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Chapter 1 The art of sculpting.


After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

* Explain how nature uses erosive forces to create art

* Explain how technology has impacted the production of ice sculptures

* Discuss the global evolution of ice sculpting

* Discuss the evolution of modern ice sculpting in North America

* Discuss the similarities and differences of sculpting ice versus other media

* Define composition as it relates to sculpture

* Discuss the rules on composition

* Discuss the rules on unity

* Describe basic sculpting exercises

* Discuss the lessons in design and sculpting basics

* Describe the sculptor's passion and challenge

Key Terms and Concepts

three-dimensional vision

erosive forces






borrowed technology

sub-zero art










negative space

primary lines


lost perspective



temporary medium


unity with variety

visual unity

intellectual unity

From Past to Present

  * Ice Sculpting Through
    the Ages

The Sculpture Is Already

Studying the Art

Learning to Sculpt

The Composition of Ice

  * Rules on Composition

Concentrating on the Basics

  * Basic Sculpting Exercises
  * Lessons in Design Basics
  * Lessons in Sculpting

The Sculptor

  * The Sculptor's Passion
  * The Sculptor's Challenge

Artist Profile


Sculpted art is as timeless as the earth itself. Those etched faces of the great stone monoliths of Monument Valley, Colorado, and the windswept trees of Anastasia Island, Florida, are examples of true artistic merit. The magnitude of the Grand Canyon's deep, twisting, stone walls and the delicate smooth shapes of ordinary creek stones, polished to geometric perfection, are nature's forces at play. And the shimmer of ice crystals enveloping frozen tree branches after a winter's ice storm is yet another illustration of nature's glory.

Nature regularly uses its tools to carve these very common, yet extraordinary, works. The forces of heat and cold, mixed with wind and water, are sufficient to create these most memorable sculptures.

Man's art is generally less ancient and usually less grandiose. Yet, man has learned to harness the tools of nature to produce his own memorable works. With the gifts of creativity, three-dimensional vision, and physical stamina, man is capable of producing works that rival those of nature in beauty and drama.



Sculpture has been a vehicle of human expression since the beginning of mankind. The history of many civilizations is told by sculpted works that have survived even centuries longer than their people. The ability to artfully sculpt ice requires knowledge and skill in several distinct and important areas. The artist must understand his medium: ice. Although this appears simplistic, ice can pose a formidable challenge to the uninformed sculptor. Ice varies in dimension, composition, and texture. Each block is unique and must be addressed according to its condition and characteristics.


Equally important to the sculptor are his tools. Nature uses erosive forces to carve, etch, and smooth its medium, and temperature variations to fuse pieces together. So it is with ice sculpting. The artisan wields tools and devices to systematically, yet artistically, cut, etch, and polish the ice until his vision is realized.

Early ice carvers used the tools of the wood carver to cut, shave, and smooth their creations. These axes, wood saws, and chisels were reasonably effective, but left the finished works rough in appearance after several hours of painstaking effort. Eventually, specially designed handsaws and chisels were developed for specific use by ice carvers. These later modifications allowed for finer cuts and different angles, and helped to produce better and more precise finished pieces.

As ice carving evolved, the carver again borrowed the technology of the woodsman. Chain saws were introduced into ice carving in the 1970s. At first they were only used as a timesaving device to rough out the sculptures, leaving the detail work to be finished with hand chisels. However, as carvers became more adept with the saws and as the saws were modified to be lighter and more "ice-friendly," carvers were able to complete finished sculptures using only chain saws.

This use of modern technology increased the productivity of carvers. Standard creations that used to take a competent ice artist 2 to 3 hours to complete can now be duplicated in 45 minutes. And in an industry that values productivity and precision, the use of this technology was quickly embraced.

Ice Sculpting Through the Ages

Some observers point to the glaciers as the most natural and beautiful ice sculptures on the planet. In relative terms, ice sculptures by man are a new phenomenon compared with his rival artist and mentor, nature. Still, man's practice of using ice for shelter, food preservation, and artistic expression is centuries old.

The Inuit of the Arctic Bay area, among many other native peoples of the Arctic Cirde, build their well-known homes, igloos, from ice and snow. Crafted from their frozen surroundings, these rounded structures have protected their occupants from the harsh winds and bitter cold of the arctic climate for hundreds of years. Even today, a tourist can opt to stay overnight in a commercially operated igloo facility, such as those built at the Hotel Igloo Village in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Other ice hotels, such as those in Sweden and Canada, are also proving to be popular tourist attractions.

