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Ice Sculptor

Ice Sculptor
Name:Dr. Ice
Location:New Orleans, LA
Gender:M
Age:44
For more than 2 decades, I've been an ice sculptor, mostly for events in and around New Orleans. This means that if it can be made of ice and it's fun, I've probably made it for some crazy all-out party. I am a gold medal ice carver and my teammates and I also have a Guinness World Record for the world's longest ice bar. In 2004, I was ohh, so close to winning a world championship in Alaska. Alas, we came in second...maybe next time. But want to know something about ice sculptures? Ask me!
Find me online: My website |
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Q
Is Groundhog Day basically your Citizen Kane:) ?
A

Actually Citizen Kane is my Citizen Kane; there are 3 ice sculptures in that movie. But Groundhog Day definitely is significant to ice carvers because of the scene where Bill Murray's character is carving an angel sculpture. That sculpture was actually done by Randy Rupert. (Believe it or not, Bill Murray didn't carve that!) I've competed against Randy in a competition in Youngstown, Ohio. Can't remember how it turned out, but Randy is a very talented ice sculptor.

And by the way, if you're a fan of Jim Carrey or Sean Penn, you might have seen one of my ice sculptures in a couple of movies that were filmed in New Orleans.

Q
What's the sculpture you've done that you're most proud of? Is there a picture of it online?
A

That's a tough question. I'd probably call it a tie between several sculptures. But I'll list them with the reasons:

- Cool Brees: a 9 foot tall ice sculpture of Drew Brees that I carved in Alaska a month after the Saints won the Super Bowl; used it to raise a couple thousand dollars for charity: at www.coolbreesproject.com

- Beautiful Chemistry: an abstract DNA sculpture that we made at the World Championships and that earned 6th place: http://www.icedragonice.com/gallery/gallery/big_ice_files/page42-1006-full.html

- Ancestral Spirit: a 24 foot tall sculpture where I was a teammate of multiple world champion
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Q
What happens when you make a mistake and chip off a bigger piece of ice than you intend? Is that easy to fix? Can you actually re-attach it somehow, or do you have to work with whatever's left?
A

Small breaks happen all the time, maybe because I was clumsy, or perhaps I was too aggressive with a tool; there are all kinds of reasons. To fix it, you cut away the screwed up part and weld a new piece on. You try not to do this too much though because it can sometimes be difficult and the welds are visible. But I almost never toss a sculpture and start over again.

Q
How did you get into ice carving? Were you always a good artist? Did you one day just decide it looked cool?
A

I worked at a hotel during summers off from college and used to go watch the chef carve. I don't know that I ever asked if I could try, but one day he handed me the chainsaw and told me what to do. My first sculpture was awful, but the hotel used it for their Father's Day brunch.

Q
How is a 'world championship' in ice carving judged and by what criteria?
A

The organizers of Ice Art World Championships in Alaska have put together a set of judging criteria that judges at the event use to rate the sculptures. The criteria include things like degree of difficulty, the finished appearance of the sculpture, proportions, use of ice, creativity, expression of emotion and overall impression. The sculpture that I describe in another answer, the bird cage, was off the charts in degree of difficulty and it scored well in all the other categories as well.

Q
How long does it take for an ice sculpture to begin to lose its shape / features at room temperature? How long before it's nothing but a puddle of water on the floor?
A

For a sculpture that's at something close to room temperature, we usually say that a sculpture will last 4-6 hours. That is to say, it's holding some detail and looks basically like it's supposed to. But it really varies depending on how delicate the sculpture is. And if a sculpture is outside in hot weather or the ac goes out, all bets are off and a sculpture might last only a couple of hours or less. As to how long it is before it's a puddle of water, you're usually talking about a LOT of ice, so there might even be some ice left the next day; and longer than that if it's cold or if it was a really large piece.

