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

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?

Asked by Bostonian over 11 years ago

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.

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

Asked by NYG over 11 years ago

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.

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

Asked by brown4u over 11 years ago

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.

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?

Asked by pp4 over 11 years ago

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 blocks are relatively cheap, but they're often not ideal for carving because of the white portion in the center. The other main source for carving blocks are specialized ice block makers called Clinebell machines (although Clinebell Equipment Company no longer makes all the machines). Blocks from these machines are slowly frozen completely clear over three or four days and the machine is set up in such a way that you can freeze stuff into the block as it's being made. (Ice carvers freeze all kinds of stuff into ice blocks for events.) Each of the machines only makes one or two blocks at a time, and they take longer and the blocks are usually better quality, so the blocks are more expensive when sold. But because the machines are smaller and self-contained, ice sculpting companies are often able to own their own block machines rather than buy blocks from an ice company. Both the can blocks and the Clinebell blocks are of a similar size and usually weigh somewhere between 250 and 400 lbs. The "standard" is 300 lbs. These blocks, however, are tiny compared to the giant blocks we carve in Alaska, or the ones they use to build the ice hotels in Sweden and elsewhere. The blocks we use in Alaska are harvested from a frozen pond using heavy equipment and might weigh anywhere from almost two tons to over three. The ones used for the Swedish ice hotel come from the Torne River. There are also a few giant ice block machines in the world that make blocks of a similar size to the natural Alaskan and Swedish blocks.

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

Asked by bruuuuuuce over 11 years ago

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: On my commercial ice sculpture website in the Saints section: (I doubt you'll have much trouble figuring out which one it is.)

- Beautiful Chemistry: an abstract DNA sculpture that we made at the World Championships in Alaska and that earned 6th place: (it's the twisty sculpture)

- Ancestral Spirit: a 24 foot tall sculpture with an eagle at the top where I was a teammate of multiple world champion Junichi Nakamura; got 2nd place at the championships and totally wore me out. At the same big ice link as above. It looks SO small on a website, but it was HUGE!

- my ice dragon: worked on it for quite a while and had it in my freezer until Katrina flooded New Orleans: It's the red dragon on the right side.

And there are some others, such as our world record ice bar and luge and some sentimental favorites.

Is that a standard hardware store chainsaw you're using or do they made special chainsaws for ice carving?

Asked by juliojones over 11 years ago

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!

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

Asked by G-Rose over 11 years ago

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.

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...

Asked by G-Rose over 11 years ago

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. But at competitions, everybody that will be touching the sculptures sign waivers and are usually experienced. Spectators aren't permitted to get close; otherwise bad things can happen. (Exhibit A: our "beautiful chemistry" sculpture that I mention in a couple of other answers; somebody apparently touched it at a bad time or in a bad way while taking a photo and it came down.) And in competition a high risk tolerance can be rewarding, as long as you pull it off. So there are two concepts that I've kept coming back to over the years. Each time the idea changes a little. Hopefully, eventually, I'll get sick of playing with the ideas and give them a try. But I haven't so far. Now as ice sculptures go, the basic ideas are far from creative or original. I've seen both of my proposed subjects carved before. But I'd like to give them my own spin, and my versions are somewhat more daring than what I've seen so far. Well, at least they are in my head… Idea one: Pegasus This winged horse of Greek mythology has been carved many times in competition; I've even tried it before. But I've never seen it carved where it's supported by little more than its wings. Done right, this piece could be very daring and exciting. Done wrong and it could be a visual mess, even if it doesn't collapse. Generally, one of the best parts of Pegasus in ice are the wings, extended outward and upward, with delicately detailed feathers. But by supporting it with the wings you're taking maybe the best parts of the sculpture and putting them near the base, where their impact can easily be lost. And if the wings are too thick, like they should be if they're supporting a horse, then they don't look like wings. So I've played with various ideas and I've even considered hollowing out the horse so that it would be extremely light. But that's pretty difficult and time consuming and most competitions are intentionally short. So I'm still considering this piece… Idea two: Icarus (winged man falling from the sky) Icarus has also been carved many times and figures with wings are kind of a tired concept at competitions. But again, I'm looking at a very delicate support structure for the piece. His head would be toward the bottom of the piece and if I'm not careful with the design, I'll likely get the dreaded "What is it?" question. People will generally only look at an ice sculpture for a few seconds to try to figure out what it is before those words pop out of their mouth. Part of my job as an ice sculptor is to help them quickly understand what they're looking at. Bad design makes this tough. So when I'm finally happy with my design, maybe I'll give this one a try…someday. Pegasus and Icarus would probably be done as smaller sculptures. Physics helps me out here; smaller sculptures are relatively stronger. In contrast, the main idea that I'm holding back is for the big multi-block event in Alaska. I've competed in the event twice, but I've never led a team for that event. These sculptures are huge, so they can be extremely dangerous. And if I'm the team leader, I'd better make sure I know what I'm doing with a daring piece! G-Rose, if you've made it all the way to the end of this, I'm glad you like this thread and thanks for the questions; they've been fun to answer. This one in particular has been rather thought provoking. Got more? Bring em on!