Beyond these small shelters of ice and snow, historians note that palaces of ice have been constructed all over the world for more than 250 years. In 1739, the Russians built a grand Palladian palace on the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg. The first Winter Carnival in Montreal, Canada, held in 1883, featured a 90-square-foot castle constructed from 500-lb. blocks of ice.

But the largest ice palace ever built on the North American continent was erected in the Rocky Mountains in Leadville, Colorado. In an effort to bolster the mining town's sagging economy, which had collapsed in 1893, the town constructed the Ice Palace to attract tourists to the area. Opened on January 1, 1896, the palace was constructed of 5,000 tons of ice and 307,000 board feet of lumber and covered nearly 5 acres of land. Fully functional, it featured a kitchen, restaurant, dance floor, skating rink, and many enormous ice sculptures highlighting local products. The Ice Palace was officially closed for good on March 28, 1896.

In addition to these oversized works of frozen art, chefs and ice artisans have been providing their guests worldwide with equally stimulating, but smaller and more delicate, sculptures of ice for over 450 years. Miniature vessels of ice were used to chill and serve early versions of ice cream in Italy during the late 1500s. In America, Delmonico's began serving Sorbet a l' Americain in its New York City restaurant in 1867. And while commanding the kitchen staff at London's Savoy Hotel in 1892, Master Chef Auguste Escoffier is credited with presenting his celebrated Peches Melba in individual swans of sculpted ice.

The carving of ice for the specific purpose of providing attractive centerpieces, and as a novelty, was done infrequently until the late 1800s and early 1900s. As chefs and artists traveled and became worldlier, interest in this frozen art form became more commonplace. The Italian-born chef Luigi Marabini, while working as a pastry chef in London at the turn of the 20th century, had visited the United States and created a 16-foot high sugar sculpture of the Statue of Liberty. Using the same mold, wood chisels, and carpenter's tools, he sculpted a replica from ice. So popular was his work that he began making large ice blocks and sculpting his ice pieces in many countries around the world.

Around 1917, while traveling to France as head chef to the Japanese Imperial Court, Tokuzo Akiyama was impressed by the ice sculptures used to present various savories and sweet dishes. He took this style of service back to Japan, but its popularity did not flourish until the 1930s. The late Shuko Kobayashi, sculptor and educator, is credited with spreading interest in ice sculpting in Japan by chairing the first ice sculpture competition, held in Tokyo in 1955. He also served as the chairman of the first Japan Ice Sculpture Association, and, shortly after the sculpting competition became an annual event, an ice-carving school was established in Tokyo. Annual national competitions in ice sculpture, particularly in sculpting buffet centerpieces, began in 1972.

Gabriel Paillasson undertook the task of reviving the art in his native France. Owner of a pastry shop in St. Fons near Lyon, Chef Paillasson helped found and became president of l'Association des Sculpteurs sur Glace Hydrique (the Association of Sculptors in Ice) in 1989. In 1991, he initiated the first French Ice Sculpture Championship and was a central force behind the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie (World Pastry Cup) that includes ice sculpting as one of the required competition skills.

Modern Milestones in North American Ice Sculpting

In the United States, Swiss-born August Forster enlisted the help of the Chicago Board of Education and the Cooks and Pastry Cooks Union, Local 88, to found the first culinary school in America, the venerable Washburne Trade School, in 1936. He was among the first to educate others on ice carving when his book, Fancy Ice Carving in Thirty Lessons, was published in 1947. Shortly after Washburne opened, Chef Jean Vernet pioneered cooking school programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and in 1944 Chef Herman Breithaupt established the Commercial Foods Program at Chadsey High School in Detroit. George Weising further promoted ice sculpting in 1954 with his self-published text, Ice Carving Professionally. Weising, proclaimed the leading ice carver in the United States by the National Association of Ice Industries, taught ice sculpting part time at the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven, Connecticut.

However, Joseph Amendola can be credited with being at the forefront of culinary and ice-carving education, working at the Culinary Institute of America since its inception in the 1940s. His special edition of Ice Carving Made Easy was printed in 1960, and later editions became a mainstay for ice carving enthusiasts for many years. Chef Amendola also helped to form the National Ice Carving Association (NICA), which now boasts 500 members, and which organizes and sanctions ice-carving competitions across North America.

