Haughton – Many snow sculptors keep their secrets very closely. Josh Jakubowski wants to share it.
“A lot of snow sculptors discuss this,” He said. “If you die with your secrets, no one will ever know, and the sport will never evolve… Just knowing what tools to use, basic techniques and principles can get everyone to make some really beautiful works of art.”
Jakubowski and Bob Lichtenberg, National Snow Sculpture Champions Sculptora Borealis, recently demonstrated their techniques while building a snow sculpture in the yard at the JR Pelt and Van Opie Library at Michigan Technological University.
The visit was sponsored by Tech’s Blue Key Honor Society, which organizes the annual Winter Carnival. This year’s carnival, themed “Delicious foods for the winter mood,” It will be held from 8 to 11 February.
Blue Key President Joe Dlugos hopes to get students more involved in building the month-long, all-night sculpture that is a hallmark of the annual carnival.
“It was very much passed on by word of mouth about how to make a snow sculpture.” He said. “We want to bring in these guys and give master classes on how to make a snow sculpture and with a slightly different design and different methods. They use pure snow, and a lot of the sculptures in past years use snow and water until it turns into ice. So it looks a lot cleaner with their sculptures.”
Sculptora Borealis are the winners of two national snow sculpting championships, and will defend their title in early February at the annual Winter Festival in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Two weeks before that, they will also represent the United States at the World Championships in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Last weekend’s design offered a slightly smaller canvas than what the group offers in the regular competition: a 10-foot cube in Stillwater, an 8-by-8-by-10 in Lake Geneva.
Starting with an 8-foot cube—less than a third the size of the largest carnival gnomes—the group built a detailed snow sculpture of a pair of tentacles preparing a cup of coffee, surrounded by spoons and coffee packets.
Ben Jaszczak, a multimedia marketing and communications specialist at Tech, reached out to Sculptora Borealis for a visit after searching for some snow sculptures from national competitions.
“I thought that with the workload of our students, and the sheer size of the sculptures that they’re building, it might be really challenging that they can build with the technology that allows them to make these really beautiful finishes, using less snow, and making it easier to cut the arms out a little bit,” He said. “I thought it would be better for him to teach her than a two-year-pregnant national champion?”
The group spends more than 400 hours designing; The clay models, built to a scale of 12th, could fit 100 themselves, Jacobowski said. They keep it away from you “cookie cutter” designs, and dedicate additional research to see what was actually done (and overdone).
“We like to do sculptures that are more visceral and thought-provoking,” He said. “And that’s really fun.”
By Saturday afternoon, they had removed the large clumps of snow and could begin the intermediate detail work. They also set to work on a plate of sugar, sugar packets, and a spoon.
“We don’t have enough hours to make it look super precise and super beautiful,” she says. Jacobowski said. “But it would be close. It would look really cool. And there’s a coffee shop inside, so it’s very convenient.”
Jakubowski was forming the cup of cream that was poured into the cup of coffee. So, he turned to a specialized tool developed by snow sculptors: the blade from a pet clipper welded to a screwdriver.
“The serration of the tip really cuts through the snow,” He said. “If you’re using a flat blade, that means the surface area is snowing, so it takes more force to make that snowing… All the years we’ve been doing this, you kind of learn what tools work well and then you just have to Create and improve new tools.
The rough figure came out on a Saturday afternoon, and Jakubowski was eyeing the work details ahead: suction cups on the probes, the lip of the cup, a ripple effect as cream was poured into the coffee.
This detail work is done using small chisels or specialized tools. Lechtenberg has a custom expanded metal tool placed on a windmill handle, which he uses to create the movement.
Using these sharps helps reduce wear and tear on the knuckles, which can take a beating from days of work.
“I go to a therapist and work through all these problems in the spring,” she says. Jacobowski said. “I definitely hurt for two months after that.”
Dlugos said he enjoyed watching the contrast with the scale of the month-long student busts.
“It’s a different kind of complexity than what you usually see,” He said. “It’s new and great to see.”
Sculptora Borealis builders will benefit from the experience after the weekend. The team filmed their construction and provided a video tutorial on the tools and techniques that will be shared with the Tech’s Winter Carnival teams. They will also be offering a Zoom tutorial for builders two days before the carnival.
“We really want to influence the next generation and get them involved in this, because it’s so much fun,” he says. Jacobowski said. “You can come to the community and talk, and have a great time mingling.”
Sculptora Borealis members said Houghton’s abundance of natural snow could make it a potential site for its own professional competition.
Jacobowski said the competition in Lake Geneva, near the Illinois border, relies on man-made snow to provide enough for the contestants. In normal snow, the pointed ends of the snow combine like gears. Artificial snow uses round water droplets, which are packed more tightly.
They also give the snow a more gray color compared to the natural whiteness of snow.
Because it’s less dense, natural snow is easier to sculpt, Jacobowski said.
“It’s definitely different.” He said. “Love her.”