wood

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

Creating an Oak Maiden

Creating an Oak Maiden 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

There are two approaches to tree carving that Simon practices. The first is to design the piece, and then find timber suitable for the project. The three footballers that you may remember from last year are an example of this. In fact,  as you may remember from the Queen of the South Legends blog, completion was actually delayed because of sourcing timber after the original piece had a split.
The other approach is carving a standing stump. This means letting the tree dictate the design rather than the design dictate the timber. Sometimes the shape inspires the subject. Other times, it means making changes to the design along the way to accommodate the shape, size, twists turns and any surprises once the bark is stripped and Simon begins cutting. This was certainly the case with Simon’s latest project: creating an Oak Maiden.

Simon O'Rourke creating an oak maiden using Stihl battery chainsaw

 

Creating an Oak Maiden: The initial concept

This Oak Maiden looks incredible! However, she wasn’t actually what Simon had planned! The client who commissioned the hydra rising out of the ground, had asked Simon to look at another tree. There was an oak that had died and she wondered if it would make a good sculpture. When Simon first saw it, he could see female form. He also noticed the many branches at the top. Rather than cut these off, he imagined them to be a key part of the sculpture. And so, his initial concept was Medusa. The trunk could be transformed into a striking female form, and Simon imagined those undulating branches would make perfect ‘snake hair’. As a Greek mythological character, she would be a beautiful compliment too, to The Hydra. The client agreed, and Simon arrived at the start of last week expecting to create another Greek myth…..

Simon o'Rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden

Day one of creating an oak maiden. It’s easy to see why those branches suggested Medusa!

Creating an Oak Maiden: Change of plan!

Just as happened with The Hydra though (originally it was going to be a flock of birds or pterodactyls rising from the ground), once he began work, Simon realised that his original design wasn’t going to work. The branches at the top simply weren’t right, and he knew it would be better not to try and make them into snakes.

This flexibility and ability to respond to the timber is part of what makes Simon a great artist. Adapting his design to the work with the shape and features of the timber means creates sculptures which aren’t contrived. In fact, one comment on his Marbury Lady sculpture was that it seemed like she was always there in the timber, and Simon simply uncovered her.

An Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: Adapting the Design

Adapting the design to work with the branches was an aesthetic decision. However, sometimes Simon also has to make changes because of practical reasons. This isn’t just about what he can see either. He also has to take into account what will happen to the timber as it ages. What may seem a small crack at the time for example, could cause massive damage to a sculpture later if he isn’t wise.

Another change in creating this oak maiden was because of one of these practical considerations. When we look at the oak maiden, her ‘crown’ appears bulkier to the left. In his ‘ideal’, Simon would have reduced some of that wood to create a more elegant or slimline look. However, there is a large amount of weight in the branches above it. This meant Simon faced the choice of losing some of that weight (and some of the rustic, organic, woodland feel to the character), or adapting his initial vision.

Simon O'Rourke Oak Maiden with moon

Close up showing the bulk of wood on the left

Creating an Oak Maiden: More Changes!

Simon chose to leave the wood on the left side of the face, to support the weight above it, and again demonstrated his skill at using challenges to create something even better! The extra wood became this fantastically textured crown instead, rather than being unnecessary bulk, it is now part of the story that Simon tells through sculpture. The weight and size is suggestive of a crown that now seems to enhance the status of this Oak Maiden. It reflects the strength and majesty of an oak tree, and conjures up an image of this Oak Maiden being a princess or queen among the woodland characters.

simon o'rourke in the process of creating an oak maiden with the stihl MS400

This photo gives a sense of the scale of the sculpture

Creating an Oak Maiden: Sculpting Human Form

One of the things that makes Simon’s human form sculptures so exceptional, is his attention to story and structure and how they create movement. We saw this with the Marbury Lady and Prestatyn Hiker that you may have spotted on Facebook or Instagram. The clothes in both showed the lines and wrinkles associated with being worn by a living, moving being rather than being hung static in a wardrobe. In this case particularly paid attention to the shape of the form underneath the cloth. For example, the skeleton, muscles, shape, size and position of the subject. Similarly to the Marbury lady, he also left raised wrinkles to imply a very thin material which skims the body.

Body of the Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke

Creating an Oak Maiden: The Tools!

It sometimes seems amazing to think that suck a beautiful thing can be created by something as destructive as a chainsaw! In the case of the Oak Maiden, Simon relied a lot on the Stihl MS400. Stihl’s MS400 is the first chainsaw  to make the change to a magnesium piston. This, and it’s “impressive power-to-weight ratio of 1.45 kilograms per kilowatt”, has made it much more ‘punchy’. Combined with the 20 inch Tsumara carving bar, Simon found  it worked really nicely for controlled shaping.
The Saburrtooth bits have fast become an essential on the job too. These are largely what Simon used for refining the face and hands, creating small areas like the eyes, and adding texture. Some of his favourites are the conical burr, and the large coarse flame bit. The small eye bit also helped create sharper lines and bring more expression to the eyes.

