Ice Sculptor

Ice Sculptor

Dawson List

22 Years Experience

New Orleans, LA

Male, 52

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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47 Questions


Last Answer on July 19, 2020

Best Rated

Great answer to my Q! (ps there's a 3D games guy on this site, maybe ask him some Qs!) Another: What sculpting skills are the first to diminish with age and make it harder to stay on top of your game? Dexterity? Strength? Patience? Love for the art?

Asked by Stew over 9 years ago

Great question Stew! And a particularly relevant one, as I've not answered your question in a timely fashion, for related reasons! When I was regularly working on my large ice sculpting blog (now reborn, although it's still but a baby), I spent a lot more time online working on ice resources. That made it easy to answer questions like the ones in this thread. However, ice sculpting puts a lot of wear and tear on the body if you do it by hand, and decades of ice sculpting took a toll on me. I'm not going to get into the specifics, but right around when I stopped answering questions on this thread and also stopped working on my site, I thought that I might stop sculpting for health reasons. And the sculpting that I was doing then was taking a lot more time. Fortunately, I've since found workarounds and spent a bit of time fixing some problems, so that I can keep sculpting for the foreseeable future. And the pandemic has given me quite a break (however unwanted!) as well.

To answer your specific questions, I can't safely lift the same size sculptures that I could when I was younger. But I usually don't need to, because mechanical lifts are easy to come by, and I use them all the time. I wouldn't say dexterity has been a major problem so far. My brain is pretty familiar with the motions I've done so many times, and those motions are pretty automatic still. In some cases too, I now use a CNC machine. Human hands can't duplicate that level of precision, doesn't matter who you are. And a CNC machine is an excellent way to extend an artist's career. The artist just has to get over the idea that it's cheating somehow. By my way of thinking, if something helps you transfer the idea that's in your head to your medium, then it's simply a tool. You're still doing all the creative heavy lifting. One of the main advantages of a CNC machine is that you can rinse and repeat indefinitely, reproducing the same design. And that takes a lot of wear off an artist's body, particularly in a situation where there's likely not much artistic growth anyway. If you want to be a commercial ice sculptor (you know, AFTER the pandemic is over), get a CNC machine as early in your career as possible. It will pay dividends down the line!

Interestingly, you also ask about some of the mental aspects of ice sculpting. There came a time when I realized that I had a certain number of ice sculptures left in me. With this realization, I became less willing to "waste" the ones I have left. Sculpting the same thing over and over is one of the less exciting parts of the art. (That's one place where the CNC can help, see above.) When I'm sculpting, I want to be excited about what I'm working on, so much that I kind of forget that it's 19?F and that maybe my toes are cold. For that, I have to be emotionally invested in the sculpture, and that's tough to do when you're on automatic pilot. Certainly, you always keep in mind that the ice sculpture you're working on may well be the only ice sculpture a person gets in their WHOLE life, and that makes it a big deal! But when there's nothing new happening, I find it hard to stay completely engaged the way I'd like to.

So, to specifically address your questions, patience isn't a problem. That gets better, kind of via wisdom. Love for the art, on the other hand, is a problem. If I have my choice, I'm only going to do sculptures that I want to from now on. And I'm a perfectionist, so they better be awesome when I'm done! Of course, I don't always get to do what I want, so I'll still be making sculptures that are a little less exciting for me. But I'll go out of my way to make them more exciting and interesting, for sure.

I'll end this by tying the physical and the mental together for you. Delivering ice sculptures is one of the hardest parts of the art. If I could sculpt ice all the time and never have to move them when I was done, I'd be much happier. And like I said above, I'd rather only do sculptures that I really want to. Neither of these desires work well for a commercial ice sculptor, so I've started a new endeavor, or business actually, although it's not official yet. Maybe this is how I survive an ice sculpture crushing pandemic, or maybe it's how I eventually stop making commercial ice sculptures. Or maybe not. Either way, it's more artistically satisfying to me. Check the link in my bio if you'd like know more. I've only just started really moving forward with it, but hopefully my unusual idea will work!

Hopefully, you see this somehow Stew, but I won't hold my breath. You could certainly be forgiven for not waiting 5 years for an answer, lol! Thanks for the insightful question!

How do you keep sculptures from melting?

Asked by Jake almost 4 years ago

Hi Jake! Well, the simple answer is, you don't. Lots of people have asked if we use a special kind of ice (sort of) or if the display tray keeps it cold. But really the only thing special about the ice we use is that it's purer and clearer than most ice. (That means it's more dense though, so it does melt more slowly than regular ice.) And the display tray does nothing to keep a sculpture from melting. It's only there to keep it in place, control the water melting off the sculpture, and possibly help light it up or show it off. Because it's at the bottom of the sculpture and cold air falls, it couldn't really help the sculpture from melting, unless it was ridiculously cold. And then it would only help some.

