Ice Sculptor

Ice Sculptor

Dr. Ice

22 Years Experience

New Orleans, LA

Male, 51

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!

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Last Answer on July 19, 2020

Best Rated

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?

Asked by Michelle about 7 years ago

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 the hundreds for an event that's extreme in many ways: extremely cold, extremely difficult, and you get extremely tired carving so much ice over a long period. After an outcry amongst top carvers though, the prize money has gone up some, with assurances that it will keep going up.

As you can see though, even the best competition ice sculptors won't be giving Tiger Woods or other professional competitor-types a run for their money. I suppose it's possible to live off ice sculpting winnings, but only during the winter and only in areas where you could get to a lot of competitions without traveling a lot. (Most typical ice sculpting events feature a top prize of about $1000.) And you'd have to win a lot too. It would still be a lot of cheap meals and cheap hotels.

The other day, I was on a conference call with a team that I'm a member of and we were talking about our plans for a competition. I think one member said something about taking a certain approach so that we'd have the best chance to win or place in the competition. After many years of carving, however, I've come to the conclusion that it's not about you against the other sculptors. It's about you and the ice before you. You get x amount of time and you try to create the best piece of ice art that you can manage. (Hopefully, you've taken the time to prepare.) Anything else is an unnecessary distraction and the competition results are what they are. Just make sure that you're happy with what you've made and that you get some good photos, because it won't be around for very long!

Thanks for your question Michelle!

While your job sounds really cool (haha) and unique, do you ever get bored with it? If you quit sculpting tomorrow, what would you go and do?

Asked by Stew over 5 years ago

The timing of your question is very good; I was working on a blog entry earlier where I touched on a very similar question. I'd have to say that it's tough to get excited to carve things that you've carved over and over again. Especially if they want it "just the way you carved it last time." Sculptures that fit in this category for me include fleur-de-lis's (very popular in New Orleans), hearts with doves, and hearts with swans. All of these are very popular for weddings in my area. While I appreciate that the ice sculpture is important to them since it's a very big day for them, sometimes I wish for a little more creativity. But hey, nobody's forcing me to do this job, and I do get to decide which jobs I take and which ones I don't. So if I'm bored by certain types of sculptures, I have only myself to blame.

If I stopped sculpting tomorrow… I'm not sure what I would do. I know that someday I will stop sculpting ice, but I don't know when that'll be. I think I’d kind of assumed that it would be shortly before I die, whenever that is. I suppose it's possible that I’d suffer some sort of disability and not be able to carve; that's not a fun prospect. I have considered the possibility that I'd stop sculpting ice. But along with this consideration, I'd also assumed that I would be sculpting something else. Maybe something permanent? I really enjoy sculpting so it's difficult for me to imagine life without it.

I do have degrees in biology and chemistry, so I guess that would be a possibility. But I think I'd have to go back to school for a while because I'm pretty sure there've been some significant advances in these fields since I graduated.

I suppose I'd have to modify your question a bit to give you the best answer. I do get bored by the commercial aspects of sculpting ice. Simply re-creating a logo in ice is not very stimulating from a creative point of view. As I said before, carving the same thing over and over again also isn't that much fun. So I'm trying to figure out ways to carve only the things that I want to carve. As you might imagine, this is a bit tricky, so I have a ways to go. So I think I'd say that I would give up commercial ice sculpting, but I would never give up artistically stimulating ice sculpting unless I had to.

Good question; made me think. Thank you for that.

P.S. Ooh! Here's a possibility that I just thought of. And technically, it fulfills your question’s requirements. I think I would go into 3-D computer modeling, maybe for games or something else. See, technically that's not sculpting. It's kind of virtual sculpting. So I could do that.

Do you ever get hired to do custom work? Could you create a reasonably realistic ice sculpture of a person's head / face just from a photograph of them and what would you charge a client for that?

Asked by 02sammy almost 6 years ago

Yes, I do lots of custom work. To me, custom work is often the most interesting part of the job because you're facing new challenges and it requires that you're completely engaged and not just on autopilot. But it can also be the most stressful part, because you're occasionally not sure if what you're doing is going to work.

Regarding sculpting someone's head from ice, yes I get to do that occasionally. Lots of fun and again, stressfull. I know it's going to "work" in this case, in that it won't fall down or something. But creating a likeness is tricky and the goal is recognition: Will people immediately recognize who I've sculpted? And the worst part of this is that it melts, so even if I absolutely nailed a sculpted likeness, it's not going to stay that way for long. That's why I usually suggest an "ice portrait" in these instances. A portrait is an engraving in the ice, usually with white snow against clear ice for contrast. (examples: ice portrait gallery) It's much more straightforward to create a portrait rather than a sculpted likeness from just a photo too; less guessing required.