Face of an oak maiden by simon o'rourke

This nymph (or as we’ve been calling her, ‘Oak Maiden’) has definitely been a hit on social media. Most importantly though, the client loves her! The Oak Maiden may not have been the original plan, but Simon has created something even better and truly lovely, restoring life to this dead oak.

If you have a dead tree on your property, why not chat with Simon to see if he can imagine something in it? He loves to bring life back to dead or damaged trees, and can create you something completely unique. Contact him on [email protected] to talk about ideas and quotes.

 

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree

A Bespoke Sign for The Joshua Tree 600 450 Simon O'Rourke

Many of you will have read in Simon’s biography that his is in illustration. Tree carving started for him while he was working for Acorn as a tree surgeon while building up his portfolio. He realised he could create beautiful things with the power tools he was using, and the rest is history!
That means not only is he able to create amazing sculptures, but he also has a portfolio of beautiful wall hangings and plaques. You might remember some of them from our Pet Portraits blog.
This week we want to share a recent commission with you which was for an entrance sign to a special place: Simon’s bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree for their new centre in Sandiway, Cheshire.

Wall hangings by Simon O'Rourke

Examples of Simon’s wall hangings at the gallery. Excuse the tinsel, this was taken during a Christmas fundraiser!

The Joshua Tree

Lynda and David Hill founded The Joshua Tree in 2006, after their son was diagnosed with leukaemia. They discovered a distinct lack in support services for all family members during the traumatic experience of childhood cancer, and wanted to provide something for other families in their situation.

Their goal is to support the whole family, from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. They especially recognise that post-treatment can be a challenging time,  as families have to adapt to a ‘new normal’, but many of the support services that are in place during treatment,  have come to an end.  The Joshua Tree offers support, and help bridge the gap when that safety net of treatment ends.

Even though it’s only 14 years since its inception, The Joshua Tree have received over 170 referrals! They estimate that in that time they delivered over 1700 family interactions delivered to families affected by childhood cancers.

Architect’s impression of The Joshua Tree’s new centre

The Joshua Tree Support Centre

One of the charity’s undertakings is a new support centre in Sandiway. It’s still under construction, but even a quick look at their blog shows it is going to be an amazing facility. As part of the finishing touches, Simon was commissioned to create a bespoke sign for The Joshua Tree centre.

The goal of the centre is to provide a safe and relaxing environment for families. It will cater for children of all ages, from toddlers to teens! It will have activity room, counselling suites, soft play, sensory equipment, as well as games room, office  accommodation, outdoor play and landscaped gardens. It’s definitely a special project, and we know it will make an incredible difference to so many.

The Joshua Tree Support Centre under construction. Simon O'Rourke created a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree.

The centre under construction

Simon’s Contribution.

The commission for a bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree Centre came after one of the staff noticed Simon’s work online. It seemed a good fit from the beginning. Not only did they like his work, but as The Joshua Tree supports families in Wales, it seemed fitting to commission  a ‘local’ artist.

Simon made the sign of a lovely warm, cedar. His choice of timber has meant the placing of the logo still allows for some of the lovely knots and markings to come through, so it still has an organic feel. The building is also clad in cedar, so it will be a beautiful compliment to a great facility.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

Simon and Paul handing over the finished sign.

Simon is available for commissions of pet portraits, signs and wall hangings.

Email [email protected] to discuss the details.

Our Affiliates: Working with Treetech

Our Affiliates: Working with Treetech 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

A while ago we shared this blog about the importance of teamwork. We rely on good teamwork in all kinds of ways: our employees, sponsors, affiliates and contractors, and we’re thankful to work alongside so many great people. So, this week, while Simon is working on a longer project we can’t share yet (but you can get a sneak peak on this Facebook post), we want to introduce you to one of the companies we partner with: Treetech.
We have been working with Treetech for around five years now, and consider them an essential part of our team. For those who feel the name is familiar, that’s because they even sponsored our Christmas Ice Carving this year.

Simon o'Rourke Working with Treetech

About Treetech

Treetech is a Wrexham based tree surgery business run by Shaine Bailey. Although he is based in Wrexham, he operates throughout the North Wales, North West and Midlands areas.

Shaine first took an interest in tree surgery when he’d watch his father use chainsaws round the garden for firewood. After starting out in landscaping and gardening, he began to take a particular interest in trees. After a family member taking that interest further, he took steps towards becoming a tree surgeon.

He now has over ten years experience in the business, and provides an excellent service, as you can tell from these reviews.

They offer a massive range of services from advice, to full commercial site clearance, and everything in between. If you have trees in your garden that are beginning to block light, have been damaged by winter storms or are diseased, we fully recommend Treetech to you.

