AN ice sculpture is a great talking point at events, but who makes them and how? Charles Booth finds out what it takes to sculpt ice into a piece of art while working in a freezer in minus ten degrees.

WHEN I was asked to do ice sculpting, I jumped at the chance to do something different.

I though it might be a bit cold as I was told that the sculpting was done in minus ten degrees, the temperature at which the ice has to be kept at to stop it melting.

I arrived at the Ice Academy, in Llantarnam Industrial Park, Cwmbran, not really knowing what to expect.

I wasn’t that well prepared with warm clothing, but that was no problem as they provided ski gear to keep me warm. I also had to put on some specialised trousers and gloves for using the chainsaw.

Yes, I said chainsaw.

I have used one before but only when cutting wood.

We went into the freezer and Laura Giles (the professional ice sculptor) explained the process and what needed to be done.

I was surprised to hear that the ice blocks took 60 hours to freeze and it could take five hours to complete a sculpture such as a heart or a swan.

I wasn’t sure whether I was there for the long haul, but was happy to have a go.

To begin with I was shown the specially-made tools of the trade. There are a few such as a ‘v’ chisel which is shaped like a ‘v’ and a flat chisel which is, surprisingly, flat.

They are used to make grooves and chisel pieces of ice from the blocks.

Then there is the chainsaw, an angle grinder and a router, which is often used to engrave names on sculptures.

First of all I was tasked with engraving a name on a heart.

I was a bit apprehensive at first, as I didn’t want the bill for ruining someone’s wedding sculpture.

I needn’t have worried as I was pretty good at it and I think the engraving was even legible. Iwas using the router to engrave onto a piece of paper, which was frozen onto the heart so that the name was easy to write.

After I had come through my first task unscathed, or should I say the ice sculpture was unscathed, I went onto a bit of chiselling.

I would like to say that I made the ice reindeer, which I was working on but that would be a bit of a fib. I was smoothing out the rear of a reindeer, basically taking chunks of ice off the back end. I was a bit concerned the sculpture would fall over and smash but it didn’t come to that, thankfully.

Then we moved onto the chainsawing, which I thought might be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but I was wrong.

The ice block I was working on was going to be a champagne bucket.

The first task was to chainsaw the block into a more manageable size and shape, namely a hexagon.

It was much easier than cutting wood as there was very little resistance from the ice, so I had to be careful not to go straight through the table as well.

The hard part was making sure the cuts were straight, so the lines were clean.

If I moved the chainsaw a tiny bit to the left or right it would go of course and would need correcting.

Once the cuts were made I had passed my sculpting test and thoroughly enjoyed the experience without breaking any of the sculptures. Outside the freezer I learned about the process of freezing the blocks. They take 60 hours because of the size as they are 300lbs each.

The machine which does the freezing was imported from the USA as it would have cost more to get one in the UK. Once the blocks are frozen, they have to be stored in the freezer and when they move the sculptures, they do so in a van freezer.

I asked Laura how you get into ice sculpting.

She said: “I had just come back from working as a runner on the Tim Burton film Corpse Bride. I left university with a degree in animation and art history and managed to get the job.

“Then I returned from that and was just working in a petrol station and I wasn’t too happy.

“I had decided that I didn’t want to get into the film industry as it seemed very cut throat. Then one day someone came into the shop and we got talking and he mentioned a job at his company making ice sculptures in Newport.

“I got the job and worked there for a while. Then I decided to train as a teacher and that’s what I have been doing since.

“Last August we had an idea to start up our own company making ice sculptures and we managed to get a grant from Torfaen council’s local investment fund.” PANEL Factfile THE Ice Academy is based on Llantarnam Industrial Park, Cwmbran.

Husband and wife team Gareth, and Laura Giles started the business in May after Laura wanted to return making ice sculptures.

She had made ice sculptures several years ago when she worked for a company in Newport.

Both Laura and Gareth are teachers and teach art history and the guitar respectively during the day.

If you would like to see one of their sculptures being made, you can go to the Winter Wonderland in Cardiff on November 15 from 4pm. They will be making a snow queen out of three blocks fused together.

For more information The Ice Academy and the courses it offers as well as the sculptures it can provide for your celebrations go to www.theiceacadem or ring 01633 869207