MY WORK­ING LIFE

Amer­i­can Aaron Cos­tic, 45, four-time World Ice Art Cham­pion and owner of El­e­gant Ice Cre­ations, tells us about Frozen-themed prom nights and bat­tles of fire and ice

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

Four-time World Ice Art cham­pion Aaron Cos­tic re­veals the joys and chal­lenges of cre­at­ing pieces of art out of frozen wa­ter.

Was it cold where you grew up, Aaron? Rel­a­tively. Cleve­land, Ohio is in the north­ern half of the US and when I was younger it was colder back then – we would have snow that would last all win­ter. How did you get into sculpt­ing? I thought I was go­ing to be­come a chef. I went to culi­nary school and one of the first classes I had to take in­volved mak­ing cen­tre­pieces out of edi­ble prod­ucts. One of the things we used was ice and I turned out to be pretty good work­ing with it. My in­struc­tor en­cour­aged me to learn about dif­fer­ent tools and tech­niques and to go to com­pe­ti­tions. That was 27 years ago! What’s good – and bad – about ice when you’re work­ing with it? Well some peo­ple would say that its draw­back is that it melts; oth­ers would say that it’s frag­ile. But I don’t re­ally con­sider those draw­backs – they’re just part of the medium. Ice has some amaz­ing qual­i­ties and the fact that it melts is one of them. I’ve played around with bronze and wood and other things but for the most part I’m an ice carver be­cause it’s a fan­tas­tic ma­te­rial to work with. There’s no grain at all, so it doesn’t do un­ex­pected things. How do you be­gin a new de­sign? First you need that ker­nel of an idea – and you get that from just walk­ing through life. You see some­thing and you think it might lead to an in­ter­est­ing con­cept and you mould it around in your head and then you might have an­other idea and blend them. What hap­pens once you’ve hit on the idea? You have to do a draw­ing, and the way I draw is kind of like line art, real sim­ple lines. You then have to fig­ure out how you’re go­ing to do it. If you’re in a con­test and you’re given a block of ice that’s three me­tres tall by two me­tres wide and one me­tre deep, you might want to cut pieces off and reat­tach them to make your de­sign as big as you can. What do you call this phase? We call it the block lay­out. Then you need to fig­ure out a se­quence – and work­ing out that se­quence is what makes you ef­fi­cient. That’s where I’ve ex­celled in com­pe­ti­tions – I can vi­su­alise that se­quence re­ally well. Do you still com­pete for fun, or mainly to keep your name out there pro­fes­sion­ally? There’s all sorts of mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors – there’s teach­ing, learn­ing, cash re­wards, travel, ca­ma­raderie. There’s ego, too: to win at the World Cham­pi­onships makes you the World Cham­pion for a year. Is there big money in it? You can win $5,000 (Dh18,365) in dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tions but it’s not a lot when you fac­tor in all the time you spent de­sign­ing. How do you join bits of ice to­gether? One way is to lightly melt the two sides that you want to fuse to­gether on heated alu­minium pads – then when you push them to­gether they re­freeze. An­other way is to saw two edges so they are rough, moisten them and do it that way. If you want to see how we do it, check ices­cu­plt­ing­tools.com. Which of your cre­ations was your favourite? There’s one called Spring that is kind of an ab­stract piece where spring is erupt­ing through a block of ice that has cracked, like it is break­ing through win­ter. Your big­gest-ever pri­vate com­mis­sion? In the win­ter the city hires us to come in to cre­ate an ice fes­ti­val. For that we’ll carve 70 or 80 sculp­tures and place them around the town and we’ll have ice carv­ing demon­stra­tions and com­pe­ti­tions, and then we’ll make fire and ice tow­ers, which are pretty spec­tac­u­lar. We’ll make a chim­ney out of ice, fill it with wood and light it on fire; then we watch the fire and the ice do bat­tle. What’s the most com­mon de­sign you get asked to do? We do a lot of func­tional sculp­tures, so some­thing that might hold seafood with a cor­po­rate logo on top. And Frozen is pop­u­lar, too – Olaf is the num­ber one char­ac­ter we’ve carved. We’ve also done Anna and the cas­tle. Did you like the movie? It’s OK. I’m not a huge fan of an­i­mated movies, but as those girls get older and start plan­ning proms and what­not it’s go­ing to be even bet­ter for our in­dus­try. Any plans to visit the UAE? There’s been a cou­ple of re­quests that haven’t come to any­thing yet, and I think at one point the world’s tallest ice carv­ing ac­cord­ing to Guin­ness World Records was in Dubai, in­side [Ski Dubai]. The ar­chi­tec­ture there is so in­ter­est­ing and I’d love to go over to work on a sculp­ture – and also just to ex­pe­ri­ence the dif­fer­ent things that are go­ing on there. Isn’t the Dubai heat a mas­sive prob­lem? You ba­si­cally just don’t want to carve un­der the sun. But I could carve in Dubai un­der a tent even if the tem­per­a­ture was crazy high. The fin­ished prod­uct would look great, even if it wouldn’t last very long, but those UV rays are what you need to shield the ice from be­cause they get in­side it and change the molec­u­lar struc­ture. It be­comes very white, not clear, and it be­comes very weak, too.

Frozen-themed sculp­tures are much in de­mand, says Aaron

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