Working with treetech to deliver sculptures

Shaine delivering various pieces including the Dragon Throne for RAF Valley and the Queen of the South Footballers.

Working with Treetech

As we said, Simon has been working with Treetech for around five years now, and they compliment each other well. As a tree surgeon, Shaine is able to source wood for Simon. He is also invaluable to us as he collects timber, and helps with delivering and installing Simon’s work. In fact, it’s Shaine’s truck you see in many of our photos of sculptures being transported.

We don’t just recommend Treetech as a competent service provider either. Shaine is a hard worker and a real team player as you can see from this video of us loading the Dragon Throne for delivery.

Contacting Treetech

If you live in North Wales, the North West or Midlands and are in need of Treetech’s service, you can contact them on [email protected], calling 07759 128232 or through www.facebook.com/shaine.baileyi9/

 

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade

Into the 20’s – A Review of the Decade 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

As we start a new decade, we’ve been reflecting on the many changes that have happened personally and professionally over the last ten years. Professionally, it’s been a great decade with some fantastic opportunities and commissions. We’ve also met some amazing people and seen some wonderful places along the way. Before we move forward into the 20’s, we thought we would bring you our ‘review of the decade’. And, as we do, let us wish you a Happy New Year from all at Tree Carving.

Simon O'Rourke Game of Thrones Egg Carrier carving

Simon and Liz O’Rourke wish you a happy new year (and decade) on behalf of the Tree Carving team.

Review of the Decade: 2010

As we looked back, we could definitely see we didn’t use social media as much! And the technology we used definitely didn’t produce the kind of photos and videos we do today! But here is a look back at two competition pieces from that year, both taking second place. Neptune from the English Open Chainsaw competition, and a traditional miner from the Huskycup.
A quick glimpse at Simon’s awards shows that this was a good decade for competition, placing in most things he entered and winning seven awards. However, when it comes to competitions Simon says:
“Competitive sculpture has taught me a lot about completing work to a deadline. I have competed all over the world and although I have placed highly in many events, the most important thing to me is being happy with my own work.”

Neptune by Simon O'Rourke as featured in his review of the decade

Simon O'Rourke second place huskycup 2010

Review of the Decade: 2011

Two of the projects we chose as highlights from 2011 are The Giant Hand of Vrynwy, and the Somerset Tree.

At 50′ tall, it was no wonder the hand caught the attention of the local press, as you can see in the article by The Leader newspaper. Simon’s inspiration for the hand came from the name for the woodland area, which made reference to giants. Creating something on this scale reminded Simon how small we are compared to some of the living organisms on this planet. He described the experience as being very humbling!

Giant hand by Simon O'Rourke

The next project although tall still, was a little smaller in scale! Simon was commissioned by the Museum of Somerset to create this stunning tree for their new museum. Sourced from local wood, it stands proudly in the museum where it tells some of the area’s 400 million year history.

Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the decade: Tree of Somerset by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2012

Another Huskycup entry! This time, the sculpture of “Christian and Mary”. Simon worked on this piece as part of ‘Team Europe’ with Tommy Craggs and Michael Tamoszus. They placed fourth overall, with some tough competition from a great bunch of talented artists. As we had a quick glimpse back at the Facebook album of the event it was lovely to be reminded of the support, encouragement and lovely comments.

Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Review of the decade: Christian & Martha Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

fourth place Huskycup 2012 by O'Rourke, Cloggs and Tamoszus

Review of the Decade: 2013

For our 2013 highlight, we chose something a little different. During that year Simon created this incredible Alice in Wonderland booth for Steak of the Art in Bristol. Their vision is for the restaurant to be an ever-changing art gallery that compliments their delicious menu. As you can see from the photos in the case study Simon wrote, his booth more than fits their vision. Every single character is its own work of art, and with so much to see, although the piece doesn’t change, there is something new to notice each time you sit within it. Here we get a reflection of the changing technology too, with this timelapse video of its making!

Alice in Wonderland booth at Steak of the Art by Simon O'Rourke (a review of the decade)

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

Alice in Wonderland booth by Simon O'Rourke, Steak of the Art

Review of the Decade: 2014

2014 saw us receive a lot of publicity for two ‘guardians’.

The first was created for the ‘Pawtraits‘ series by Maria Slough, and was actually named ‘The Guardian‘. The series featured people photographed alongside animals that had impacted their lives, and Simon was brought in to create a piece to be used for the portrait of Virginia McKenna. Understandably, the actress wasn’t too keen on reclining on a real lion – hence Simon stepping in with The Guardian! As McKenna was so impressed with his work, Simon was later commissioned to sculpt a lion cub for the Born Free Foundation charity auction, a charity McKenna established. As well as the photos below, you can click HERE to see a timelapse of The Guardian being made.

