When it comes to large canvases, Simon Beck might be pushing the limits of the impossible with his sand and snow artworks that both dazzle and confound at the same time. Referred to as the world’s first snow artist, Beck uses snowshoes, a magnetic compass and a handful of other tools, to etch and sketch masterpieces across beaches, mountain tops and frozen lakes. He’s even walked up to 30 miles creating one piece. We talked with the British snowartist to get a sense of just how complex his art truly is.
Hometown/ Currently Located?
I lived in Bracknell 1990 – 2004, now Les Arcs, French Alps. Spent a lot of time in Taunton, with my parents.
How long have you been creating snow and sand art, and how did you get started?
It started as a bit of fun in 2004, and I decided to take it seriously in 2009. The sand art started in 2014 when I received a request to do a public performance. I felt that would not be a good idea for my first, but was convinced to have a go at sand. When I made my first snow drawing I had no idea how good the result would look, and was surprised not to find others having done similar, when I looked on the internet.
What was the location of your very first piece you created?
On the small lake outside the building where I live in Arc2000, which is a large apartment block.
What is your process like? Do you map or draw the designs out beforehand, or is it more of a freestyle?
It starts with some careful measuring for the key points, then a join-the-dots exercise for the secondary lines, then shading the areas and adding the fractals round the edge. I usually rough it out on paper then draw a sketch with some measurements.
What tools are used in your creations?
Magnetic compass, protractor, pace counting, ruler, rope-and-anchor, pair of compasses and Snowshoes for making the footprints.
How do you pick the locations for your art?
I look for level areas which are not likely to be skied over (so snow covered frozen lakes are preferred) and with a place to view them from the ground. Most drawings are made on a few fave sites in Arc2000.
How long does each piece typically take to complete?
Four hours for an area the size of one soccer field, so about 12 hours for a drawing that uses the available space on my favorite drawing sites. Sand is in the intertidal zone so it becomes a race against the incoming tide.
We’ve heard you got your start in this line of work “later in life”, what were you doing professionally before you got into snow and sand art?
Orienteering map surveying, using much the same tools, working in reverse. I had a go at some office jobs, but was unable to keep my mind on it.
Have you ever gotten into dangerous situations due to the elements that you work within?
Skiing down after completing a drawing has to be done with great care. I think the nearest I came to being involved in an accident was when I was scouting for a site. Skiing off piste, I realized I was approaching a cliff edge and there was a cornice. I worked out where it was safe to approach the edge and look over, but the journalist I was with had taken his eye off the ball and was about to stop beside me, on the cornice. I realized what was about to happen and called out a warning and he stopped on the extreme edge of the safe zone, but he looked really scared.
Do you have a favorite location or piece that you have created?
The best site for snow is the Lac Marlou at Arc2000. I have made 63 drawings there. For sand, Brean Cove is very much my favorite. I have made 187 sand drawings there. My favorite design is the Cubase Koch snowflake. I have done this three times in Arc2000, once in Japan and once in Switzerland.
Do you have a dream location that you’d like to work in next?
My number one realistic possibility would be the two lakes beside the Rifugio Lavaredo, in the Dolomites.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
The shading. I float along on cloud nine listening to my personal stereo, which this whole thing would not have gotten off the ground without because actually it’s really boring and gets more so all the time having made 403 snow drawings and 201 sand (and counting, with the hope of getting to a total of 1,000 by age 80, presently 65).