Q
This thread is badass, nice work. My question is, what's the most ambitious sculpture you'd like to create someday? Like, the one you've always thought of doing but haven't yet summoned the cajones to do...
A

This is a tricky question and I'm going to avoid answering part of it, because in at least one case, I believe I have a good idea and this is not exactly a private conversation! But it certainly made me think about many of the sculptures that I've contemplated for various situations and I'll willingly sacrifice a couple of my ideas on the altar of a halfway decent answer.

WARNING: If you aren't particularly interested in the minutiae of ice sculpture design concepts you might find this answer overly long and tedious. Most of the other answers in my thread aren't as long winded...

Most of the crazy sculpture designs that I've considered are centered on competitions. Crazy, genuinely dangerous sculptures aren't a good idea in most instances because there are liability issues to consider.
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Q
Have you ever created an ice sculpture to "woo" someone you were interested in? What was it... and did it work??
A

Well, if using an ice sculpture to propose counts as wooing, then yes.

It was an angel holding the ring frozen in and yeah, it worked ;)

Q
What's the most intricate ice sculpture you've ever seen?
A

The most amazing and intricate ice sculpture I've ever seen would have to be a sculpture titled "Let it Be" in 2011 in Alaska. I'm not sure how tall it was, but I'd guess about 18 feet and it was of a cockatoo inside its cage. Everything, cockatoo, cage bars, the cage door, was all ice. All of the sculptors at the event were amazed by the sheer audacity of even attempting the sculpture. The sculpture was carved by Junichi Nakamura, Shinichi Sawamura, Yoshinori Mabuchi, & Koji Murakami and they totally pulled it off. You can see a picture of it at: http://www.icecarvingsecrets.net/photos/junichi_nakamura.html. It's the first picture in the gallery.

Q
How long does it take you to do your average wedding/party ice sculpture? Have you ever been *this* close to finishing and made a fatal mistake at the end and had to start all over?
A

I'd say that it usually takes 1-2 hours to do most of the sculptures that I do for weddings or parties. That's only the carving time though. That doesn't count any design time, tool set up time, clean up time (lots of clean up time!), transportation/delivery time, or set-up/break down time. So it sounds awesome: less than a couple of hours of work and you're on to the next one! But there's a lot of logistic and creative time that's harder to tally. But I can carve a sculpture pretty fast if I have to. More than once, I've competed in events that give you about 10 minutes to complete a carving. That's pretty much a chainsaw start to finish sculpture; no time for little tools.

Regarding the second part of your question, there are only two kinds of ice carvers: those who have broken one at the
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Q
How much do ice sculptures cost? Like, say if I wanted a giant swan for my wedding or something?
A

Ice sculptures in many cases involve a lot of artistry so there can be wide variations in the price of a particular sculpture depending partly on the skill of the ice sculptor. Other factors that affect the price include items frozen in the ice and complex white snowfill or color graphics or designs. But to give a guesstimate, I'd say that for a single block sculpture (from a single 300 pound block of carving ice) you might see a range of $300-$600.

Q
Wouldn't this all be much easier for a machine to do? Like why wouldn't a sculpting company just make huge molds for swans, ice luges, chandeliers, or whatever the most common requests are?
A

Good question; you would think that molding ice sculptures would be the way to go, but it turns out there are some difficulties with molding ice. It usually doesn't turn out as clear as a carved sculpture and you can't get the same level of lasting detail. It also takes a couple days to freeze a larger molded piece, while most carved sculptures can be created in a couple of hours or less. On top of that, you have to have a LOT of molds to cover a large portion of the requests and those molds take up a lot of space. And if the client wants something just a little different than what you have, you're out of luck unless you're willing to get another mold made (which is expensive). In short, hand carving is much more flexible and faster than the molding approach. That said, molded ice does occasionally ...More

Q
Sorry if this is obvious to everyone except me, but where do the giant blocks of ice for your sculptures come from? Do you freeze them yourself in some sort of giant mold? How about the truly enormous blocks for carving competitions?
A