In the 1980's, Mark Daukas was one of the early pioneers in the use of power tools in ice sculpting. Previously, these tools were more commonly used by the wood construction industry. His well-received use of power tools proved to be an important milestone in the ice industry. Mac Winker's text, Ice Sculpture: The Art of Ice Carving in 12 Systematic Steps, self-published in 1989, popularized ice sculpting with the use of templates. Although template use in sculpture pre-dates Michelangelo, Winker's methodical step system changed how most ice sculptors approach their craft.

Then at the end of the 20th century, Ice Sculptures, Ltd. became the first ice sculpting company in the United States to use fully computerized technology in their daily operations when they acquired the Icecukure 5200 CNC router in early 1999. Canadian innovator Julian Bayley adapted advanced computer technology to the sculpting of ice. His CNC router, the CAD-directed Icecukure 5200, and his Icecukure Lathe have provided another level of production efficiency and ice artistry to the sculpting industry.

Ice sculpting has enjoyed an explosion of interest around the globe in recent years. As new technology is developed, more and more craftsmen seek to express their artistic abilities in this most rewarding and exciting art form. Many chefs and ice artists travel hundreds or thousands of miles to sculpt their displays for the benefit of the viewing public.


Paul Gaugin said, 'Art is either plagiarism or revolution." The artist intends to either imitate something already existing in nature or create a unique and visionary work yet unknown to man. Most of what we do probably falls under the category of Gaugin's plagiarism. We seek to present something already known to man. We try to capture the strength, proportion, balance, and movement of our subject when designing our templates. To represent our subject most favorably with ice, we take time to familiarize ourselves with the theme. Rather than studying another's drawings of the item, we look for existing clay or wood sculptures and photographs that reveal the top, front, sides, and back of our subject. We sometimes even create our own models from clay when we need to better familiarize ourselves with the subject.

Ice sculpting is like many carving forms of sculpture, except it is subzero art. It is dependent upon the artisan's understanding of, and skill with, the medium and the environment. And it is dependent upon the sculptor's commitment. As Paul Klee once said, 'Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible." The sculpture is already there. It is up to the artist to remove what doesn't belong. Visualization of the finished product is the ability to see the finished sculpture within the ice, a concept first introduced by Michelangelo. Although this gift is natural to a fortunate few, most of us depend on visual aids to assist us in realizing the vision. Once completed, the sculpture should be strong, balanced, and composed of interlocking, flowing, complementary, and contrasting shapes.



When a person decides he wants to sculpt ice, he may overlook the fact that ice is simply another medium. An ice artist should approach his craft like any other artist and gain a foundation in art. The ice sculptor should first attempt to visualize his subject by making drawings on graph paper and by working with modeling clay or soap. These exercises help familiarize him with the dimension and scope of the project. He discovers the symmetry and proportion of his subject.

When we began to teach ice sculpting, we could readily see how fast our students progressed in relation to our own, slower progress. We quickly understood and appreciated the advantage of guidance. They were able to benefit from our earlier efforts and mistakes. Although we hope to set a path for learning, it does not come at the expense of exploration. To discourage creativity is to deny Gaugin's revolution, leaving only plagiarism. Our efforts are directed towards the students' conception of ice as a medium for their sculpted art.

Most ice-sculpting courses first teach how to cut ice and then how to make the ice actually resemble the subject. Students learn about ice, tools, and the use of guiding templates. Even though this method is acceptable in learning to be a good carver, we believe it is not sufficient or as beneficial to one who wishes to be a sculptor. We note a difference between carvers and sculptors, and between the approaches each takes to the task.


There are many organizations, college courses, and schools devoted to the study and appreciation of sculpture. It would be too daunting a task to assume to teach sculpting in its entirety in any one text, particularly when authored by culinarians. It should also be noted that, although there is very little material available for developing one's skills as an ice sculptor, there is ample information available in the form of books, videos, and designs formatted to the other art media. These can easily be adapted to ice and are worth investigating. We have included several reference texts on sculpting and art in the bibliography of this book that have been useful to our study and understanding.


Furthermore, we suggest that students can learn much about the art of ice sculpting by observing the works created by the world's great sculptors. These works serve as an example of what artists have visualized in the past, and an inspiration for serious ice artists today. The works of great sculptors teach us how to perceive three-dimensional space and how the artist's imagination can activate that space through the use of direction, line, movement, rhythm, and balance.



Any artist who begins to sculpt first considers the nature of the medium he is using. Be it wood, stone, clay, snow, or ice, each has particular properties that must be recognized. In this text, we explore ice in Chapter 2, "Understanding the Medium: The Science of Ice." Despite the many challenges of sculpting with a temporary medium such as ice or snow, the ice sculptor is fortunate because, unlike many other media, man-made ice has no grain. (Natural ice is often formed in layers over time, and therefore has varying textures due to the changes in temperature as it is forming). Wood and stone always possess either grain or fissures that the sculptor must work around. Unless the ice has sustained some damage during handling or formation that has weakened the block, the ice is essentially free of these limitations.


