Simon O’Rourke, an environmentalist from North Wales, UK, carves stunning wood sculptures from trees. He creates intricate wooden masterpieces using little more than a chainsaw and his imagination. To date, he’s cut hundreds of sculptures from wildlife to people to fairies and even furniture! Below, we’ll share Simon’s story about how he got into this exciting line of work and what inspires him to keep going.
Environmental artist creates incredible wood sculptures.
While Simon now runs a successful business creating wood sculptures, he didn’t get there overnight. It took a few detours for him to realize his unique path in life. However, he learned a lot about himself and what he wanted out of life along the way.
“I was an illustration graduate; I specialized in children’s book illustration and loved what I did, really enjoyed it. But, it wasn’t hitting all those buttons that I needed to be happy in what I was doing,” Simon says.
Of course, publishing children’s books didn’t keep the lights on, so he needed a full-time job while he built his illustration career. So, he took a job as a tree surgeon or arborist, where he learned about trees firsthand. His responsibilities included maintaining, felling, and planting new trees.
Little did he know this job would later help him in his wood sculpting work. Since he had to work with power tools like chainsaws, this gave him essential knowledge and skills for tree sculpting. Also, being around trees so much made him comfortable with the wood sculpting process.
When he wasn’t working at his full-time job, he spent time building up his illustration portfolio. Luckily, his hard work paid off. He got a children’s book commission from a tree work customer; the book was published in the United States. While he felt excited and accomplished, something was still missing. He didn’t pursue illustration any longer but realized he could use his creativity with the chainsaw. Wood sculpting started calling his name, and he could no longer ignore his soul’s desire.
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“It was a bit of a lightbulb moment one time when I saw somebody carving using the chainsaw, and I got really excited,” he recalls. “I wanted to give it a go, so I went straight back into the yard where our tree surgery base was and decided to practice.”
From that moment, Simon knew he’d found his life’s calling: wood sculpting
Creating wood sculptures just resonated with his soul and came naturally to him.
“I love the fact that such beauty can be created with such a violent tool,” Simon says, “and that was really what kind of got me going.”
He got started carving with Acorn Furniture for two years and opened his own business in 2005. Fast forward a few years, and his wood sculpting ventures have taken him all over the globe. He’s traveled to the US, Japan, Canada, Holland, Germany, and Denmark to compete in chainsaw carving competitions. In many of the competitions, Simon won awards for his incredible sculptures.
He draws inspiration from both himself and his clients, turning a wooden stump into art. It’s incredible what his imagination comes up with and how there’s seemingly no limits to what he can create.
Some of his sculptures have even been featured in films and TV shows! In fact, the producers of Game of Thrones asked Simon to design something around a prop from the series’ history. He chose to create dragon eggs and a new casket for them and said it took about three days to make.
He’s created other works of art, including a giant wooden lighthouse for a museum, a rustic wooden table, and even a bridge over a small waterway. He’s also made wood sculptures of fairies, dragons, gnomes, dogs, lions, eagles, owls, and other animals.
He loves sculpting a variety of characters, but humans are his favorite.
“But I think what inspires me most is the human form and what it can convey through just changing expression or changing pose, or changing texture, and that really excites me,” Simon says. “I love the sort of idea that you can completely alter the message of something by the slight raise of a hand, raise of an eyebrow, curl on the lip…things like that, so that’s really what inspires me.”
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While he greatly enjoys sharing his passion with the world, it’s even more fulfilling for him to evoke emotions in others. He loves being able to create a unique piece of art that others can draw inspiration from.
“Art, for me, is about telling stories. It’s something really personal, it’s something that kind of allows you to express what’s inside you. But that’s not where it stops for me. Where it kind of leads for me is that art isn’t just about me expressing, it’s about me helping others to express what they feel.”
When people ask him to sculpt something, he first gets an idea of what they want. Down to every last detail, he asks them to describe their dream wood sculpture. Simon sometimes draws the statue to get a clearer picture. Then, he gets to work creating the masterpiece, making sure every detail gets incorporated. His favorite part is handing over the creation and watching his clients’ reactions to their new living art.
Final thoughts on the environmental artist who creates incredible wooden sculptures
Art comes in many forms, and for Simon, it’s the trees that inspire his imagination. Where some people see an old tree stump, he sees a blank canvas. Using just a chainsaw and a vision in his head, he sculpts the tree into a new form. Sometimes it’s a fairy, other times it’s a lighthouse, but whatever he decides to make, it always takes people’s breath away.
His creative work has taken him all over the globe, where he’s competed in many wood sculpting competitions. Simon also runs his own business, creating wood sculptures for anyone who wants one. It’s always heartwarming to watch someone flourish in life, following their heart and trusting the process!