palm tree ice sculpture & floral display

FAQs about ice sculptures


Most ice sculptors are regularly asked a series of questions (Frequently Asked Questions) about their unusual occupation and sculpting medium. Here are the more common questions and some answers. More will probably be added in the future. If you have a question and you don’t see it answered here, then email your question to icecarvingsecrets@mac.com.
(click the questions below to see the answers.)
  • "Is that ice?"
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    Answer:

    This is a surprisingly common question. It likely should be taken as a compliment and as an expression of disbelief that something so beautiful will simply melt away. The answer is yes, it’s ice, most of the time. There are artificial ice sculptures and some acrylic and glass pieces resemble ice sculptures. Also, faked “photos” of ice sculptures created with computer software are not unheard of and seem to be on the rise.

  • "Did that come from a mold?"
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    Answer:

    Most ice sculptures are carved from large blocks of ice (~300 lbs.) but some sculptures are molded. There is a wide variety of ice molds available from several companies. Some molds are reusable while some are designed only for a one time use. Although easier to make than carved sculptures, molded sculptures have several disadvantages. They are usually cloudier than carved pieces, unless specialized techniques are used. The depth of the detail is generally shallower on molded sculptures as well, so the details usually fade more quickly. And if you want a specific sculpture, you have to have a mold for it. In the case of carved sculptures, an ice sculptor can typically create a custom piece in a much shorter period of time.

  • "Did you work on a cruise ship?"
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    Answer:

    People often associate ice sculptures with luxury cruise ships. The grand buffets on some cruises feature ice sculptures, while one cruise line even has plans to add ice bars/lounges to its ships. Also, on some ships, ice sculpting demonstrations sometimes take place on deck for passengers to watch. Most professional ice sculptors, however, likely learned their art on land, possibly as part of culinary school, while working at a hotel or resort, or under the tutelage of another ice carver.

  • "How long will a sculpture last?"
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    Answer:

    Most sculptures are designed to last 4 to 6 hours, which is usually long enough to make it through most special events. Of course, everything depends on the temperature. If it’s really hot, then a sculpture won’t last very long, sometimes less than a couple of hours. If it’s really cold, then it can last for days, weeks, or even months.

  • "Was that cut by hand or by a computer/machine?"
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    Answer:

    This is a relatively new question, but it will be asked more frequently in the future. Cutting an ice sculpture by hand can mean that the sculptor uses any of a wide variety of hand and small power tools. In contrast, over the last decade or so, CNC computer technology has been adapted for cutting and engraving ice sculptures, which involves the use of larger computer-controlled machines that cut ice according to a programmed design. There are several systems available and many companies across the U.S. and around the world take advantage of this technology. For now, most ice sculptures are probably still cut by hand, but this balance may shift in the future. In addition, lots of sculptures are partly cut by machine AND partly by hand, which, of course, doesn’t make the answer to the question any simpler.

  • "Don’t you get cold?"
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    Answer:

    Yes, but you get used to it to a certain degree. However, carvers in extreme events like the World Ice Art Championships in Alaska have to guard against the real possibility of frostbite and/or hypothermia, so it’s not something that’s taken lightly.

  • "What is it?"
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    Answer:

    Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but if the ice carver has done his job properly, it shouldn’t be. Ice carvers usually will make a special effort to make sure that their piece is immediately recognizable from the intended vantage point. Observers looking from the wrong direction might ask this question anyway.

  • "Do you use a chainsaw?"
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    Answer:

    There seems to be some sort of odd fascination with using a chainsaw to do something artistic. Perhaps it’s because chainsaws are usually used to destroy rather than create. Anyway, most carvers do use a chainsaw while carving. Exceptions include molded sculptures, totally machine carved pieces, and the rare carver that uses only hand tools. Electric chainsaws are preferred over gas because of the weight and exhaust issues. Gas saws are sometimes used for large sculptures where more power and a longer bar on the saw are useful.

  • "What do you do with it after it melts?"
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    Answer:

    It gets recycled, of course. It rejoins the great water cycle on Earth after melting, either flowing into the ground, into some sort of drainage system (like a sink), or maybe hanging around as a puddle until it evaporates and returns to us as rain or annoying humidity.

  • "Is it heavy?"
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    Answer:

    Oh yeah. Ice weighs 57.4 per cubic foot. Typically, single block sculptures (the most common type) are cut from a block that weighs between 260-300 lbs. It depends a lot on the sculpture design, but let's say you cut away half the ice most of the time. Then your sculpture starting weight is between 130-150 lbs. Many sculptures are MUCH heavier, often requiring mechanical assistance to move and transport. Unfortunately, back injuries are some of the more common injuries sustained by ice sculptors. This is due to oftentimes poor lifting technique, the sculpture weight, and the sometimes awkward lifting required.

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