That's actually a very good question. There are generally two sources for the blocks that ice carvers use day to day. The first is the icehouse style of ice block that is mass produced by ice companies. The old-style icehouses that I occasionally visit in my area have rows and rows of "cans" that are suspended in a freezing solution. These cans are filled with water and freeze solid over the course of a couple of days. They bubble air into the water through long metal tubes that they pull out just before they get frozen in and the water movement caused by the bubbling action helps make the ice clear. However, these blocks rarely are completely clear because salts and air get trapped in the center. So they end up looking like a mostly clear block of ice with a white core in the center. These ...More

Q
Is there a Michael Jordan of ice carving? Like, a guy who's basically acknowledged as the best there is, and a favorite every time he enters a competition?
A

It's funny you ask your question that way. I just recently updated one of the sculptor galleries on my ice carving info site and I compared him to MJ in the intro text. His name is Mark Daukas and he was just about unbeatable at ice carving competitions in the 90s. (http://www.icecarvingsecrets.net/photos/daukas.html) I had previously compared him to Lance Armstrong, but well, you know.

However, Daukas doesn't compete anymore and today, the most Jordanesque ice sculptor is probably Junichi Nakamura. Over the last 7 years, he's won 10 out of 14 World Ice Art titles that he went after. (You can win 2x each year; 2 different types of competitions and both are team competitions). A lot of Junichi's
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Q
What's the temperature of the room where you do your carving?
A

I like to carve at about 17 degrees F (in a big freezer), but I've carved in a range of temperatures, all the way from about -25 degrees F (Alaska) to about 95 degrees F (Gulf Coast in June).

Q
That's really interesting about the CNC machines. If they're way more precise than humans, do you see them as the beginning of the end for your profession? Would be a shame. Dudes carving ice with chainsaws are awesome.
A

No, I don't think they're the beginning of the end. I think a CNC machine is a tool that will allow ice sculptors to produce more sculptures and will open up more opportunities for ice sculptures at events. And you kind of answered your own question: watching a carver quickly create a sculpture at a performance/demo/competition is pretty cool; watching a machine create a sculpture: not as cool. But ask me again in ten years ;)

Q
What was the raciest sculpture you've ever been hired to make?
A

I've been expecting this question to show up sooner or later ;) The raciest sculptures that I've made are exactly the ones that you think that I've carved: the anatomically correct ones. Most of them are ice luges too. All kinds of parties go on in New Orleans and for some of those parties, those sculptures are a perfect fit.

Q
How do you keep it from melting ?
How long did it take to carve?
how long have you been carving ?
how long will it last ?
Dr . Ice do you have a mini character , like mini me ?
do you think you can take over the world with Ice ?
A

Yes, your first four questions combine to be a great example of the typical barrage of questions that an ice sculptor gets at sculpture set up time. And I'm sure that was your intent and that you already know the answers. But for those who don't:

1) you don't (The sculpture is usually brought to set up in some sort of insulation though; before that it's usually in a freezer.)
2) that one depends on the sculpture, but the range is usually between 10 minutes and 10 hours (average: 1-2 hours)
3) a long time, over 20 years
4) at least 15 to 20 minutes...

Actually, #4 is a for fun answer that I use to get a reaction. At the time the question is usually asked, it's about 30 minutes until the party starts. Therefore, it would be melted before anyone saw it if this was true.
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Q
Is that a standard hardware store chainsaw you're using or do they made special chainsaws for ice carving?
A

In the pic that is/was on the front of the site where I'm carving a dog with a chainsaw, that's a standard Stihl electric chainsaw, which is a very high quality saw that costs about 3 times more than a Craftsman saw, for example. Ice carvers do tend to modify their chainsaws, however, especially the chains. We take off a lot of the safety features so that the saw will cut faster. Most of these safety features are designed to protect woodcutters from kickback, which is where the saw tip comes back at the operator so hard and so fast that it's impossible to stop; very dangerous! Ice doesn't create kickback like wood does though, so we don't need the kickback safety features; they just slow us down, and a lot of the time, we're kind of in a hurry!

