ice sculpture buying guide

Most people don’t regularly buy ice sculptures. In fact, most people have never bought an ice sculpture. So, if you’re interested in buying an ice sculpture for a special event, it’s probably your first time. Here are some things to consider and some questions to ask before you write a check.

How your sculpture is made

Ice sculptures are made in different ways. Some are hand-carved, some are machine-carved, some are molded, and some are a mix of these methods. Find out how your sculpture will be made.

Hand-carved:

If your sculpture will be hand-carved, then the final quality depends a lot on the skill and experience of the carver. The carver will take a large block of ice and use various hand and power tools to make your sculpture. Make sure to ask to see photos of sculptures of previous work. Also, find out if the sculpture will be carved from a clear block of ice. All ice blocks are not the same and the clearest blocks are usually made with Clinebell ice block machines. Some “can” type ice blocks, made in larger ice houses, are also very clear, but special steps have to be taken during freezing. Sometimes “can” blocks will have a noticeable white core that can detract from the look of the sculpture. Again, ask for photos.

Machine-carved:

Machine-carved pieces are made using special computer controlled machines that can produce very high quality lettering and designs in the ice. Slabs or blocks of ice are held in place while computer-controlled machining tools cut away parts of the ice, creating either ice engravings or sculptures. Often, the quality of this sort of piece is dependent on the skill of the person who designs the sculpture on the computer. So, as before, ask for photos of previous work. If you are ordering a standard design sculpture, then your sculpture will probably look exactly like what you saw in the photos.

Molded:

Molded sculptures are made by freezing water within special forms and then removing the forms. Unless special procedures are used, however, the resulting ice is rarely clear. It’s usually mostly white due to trapped air and salts in the ice. It is possible to get molded pieces that are clear though, so ask about the procedure and look at photos of previous work.

References

In addition to photos of previous work, you should also ask for references. If the carver or carving company provides a client list, ask for a couple of contact names on the client list. Then, call the contacts and ask a few quick questions about the overall performance of your prospective carver or company. If the contact is a big fan of the ice carver, then they’ll likely be happy to tell you how fantastic their sculptures have been in the past. When asking for references, if the carver or representative seems insulted or hesitant to provide names and numbers, maybe you should keep looking.

Get a contract!

A contract puts down in writing what the carver is providing, when it’s being provided, and for how much. A properly executed contract will largely eliminate surprises and “extra” charges. It also helps protect you and the ice carver if something goes wrong. A contract should clearly indicate what sculptures, services and any extras that are being provided, the exact delivery location, the delivery date and time, and all of the relevant charges. If the sculpture incorporates names or a specific design or logo, it should also include a sample of the included design. If you’re incorporating names into a wedding or birthday sculpture, for example, MAKE SURE THAT THE NAME(S) ARE CLEARLY AND CORRECTLY SPELLED IN THE CONTRACT AND/OR DESIGN!

What kind of sculptures can you get?

The sky’s often the limit here. From an ice carver or company that provides custom carved sculptures, you can usually get nearly anything you want, as long as you give them enough time and you have an appropriate budget. On the other hand, a few companies may have a limited selection of designs. This may indicate that they are providing molded sculptures or are reselling sculptures from another source.

Aside from specific designs, there are general types of ice sculptures. Here are some examples:

  1. Luges or slides (“luge” is pronounced “lūzh,” with the “u” pronounced like “oo” and the“ge” pronounced like the “ge” at the end of “garage”): these are sculptures that liquid can be poured into so that the liquid travels from a high part of the the sculpture down into the guest’s waiting glass. These have been very popular recently at the bar. The name comes from the Winter Olympic sledding sport, which is actually quite similar, but on a different scale.
  2. Ice bars: Often, full size bars (about 42” high, from the floor) are made completely from ice. A bartender will serve drinks, often martinis, from behind the bar. Ice bars often incorporate luges that are placed on top of the bar (see above).
  3. Table centerpieces: Instead of a floral centerpiece, each of the guest tables have their own miniature, self-contained ice sculpture that functions as a decorative centerpiece, complete with battery operated lighting.
  4. Sorbets or similar: During a multi-course, served meal, a sorbet or some other cold food course might be served with a mini ice piece on each guest’s plate. Generally, for sorbets, the ice has a small hole cut into it to hold the scoop of sorbet.
  5. Logo sculpture: For a company event, few things make a statement like an elaborate sculpture that incorporates a logo. Full color ice logo sculptures are often available that use specialized ice techniques and have a great “wow” factor.
  6. Food service: This can be anything from an ice bowl to a multi-tiered tray display. Often seafood or other cold food is placed directly in or on the ice piece. The ice keeps the food cold while making for a very decorative presentation.

Where should your ice sculpture(s) go?

Sometimes, a sculpture’s placement is dictated by the type of sculpture. For example, a luge (see above) would certainly go at or near the bar while a food service piece would probably go near the rest of the food. Other times, it’s not so obvious where an ice sculpture should go. But if you’re going to spend money on a sculpture that’s going to melt, one thing’s for sure: it should be where people at your event will see it! Here are some ideas for ice sculpture placement:

  1. The entrance: This way everyone who comes in will see it and it sets the tone for your event.
  2. The buffet: This is the “traditional” spot for an ice sculpture. If your event includes a buffet, this might be the perfect spot. An ice sculpture can help present one of the most important parts of the event: the food!
  3. A balancing point: If you have a significant decoration (like a wedding cake, for example) on one side of the room, you can use the ice sculpture to “balance” the room.
  4. A dead spot: Is there a large area at your event that “just needs something?” You may have found the perfect location for your sculpture.

When you’re deciding where to put your sculpture, it’s also important to consider some of the practical aspects such as access to electricity (if you’re lighting your sculpture) and where the water will go. (Usually it drains into a container beneath the display table.) Wherever you decide that your sculpture “should” go, there are some places that your sculpture definitely shouldn’t go! These spots include (among others): in direct sunlight, on an unstable surface, or in front of a heater or even an air conditioner (ice sculptures don’t like moving air). Also, consider the sculpture’s potential background. White walls make a sculpture harder to see, and distracting items like fire alarms, thermostats, or even large light switches clutter the visual presentation of the sculpture.

There’s lots more to talk about, so look for more additions to this article soon! (updated slightly 9/26/14)
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