium in Dumfries. The People’s Project exists to help rekindle community within Dumfries. It does this through practical projects, funding of community initiatives, and creating opportunities to remind people of the heritage of their town. This statue isn’t their first commission, and they have also restored or commissioned statues of Robert De Bruce, and Peter Pan.

This particular commission commemorates three of the legends of Queen of the South FC: Billy Houliston, Alan Ball, and Stephen Dobbie. Each player represents a different era, achievement and contribution to the club. To find out more about each player, visit http://www.qosfc.com/news-4765. We think it’s always inspiring to read about passion t,alent and dedication, even if football may not be your thing!

Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling of the Queen of the South Legends by Simon O'Rourke

Current player Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling

Making the Statue

This statue was always going to be a challenge. The original goal was to make the three life-sized players out of one piece of oak:

About to begin a project that will be a big challenge… And for once it isn't a dragon!!Three life size footballers in one log…

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

If you watched the video, you would have seen Simon refer to a crack throughout the timber. That obviously meant he had to react immediately, and think about how to work with and around that crack. In the beginning this seemed to have a simple solution. Just turn the trunk upside down!

In addition though, he had to think not only about what that crack is like in the moment, but what would happen in years to come. It turned out that when he considered the Scottish weather, that crack was going to create some problems. Simon ended up having to cut out one player, and use a second piece of timber, as you can see in the next video. Every cloud has a silver lining though! Removing that player helped Simon overcome one of the other challenges in a 360° statue – reaching the backs of the other players!

An update on the footballers!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 1 July 2019

Queen of the South FC statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

The statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

Creating a Likeness

As well as technical challenges, there was then the task of creating an accurate likeness. As we’ve mentioned in this blog, this means not only dealing with correct shape and ratio, but also the challenge of depth. In this case too, it also has to be true to life, and there isn’t as much artistic license. Especially in the case of a statue like this where the purpose is to honour people, Simon always wishes to capture them in a way which is accurate and tells a story of who they really are. For those who wonder how possible that is when using power tools, this comparison says it all!

Close up of Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from to create The Queen of the South legends

Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from

Creating Community – Not Just a Statue.

Part of the purpose of this statue was to commemorate the Queen of the South legends. It is has a bigger purpose that goes beyond this though.

The reason for commemorating these players is to remind the Dumfries community of their heritage. To remind them of town and community achievements they can be proud of. It reminds them of things they have in common like the love of a sport or a hero. It gives a focus for unity and remembering positive moments in their community. For the younger person looking at these players immortalised in wood, it gives something to aspire to. And for the older generation, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that brings joy and encouragement. The kits from the different eras clearly show achievements across the years and history, and so it helps unite generations in a mutual appreciate of their team and its history.

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling of the Queen of the South legends statue by Simon o'Rourke

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling

And so, statues like this are more than just pieces of art to be admired. They also help unite, inspire, and promote community. Even the simple act of coming together for an unveiling ceremony helps create all these things.

If you are part of a town, club, society or community and would like to explore a similar idea, why not send us a message? As always, Simon is available on [email protected] to talk about your vision, hopes and the practical details.

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success

Teamwork and Character: A Recipe for Success 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Image of A 'recipe for success' we recently spotted online.

Recipe for Success

We recently saw this poster showing the recipe for success. We totally, agree about ALL those ingredients. When we think about Tree Carving though, we’d like to add a few more. Talent is one for sure! Studying and technical know-how would be another (remember this blog about the golden ratio?). We would also love to add teachability, humility, and – our focus for today – teamwork and character.

Teamwork and character image by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

On Being A Team

Although an art and business like Tree Carving could seem like a one-person operation, the reality is far from it. Whether it be accounts, social media, organising a calendar, editing videos, providing equipment, maintaining chainsaws, bringing creative ideas for new projects, promotion, helping create a commission, or simply moving equipment and timber, Tree Carving wouldn’t be what it is without a team.

We like thinking of it as being like the human body. Every person represents a different part, with a different role to play. Each part (person) is uniquely created to fulfill that role best. That means  we respect that person, and honour what they bring. I mean come on, feet are great for getting us places, but have you tried using them to type? And while the heart is GREAT for pumping blood round the body, it wouldn’t be great at filtering that blood the way the kidneys do! That sense of team isn’t just our permanent employees either. We also think of our affiliates, sponsors and people we contract specific jobs out to as being part of our team – and hope they feel that way too!

