Ever wondered how all of our (n)ice things to do at Winter Wonderland get created? Wonder no more.
We caught up with Jamie Hamilton from Hamilton Ice Sculptors, to find out more about his experience over the last decade creating ice sculptures for Magical Ice Kingdom and Bar Ice in association with Mixtons Cocktails.
How did you get into ice sculpting?
Jamie: I grew up in a family business of ice sculptors. Duncan, who’s my father, established the company in the 1970s with my mum and I’ve been working on and off as an ice sculptor since my teens. And Duncan, who is now well into his 70s, is still working with us and will be working at Winter Wonderland this year as well.
How much training does it take for you to be able to create Winter Wonderland-worthy sculptures?
Jamie: I’m not sure we ever think that we’ve got there. We try very hard and we’ve got an amazing team of people who are excellent sculptors, but there’s always something new to learn so you never stop training. In terms of becoming an accomplished sculptor, you’re talking a few years to be of an acceptable standard, but then after that, you just keep learning for the rest of your life.
How did you develop your sculpture style?
Jamie: One of my favourite things about ice is you need to be bold because of the transparency of the material. You need to make bold sculptures because fine detail is very important, but sometimes it’s a bit lost if you don’t also have something that makes a really immediate visual impact.
What’s the coolest ice sculpture you’ve ever made?
Jamie: It’s really hard to say… I think some of the sculptures that we’ve made for Magical Ice Kingdom have been amazing. For me, the most exciting sculptures are the big castles and buildings. This year we’re making Valhalla, so a big building like that. Then my other favourite type is a large snow sculpture. Some of our snow sculptures are five or six metres tall, whether it’s a dragon, we made a Griffin one year, a giant ogre – this year it’s a huge skull, a really really big one. We’re making other snow sculptures as well, but the skull is the really big one. I think the snow sculptures are the coolest.
What’s your favourite sculpture you’ve ever worked on?
Jamie: A couple of times I’ve worked with my dad on snow sculptures and I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s nice to have a family connection. I get on very well with my dad, despite the fact that we’ve worked together for decades, we’re still very very good friends.
How long do you spend working on Magical Ice Kingdom?
Jamie: We get the designs approved in the spring, early summer and then from June onwards, we begin sculpting for Magical Ice Kingdom and Bar Ice. Some of these sculptures have been in storage in a cold store in Dover for months now, the last ones we’re finishing up right now with a month to go.
How many sculptures are in Magical Ice Kingdom?
Jamie: There are around 250 sculptures, but some of them are tiny and some are massive. So we’ve got a life-sized squirrel compared to a five-metre high skull – it feels unfair to call those two comparable sculptures!
How cold do the sculptures have to be kept?
Jamie: At Winter Wonderland, the sculptures will be kept at around -10°C, that’s a good temperature. But that’s not especially cold, believe it or not. Food’s stored at -20°C, generally speaking. So -20°C would also be good, but not great for visitors! Anything above 0°C is obviously not good…
Do you ever get too cold while you’re sculpting or working with them?
Jamie: Generally speaking, no – I think we’re all quite immune to the cold! Part of that is having good clothing and keeping busy, you don’t want to stand around too often. We sometimes say if you’re cold, you need to work harder. But also I think that people who do feel cold are not naturally drawn to ice sculpting as a career – so it’s self-selecting as well!
What sculpture are you most excited for at Winter Wonderland this year?
Jamie: There’s a yeti in Bar Ice this year, which will be quite fun and there’s St. Bernard’s dogs because the theme is early ski resort, Arctic explorer vibe. We’ve got St. Bernard’s, we’ve got the yeti and we’ve got a figure of an old-style skier in a frozen block of ice, which is quite fun. In Magical Ice Kingdom, we’ve got a Viking boat which you can walk onto and have your photo taken, which I think will be quite good.