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?

Asked by Dan79 over 11 years ago

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.

Is Groundhog Day basically your Citizen Kane:) ?

Asked by amadeusclarke over 11 years ago

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.

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?

Asked by G-Rose over 11 years ago

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 last minute and those that are going to soon. It's part of working with a fragile medium that might be deteriorating as you work on it. One time I was really happy with an eagle that I'd made and I was sliding it across a tile floor into the freezer. Let's just say that I learned not to slide ice sculptures across tile floors any more. The little drop-offs and hard, unforgiving surface of a tile floor can be deadly to sculptures. Most of the time though, sculpture breaks happen on the way to set up. I sent a friend of mine to go set up a Marilyn Monroe sculpture and a Statue of Liberty sculpture along with a few others. We insulated them and put them in the back of a closed trailer. However, our efforts to secure them apparently weren't good enough and he said what when he got there, it looked like they'd spent the trip fighting it out. Somehow though, he managed to put things back together somewhat, and he salvaged the sculptures. Never saw how those turned out in the end; kind of curious about that...

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?

Asked by whoishomerrr over 11 years ago

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 play a part in the sculptures that I create. But there's another method that has a better chance of displacing human carvers and that's using a programmable CNC machine, which is basically one step away from a robot ice carver. These machines have become very popular because of their precision and flexibility. They're most often used to engrave logos or designs into the ice and they're so much more precise than a human carver that I can almost always tell if one was used just by looking at the sculpture. We use CNC machines for some of the things we do and plan to use them more in the future. I think the best way to go is to mix the methods, using whichever method works the best for the sculpture that you're making at the time.

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

Asked by Bookman Jones over 11 years ago

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. I USED to have a picture posted on one of my websites, but that site is gone now. I will genuinely try to repost a link to that sculpture because it was awesome!

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.

Asked by whoishomerrr over 11 years ago

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 ;)

Have you ever created an ice sculpture to "woo" someone you were interested in? What was it... and did it work??

Asked by Blue Lou over 11 years ago

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 ;)

What's the temperature of the room where you do your carving?

Asked by Mr. Freeze over 11 years ago

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).

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?

Asked by Stu over 11 years ago

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 also on the sanctioning organization. (Many events have no sanctioning organization.) But there are some basic rules that are common to almost all events. 1) sculptors have to create their piece within a particular time limit 2) they can only have limited outside help (such as lifting a very heavy piece of ice) 3) they can't use computer controlled tools like CNC machines to make the sculpture 4) the sculpture must be all ice and only from the ice that they were initially provided for the competition (that means no support structures) 5) particularly racy sculptures are usually frowned upon because a lot of kids show up at carving competitions 6) carvers can't interfere with other carvers unless it's a safety thing Most other rules resemble common sense and I'm sure that I've forgotten an obvious one or two. But the gist of it is: ice sculptor(s) + a lot of ice + a lot of sharp hand and power tools + a surprisingly short time limit = anything from an amazing work of art that will soon melt away, to a pile of ice chunks that used to be a sculpture until somebody miscalculated. I hope that answers your question. If not, feel free to ask another; thanks!

