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
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