Rules on Composition

In art, composition can be defined, simply speaking; as the make-up of an object. It entails the structure, shape, form, balance, and interlocking nature of the piece. However, it is presumptuous to state any hard and fast rules relative to the composition of sculptures. It is impossible to make all-encompassing statements applicable to all media. Every artist has his own rules and philosophy about sculpting; which partially explains the great variety of works that exist. That being said, there are a few truths to which we adhere as ice artists.

The perceived quality of an artist's work is rarely measured by the subject matter of his work alone. The quality is also found in the composition. The admiration we have for a sculpture of the Buddha in a temple or Abraham Lincoln's statue in his memorial, or even Michelangelo's David, is not based on who those individuals were as subjects of art. Our admiration is for the artist and his artistic ability. As a rule, the skill required for making the sculpture is appreciated as much as the actual subject of the sculpture.

Due to the temporary nature of this sub-zero art form and its eventual decay due to exposure to the elements of heat, rain, or wind, ice sculptures need to be simple in their design features. Although detail generally enhances the piece, thin lines can appear weak and unbalanced as they melt faster than the rest of the sculpture. The scales and muscle tone of a leaping fish will stand the test of time. A fishing line will not.


Varied shapes add to the visual impact of a sculpture. A stack of blocks is not anywhere near as interesting as a melange of forms: cubes, cones, columns, and balls.

Strong lines, contours, and balance sustain a sculpture as it endures a slow, warm demise. The ice sculpture will be more long lasting if it is composed of strong primary lines and shapes. If the sculpture has balance, its visual impact will be sustained while on display.

Rules on Unity

If any "rule of art' exists for sculpting, it would involve the rule of unity. For a sculpture to have visual appeal, its various elements must be in physical harmony. An artist always tries to create a composition that is unified even though a number of elements are at play within the sculpture. The goal is to achieve unity with variety. The trick is to involve enough different and interesting shapes and forms to prevent boredom but ensure that the sculpture remains cohesive.



Unity can best be achieved in one of three ways: repetition, proximity, or continuation. Through the use of repetition, using the same form or specific parts of it repeatedly, a sculptor can "tie a sculpture together." The use of proximity, where elements of the piece are grouped together, is another effective but relatively simple method of achieving unity in design. The most difficult method to effectively employ is the use of continuation, where the sculptor creates a visual path for the observer. Strong lines, edges, and contours become roadmaps the viewer's eyes can follow.

We must also be concerned about confusing visual unity with intellectual unity. Visual unity refers to the unity of the sculpture's elements as they appear to the eye. Intellectual unity refers to the unity of a concept not actually seen with the eye, but understood by the mind. However, such an abstract idea may not produce a coherent pattern when brought to the three-dimensional world, and the visual appeal may be lessened.


It is an oft-quoted line, but concentrating on the basics is fundamental to success in most arenas. Before an athlete can excel in any sport, he must master the rudimentary skills of the game. As the painter must know about color and texture before putting paint to canvas, the sculptor must know about composition and form.

Basic Sculpting Exercises

We recommend concentrating on the basics when students begin to study ice sculpture. The following exercises are useful in learning the craft of sculpting:

* Practice making the four basic forms (see Chapter 5): cube, cone, column, and ball

* Practice sculpting heads, hands, fingers, wings, legs, columns, numbers, letters

* Learn about symmetry and proportion by working with and creating clay models

* Use graph paper to learn about size, proportion, and relationship


Lessons in Design Basics

The following design lessons are useful to note when beginning to design a sculpture. The student will experience less frustration and greater satisfaction by adhering to these lessons:

* Choose a subject matter within realistic expectations. The difficulty of a piece is not so much limited by a student's artistic ability, but by his commitment to practicing and developing his skills.

* Create a drawing or study of the sculpture on graph paper to simulate the dimensions of an ice block. Note the negative space and how it may be used efficiently to make attachments or complementary objects for the sculpture.

* When drawing a guiding template (see Chapter 6), concentrate on using strong primary lines to define the basic structure of the sculpture without losing the ability to recognize the subject.

* Examine each component of the larger sculpture. Simplify the approach by reducing the design into smaller, less intricate parts.