 

The Guardian by Simon O'Rourke

Maria Slough Pawtrait Virginia McKenna featuring lion by Simon O'Rourke

Photograph copyright of Maria Slough from the Pawtraits Series

The other ‘guardian’ created by Simon that year is just as iconic. Phil and Leah from Wahoo Group wanted to harness the power of social media and do something novel to help sell their home. Thinking completely outside of the box (no baked cookies here!) they commissioned a sculpture of…..Batman!

The caped crusader sat on top of their home where it gained attention from both local and global news outlets, and helped the couple find tenants for their property.

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Wooden Batman carving by Simon O'Rourke

Batman by Simon O'Rourke and St Giles Church Wrexham

As one of Simon’s strengths is Human Form, we also couldn’t resist throwing in this sculpture of Scottish explorer, Mungo Park. He was commissioned for a pub in the explorer’s hometown of Peebles, and sits on this bench for passers by to enjoy.

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

 

 

Review of the decade 2014 Mungo Park

Review of the Decade: 2015

2015 was the year when Simon won the English Open Chainsaw Competition with Hemlock the Dragon.

Since then Hemlock has made countless appearances around the country, including at a wedding! Hemlock has recently had some repair work on the wings, and is ready to meet the public again. If you are interested in hiring Hemlock for your event, just email us on [email protected]

Hemlock the Dragon English Open Chainsaw Competition 2015 by Simon O'Rourke

Review of the Decade: 2016

2016’s highlight is another Huskycup Flashback: Viking Raid.

As well as the Viking Raid Case Study Simon wrote, we also have a blog about Viking Raid for those who want to know more. As we mentioned in our Huskycup 2019 blog, 2016 was actually the last year Huskycup was a competition. It meant Simon was the last ever Huskycup champion, as Viking Raid took first place. What a way to end the competition for him! Although it is no longer a competition, Simon continues to participate, and it is something of a highlight each year.

In 2016 Simon also became an affiliate of Olfi. We love their action cameras, and how they’ve transformed what we’re able to share with you through timelapse videos. Find out more in our Olfi blog!

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

 

Viking Raid at Huskycup 2016 by Simon o'Rourke

 

Review of the Decade: 2017

2017’s highlight is from Liverpool. Simon created a tribute to The Beatles by carving life size figures of the Fab Four live along the dockside over a weekend. You can read more about the event in our Global Beatles Day Blog, and keep scrolling to enjoy our flashback photos and video.

2017 was also the year Simon began being sponsored by Stihl. Not only do they manufacture quality equipment, but it was something of a ‘full circle’ for Si, as his very first chainsaw experience was using Stihl equipment.

 

Beatles at the Liverpool dockside by Simon O'Rourke

 

Nearly done!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 28 August 2017

 Review of the Decade: 2018

As Simon says in his case study about the Spirit of Ecstasy, this was one of his most challenging sculptures to date.
You may remember from our Spirit of Ecstasy blog, that Simon recreated the Rolls Royce icon for an enthusiast to give new life and purpose to a beautiful oak tree which had died. Despite the challenges, the finished piece was faithful to the Rolls Royce concept, graceful and simply stunning. We hope you enjoy the finished result as much as we (and most importantly, the client!) did.

Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Review of the Decade: 2019

In our new year blog at the start of last year, we told you 2019 would be our ‘year of the dragon’. We weren’t wrong! Over the year Simon created seven new dragon-related carvings, including an ice dragon in our local town.
It all started off with The Dragon of Bethesda. It sits in an arboretum in North Wales after the landowner commissioned Simon to create something spectacular from a fallen tree. Y Ddraig Derw was featured in national media, and we are still overwhelmed by the encouraging response from so many people to the piece.

Dragon of Bethesda by Simon O'Rourke

 

Our other dragon highlight from the year, is this stunning casket created for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones egg props Simon O'Rourke

Simon was commissioned by HBO as part of a wider project where artists re-imagined original props from the show. He received these beautiful dragon eggs, and created the casket for them to sit in. You can remind yourself of the whole project and process in our Game of Thrones blog.

Again, we were amazed, thankful and VERY encouraged by all the positive comments we received.

This is also the year Simon became an affiliate for ManpaTools. Their angle grinders especially have taken some of his texture and detail to a whole new level.

Simon O'Rourke casket Game of Thrones Season Eight

Moving into 2020, Simon has also become an affiliate for Saburrtooth. With quality tools and equipment from Stihl, Manpa and Saburr, Simon’s talent and creativity, and the continued support of all our amazing clients and co-workers, we look forward to what the next decade – the roaring 20’s – will hold.

We hope you enjoyed our Review of the Decade. We definitely loved seeing some of these pieces afresh as we looked back.
As always, if you have a project in mind, email us on [email protected]

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]

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.

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!