How much do ice sculptures cost? Like, say if I wanted a giant swan for my wedding or something?

Asked by David1 over 11 years ago

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 $350-$800.

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 ?

Asked by Iceartist over 11 years ago

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:

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.)that one depends on the sculpture, but the range is usually between 10 minutes and 10 hours (average: 1-2 hours)a long time, over 20 yearsat 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. Their eyes always widen in surprise and you start to hear them say "What!?" But the real answer is usually about 4-6 hours, long enough for all but the longest parties.

5. Unfortunately, mini-me melted. He was a mini-snowman made from the paltry amount of snow that fell in New Orleans on Christmas the year before Katrina. But he'll be back some day...

6. I am working on my giant freeze-ray gun. If I can't get that to work, then it's simply a waiting game before the whole universe is MINE! That's because one theory has it eventually just becoming cold, desolate emptiness. Such a happy thought! (I'll also need some hard-core cryogenics for that though.)

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?

Asked by Oscar over 11 years ago

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. Eventually, it might even turn white and be extremely fragile. So protection from sunlight is important for longer competitions, except when it's extremely cold. Oh, I almost forgot. There is one other thing that could happen, but that happens only when certain circumstances are met. Oddly enough, ice will bend. This is called "ice creep" and has actually been used in the construction of a building from ice; they needed the ice to bend so that it would curve into the right shape for the building structure. My main ice creep experience was in 2009 when we made the "beautiful chemistry" sculpture that I mention in another answer. The top of the sculpture stretched out unsupported for quite a ways and and as it turned out, one part of the sculpture started to bend, apparently as soon as we finished working on it. In a 24 hour period, the tip moved about 20 inches. I was curious about whether it would keep going, but I had to leave Alaska not long after and apparently the sculpture collapsed the next day when somebody touched it while taking a photo. So I never found out how much further it would go. But extreme ice bending doesn't happen very often, although it is an issue at times. So I suppose the correct answer to your question is: the sculpture would not remain EXACTLY the same. But except in unusual circumstances, you probably wouldn't notice the difference.

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?

Asked by brown4u over 11 years ago

It's funny you ask your question that way. I just recently updated one of the sculptor galleries on my ice carving info site (update: that site is now gone, but I'm working on a new one) 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. 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 success comes from his willingness to take risks that other sculptors can't stomach. In the last 10 years, at least 3 of his huge multi-block sculptures at the ice art championships have collapsed prior to judging (check out this video: ice sculpture fail) and another collapsed well after judging when somebody tried to use a leaf blower to clear snow off of it.

Incidentally, Junichi and Mark Daukas have competed against one another at least once, at the 1992 Olympic Arts competition in Hamar, Norway. Junichi and his teammate came out on top, although in kind of a weird way.

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"?

Asked by spinzonelulz over 11 years ago

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 and it helps you learn. I liken it to snow skiing where if you don't wreck once in a while, you're not skiing hard enough.  The last time I was at the Ice Art Championships, I got to see Junichi and his team finishing up his birdcage sculpture. He's learned how to set the stage; the scene was very reminiscent of that in the video. And now, everybody knows to have their video cameras running. He hasn't crashed in Alaska lately and he didn't crash the birdcage piece. However, I doubt he's done with crashing large sculptures. I carved on his team in 2004. (We didn't crash.) The video you saw was from 2005. In 2003, he had another big crash and this one was probably even more amazing than the one on the video because the sculpture was taller. Too bad nobody had a camera...

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?

