ice sculpting techniques
The other day I got an email asking for advice on how to "write on the ice." Right away, I sent back an email that explained which kinds of magic markers let you write on ice when it's still frozen (not while it's melting). Well, you can probably see where this is going: that's not what he meant...the whole entry...
When you’re sculpting ice outside and Mother Nature has a hand in things, sometimes even the best laid plans go awry. And when you don’t have the best plan, but still a pretty good plan, then watch out!
Our initial plan was to create a bottle that was as clear as possible, and in that way, you’d be able to easily see the detailed ship inside. Due to the extremely warm weather, however, we changed our plan and cut a window when the ice started to lose its clarity
In competition, you sometimes have to make on-the-fly adjustments to your design, in order to adapt to unexpected difficulties. We had what we thought was a pretty solid plan for the multi-block event at the Ice Art Championships. However, at the last minute, we elected to make a significant change to our design to improve its overall impact. Unsurprisingly, we had to make a number of adjustments as the event proceeded. What we did not expect, however, was that the weather would be so warm (almost 50° F at one point!) and that forced us to make some additional decisions about the composition and structure of our piece. With each decision, we tried to make choices that would help keep the sculpture intact and maintain the visual impact, while trying to stay as close as we could to the core concept for our piece.
For our design, the clarity of the ice was very important, because we were making a ship in a bottle. If the bottle ice wasn’t clear, you wouldn’t be able to see the ship. Initially, checks on the ice’s clarity were very promising (see below), but as the competition proceeded, the warm weather took its toll and, in the end, our bottle ice wasn’t clear enough. We discussed various possibilities, such as leaving the bottom end of the bottle open, but we finally decided to cut a window in the side of the bottle. As it turned out, that decided to be a smart move and it made for a real improvement in the sculpture after we lost the bottle’s clarity.
Initially, the ice for the bottle was very clear (unfortunately clear in this case). As the competition wore on, I think my teammates considered encasing ME in the bottle...
Everyone was in the bottle at some point. Later in the competition, the ice wasn’t as clear. Al is kind of hard to see in this photo.
Finally, we did end up going with the ship instead of a team member in the bottle... Here’s a closeup of the window that we finally decided to cut. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
The other major component of our design was a sea serpent that was trying to get a taste of Sïku Vodka from the bottle. Our serpent’s head ended up being adapted from a dragon sculpture that I’d done in the past. During the event, I tried to refer to the monster as a serpent rather than a dragon because the designs really were different, and it worked much better to have a serpent attacking the bottle rather than a dragon. Frequently, however, I or one of my teammates would slip and call it a dragon. Toward the end of the event, after the serpent had been placed, we noticed a large fracture that was apparently weakened by the heat. This made cutting a support strut risky, because the head and part of the neck of the serpent could fall. We finally decided not to cut the strut, but then we had to decide what to do with it. While we were trying to figure this out, Buddy Rasmussen walked by and yelled “Make it into fire!” Well, then we no longer called the monster a serpent; it became a dragon. Thanks Buddy!
What to do with an unplanned for support strut: “Make it into fire!”
As it turns out, it becomes very stressful when your giant ice sculpture suddenly starts melting unexpectedly. (Weather forecasts earlier in the week were REALLY off.) You quickly go from fine tuning aspects of the sculpture and working on important details to...just trying to keep the whole thing from falling apart. For it’s part, Ice Alaska went above and beyond in their efforts to help the sculptors. Did you know that in Alaska, in the winter, dry ice is SUPER expensive? But they bought a bunch of it, along with tarps, insulation, anything that would help stave off the inevitable that had arrived far too soon. Faced with these circumstances, we tried to make decisions that would make the most sense and give us the best chance of having as much of our ice sculpture around as possible for the judges. We didn’t like some of the decisions we had to make, but we liked the alternatives less.
Of course, we weren’t the only team facing difficulties because of the record heat. Even the winning Realistic category sculpture, “Jonah,” was changed, albeit only slightly. (Years of experience at the Ice Art Championships can definitely pay off when the unexpected happens!) Take a look at the indicated areas in the design closeup (that’s Steve Brice’s gloved finger at the upper left) and the final sculpture. Part of the change was obviously to bolster the tail’s support because of a dangerous fracture (discussed in another post), but the heat also came into play. Because the ice is weaker when it gets that warm, you need more support. To cut out that section is an unnecessary risk that might have brought the swimming Jonah crashing down...
There was even a compromise or two in the well-planned winning sculpture, “Jonah.” See a closeup below.
This detailed spot was initially supposed to be removed but was left in for support along with an extension of the wave (not visible in this photo)
Later: A big design compromise...
At most events, ice sculptures melt. In places where the ice doesn't melt, people are less likely to have parties, so most of the time, the ice is going to melt. And when it melts, the detail fades, sometimes quickly. But you can extend the life of the detail on your sculptures.the whole entry...
On occasion, you might see an ice sculpture that’s carved so that it looks like it could fall. But at a special event like a wedding or a party that should only be an illusion; there should be no real danger. On the other hand, at a competition, the danger of collapse is often very real. And sometimes, gravity wins.the whole entry...