Q
If the temp outside is below freezing, will an ice sculpture remain EXACTLY the same? For example, if you come back on day 2 of a multiday competition, do you have to first check to see whether there was any change to the sculpture overnight?
A

In the scenario that you're describing, it's unlikely that there was a change in the sculpture, unless it snowed or somebody broke it (that has happened, although not to me). But over a longer period, even if it stays below freezing, the ice can change, mainly in two different ways. The first is sublimation, where the solid ice doesn't melt but goes straight to vapor. This happens more if it's very dry or there's a lot of air movement (which is why you have to wrap sculptures in a walk-in freezer). Or, if the sculpture is exposed to direct sun, and it's below freezing, but not too far below, the sunlight will start causing small fractures inside the ice. As the exposure to the sun continues, more and more fractures show up, they'll start to join, and the ice will get "gray" and much more fragile. ...More

Q
That ice sculpture collapse video was insane. Does that happen frequently? When it does, is the artist devastated or more just like "eh, it happens"?
A

Ironically, Junichi, the ice sculptor in the video, has perhaps gotten more exposure from a sculpture collapse than he has from all his other amazing sculptures that stayed up. The video highlights just how dangerous and unpredictable large scale ice sculptures can be.

I haven't asked him about this, but I'm pretty sure Junichi has a "need" to push his sculptures to the edge, so that you wonder how they stay up. I know that the first time I saw him carving one of his pieces in Canada, I was pretty sure it would collapse before he was done. (It didn't.)

I find that "crashes" seem to come in bunches. When my sculptures would fall during competitions, I would have a series of crashes over a short period, then they would go away for a while. It's definitely disappointing, but it's part of carving
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Q
What are the rules that govern competitive ice sculpting? Is anything and everything fair game and you're only judged on the finished product? Are any kinds of tools or support structures not allowed?
A

There are a few different organizations that have set up specific guidelines for ice carving competitions. For example, Ice Alaska, which runs the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, has guidelines governing final judging of the sculptures as well as how carvers are allowed to go about creating their sculptures. Regarding the judging portion, without going into too much detail, the guidelines offer advice to the event judges and break down judging into a series of categories that the judges can use to rate a sculpture's quality. These categories cover both the technical and the creative aspects of a sculpture and the judges are instructed to consider only the sculpture, not the sculptor(s). As for what carvers are allowed to do while carving, it can depend on the competition, and ...More

Q
Assuming you work with chainsaws and other heavy machinery, just how DANGEROUS is ice sculpting? Ever sustain any notable injuries?
A

First off, the only bone I've ever broken was from carving ice. But it was a little bone, my big toe. We were taking down a particularly heavy sculpture and it slipped, landing on my foot. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done when you break your big toe except to take pain medicine. I still had more work to do that day, so it was a long, painful one. I was only sure that I'd broken it a few weeks later when I got an X-ray to make sure it was healing okay.

Aside from that, I've been rather lucky I think. I have had other injuries, mainly lots of small cuts from the sharp tools and minor back injuries from the lifting and moving that's required. I've also had to go to physical therapy when I was having a lot of pain in my hands and wrists from using the tools.

Others that I know
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Q
Is there concern that global warming is going to make sculptures melt faster during competitions, or that you won't be able to harvest huge blocks of ice from lakes if they're not frozen?
A

First off Joe, let me apologize that it took me a little bit to answer your question. As I write this, New Orleans is readying itself for Super Bowl XLVII between the 49ers and the Ravens. Because of that, we have a few more ice sculptures on our schedule than usual and consequently, I have a lot less time for things that don't directly involve a chainsaw. Again, my apologies.

As an ice sculptor, one of the first things you get used to is that your sculptures are going to disappear, sometimes very quickly. So I'm rarely concerned at how fast my finished sculptures melt except when I'm trying to get a photo before certain details disappear or change. In fact, to me, the way that ice sculptures change is one of the most fascinating things about them.