Asked by joecarter about 11 years ago

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 organizer point of view, however, overly warm temperatures can be bad, because that limits the window that people can come out and enjoy the ice sculptures. That said, I've been a part of ice sculpture competitions held in nearly 100?F temperatures. In those cases, the main attraction is the creation of the sculptures, which necessarily happens VERY fast. Sculptors have a variety of techniques to adapt to warmer temperatures and the use of these techniques can make sculpting even more interesting to watch, especially for those with short attention spans.

Are huge blocks of ice at risk of becoming an endangered species in the face of global warming? Considering the long list of potentially devastating changes that significant climactic shifts would entail, I'd say that the ice needs of ice sculptors merit little concern. Besides, it's very possible to make huge blocks of ice artificially and this is done routinely in Canada and Belgium using oversized block machines. And if big blocks aren't available, it's easy enough to freeze smaller blocks together. Rather, ice sculptors are uniquely positioned to help environmental advocates spread their message. In recent years, ice carvers have been a part of a number of political and environmental demonstrations that warn against the hazards of our future.

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?

Asked by DavidLevinsky about 11 years ago

Thanks for your question David! Yes, the mention on the BBC blog was a welcome surprise. ( 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 quite blind to even significant mistakes. If a novice carver gets a sculpture's silhouette mostly right (Its silhouette is the most important aspect of an ice sculpture.), then there's a very good chance that it will be considered quite impressive. Second, ice is temporally forgiving, in most situations. The easiest way to explain this is to say that most of your mistakes will melt away, usually pretty quickly. As long as a sculpture is structurally sound, it has a chance to take on a different sort of abstract beauty as temperature and meltwater carve away at the ice. Many people think that ice sculptures look more beautiful the longer they're out on display. I'm usually partial to a sculpture's earlier looks, but I can understand the viewpoint. (This whole explanation assumes that it's warm enough so that the sculpture is melting.) You could also argue that the ice itself gets a pass. I've seen some pretty awful ice sculptures (from my "jaded" point of view) get high praise simply because they're made of ice. In fact, "Is that ice?!" is one of the most frequent questions I hear once a sculpture is in place. And although I might act on the surface as though this is a silly question, I'll confess that I secretly enjoy that one in particular. For your second question, I'll offer a few examples of typical early ice sculptures, as well as some tough ones. Swans, vases, and fish are all good early sculptures, although a swan's delicate neck can be a little challenging. Some novice carvers also try letters early on; my first sculpture was "DAD" for Father's Day. On the other end of the scale, for me at least, are people and horses. People are the toughest, I think, mainly because our brains are very sensitive to slight variations in pose and expression. So if your carving is a little off in some way, it won't create the impression that you're looking for. Thanks again for your questions!

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?