Teamwork Moments

We’ll talk a bit more further into the blog about how we develop our sense of teamwork and character. For now though, we thought we would relive some of our more obvious examples of teamwork.
Can you imagine moving this much dragon (read more about this dragon throne here) without being able to effectively communicate with others? Or if you couldn’t trust the others to fulfill their role? Which reminds us! For us, teamwork isn’t just about atmosphere, efficiency and efficacy. When it comes to chainsaws, scaffolding and large sculptures, it’s also what helps keep us safe!

Transporting the RAF Dragon throne by Simon O'Rourke

Transporting the RAF Valley Dragon Throne

Building Teamwork and Character

As teamwork and character are so important to us we are intentional about creating opportunities to grow in both. We do this through our everyday choices, but also through specific, focused times of personal development and team building.

One example of this is that recently Simon and Dan took part in a 4MUK weekend. The weekend is called ‘XCC‘ or ‘Extreme Character Challenge’, and it is definitely an appropriate name!

The XCC

The XCC is an active and challenging endurance event for men, out in the wild. For 72 hours men face significant physical challenges, deep camaraderie and profound moments of moral and spiritual input. It’s a time to find perspective, build meaningful connection and become a support network to each other. The men honestly evaluate their struggles and successes and examine how to move forward to live and experience life at its fullest.

Not only did Simon and Dan survive the Welsh Autumn weather, but they can both testify to what an amazing weekend it was. Both would say that it changed them in positive ways, and will strengthen and improve their ability to work as a team. Thank you to Stihl for providing some goodies from their awesome clothing range to help keep them warm and dry!

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

Photo of a 4MUK teamwork and character building weekend

More Than Just A Weekend

Weekends like this are great. They help develop trust, get us out of our routines, and give us a place to share safely, openly and honestly so we can help each other take steps to self improvement. BUT! They obviously aren’t be the only things that contribute to us working effectively as a team.

Later this year, Simon will be leading a team building weekend for Stihl employees. Putting together a week of teaching and exercises like that, means needing to be clear on what it is that facilitates good teamwork. As we’re reflecting on that, we thought we would share some of our pointers and practices with you.

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork and character every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

An example of a massive project that has needed great teamwork every step of the way. Watch out for the video later this year!

Our Top Tips!
WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE:

We mentioned that we like to embrace everyone we work with as part of the team. For us, that means making room for them and all their skills, knowledge and personality. It means accepting them as they are, embraching our similarities and honouring our differences. Liz in particular is great at this, and a big part in creating a sense of family or team.

COMMUNICATION & VULNERABILITY:

We value honesty and integrity. And we value being able to admit to our weaknesses and struggles and being able to ask others. It’s important to communicate our needs to each other. That might be something simple like needing a specific document, or somebody to take the weight of a sculpture in a specific place. It might also be something harder like needing time off or a quiet chat.
It’s also super important to feel safe to ASK! Especially if there’s something we don’t understand or needs clarification for us to do it safely.We also want to celebrate the good stuff. Amazing how much difference it can make to somebody to just communicate that something they did well is appreciated!

Nest and rigging by Simon O'Rourke - example of good teamwork

An example of ‘during’ and ‘after’ for a project in Southampton that needed good teamwork.

CONFRONT CHALLENGES AND DIFFICULTIES

Another tough one! We find our challenges come in all shapes and sizes. There are practical challenges like trying to figure out how to assemble and disassemble giant sculptures. We also have our own personal and relational bumps that come up. It isn’t easy, but making sure we acknowledge and own them and (see the two points above) face them TOGETHER is a big part of being a team that works well together.

EMBRACE THE PROCESS

Our own character determines how well we are able to be a team player, and growing that takes time. Good teamwork is also something that comes through consistent work and practice. Neither of them are quick things, so we also need to embrace the idea of being in process. It can be difficult in a world of quick answers and solutions. Being willing to allow time and ‘baby steps’  and staying committed to that journey is a big part of good teamwork though.

FORGIVE!

Our final one is perhaps the biggest part of good teamwork. We are all human. That means we all have our strengths and weaknesses, our good days and our bad days. Being quick to apologise and quick to forgive isn’t easy, but makes for much better relationships, a happier and more focused work place, and sets the stage for some great teamwork.

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

Highclere Airman and benches highlight Simon and Dan playing to their strengths as sculpter and carpenter.

