Chainsaw Ian, Croydon street art, and wooden wildlife

By - Tuesday 10th May, 2016

Bernadette Fallon catches up with an artist with a difference – and a chainsaw

Owl, squirrel and ladybird carvings by Ian Murray

Carvings at Croydon Minster by Ian Murray.
Photos author’s own and by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

It was an unlikely start to a conversation about mythology, wildlife and nature. I was talking to a man called Chainsaw Ian, after all. But Chainsaw Ian has created some of the most popular, talked about and tweeted objects in Croydon in the last few months; the beautiful wooden sculptures of the owl, ladybird, squirrel and hedgehog around the gardens of Croydon Minster, with the fox and leaping trout just over the road at the underpass. (Missed the fox and leaping trout? Me too, originally. Get back there now.)

Chainsaw Ian is officially known as Ian Murray (he’s Chainsaw Ian on Twitter but also in real life as he creates his delicate wood carvings with, yes, a chainsaw – and you don’t often see that word in the same sentence as ‘delicate’). He came to Croydon in February to make the sculptures, and said his iPad nearly blew up with the Twitter activity and interest once the work began.

Commissioned by the charity Sustrans as part of the Wandle Trail, the subjects for the sculptures – Mr Owl, Ms Ladybird, Mr Fox et al – were suggested by local residents. “I’ve discovered that the more input you get from the public about the carvings, the more people look after them”, Ian explains. “And the feedback has been fantastic”.

Learning how to make wooden sculptures was harder than any of Ian’s army training

In fact, not only were the locals canvassed for their opinions, they also came and watched some of the carvings being created – the owl was made from a tree stump in front of an interested crowd of onlookers.

“Working like this really lets people get involved”, says Ian. “They see the wooden log to begin with, and then in four or five strokes they see the shape emerge. They start to ask questions and then they are just standing there open-mouthed as it all develops”.

Ian started his working career in the British Army, but learning how to make wooden sculptures was harder than any of his training there, he says. After leaving the army, he trained in forestry and tree surgery and worked with a contractor for six years before being made redundant.

There have been health and safety concerns – basically, they were worried about the chainsaw

“I had been working in woodland management, power line clearance, tree pruning, that sort of thing”, he explains. “But when I was made redundant I had to do something to make ends meet – so I started making wooden carvings and selling them in lay-bys. Owls were always popular, even then”.

But he says that it wasn’t easy getting the business off the ground. “It was a really new industry and the sort of tools I have now weren’t available. Plus I didn’t know anything much about it! It was a huge learning curve”.

And his local job centre wasn’t much help, citing difficulties with ‘health and safety’ and issues of public liability as huge stumbling blocks. Basically, they were worried about the chainsaw. But once he found somebody willing to insure him (and showed them his chainsaw licence), he was up and running. The industry is now a huge growth area for both professional artist like Ian – sorry, Chainsaw Ian – and people who do it as a hobby in their spare time.

Ian can even come and carve something in your garden, a much better option than just removing that old tree stump

Now he travels all over the world – he’s just back from a five-week trip to Canada where he took part in events across the country – and will spend the summer exhibiting and selling his work at fairs in the UK.

A lot of his work is functional and practical – furniture, garden seats and benches – as this is what sells, he says. But even in the everyday, his work still tends towards the fantastical. He carves characters from children’s stories such as The Gruffalo and Room on The Broom into his benches and chairs. “Storytelling chairs”, he explains. Next he’s keen to spend more time carving the human form and to work with stories from mythology.

He’ll even come and carve something in your garden, a much better option than just removing that old tree stump – make something beautiful out of it instead. His rates are very competitive, as he is keen to keep the work affordable, and start from £30; he can work with your budget when practical. And it doesn’t have to be a great big piece – it can be a small robin on a tiny trunk. It doesn’t even have to be made in your garden. His workshop carvings can be shipped anywhere in the country. See his website for more details and examples of his work.

“I don’t make a fortune from what I do”, he says with a smile. “But I wouldn’t change it for anything”.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    they are fantastic pieces. hopefully the fox will be re-instated soon. good work Ian and thank you Sustrans