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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Last Answer on July 19, 2020

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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 about 9 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!

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

Asked by juliojones about 9 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 about 9 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.

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 about 9 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 about 9 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!

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 about 9 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...

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 about 9 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 ;)