For pricing a likeness in ice, it kind of depends on the client's needs and the expected end result. If I were to sculpt a child in ice for a birthday party, that might cost quite a bit less than one for a celebrity at a big event. Why? The expectations would probably be much higher for the celebrity likeness, which means a lot more work (and stress) is required to get the expected end result. Meanwhile, the child's birthday party probably has a much smaller budget and I'm simply trying to create a very special decoration and some memories for the party goers; an exact likeness usually isn't required. (Please don't ask what happens if it's a sculpture for a celebrity child's birthday party!) All that said, I'd be very surprised if a custom likeness or a portrait in ice was priced at less than $500. If I were asked to create a sculpted likeness and the expectations are reasonably high, I'd probably charge significantly more than that because I'd want to spend enough time on it to get it right.

Thanks for your questions and your fantastic timing, as I'd just been checking out the Jobstr site!

Can you ship your sculptures or do you only work locally? If a piece is kept at a cold enough temperature, will it degrade at all even if you wanted to ship it across the country?

Asked by Boomer almost 6 years ago



Ok, here are your answers: yes, no, and then, maybe.

Kind of a crappy answer, huh? All right, I’ll continue.

Yes.

You can ship ice sculptures, but it can be a little risky. There’s sometimes little guarantee that your ice sculpture(s) will end up intact at the other end. Most of the time, it works out fine, as long as the sculptures go by cold transport. And it can also turn out well without refrigerated transport as long as the ice is packaged properly and dry ice is added to the mix. I played a role in a perfect example of this that showed up on A&E’s Shipping Wars reality show (Season 4, episode 2; Dysfunction Junction: here’s a short clip). Last year, we shipped an ice bar and a lot of smaller sculptures from the Tampa area to a freezer in Mississippi, where I received the ice. The ice shipped in the summer, without refrigerated transport. The shipping went well and appearing on Shipping Wars was fun, but I later ended up losing a lot of the smaller ice when my freezer went down while I was out of town. Much worse than that, earlier this year, Roy Garber, the shipper on the episode, unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and died. I didn’t get to know him very well, but he was a pleasure to work with, despite his prickly reputation on the show.

I’ve also been involved in a project where we shipped a HUGE ice sculpture. Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider contracted Ice Pro in Florida (the same company that sculpted the Shipping Wars ice bar above) to create the world’s largest ice luge for a party in Boston. The giant bottle-shaped ice luge was 25 feet tall and was created in Florida by Ice Pro and then shipped by cold transport in pieces to Boston where we assembled it onsite for the event. There was so much ice that we were restricted to setting it up only in a certain area by the venue’s engineer. He was concerned about the stress all the weight would put on the building, which was the Seaport World Trade Center, not exactly a small place.

There are lots of other examples of ice sculptures being shipped. A company in Canada that I know of ships sculptures all over the world. However, as you’d imagine, it’s not as easy as just calling UPS and sending it off. The sculptures have to be carefully packed and there often has to be someone on the other end with ice skills to receive the ice, store it, and then set it up. Sometimes repairs or modifications have to be made too. And then there are the unexpected problems. One shipment of ice sculptures got held up in Memphis when it didn’t clear customs as quickly as expected, which made the sculptures too late for the event.

No.

I don’t just work locally.

This summer, I went out of town for a number of ice events. I carved at a performance in Orlando, complete with face paint. Then as soon as that was over, we immediately headed to the Boston luge event that I mentioned above. Later in the summer, I went out to LA for a short carving performance at a venue by the Staples center. I was working with another sculptor and we were sculpting a large Christmas in July themed piece during a 30 minute performance. It turned out to be even a little more exciting than we expected, as BOTH of our chainsaws stopped working while we carved! But we made some on-the-fly adjustments and just found another way to get it all done.

In years past, I’ve also been contracted to create sculptures for events in Belgium, Germany, and on an island in the Caribbean. In all of these cases, the ice is already there when we arrive and a number of ice sculptors are involved. And in the Boston case, much of the carving was already done before we got there. These sorts of events can be exciting, because everything is new: new people, new places, and maybe even new electrical requirements for your tools. This requires a certain flexibility in your methods as you often have to do things differently than you’re used to. I suppose it wouldn’t be as much fun if it were easy though.

Maybe.

