If asked to create art out of snow, most people would build a snowman. We’ve all made them as kids; plus, they’re pretty easy to do. Simon Beck, an engineer and former chartographer, believes that snow holds far more potential for engineering than most people realize.
Beck is originally from London. He studied Engineering Science in Oxford. But he has spent nearly 20 years creating huge art in the snow and sandy sand using his feet and orienteering abilities.
The 63 year-old artist plots out his designs on paper using one millimeter for each step on the sand or snow. Once the design is complete, he grabs his ski pole, rope and anchor and sets off to walk his sketch along the frozen lakes in Savoie, France. Sometimes patrons pay him to travel the globe to create his art in different locations.
Beck’s designs can take 12 hours of trudging through the snow or more, requiring around 40,000 steps to complete an average-sized piece. His career as a cartographer has made him adept at using a magnetic compass, determining distance, and walking long hours—skills that have helped him as a snow artist.
The most difficult aspect of working in snow and sand is the possibility of changing conditions throughout the process. The snow could melt or become extremely icy and skiers could plough right through the design. Sand could blow away, be washed away by ocean water, or be stepped on by beachgoers.
What happens if he does make a mistake with his designs?
“When a mistake is made the usual remedy is to alter the design,” he explained to My Modern Met. “Sometimes one just accepts there is a wrong line. Theoretically it would be easy for someone to cheat and alter the photos (paste anything over the line that is incorrect). It is important to proceed in a manner that prevents small errors adding together into a major noticeable quantity.”
Despite these challenges, every piece is worth it.
In 2004, Beck began snow drawing. It started out as a sort of winter exercise—he would place a marker in an open patch of snow and chart a series of equidistant points from it, then he would connect the points using his own tracks. The patterns would then emerge.
He started a Facebook page in 2010 to share the results of his new hobby. Beck shared aerial photos from his snow art, either taken from a drone, or from nearby mountainsides, and it soon gained massive attention online.
His drawings grew in complexity over time, and now span hundreds of thousands of square footage. His Facebook page has attracted 274,000 fans to date.
Snow and sand artwork is fleeting, but Beck isn’t frustrated at all by the fact.
“Most people will only ever see most of the world’s artwork as photographs,” he told Artsy. “Even with the Mona Lisa—probably only a minority of people have actually seen the real thing, but everyone’s seen a photograph of it.”
The only thing he needs is a good photo of the designs, and it’s all good.
“As long as the weather holds long enough for us to get pictures, I consider it a job well done,” the artist said.
Clouding is the main enemy of good photos. The drawings work because of the shadow in the footprints, so if there’s little or no sun, the art would most likely have to be made again in the future.
The photographs of Beck’s artworks are awe-inspiring, but for many of us, seeing them in person is a far-fetched dream. You can view some of our favorite sand-and-snow artworks in the gallery.
Simon Beck has many more stunning natural artworks. Please visit his website. Facebook page.