woodland

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)

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!

 

Arb Show 2019

Arb Show 2019 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every year in May, the Aboricultural Association runs its flag ship event: The Arb Show. It describes itself as being “A celebration of the science of trees”, and Arb Show 2019 definitely lives up to that!

Simon & Stihl

This year the main sponsor for the event was Stihl – who also sponsor Simon! They had a large exhibit at the event, and Simon was invited to take part. Over the two days he performed demonstrations of chain saw carving, and met with people to talk about his art.

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

Simon at the Stihl Exhibit, Arb Show 2019

Demonstration Time!

Simon carved two pieces over the two days, while talking people through his process. He used Stihl’s new MS500i chainsaw for the first time to make the first piece; a horse’s head. Looking at the finished piece (can you believe that was a speed carve?!), we’d say it’s a hit!

Simon O'Rourke with the finished speed carve horse

Simon with the finished speed carve horse

Arb Show 2019 Auction

At the end of each day the pieces were auctioned off for the charity Greenfingers, which creates gardens and respite spaces for children in hospice care across the UK. Thank you to the winning bidders, and we hope you enjoy your sculptures!

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If you’re thinking of coming to check out one of Simon’s demonstrations in future, we thoroughly recommend The Arb Show.

The venue (The National Arboretum), is actually worth a visit at any time of the year. However, during The Arb Show, you can also enjoy exhibits from companies who work with trees in a whole range of ways.

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

Stihl Exhibit at The Arb Show 2019

Beyond the Carving

Exhibitors range from manufacturers of equipment for people working in forestry to conservation groups, from forest schools to artists using trees. Tree surgeons, tree carvers, timber processors and even tree climbers also come along to enjoy the show! In fact, it is also home to the 3ATC open climbing competition!

As well as the expected food stands, there is also entertainment and the opportunity to try your own hand at some of the timber sports – or even axe throwing!

With camping on site for those who want to spend both days enjoying the show, maybe we’ll see you next year?

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day 2019 700 400 Simon O'Rourke
,Honouring Earth Day 2019

We’re marking Earth Day 2019, by talking about one of Earth’s (and Tree Carving’s!) most vital resources: Trees!

Trees are the biggest plants on the planet. They give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They are also the material that forms the basis for everything that Simon produces , whether life size human form commission, furniture, or accessories (have you ever seen his bowties?!)

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Carving a dragon into a fallen tree

Why Tree Carving?

Simon definitely hadn’t planned on tree carving as a career. After A levels, he began a degree in illustration. He actually hoped and planned to be a freelance illustrator of children’s books. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon. The idea was, this would give him an income while he built up his illustration portfolio. And so, at this time he began working with chainsaws. In fact, the first saw Simon used was made by Stihl, . In one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, they are now his current sponsors!

Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, Simon tried his hand at carving. There was something special for him in discovering that “such a potentially destructive tool can be used to create beauty”. After that discover, the rest – as they say – is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Part of this is in its ever-changing nature, which then shapes the finished product, beyond Simon’s first idea. He can plan a piece with detailed sketches and have an idea of what he wants it to look like. However it has to evolve a lot once the carving actually begins. The grain dictates where the natural strength of the timber is and can give so much inspiration for the shape of a sculpture. Every tree is unique and you never know what you’re going to find when you cut into a piece.

 

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

The timber used for this carving of a shire horse. The natural grain enhances the texture and shape of the horse.

Sourcing Wood Responsibly

On Earth Day 2019  when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from. Is tree carving damaging to the environment?

Far from it. Tree carving is one of the more sustainable mediums for sculpture. Working with a natural material means that although it weathers well, eventually it will degrade, as all wood does. At this point, it is returned to the earth – no land or ocean filling here!
In addition, Simon uses trees that have either fallen naturally, or trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location. This includes domestic housing and managed forests and woodlands. One example of this which went viral earlier this year, is his carving ‘ ‘The Dragon of Bethesda‘. This dragon commission actually came about because of an arboretum owner wishing to do something with a storm-damaged fallen tree.

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

The Dragon of Bethesda, before and after

Forest Education

As lovers of the outdoors and environmentally aware citizens, Simon and his wife Liz enjoy the opportunities that they get to educate others too about the resources we have and how to take care of them through their work. Whether it takes the form of educational captions on a nature trail commission, sharing their hearts in interviews, or through Liz’s role as a forest school teacher, their appreciation for the world around them is clear, and not only do they model responsible use of the world’s resources as individuals and businesses, but they also inspire others to do the same.

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the re-purposed wood, using off-cuts from scupltures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

Liz at a forest school session. They even recycle the repurposed wood, using off-cuts from sculptures for classroom supplies like these wood chips!

You can talk to us about Simon tranforming your own damaged or fallen trees at [email protected]

 

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the Air 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air this week. That means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sunshine, walks in the park, new life, and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms. Even those wet, rainy days seem better as the blossom on the trees and the appearance of daffodils and tulips reminds us of the hope of new life that comes after a Winter – whether literally or metaphorically.

To mark the shift in season, we’re bringing you some ‘Spring themed’ carvings this week.

Spring is in the air with this selection of baby animals and families by Simon O'Rourke

Spring is in the Air: Baby Animals

Featured above are some ‘animal family’ or ‘new life’ carvings Simon has completed in the past. It’s definitely not an easy thing to make something that is so small and detailed in real life into something this size whilst also keeping its realism (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised. That means what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

Spring is in the Air: The Easter Bunny

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate. Incidentally, anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!! That means we can’t help but think of Easter. In turn, we can’t think of Easter without thinking of the  ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny!  And whether real or fictional, Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends…..

Spring is in the air - easter bunny sculptures by Simon O'Rouke

Spring is in the Air: The Big Clean

We’re also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’. If you’re anything like us, you might only just be starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter. If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, why not consider commissioning something unique from us? Even if you finish the big clean and find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, Simon is on hand to help!

Whether a loved pet, favourite animal, creating your own whimsical fairy garden or adding something with a touch of humour, we’re sure Simon can create something that will be the perfect completion to your garden Spring Clean up. As well as looking great, a tree carving looks much more at home in the garden compared with plastic or stone ornaments. It’s also sourced sustainably. That means you can make your garden look great whilst also being environmentally responsible!

As always, if something has caught your attention and you’d like to commission something, contact us on [email protected]

Woodland Friends

Woodland Friends 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon (photographed here on day one) has been working on a couple of commissions for local gardens; transforming the trunks into woodland themed sculptures.

Working on the first sculpture of the week

 

During the week, a fox, owls, woodpecker and squirrels appeared in the timber, as well as the timber being given the realistic-looking shape and texture of a tree, with added details like knots, branch stumps and nut hatch that regular followers will know are typical of Simon’s sculptures. Each of the animals carved was given a story of its own too, with attention being given to the focus, expression and movement of each. Although each of the animals is clearly alive and participating in the life of a forest, one of the beautiful things about these sculptures is that they are not so prescriptive that they tell the whole story, leaving aspects to the imagination of the onlooker.

Woodland scene number two from the week

 

Who or what is the fox watching?

What is it behind the owl that has caught his attention?

Is the squirrel running for play, returning to its home in a hurry to avoid a storm, or looking for escape as it’s chased by a local dog out walking?

Maybe something about the eyes and expression or the movement reminds you of a scene from a childhood story of woodland creatures?

Visit our Facebook page for yourselves to see more photos and videos of the finished pieces, and fill in those gaps in the stories for yourselves. Feel free to leave a comment on our photos and videos too, letting us know what you thought!