There’s nothing like a landscape after a snowfall. Its white, pristine surface always invites children to make snow angels, but for 54-year-old Simon Beck, it’s a blank canvas for his extraordinary “snow paintings.”
Beck is a snow artist. He creates large-scale “paintings” in the snow by walking them out, step by step, wearing snowshoes. He works as an orienteering mapmaker and started creating the designs “as a bit of fun” soon after he bought an apartment in a French ski resort in Les Arcs, where he creates most of his snow art. Where did he get the idea to create these monumental works of art? “It just seemed a natural thing to do,” said the artist.
Some of the inspiration for his snow art comes from the gardens in the temples in Kyoto, where sand is raked in patterns that are quite similar to the effects he achieves with snow.
Beck offers a brief explanation of how he achieves these seemingly impossible works of art:
“I first draw them on paper, using a protractor and ruler if necessary,” said Beck. “The setting out in the snow is done using a handheld orienteering compass and distance determination is accomplished using pace counting or measuring tape. Curves are either judged or arcs of circles are created using a clothesline attached to an anchor at the center.”
The remaining lines are added by eye, and then he fills in the shaded areas.
It’s not like walking a labyrinth, where you can float off into your right brain. There’s nothing meditative about Beck’s work, as he has to stay in his left brain to make sure the intended design comes out right. “They are easy to do but also very easy to get wrong,” said Beck. “The hardest past is avoiding a ‘stupid’ mistake, and the most frequent cause of those is a wrong aiming point (straight lines are made by aiming at a point in the distance but one can easily accidentally aim at the wrong point).”
“The most painful part of the process is getting changed into warmer clothes as the temperature drops, as this often means removing clothing that has gotten damp, and you get VERY cold in the process!”
What’s the first thing he does when he’s finished one of his creations? “Usually I’m very tired. Since it is often at night and I’m totally alone on the mountain, it is more a matter of remaining focused on getting home safely.”
Getting a decent photo of the finished design can be difficult since it’s usually done the next day, and at least 25 percent of Beck’s snow paintings have to be done again due to make sure they are in perfect condition for the shoot.
So why does he do it?
“Usually the last several hours are at night using a head torch,” said Beck. “Sometimes, when the work is nearly complete, a snowcat (pisting machine) will drive along one of the nearby pistes and the effect as its lights light up the drawing is awesome! But the main reason for doing it is to get good photos, so I can sell them and buy better gear!”
But why create something that takes so much work, yet is so ephemeral?
“Most of the skiers think I am a bit mad,” Beck said, “and it’s a waste of good skiing time (I agree, hence the preference for working at night). But I hope to spread the message that mountains and snow are beautiful and worth preserving, and there are better things in life than spending so much time doing things you don’t want to do so that you can spend money you haven’t got (yet) to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
Do what you love.
Artist Credits for the images included in this post:
Simon Beck, England
Simon Beck’s snow art can be viewed on Facebook at: Simon Beck’s Snow Art
The 365 Days Project
In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.