woodland

A Bavarian Fairy Tale

A Bavarian Fairy Tale 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

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.

Entrance to Allegauer Schnitzevent

This year Simon carved this fairy. 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

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.

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?”
For those wanting to know more about the technical side to Simon’s work, read on!

Close up of a perfectly proportioned face.

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!

 

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 it definitely lives up to that!

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

 

Simon carved two pieces over the two days, 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

 

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 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

 

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 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

In honour of this year’s Earth Day, we thought that we would spend some time in this blog talking about one of Earth’s most vital resources, and the basis for all of Simon’s work: trees!

As 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

Working with trees as a ‘medium’ wasn’t something Simon had planned as a career when he left school and began his degree in illustration. After graduation however, he took a job with Acorn Arbor Care as a tree surgeon while he built up his illustration portfolio, and began working for the first time with chainsaws – notably Stihl, who, in one of those ‘full circle’ kind of stories, are now his current sponsors!
Realising he could be creative as well as practical with a chain saw, he 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”, and the rest, as they say, is history!

As well as the appeal of the chain saw, the wood itself is full of appeal. Even though a sculpture may be planned with sketches drawn and an idea of what it should look like when realised, 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.

On a day like earth day when we are thinking about preserving the world’s resources, it is also natural to be wondering where all this wood is coming from and how good it is for the environment.

One advantage of working with a natural material is that although it weathers well (the colouring changes very quickly once outside, and becomes even more interesting with age), eventually it will degrade as all wood does, and is returned to the earth. In addition, all of Simon’s work is carved from trees that have either fallen naturally, or on trees that have become dangerous or diseased. Most importantly, he always uses wood that has come from a sustainable managed location, such as domestic housing or managed forests and woodlands.One of the most popular examples of this is his carving from earlier in the year of The Dragon of Bethesda, a commission that had its birth in 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

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!

If you find yourself with a tree that has fallen or been damaged, why not talk to us about giving it new life as a sculpture for your home or garden? Simon is available to talk about possibilities at [email protected]

 

Spring it On!!!!

Spring it On!!!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, it was the first day of Spring this week and that means our thoughts (or at least the shop displays, even if we haven’t quite caught up!) turn to longer days, birds singing, sun shining, walks in the park, nature bursting into new life, and all the cute and fluffy newborn animals! People in the streets seem more smiley as the weather warms, and even those wet, rainy days seem better as the newly budded blossom on the trees and the touch of colour of daffodils and tulips springing from the ground remind 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 as well as (hopefully) some inspiration for your own gardens!

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 keeping it realistic (like the sheep). Shape alone doesn’t work unless the desired result is something very modern and stylised, so what we see here – especially in the birds – represents a lot of time spent on detail and texture.

As well as the change in weather, we’ve noticed the supermarket aisles filling up with chocolate (anyone else looking forward to April 22nd when it all goes on sale???!!!) which means we also can’t help but think of Easter, and the ‘bringer’ of all that sugary goodness – the Easter Bunny! As carving in a material like wood lends itself beautifully to garden ornaments, woodland trails etc, it’s no surprise that Simon is no stranger to our leporine friends, whether real or imagined…..

Our teams are also no strangers to the garden ‘Spring Clean’, and if you’re anything like us, are only just starting the real work of cleaning up the garden after winter, and beginning the preparation work that will pay off in summer when it’s all organised and in bloom, or in Autumn when you reap the harvest.

If you find storm damaged trees or pieces of timber in your garden as part of your clean up, or after cleaning up, find yourself with some spots that somehow don’t seem complete, why not consider commissioning something unique from us?
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.

We hope that whatever the start of Spring has looked like for you, that it’s one that, just like the season, is full of new life and hope.
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!