Asked by Chrissy about 11 years ago

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 to the second part of your question, things get a bit more complicated. I would say that, for the most part, the tools used to carve sculptures are pretty sanitary. I know that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but let me explain why, most of the time, it doesn't really matter. First, many (most in my case) of the ice luges made by professional carvers are tube luges. With a tube luge, the drink travels through a vinyl tube and it never comes in contact with the ice. The tubing is intended for use with drinking water, so as long as it's clean, the tubing is safe. (The other kind of luge is a channel luge: a channel is cut directly into the ice for the drink to flow down.) Second, when an ice luge is set up and being used, it's almost always melting. That means its surface is constantly changing. After a very short period out on display, the ice luge has a brand new surface, one that the tools used to carve it never actually touched. So as long as the ice itself is safe, the ice luge is. Finally, most of the drinks that flow down an ice luge have a high alcohol content, so that also helps keep things microbe free. Another thing to keep in mind is that most ice carvers come from a culinary background and have training in food safety. They're aware of potential problems and they take steps to address them. I myself am somewhat of an anomaly in the ice carving world: I have no culinary training. However, I have degrees in biology and chemistry and when I finished college I worked for a while in a clinical microbiology lab. So I have a better than average understanding of the potential hazards. To cover all the bases, you probably noticed that I stopped short of saying that ALL ice luges are safe to drink from. It is possible for someone to get sick from one, although I've never heard of it. But here's how it could happen. 1) The ice itself is contaminated. Freezing doesn't kill most microbes, it just slows them way down. If the water used to make the ice is bad, then the ice luge will be bad. But if the ice is coming from a reputable source, it's very unlikely to be contaminated. 2) The shot takers are putting their mouths directly on a channel ice luge to take a shot. I still think it would be tough to get sick this way, as the ice is somewhat self-cleaning while melting, but I'd hesitate to take a shot from a luge right after somebody who I thought might be sick. Of course, just hanging out in the vicinity of somebody who's sick is probably just as big a risk factor. 3) The drink is contaminated. If whatever drink poured down the luge is contaminated, then in a way, you're getting sick from the ice luge. But as I said before, the generally high alcohol content of luged drinks makes this also unlikely. I hope this addresses your concerns. I think that if you're taking shots from an ice luge, as long as it comes from a reasonable reputable source, you have little or nothing to worry about. Unless of course, you take too many shots from the luge! And that's a whole other topic and I think a much larger concern. So, happy luging and thanks for the question!

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

Asked by Skywalk33 over 11 years ago

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 have not been as lucky. Off the top of my head, I can think of three carvers that I know that have cut themselves with chainsaws. Nothing was cut off and everything turned out okay, but one cut himself on the neck. That might have turned out very badly. Many other carvers that I know have cut themselves with the sharp bits we use on die grinders. These tools spin at 25,000 rpm and can be very dangerous. I know at least a few that have gone to the hospital and required stitches or surgery for their injures. I was at a competition in Florida where a carver got a spinning tool stuck in his glove and couldn't get away from it. Another carver hurt himself with a die grinder during a competition in Las Vegas. I've had several close calls with die grinders, but so far the worst I've gotten was when my die grinder was fortunately turned off and not spinning. The stakes get a lot higher when we're working on larger sculptures like in Alaska. The weight of the ice there is measured in tons and major injuries are always one small mistake away. I think the general lack of serious injuries at the Ice Art Championships can be largely credited to the skills of the heavy machinery operators; they're REALLY good at lifting, moving, and stacking the massive ice blocks and the sculptures that the carvers create from them. One incident in Alaska was somewhat ironic and I mention it only because it ended up okay. A talented carver I know was working on what turned out to be one of the tallest pieces I've ever seen in Alaska. I think he was working close to the ground though, which was good. He was sculpting a hammerhead shark, and part of it fell, hitting him, of course, in the head. As I recall, he was able to continue carving later, which is fortunate when you consider how much ice we're talking about. Also in Alaska, I faced probably my closest brush with serious injury. We were working on a very large sculpture that required a lot of pieces to be assembled. Two of the carvers on my team were cutting a slab of ice free from a larger block. It was to be used as the wing of a very big eagle. I was nearby, splitting another large block in half with a big chainsaw. I was standing on an upside-down bucket and something else because the block I was cutting was very tall. While I was working, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and somebody probably yelled as well. The slab the other carvers were cutting was falling now that it had been cut free. And despite the extra height of what I was standing on, my right leg was in the falling slab's path. Somehow, I managed to awkwardly jump out of the way and I landed on top of the fallen slab which weighed somewhere between 600 and 1000 lbs. The bucket under my right foot wasn't as lucky; it looked like an accordion when we got the now broken slab off of it. In retrospect, there were several things that we could have done to prevent that situation and it was definitely a learning experience. Unfortunately, I think major injuries in this sort of environment are inevitable, despite the impressive lack of serious injuries so far. There are just too many things that can go wrong. But I'll keep hoping that it goes along like it's been going because there's no doubt that it's dangerous.

Are you also a natural at sculpting other materials (wood, stone, etc)? Do you ever do that, or is it ice only?

