Do you want to sculpt a snowman? | Living North

Do you want to sculpt a snowman?


Ice sculptor with chainsaw
From Disney characters, to political figures, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea ice sculptor Darren Brinksey can carve almost anything

I run a company called UK Ice Sculptures.
I get sculpture commissions from clients for parties and functions. It could be anything, from somebody’s wedding, to somebody’s fiftieth birthday party. It could be a product launch for a company, or a council wanting to do a Christmas sculpture in the town square.

I was a chef for a long time. 
I worked on cruise liners. Each restaurant used to compete with each other and so we were always trying to improve the end product. One time the restaurant decided to do an ice sculpture. They kept a store of ice on board and that fascinated me, so I had a go. That was about thirty years ago now.

I like when the sculpture actually goes on the table and people say ‘wow.’
I took a leaping salmon sculpture to a high-end hotel in Aberdeen. They’d never had an ice sculpture before. One of the waiters came over and said, ‘Did you do that?’ and shook my hand.

People think my job’s pretty cool.
I’ve been doing it for a long time, but a lot of people from the North East have never seen an ice sculpture before. It’s very very big in London, and it’s even bigger in the United States, but not so much round here. There are a lot on television and adverts at the moment though, so it is becoming more known.

I started off doing sculptures in my garage as they were melting.
Now I do them in a freezer in a workshop. And we’ve shipped them to everywhere from Aberdeen to Brighton. We actually sent an ice sculpture to Madrid. A logistics company picked it up and sent it down there.

We work at minus 10.
The freezer warms up as we’re in it, and you can’t have it too cold as it makes the ice very brittle and it cracks. So minus 10 is the ideal temperature. If you’re doing a lot of vigorous work and you’ve got too many clothes on, you get too hot and you sweat. But if you’re doing a lot of intricate work and you’re not moving much you get cold.

We use power tools and wood carving tools.
You can get specialist ice carving tools, but we use chainsaws, grinders, and your common carpentry tools.

If we make a mistake, we can fuse the ice back together.
You heat an aluminium plate – aluminium can conduct heat really well – and use it to smooth perfectly flat surfaces. When both surfaces are cold and dry, they can be fused together with a little bit of water. Sometimes you can hardly see the seam.

It’s not like drawing, but you can be quite detailed. 
Doing faces is quite difficult. We did one of Gandhi a couple of years ago. I get loads of strange requests. I’ve done Olaf – the snowman from Frozen. We also do ice bars too and logos for companies, where we colour the ice.

We carve into the back of the sculptures and then we flow the colours in.
We build the picture up like that, in layers. We use powder paint with gelatine, which stabilises the colour. Once you freeze things they separate, but the gelatine acts as stabiliser. If the sculpture melts the gelatine stops the colour from running out. Then we pack the back in with snow.

Once we transport a sculpture to an event and it’s unwrapped, then it does start to melt.
It’s all part of the process. Ice sculptures evolve. So you cut your ice sculptures thicker than what they should be and they melt into shape. If we did something really intricate and took it into a central heated building, then it wouldn’t last very long. But we make ours to last 6 hours or longer. The sculpture sits in a tray that collects all the meltwater and gravity feeds it out through a tube to a bucket under the table, so in theory you shouldn’t get any mess, though you might get the odd drip.

Published in: December 2017

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