If one were asked to make art from snow, one would most probably build a snowman. We’ve all made them as kids; plus, they’re pretty easy to do. But for engineer and former cartographer Simon Beck, snow carries far more potential than most of us can imagine.
Beck, who hails from London, UK, studied Engineering Science at Oxford, but he has spent nearly two decades creating massive art in the snow and sand using only his feet and orienteering skills.
The 63-year-old artist plots his designs on paper using one millimeter as the scale for one step on the snow or sand. Once the design is finalized, he grabs his snowshoes, ski pole, rope, anchor, and markers and begins the arduous task of walking his sketch along the frozen lakes of Savoie, France. Sometimes, patrons pay him to travel around the world to create his art in various locales.
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 challenging aspect of working in the snow and sand is that conditions can change throughout the creation of the artwork. Snow could melt or become exceptionally icy, and unknowing skiers could plow right through the design. Sand could be blown away by the wind, washed away by the ocean water, or stepped on by beachgoers.
So what happens if he makes a mistake in 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 to cheat and alter the photos (paste something over the line that is wrong). It is important to proceed in a manner that prevents small errors adding together into a major noticeable quantity.”
Despite these challenges, every piece of art completed is worth it.
Beck first began making snow drawings in 2004. 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. From there, patterns would emerge.
In 2010, he created a Facebook page to share the fruits of his newfound hobby. Beck shared aerial photos of his snow art, taken from a drone or a nearby mountainside, and it soon attracted massive attention online.
His drawings grew more and more intricate as time went on, spanning hundreds then thousands of square feet. To date, his Facebook page has attracted 274,000 followers.
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.
The usual enemy of getting good photos is clouding. 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. In the meantime, you can check out some of our favorite sand and snow artworks in the gallery below.
To see more amazing natural artworks by Simon Beck please follow his Facebook page.