Asked by brrrrrrr.... about 11 years ago

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, I have disadvantages too. Keep in mind that I'm used to being able to look right through what I'm sculpting, which makes certain parts of sculpting a lot easier. Can't do that with stone or wood; unless you have X-ray specs! I do have friends and family who wonder why I haven't switched to mediums more permanent than ice. Perhaps I have a fear of commitment? Ice has the distinct advantage that every mistake you make will go away on its own. I suppose though that I've taken baby steps towards working with more durable media. When I first got to New Orleans, I worked for a little while on Mardi Gras floats and more recently, I've tried sculpting pumpkins, following the lead of pumpkin master sculptor Ray Villafane. (Here's an example of my best pumpkin sculpting so far: As enjoyable as foam carving and pumpkin sculpting are, however, I think that I'll likely stay with ice for the foreseeable future. And when I really want to keep something I've made from melting away, I'll freeze it in time with my camera. Good question; thanks!

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?

Asked by brownian_ocean about 11 years ago

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 was part of our team. She sculpts ice in Califormia and focuses on performance ice sculpting. She worked at least as hard, if not harder, than anybody else on the team and was crucial to our project. She obliterated any lingering doubts that I'd had that women can't handle the physical aspects of sculpting ice.

That said, I think the physical aspects do discourage female participation. The standard ice blocks are pretty heavy and injuries related to the heavy blocks are fairly common. But technique and mechanical assistance can get around that, so I don't think that's all of it. The tools are probably part of it as well; even a little chainsaw can get very heavy after a long day of carving.

I'd like to see more women in ice sculpting, competitive and otherwise, because, like I said, it would add to the art. And I don't think the obstacles are insurmountable, just probably annoying.

Good question and I'm sorry I was slow to answer. You asked your question on Friday and well, that's when most ice sculptors get really busy, mainly for Friday night and Saturday events. Sometimes there are Sunday events too, but Mondays are usually much slower. Thanks!



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 much are prizes at the big carving competitions?

Asked by Michelle almost 11 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 9 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 over 9 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 over 9 years ago

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

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


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.


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.


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 over 9 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!

By far what is your most and least favorite thing you have sculpted? What do you think your most proud of and something that you are least proud of. Have you ever had something that you flat out rejected because of any reason(I.e ) diffuculty, going aginst morals, ethics, and/or vaules, did not offer enough money, rude client, etc

Asked by Dan almost 4 years ago

Hi Dan! Thanks for your question! I really had to think about how I'd answer it. And truthfully, there are a lot of ways to answer it. If I take the simplest approach, my least favorite thing to sculpt would probably be buildings or something similarly highly symmetrical and precise. Sculpting windows on a skyscraper is pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine in ice sculpting, at least by hand. My favorite thing to sculpt would almost certainly be figures; the human body is ridiculously challenging to sculpt since everybody can recognize when something isn't right. I'd group faces and expressions in there as well.

Taking another approach to your question, there's a single sculpture and that is both a favorite and a least favorite: "Beautiful Chemistry," an abstract DNA sculpture that David Fong and I made in Alaska in 2009. It's a favorite because it turned out pretty awesome in many ways and I got some nice pics. We won 6th place in the World Ice Art championships that year. However, it's also a least favorite because we didn't finish it, so it didn't reach its potential. Also, I was the team captain and I didn't manage our approach to the competition very well. By the end of the competition, David wasn't talking to me and due to a scheduling goof, left before the awards ceremony. An otherwise amazing experience ended very poorly. It was very humbling. Fortunately, we were able to pretty much patch things up during a trip to China years later. In hindsight, I wasn't proud of how I handled that experience in 2009, but I do take a bit of pride in realizing that I didn't stay as dumb as I was then, that I owned up to my deficiencies, and reconnected with a friend and talented colleague.