From an ice sculpting event
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Q
Nice BBC shout-out Dawson:) So if my experience shaping ice is limited to making frozen popsicles, how many hours of coaching would it take until I could make something impressive? And what's a common entry-level ice sculpture that beginners learn?
A

Thanks for your question David! Yes, the mention on the BBC blog was a welcome surprise. (http://www.bbc.com/travel/blog/20130116-the-origins-of-ice-sculpting)

To answer your first question: not long, if you pay attention. I'd say that a novice carver could make something "impressive" out of ice almost immediately with guidance from an experienced carver. That's because ice is, in at least a couple of ways, a forgiving medium, despite its reputation.

First, it's visually forgiving because presented properly, an ice sculpture is quite dazzling, especially to a first-time observer. Often, I think that people are visually overwhelmed by a brightly lit sculpture and that they're
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Q
Are you also a natural at sculpting other materials (wood, stone, etc)? Do you ever do that, or is it ice only?
A

As I explained to another questioner, I'm slow to answer because as I write, we're getting ready for the Super Bowl in New Orleans, so my outside-the-freezer activities are a bit limited right now. Sorry about that!

I don't think that I'm a "natural" at sculpting ice, so I'd hardly think that I'd be a natural at any other sort of sculpting. I do, however, have a passion for sculpting ice and that's meant that I've been genuinely interested in everything I can find out about it. Because of that, and because of a lot of practice, I've developed a certain skill level that's probably higher than the average.

And given my decades of experience with sculpting ice, I do have certain advantages if I decide to tackle other media. However,
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Q
Is it safe to drink from ice luges? It's just frozen water, right? But how about the tools used to carve them, are they sanitary?
A

Chrissy, thanks for your question! I have to confess that I put off answering for a couple days because this is one that I wanted to think about, as it's an important issue. And fortunately, it's one that I'm reasonably qualified to answer, given my background.

The straightforward answer to your first question is yes, for the vast majority of ice luges professionally carved in the U.S., it's safe to drink from them. In more than 20 years of sculpting ice, I have never even heard of anybody getting sick because of an ice sculpture or ice luge. In fact, I frequently volunteer to "test" ice luges that I set up, just to make sure that everything's working right. And I HATE getting sick, so I doubt I'd be so quick to test them if I had any concerns.

To answer
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Q
Are there a lot of women in competitive ice sculpting? All the Youtube videos I see are men, which is strange since I'd think it's an artistic activity that women would gravitate toward. Does wielding the heavy chainsaw present an obstacle for them?
A

There are not a lot of women in competitive ice sculpting or in ice sculpting in general, which I think is unfortunate because it robs the art of a valuable perspective. But there are some women ice sculptors and some of them are very, very good, with world championships to show for it. Heather Brice is the first to come to mind; she's married to another ice sculptor, Steve Brice. Together and apart, they have both won world championships multiple times. They've also created the closest thing the U.S. has to an ice hotel, the Aurora Ice Museum near Fairbanks, Alaska. Tajana Raukar is another example. She's also won multiple world championships and currently works as an ice sculptor in MIchigan.

When we set a record for building the world's longest ice bar in 2011, Dominique Collel
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Q
Just want to say I LOVE this Q&A, I just spent all morning reading it. You should write a book about this stuff, you're clearly a great writer. Oh and a question...how much are prizes at the big carving competitions?
A

Thank you Michelle; glad you like it! I have written ebooks about ice sculpting, but they're more along the technical, how-to line than ice sculpting as an experience and an art. But maybe someday...

As for your question, oddly there's a fairly simple answer: $5000. That's apparently the accepted big prize amount for a high profile ice sculpting competition. Now I'm not saying that it can't or won't be more or less, but over the last decade or so, that seems to be the number, most of the time, for the "big" events.

But one really BIG event isn't part of this equation and that's been a problem for some carvers. Until recently, the prize money at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks has been surprisingly low, with some high placing sculptors walking away with awards in
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