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What Is an Ice Sculpture?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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As its names suggests, an ice sculpture is a sculpture which has been carved out of ice. The ice used to make an ice sculpture may be natural or man-made, and can be clear or colored. Generally, an ice sculpture is made by cutting a rough shape into a block of ice with a saw and then refining it with smaller hand tools, although some sculptures are made mechanically. Ice sculptures are often found at formal events such as wedding receptions, as well as on buffet tables. Those who wish to learn how to make ice sculptures may be able to do so at a culinary school or through an independent ice sculpting program.

Every ice sculpture begins with one or more blocks of ice. Depending on the intended size of the finished sculpture, a sculptor may start off with a block of ice that is as small as a basketball or as large as a compact car. Sometimes, ice blocks are taken from a natural source, such as a frozen river or lake. In other cases, they are made with electric freezing equipment. Ice sculptures are commonly clear, although dyes can be added to man-made ice blocks prior to freezing to produce a colored sculpture.

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Before starting work on an ice sculpture, a sculptor may draw sketches of the final sculpture as she envisions it. She may work directly from these sketches or may use a computer program to turn her sketches into full-sized stencils or patterns. To begin carving, the sculptor often uses a chainsaw to cut a very rough shape. Next, she refines the sculptureā€™s shape with hand tools like chisels, knives, and grinders, and finally, she adds fine details using small chisels or even needles. Some ice sculptures are fully made by computerized machines rather than sculptors.

Perhaps the most common place to see an ice sculpture is at a wedding reception or other formal event. Some restaurants use ice sculptures as a decorative element on buffet tables. Often, sculptures are placed over white or colored lights in order to add dramatic effect and highlight their details.

Some culinary schools teach their students how to sculpt ice as part of their training. Individuals who wish to learn how to make ice sculptures without enrolling in culinary school may be able to do so by signing up for an independent ice sculpting course. Alternatively, those living in regions with very cold winters may find that their local university or community has an ice sculpting club.

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