As for sculptures that I have rejected or will reject, there's a lot of potential there. Of course, I've had to reject sculptures because the budget wasn't large enough. Some people can't imagine that a sculpture made from frozen water could cost more than a couple hundred dollars. I don't think they take into account the specialized tools and the years of practice and experience. Plus the working at 19?F part. For other than monetary reasons, there was a particular sculpture that I passed on years ago. I ended up a letting an apprentice go ahead and sculpt it. It was a large, anatomically correct, male appendage. However, down the line, I went ahead and sculpted the same thing more than once. I guess I got over whatever was making me uncomfortable. One time, it was even an ice luge, lol.

Finally, there's one sculpture I've made in the past that's particularly relevant to right now: Colonel Reb, the former mascot at Ole Miss. If you've never seen him, he looks like Colonel Sanders crossed with Yosemite Sam and he's leaning on a cane. I'm going to guess that I've sculpted him six or seven times, maybe more, and I think all for weddings. I used to be proud of those sculptures, because I did a pretty good job at executing that mascot. And superficially, yeah, it's just a cartoon of an old man with a big hat and a cane. But that's not what everybody sees when they look at him. And that's not what I see anymore either. Old Miss did the right thing when they changed their mascot. Only 17 years later, I've decided not to sculpt him anymore :/ Better late than never I guess. I'll take it as a positive though that this occurred to me without anyone personally pointing it out to me.

On a lighter note, if one more jackass in an Escalade cuts me off, or one more jerk on an overly loud Harley wakes me up, then Cadillac and Harley Davidson logos are off the table. Definitely no Harley ice sculptures! Well...ok, maybe. But there's going to be a very large surcharge for me to get over the annoyance factor!

Great question! Thanks Dan!

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 about 9 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 :/

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!

What are you listing to in your headphones?

Asked by Kaylee almost 4 years ago

Hi Kaylee, thanks for the question :) Honestly, I couldn't tell you for sure, but I can narrow it down. When I'm sculpting, I might be tired and a little cold, so I'd be listening to some sort of music that will energize me. That could be lot of things too; I like rock, hard rock, alternative, country...not too much hip hop or rap, but even some of that sometimes. The main thing I'm looking for is to get my blood pumping and keep me going. I always know that I'm too tired to sculpt when I can't stay warm.

If I'm not particularly tired, but I'm also not working on something terribly difficult, I might be listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Because sculpting some things is largely automatic, like driving a car, I can pay enough attention to both. But it could be a novel, Stephen King is a favorite, or it might be something non-fiction. Weirdly, and I suppose left over from my education in biology, I'm interested in stuff about pandemics and infectious disease. Well before the Covid-19 outbreak, I'd listen to books about the 1918 flu, Ebola, and other diseases. But I also listen to self-help books, like how to get better sleep and mundane stuff like that. I haven't yet run into anything on how to survive getting locked in a freezer, but if I do, that'll be my next listen ;) Thanks for your question!

What percentage of your work is for private parties vs. corporate events?

Asked by Jackson about 9 years ago

Hi Jackson, thanks for your question! Ok, the simple answer is 50/50. Weddings, for example, are a big part of most ice sculptors' events and corporate events are nice because they don't always happen on a Saturday, like private events tend to. Plus, they often have bigger budgets and are looking for a big wow factor. The 50/50 ratio fluctuates a lot however, even for specific sculptors. That's partly because trends come and go. Like ice luges, for example. When I first started sculpting, we didn't do those. But then, they became a big deal. Corporate events probably started using them first, but then later, weddings started incorporating them. Finally, I can only speak for myself. Other sculptors might be skewed one way or the other, especially if they have a special relationship with certain venues that focus on one type of event or another.

I hope that answers your question and my apologies for not answering like, 5 years ago. Literally :(

What do you do to protect yourself from extreme cold temperatures?

