A staff member here at Human Diaries was intrigued about ice sculpture, so when she found Mark Chapin’s post online, she immediately wanted to interview him. Mark Chapin teaches ice sculpting, and was interested in doing the interview. We were very excited for this wonderful opportunity. He is a fountain of knowledge about this most interesting craft. He teaches and inspires, always with a smile to go along with the information he imparts. His sculptures have beauty and mystery in them. Please join us in exploring Mark’s intriguing craft and one of a kind designs.
Hi Mark! Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
A – I am a substitute teacher looking for a full time teaching position in art, social studies, and government. I attended Rhode Island School of Design and received a BFA in Illustration in 1994. I grew up in Alaska, moved out of state for 11 years and decided to return to teach here. I have lived the past 15 years here, teaching.
Q – Who or what inspired you to do ice sculpting?
A – I first learned how to sculpt ice at Rhode Island School of Design in 1991. There was a culinary school and some of the students invited me to try out the ice carving class. The next time I carved ice was in 1993 in Fairbanks, AK at Ice Alaska World Ice Art Championships. I have sculpted ice at Ice Alaska in 1993, 1995, and 1999-2015. Christmas in Ice was formed in 2008. I sculpted at Christmas in Ice 2007-2010, and 2015.
Q – How does someone become an ice sculptor? What types of education and training are involved? How long does it take to learn?
A – There are lots of people who sculpt ice in Alaska. Some of the people are chefs, wood carvers, ivory carvers, artists, and people who just want to explore new mediums. There are classes offered at both Christmas in Ice and Ice Alaska for beginners. The classes are taught by experienced carvers and offer a small block of ice to carve. There are competitions for amateurs at Christmas in Ice and Ice Alaska. These are not judged and allow people to finish sculptures at their own pace.
Q – What tools are needed to produce such beautiful creations? What conditions are necessary to work with the ice?
A – Ice sculptors use gas and electric chainsaws. The chainsaws have bar lengths from 16″ up to 60″. The sculptors usually file the rakers down on the chains to reduce the drag through the ice. Hand chisels are used after the chainsaw. The chisels can be small blades from 1/2″ up to 4″ wide. Some of the chisels are curved or V-shaped. After the chisels, many sculptors use die grinders with specialized tips for detail and texture work. The best condition for working with ice in Alaska is 20 F to -10F. The warmer temperatures make the ice soft and the cold weather makes the ice brittle. Outdoor competitions in Alaska have been as cold as -48F and as warms as 65F. Nature plays a huge part in outdoor competitions.
Q – What work needs to be done before actually cutting the ice? What types of planning?
A – Many sculptors do complex drawings and models before starting on an ice sculpture. The artists must decide how much of the block to use and where different parts will be removed or attached. The sculptures are designed to make the ice sculpture stable and not fall apart.
Q – How long does it take to create something? I’m sure it varies, but does it usually take hours, days, weeks, or longer?
A – The sculpture takes days to complete. However, there are competitions that the sculpture has to be completed in eight hours. Most of the competitions here have a time limit of 60 hours to 144 hours.
Q – Tell us about getting the ice. I was surprised to read that it doesn’t just get made in a freezer somewhere.
A – The ice used in Alaska is natural ice. It is harvested from local ponds. The pond must be cleaned free of snow to allow the ice to grow thick. The ice is harvested with chainsaws to cut blocks and a forklift lifts it from the pond. The blocks can weigh up to 7,800 lbs.
Q – What is the most difficult part about sculpting ice?
A – The most difficult part of sculpting ice is that the blocks are all different. There are natural cracks in the ice and that can cause pieces to fall apart if they expand. The next hardest thing is endurance. It is not uncommon for a sculptor to work 12-20 hours a day during a competition. The sculptors eat lots of calories for energy and also to stay warm.
Q – What special precautions do you need for safety?
A – There are plenty of precautions that must be taken when sculpting ice. The piece are very heavy, about 62 lbs per cubic foot. The artists must be aware of ice falling. The sculptors must also be careful when using the tools because they are sharp. Sculpture designs must be safe because the artists are working under heavy pieces that may fall.
Q – What is something most people don’t know about ice sculpting?
A – Ice sculpting is done in all parts of the world. The air temperature can be very warm for outdoor events. The most important part is the ice temperature can be cold, even when it is +60 F outdoors.
Q – I see that you are a teacher, which is wonderful. How else do you use your talent?
A – I like to teach people ice sculpture. I help them understand how wonderful the medium is to work with. I think that people can create amazing works of art with the right encouragement and guidance. Teaching is a wonderful way to expose people to ice art, and hopefully have them continue with sculpting.
Q – What are your hobbies?
A – I do art in my free time. I love to work with water color paints, pen and ink, charcoal, and magic markers.
Q – Do you have any funny stories you’d like to share?
A – I have so many funny stories, but a lot of them require context. Too many to share right now. But the sheer joy of hearing someone get excited when they see your ice art is beyond compare. I might not win a prize, but to have someone take pictures of your work and share it with others makes all the hard work worth it.
Q – What do you think of Human Diaries?
A – I don’t know a lot about Human Diaries, but would like to research it more.