We love our Tree Carving team, no matter their role. It’s a journey, and we know we don’t do team work perfectly, but we definitely know how important it is, and work towards it. We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about how we’re committed to the process, and maybe even picked up some pointers for your own teams.

What are some of your top tips for enabling good team work? Comment below and let us know!

 

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!

Those Autumn Leaves – Enjoying The Changing Season

Those Autumn Leaves – Enjoying The Changing Season 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

In this quote Albert Camus describes beautifully the stunning displays of colour that we see at this time of year. From September, the trees around us change to display rich golds, fiery reds and warm oranges. Whether we mourn the loss of summer or enjoy the change of season, none of us can deny that Autumn leaves are glorious, and we think September and October are the perfect time to get outside and enjoy that beauty. The temperature hasn’t dropped too much, and the nights are not too dark yet. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to find fruits and berries to take home! If you fancy enjoying the outdoors this Autumn, then why not plan to follow one of Simon’s forest trails?

Stanley by Simon O'Rourke as Marford Quarry

Stanley, one of Simon’s sculptures along the trail at Marford Quarry

Sculpture Trails

Over the years, Simon has completed several ‘sculpture trails’ throughout the UK. Typically these add points of interest to the walk and give information about the local area. Usually the sculptures themselves reflect the environment, such as this lynx found in Fforest Fawr. Although the lynx, and wolf that make part of that trail are rarely seen any more, it is not that long ago that they roamed that part of South Wales.

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O'Rourke

Fforest Fawr Lynx by Simon O’Rourke

Close up of Lynx at Fforest Fawr by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of the lynx at Fforest Fawr

Pages Wood

Another example of these forest sculpture trails that Simon has created are the two in Page’s Wood. He and his wife Liz wrote a story that followed an animal character along each trail. Each sculpture showed an encounter with another animal resident of the woodland, and the story with each gave information about that animal. The trails have been so popular, that he will be back later this year to make some additions and tweaks!

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page's Wood Sculpture Trail by Simon O'Rourke

Horatio Hedgehog meets Squirrel at Page’s Wood Sculpture Trail

Those Autumn Leaves

While you’re out enjoying these trails, have you ever wondered why it is that the leaves are changing colour and falling though?
We have! And as we love all things ‘tree’ and forest, we thought we’d share a couple of random Autumn tree facts while reminding you of some of the forest trail animals you could go and see.

Wolf by Simon O'Rourke at Fforest Fawr

Howling wolf at Fforest Fawr

The Wonder of Nature

Fact One:
Trees don’t ‘lose’ their leaves, they actually actively shed them to ensure their survival! Find out more here.

Fact Two:
Trees can sense the shortening days, and that’s how they know when to begin shedding leaves

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr by Simon O'Rourke

Red Deer at Fforest Fawr

Fact Three:
Leaves change colour as the tree absorbs all the nutrients out of the leaf and stores it for winter. A little like an animal eating well and stashing food to prepare for hibernation!

Fact Four:
The colour of a tree’s ‘Autumn leaves’ depends on what other pigments the tree has. For example, hickories, aspen and some maples have a lot of carotenoids so they turn golden colours. Oaks and Dogwoods have a lot of anthocyanins so they turn russets and browns.

Verity Vole by Simon O'Rourke, part of the Page's Wood sculpture trail

Verity Vole, the second protagonist at the Page’s Wood sculpture trail

Fact Five
Nature is amazing, so it is no surprise that though leaves fall, they still have an important role. As they decompose, their nutrients trickle into the soil and feed future generations of plant and animal life. Quite likely, fallen Autumn leaves are essential not just for the survival of the individual tree, but for whole forests!
This means that you need not militantly rake up every fallen leaf.
In fact, leaving them on the ground is actually a helpful thing for other wildlife.

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page's Wood. By Simon O'Rourke.

Horatio Hedgehog meets a fox at Page’s Wood

What other fun facts do you know about Autumn? Why not drop us a comment and share some of your favourites.

If you enjoyed our tree facts and want to know more, Liz also teaches forest school and can be booked ofr regular or ‘one off’ sessions. Contact her at [email protected]

Don’t forget, that if you are out and about at one of Simon’s scultpure trails, use the hashtag #simonorouke or tag us using our Facebook page  (@simonorourketreecarving)or Instagram Account (@simonorourke)