Forget dropping a few cubes into your scotch; if you really want to get your party going, you’ll carve a whole block of ice for a sparkling centerpiece. An ice sculpture is an elegant and eye-catching way to highlight your party’s theme. From a carved heart displaying your names and wedding date to an entire sushi bar carved from white ice, frozen sculptures will take your reception to the next level.
Using Ice Sculptures
An average tabletop centerpiece ice sculpture will last anywhere from six to eight hours before it starts to melt past its prime. Don’t let that limit your party, however. Ice sculptures are popular precisely because they’re a work of art that’s always in flux. Part of the novelty is getting to watch how the ice shifts and changes over the course of the celebration. Even if your ice mermaid starts to look more like a can of chunked tuna, your guests will still be taking enthusiastic pictures of the new, surreal masterpiece.
Even though it looks ethereal, a solid block of ice is quite heavy. A four-by-four foot block of ice weighs upward of 250 pounds. Never try to adjust your sculpture, even a few inches, without a strong spotter. Otherwise, you may end up supplying your party with a surplus of very expensive ice cubes.
Unlike the ice cubes you’ll find in your freezer, blocks of ice used to create sculptures are flawlessly clear. This is achieved by freezing water that has no air bubbles or impurities. Clear ice blocks are usually made by slowly freezing flowing water so that the impurities float to the top and can be cut away after freezing. If you want to achieve the same effect in your home freezer to make a smaller ice sculpture, using distilled water will do the trick. Keep in mind that “white ice,” or ice that’s been purposefully filled with impurities to keep it opaque, acts as a striking contrast when used alongside its clear cousin.
Finding the Right Sculptor
It’s not enough to be a great artist; your ice sculptor should also be serious about delivery. Ask how your sculpture will be delivered to you. The sculptor should have a plan that involves a way to cushion the art and keep it cold (insulated blankets and dry ice are popular options).
Don’t sign a contract that requires you to transport the sculpture yourself unless it is a very small and solid piece. Keep in mind that the further your sculpture has to travel to reach you, the more dry ice will be required to keep it cool along the way. This can inflate your budget quickly. Increased travel time also means an increased risk of damage, so choose ice sculptors who are based near your event whenever possible.
How will your ice sculpture be presented? Don’t commission a life-sized replica of Darth Vader only to have it sit unnoticed in a corner all night. Invest in a sculpture that comes with dramatic under-lighting in the color (or colors) of your choice to bring out the ice’s natural sparkle. If the lighting plan involves mirrors, so much the better. Make sure your sculpture comes with practical considerations, as well, such as a drainage plan. A tube leading from a drip tray to a bucket (hidden by a stylish tablecloth) is one smart approach.
DIY Ice Sculptures
Feeling creative? At-home ice artists are mostly limited to using pre-formed molds, but don’t let that stop you. With a little ingenuity and Internet research, you can find molds in nearly any shape. You can use any hollow shape you like as a mold, from cake and Jell-O molds to cookie cutters that have been secured to a flat surface on both sides.
Keep in mind, however, that the object you use must be able to balance on its own for the time it will take the water to freeze. Otherwise, you can keep it upright in your freezer using rubber bands or prop it between bags of frozen peas. It’s also important to choose molds that don’t have any long, thin tubes or areas that narrow before widening–these will be difficult to release without breaking your sculpture.
When choosing a mold, it’s important to think in all three dimensions. If you have your heart set on a mold that’s flat on one side, you can freeze water in it twice and place your molds back-to-back for a symmetrical sculpture.
Always leave more time than you think you’ll need for the sculpture to freeze completely–especially if there will be thick, solid parts. Ice can’t be hurried, and you don’t want to try to release a mold before it’s thoroughly frozen.
Once it’s frozen, the shape and thickness of your sculpture will determine how long it will stand and look good before it melts. Try a few practice runs before the wedding so you’ll know exactly how much time your mold will stand up. That way, you can be prepared to replace it with a backup sculpture halfway through the reception if need be.
You can release your ice from the mold just like a freezer ice tray: by running it under warm water and lightly tapping it. If your mold is flexible, lightly twist back and forth to free your sculpture. Don’t try to force it. Given a few more minutes in room temperature, your sculpture will come free on its own.
Ice is gorgeous, but it does turn into water eventually. To keep from soaking the surface you’re decorating, present your ice sculpture on a platform with raised sides to collect drips. A mirrored surface will complement the reflective nature of your sculpture and help it to seem even larger. You may also want to edge the surface in absorbent materials in case any water overspills.
Don’t forget to spice up your ice with additions like food coloring or citrus slices. With a little practice, you can freeze objects into your ice in exactly the right position to act as eyes or other decorative aspects. The key to suspending anything halfway in an ice sculpture is partially filling the mold, freezing it, and adding the objects along with the rest of the water. If your object floats, add it along with the first round of water instead.
Whether you attempt an ice masterpiece yourself or you turn to professional carvers, the important thing is to begin the process early. Some in-demand ice sculptors fill up their calendars up to a year ahead of time, so it’s essential to book your event date as early as you can. After all, you want your party to be as “chill” as possible.
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