Asked by Jim almost 4 years ago

Thanks for your question Jim! To start with, I'd say that I don't spend much time in extreme cold. Although, if you ask people here in New Orleans, they'd probably disagree with that! They start breaking out the parkas whenever the temperature drops to the low 50s, lol. (With the high humidity here though, it does feel colder when it's cold.) I usually work at only about 19?F. It it gets below 15, I start having trouble with my ice cracking unexpectedly and then I have to open the door or adjust the thermostat to warm things up.

So far, the coldest temperature I've faced was -29°F. That was when I arrived at the Fairbanks airport during my last trip to Alaska. I showed up in my New Orleans clothing (shorts and a polo), walked outside to see how bad -29 feels, and then quickly threw on my new jacket that was waiting for me! That was cold, but from what I hear, it usually gets to around -45 at some point in Fairbanks each year. When it gets that cold, it seems to be a thing to put on swimsuit and go get a photo in front of the sign that shows the temperature. Not for me!

During that trip, we spent almost a week sculpting in -20° or so temperatures. It was pretty rough, and it's understandable that they usually suspend the competition when it gets to -30. That's genuinely dangerous, and the risk of frostbite is very real.

I get frostbite a lot, but the burns that I'm talking about are just from working with dry ice (-109?F) and those burns are no big deal, usually. When you're worried about frostbite in a cold environment, you're definitely thinking first about your extremities: hands, feet, and head (face and ears, mostly). Since you're using your hands a lot while sculpting, your fingers usually stay pretty warm, as long as you're wearing good gloves with liners. There's one big caveat, however. Many of the power tools we use blow air on your hands, so that actually makes it worse. Your toes and feet have it pretty rough. They're not moving around as much and they're always on the snow. That's why many of the extreme cold boots you see have very thick soles with lots of insulation. Many sculptors use special boots called bunny boots or Mickey Mouse boots. They're military issue boots that have different layers and are very good in extreme cold. However, they make you look like you have cartoon character feet :) Apparently, the white ones are for colder temperatures and the black ones are resistant to oil and diesel fuel. From what I understand, you can't really buy new bunny boots anymore, so you're always looking for them at the surplus stores, or maybe ebay. For your head, you have to have a good hat and a face mask. Scarves are usually a no-no, because they're legit dangerous with power tools. You don't want to pull an angle grinder towards your face if your scarf gets caught up in it. Same for very long hair. But your ears and nose are the most vulnerable to the cold, so your hat and mask have to keep them toasty. After a while, you start identifying the other sculptors by their hats, etc. Some of them get pretty crazy! One famous sculptor has very distinctive ear muffs.

Here are a couple of general rules I've run into: layers and cotton kills. These are two things that you hear over and over again when it comes to cold. Layers, in particular, is very true. You don't rely so much on one very thick layer of clothing. Instead, it's better to go with a lot of thinner layers. And you add layers or remove layers depending on how cold you're feeling. If you get too hot, that doesn't help, because you sweat. And then your sweat will freeze, which is bad. That's also related to "cotton kills." Sometimes you'll hear that because cotton isn't very well-suited to cold environments. It tends to absorb moisture, which wipes out most of its insulating qualities. I wear cotton layers when I'm in my home studio freezer, but like I said before, it's only 19°F in there, which isn't that cold. When I'm in Alaska (or Northern China, or Sweden maybe), I wear layers of synthetics, because they're designed to wick moisture away from your body, keeping you warmer. Natural isn't always better. (Although wool still works pretty well. But itchy!)

Finally, I'll throw in one more observation. When I start getting cold, I usually take it as a sign that I'm too tired. I need a break. My body is having trouble maintaining my core temperature, even though I might have on plenty of layers. So, I generally listen to my body and stop for a while, if it all possible. Rest seems to work better than even sitting in front of a fireplace. Recharging reenergizes my body for the next go round and the greater focus and productivity is usually more than worth the lost time.

Thanks again Jim, hope this answers your question!

Excuse me if somebody wanted you to sculpt a giant penis what you do it?

Asked by Peyton over 3 years ago


Another thank you ever add coloring to the ice

Asked by Peyton over 3 years ago