Even if a transported sculpture is kept below freezing, it might degrade. Transported ice sculptures degrade in three ways: melting, sublimation, and physical damage. If it’s shipped by cold transport, then you’ve got the melting part covered. The sublimation part (where the ice skips the melting part and goes straight to vapor) is not as problematic as melting. You can prevent that simply by sealing the ice in plastic so that it’s not exposed to the cold air. It’s also a pretty slow process. Finally, careful packing can prevent most physical damage. But accidents happen and not everybody takes all the necessary care in moving packed sculptures. That’s one reason to have an experienced ice sculptor on the receiving end: often you can repair damaged sculptures by carefully freezing them back together.

Thank you for your awesome question Boomer! I hope I didn’t bore you to tears with my long-winded answer, but it gave me lots to think about.

Do you only ever carve plain frozen water? Couldn't some cool effects be generated by adding some food coloring or otherwise "styling" the water before you freeze it? Sorry if that was a dumb question, i love your Q&A.

Asked by Jordy almost 6 years ago

Definitely not a dumb question! I used to wonder about doing the same thing. However, adding color to ice is trickier than you'd think. When we freeze the ultra-clear ice blocks for sculpting, the ice ends up very clear because it's very pure. There are very few impurities like air or salts in the ice blocks because the ice wants to build a pure ice crystal and there's no room for other stuff. As it turns out, it means that it's difficult to color ice blocks because dyes or food coloring get forced out as well while the clear block is freezing. So, to make a colored block, we also add milk to help keep the dye in place and then the water circulating pumps are also turned off while the block freezes. So then you end up with an ice block that looks like a giant popsicle, just without the stick.

Colored ice blocks are definitely not bad. In fact, at the Gaylord Hotel ICE! events around the country, carvers from China make amazing sculptures from colored ice. But colored ice blocks melt a little faster and they make a mess too.So for most events, you want clear ice blocks to carve. When we need to color the ice, for logos or other designs, we freeze colored sand or paint colored gelatin inside the sculptures. Or, we can use colored lights. Great question; thanks!

Has someone ever changed an event's time on you, and if that happens is there a way to keep your sculpture from melting? About how long would it take at room temperature for it to degrade?

Asked by Cory over 5 years ago

Hey Cory! Yes, that has absolutely happened! Usually, it's due to some miscommunication ahead of time or a necessary delay of the event start. However, I've had situations before where the client wants the sculpture delivered by a certain time and apparently fails to realize that it's too early for an ice sculpture. I try to avoid that by talking with the client and getting all the event details, but sometimes it happens anyway. In every situation where the event is delayed and I'm worried about a sculpture lasting, I'll take SOME sort of action. It can be as simple as leaving the sculpture covered in insulation, which can make a big difference. If I can't stay to wait, then I'll simply ask someone to carefully remove the cover at a certain time. I honestly can't remember many (if any, actually) instances where it ended up being a problem in the end. If it did, I'd think it was because it was a very hot environment for a sculpture and the window where it looked good was even shorter than usual.

As for the standard length of time that a sculpture lasts, I usually say 4-6 hours. I don't mean that the sculpture will collapse at 6 hours and 1 minute, I just mean that pretty much all the detail may be gone by then. And of course, it depends on the sculpture. Some sculptures, by virtue of their design, might last much longer, even at room temperature. Ice in shapes with little relative surface area lasts much longer than designs with a lot of surface area.

My apologies for taking so long to answer your question! I took a long break from some aspects of my ice sculpting career. One minor upside of a pandemic is that I have more time to work on neglected tasks :/

At a recent ice event, my first, I saw blocks of ice with beautiful pictures sketched into them, some even in color. Upon closer inspection I discovered these pictures were etched on the inside of the ice block. I saw no seams, how'd they do that!?

Asked by Nicki over 4 years ago

Hi Nicki, thanks for your question! Really, without seeing the sculptures, I couldn't say. However, there are a few ways this could happen. Possibly, they froze drawings into the ice blocks while the blocks were being made. But if you're saying that the designs were sketched into the ice, then that doesn't sound like what they were doing. MAYBE you missed the seams, or even looked in the wrong place for the seams. I'm not saying that's what happened, but I couldn't know for sure without seeing them. Sometimes, seams are very difficult to find. Even knowing what I do, I sometimes can't find all the seams in a complicated sculpture if a sculptor is skilled or particularly clever. Finally, in theory, it's possible that after the designs were added, more ice was added via the freezing process and thus, no seams. This is the least likely possibility, because it's hardly worth the extra effort. It would be difficult indeed to do without risking the ice with the design in it.

There might be another way that I haven't thought about, but that would be highly unusual. Either way, I'm glad you enjoyed the sculptures! And my apologies for taking so very long to answer your question! Pandemics are at least good for helping you catch up on long neglected questions, it seems.