I will say that I try to keep clients from making stupid ice decisions. Like, no, it's not a good idea to set it up out by the pool in bright summer sunlight. (That's actually extra bad, because it gets the double whammy of melting heat and UV light, which tears the ice apart on the inside!) But clients sometimes insist. And then I just try to make sure it's as safe as possible. The other place that will make a sculpture melt faster is right in front of blowing air. Even if it's cool air (still well above freezing), the air movement will speed up the melting process.

When you move a sculpture though, you do want to keep it from melting as much as possible. I use sleeping bags. From WalMart. Just like a sleeping bag will keep you warm when you're camping, it'll keep an ice sculpture cold, up to a point. And since they're made from 100% unnatural materials, they don't get too smelly when they sit around wet for a while. They actually kind of suck at absorbing water, which is good, but they also offer padded protection while you're moving breakable sculptures. They don't hold up forever though (the zippers break), so I've bought A LOT of sleeping bags during my ice career.

Thanks Jake! On to your next question ;)

Is that you in the photo?

Asked by Jake almost 4 years ago

Hi again Jake! Yes, that's me. And the ice and snow in my hair isn't just for frosty looks. That all came off of a sculpture while I was sculpting with power tools. Usually it's the angle grinder that throws the most snow, but other tools do too. You sculpt for a while in a small walk-in freezer and it looks like a snowman exploded! Snow is everywhere. It's not as bad as glitter or sand at the beach, but it's close ;)

Coincidentally, I tried to change my pic just a couple days ago. But it wouldn't let me. If it lets me next time, this answer won't make as much sense, lol

Thanks again for the question Jake!

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 about 8 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.

And did you know your hair frozen kind of looks like a funnel cake?

Asked by Jake almost 4 years ago

Hey Jake! You again?!? Lol

I can honestly say that I did not know that. And nobody has pointed it out before. I'm going to bet it doesn't taste as good as a funnel cake. And I know for sure that I'm never going to try and find out ;)

Have an ice day Jake :)

In Vegas at Gordon Ramsey restaurant . The sea food platter was amazing! 4 tier how do they or do they,reuse,clean because I can't see one use out it but we did sit and pick off it 4 2hrs .What about next use? Is there one?

Asked by Chris T. almost 9 years ago

Hi there Chris! If they had a seafood platter made of ice out at a restaurant, they won't reuse it or try to clean it as long as it's out for more than 3 or 4 hours. Especially when an ice display has food in it for any length of time, it tends to melt a little funny where the food is sitting. If it was used for only a short time, say the 2 hours you refer to, they could theoretically use it once more. But if it had 4 tiers, it would likely be difficult to disassemble and reassemble, so I would assume that it was a one time use. It's far simpler to use a new ice display each time. This might seem wasteful, but it's almost certainly the safest thing to do, and of course, the ice gets 100% recycled, one way or another :)

My apologies for taking so long to answer your question. I stopped working on my website a while back and wasn't sure that I'd keep sculpting. And I'll add one additional wrinkle, as we're now in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sort of sculpture you saw probably won't be seen again for a while, since it will probably take us some time to get back to the point where we can have large food displays where guests are free to visit as they wish. The era of the seafood brunch or buffet has gone on hiatus for a bit, unfortunately :/

Many speak of a science behind carving ice. What temperatures do you store the ice (to temper) (i) before carving and (ii) during carving? What band-saws and blades are used and temperature in which these are stored before making contact with ice?

Asked by Sam almost 7 years ago

Hey Sam! Very good question! I am particularly interested in the science of ice since my education is in biology and chemistry. Physics might have been the ideal background, but I didn't really plan to become an ice sculptor, so...

There is kind of an ideal temperature range to sculpt ice at: 15?F to 25?F. I sculpt at about 19?F, right in the middle. Too cold, and your ice will crack if you apply much heat to it, and too warm and you have trouble freezing pieces together. Plus you don't have much margin for error if your freezer goes down or much of a core temperature for your sculpture if a delivery is a long ways away.

As for the blades, it's really the normal blades that people use for wood. I've used a bandsaw a lot, but the one I've used isn't mine, so I don't know much about the blade itself, except that I've never broken it. But it's pretty standard as far as I know. As for chainsaw chains, ice sculptors tend to make them more "dangerous" by removing some of the safety features that those cutting wood would need. That's because ice doesn't create much kickback when you cut into it, so it's significantly safer. Unless you count the whole electricity + water thing! (Mostly kidding, not a problem in a freezer!)

Thanks Sam for your patience! Sorry about my extended break from answering. I'll try not to do that again!