* Don't distort the natural shape of an object to fit within the dimensions of an ice block. Learn to fuse ice pieces (see Chapter 7).


Lessons in Sculpting Basics

Often, the beginning ice sculptor lacks confidence and self-assurance as to where to begin cutting into the ice. Not unlike the medical student making his first cut into a human body, the novice sculptor is hesitant about misplacing the cutting edge in the new ice block. His self-doubt usually involves specific location and depth of cut. A few simple tips can help the student through his first attempts:

* Use the template (see Chapter 6) to determine where to etch the design and where to begin cutting.

* As a beginning sculptor, it is best to start working from the top down.

* To prevent breaking off extremities while sculpting, leave ice in areas of negative space to support the location where you are cutting the ice in finer detail. For example, leave the ice intact under an extended arm while detailing the top of the arm. Once the detailing is completed, and you won't be exerting downward pressure, you can remove the ice from below the arm to create negative (open) space.

* Work on the whole project a little at a time; don't concentrate on one part too long.

* Sculpt multiple parts simultaneously to keep dimension and proportion in perspective. Fine-tune all the parts simultaneously to keep the sculpture in balance.

* Examine each component of the larger sculpture.

* Occasionally step back from the piece to revisit one's references and notes for guidance. Don't lose perspective and "get lost" in the sculpture. Ask others if they can see the object you are visualizing.


This book will go into a lot of detail about the medium of ice and

the tools with which to sculpt. We will provide information on sculpting and creating templates to aid the beginning artist in achieving his vision. We will show the learner how to develop a subject matter without significant pre-existing skills. However, the student needs to contribute several very important attributes to the learning process to succeed as an ice sculptor.

The Sculptor's Passion

Passion is considered "an intense, emotional excitement or enthusiasm" for an object, person, or activity. The sculptor must possess a passion for the craft to achieve any higher level of artistry. In addition, the student must be sufficiently disciplined to spend the necessary time developing the skills he needs, by studying the text, practicing making shapes and forms, and learning how to artfully interpret guiding templates. This combination of passion and discipline, a strong desire to learn and excel creatively, along with this book and some basic tools, is virtually all that is required to succeed.

The Sculptor's Challenge

Late in his life, Pierre Auguste Renoir, who is considered to be among the greatest French painters, suffered from agonizing arthritis. So severe was his malady that his hands were quite twisted and cramped. It is said that his friend, the legendary artist Henri Matisse, came visiting and observed Renoir struggling to grasp a brush with only his fingertips, experiencing torturous pain with each stroke. When Matisse asked why he continued to paint under such terrible conditions, Renoir replied, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."

In addition to passion for the art, the ice artisan must have the physical stamina and mental focus to work quickly with this temporary medium, often in uncomfortable environmental conditions. Ice is subject to change by the atmosphere that surrounds it and must be managed accordingly. This, more often than not, requires that the ice artist work rapidly, in cold and wet conditions, on a fragile object that can weigh hundreds of pounds. Herein lie the challenges and the unpredictability that the sculptor must consider when wielding his tools.

This challenge, to create a translucent, luminous, yet transitory sculpture that is of pure origin, lies at the very root of the passion for this most challenging art form.


Meet the Artist--Michael Pizzuto

Michael Pizzuto, Certified Culinary Educator, has been sculpting ice since 1970 and maintains an active ice business in Denver, Colorado. His pursuit of learning the techniques of sculpture has taken him worldwide. His advanced training was under Chef Yukichika Iijima, and then he went on to Japan where he trained under the Japanese Master Ice Sculptor Mitsuo Shimizu. Chef Pizzuto is an ACF gold medalist and served as captain for the first USA ice carving team that competed in Asahiakawa, Japan.

Ask the Artist

Q What do you try to convey with ice as a sculpture medium?

A That it is a reflection of life: beautiful. a gift, fragile, unique, and transient as the cherry blossoms in springtime; to be held gently as an art expression without grasping and seeking a permanent thing.

Q After carving for over 30 years, starting with chippers and handsaws, what comments do you have about the use of power tools?

A Written sources have revealed the use of power tools in Japan and America since the 1800s. The last 10 years of innovative use has definitely changed a predominantly "chisel" mentality to that of a business/production emphasis. Although this is a popular resurgence and evolution in ice carving, I strongly believe there must be a balance of chisels and power tools, for each has distinct advantages.
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Title Annotation:Part I Learning Sculpting in Ice
Publication:Ice Sculpting the Modern Way
Article Type:Work overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Next Article:Chapter 2 Understanding the medium: the science of ice.

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