Artist Simon Beck Travels the Globe to Create Massive Artworks in the Snow
While the beauty of a snowflake may seem simple, each tiny ice crystal has a complex hexagonal structure that’s barely visible to the naked eye. Inspired by their natural wonder, artist Simon Beck has translated the intricate geometries of snowflakes into massive, ephemeral artworks, which he carves into snow-blanketed landscapes.
“I always liked geometric designs,” the 60-year-old snow artist and outdoor enthusiast explained. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been drawing geometric designs.” But it wasn’t until around 14 years ago that Beck began creating his expansive snow compositions, by snowshoeing through large expanses of untouched snow.
Born in London in 1958, Beck studied engineering at Oxford, though he insists that “nothing I did at university is relevant to what I’ve ever done.” He went on to pursue a career as a professional cartographer, inspired by his flair for the sport of orienteering—a competitive outdoor race that involves mapping and mountaineering. “I just liked running through forests,” Beck explained, “and I like mountaineering, so [orienteering] was a natural activity for me.”
In 2009, he quit orienteering to focus on his novel art practice. Having spent winters at the ski resort Les Arcs, Beck was used to snowshoeing through the French Alps for exercise, but he’d realized that the activity could also be an outlet for creative expression. The mountains became hulking canvases for Beck; he would traipse through large patches of untouched snow, walking in carefully calculated paths. He began creating his snow artworks for resorts in exchange for free gear or ski passes. Then, after images of his work appeared online, Beck was receiving requests for image rights and commissions, which snowballed into a new career as an artist.
Beck typically creates his drawings after patterns found in nature and mathematics, but he also gleans inspiration from crop circles and famous artists, like book). And he’s traveled far beyond the Alps to create them.
Beck has carved giant fractals into the Minnesota Twins’s snow-covered baseball field; a wolf at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada; and a “twisted six-pointed flower” at Utah’s Powder Mountain. The tourism bureau of Japan’s Aomori Prefecture even invited him to devise a monumental piece for a rice field. In total, his snow creations—done both for pleasure and through commissions—now number around 300.
Additionally, Beck has collaborated with New Zealand company Icebreaker, as well as the beer brand Corona for a piece in the Argentinian Andes. He was also the subject of a short film in Norway, which was selected for National Geographic’s short film showcase. Further, Beck has made some 100 pieces in sand, which are replicas of his snow-bound shapes.
His methodical process often begins with a drawing. “Usually, I sort it out on paper a bit beforehand,” Beck said, “because then, you make the best use of the space you’ve got.” He then ventures into the snow for roughly two hours of precise measuring with a prismatic compass and pace-counting (occasionally, he employs a rope and anchor to measure circles’ circumferences). Next, he takes around four hours to carefully plot points and chart lines, before focusing on adding shading with snowshoe tracks. Finally, he affixes a border, often comprised of “frilly” fractals, for another six hours. After approximately 12 hours of work (in ideal circumstances, though many pieces take much longer), he calls it a day, then returns the following day for touch ups and to take photographs.
Even with copious planning, nature often has a way of changing the game plan. The texture and density of the snow, the sun’s location, and cloudy skies can have outsized impacts. “You just gotta make the best of what conditions there are,” Beck offered. Weather or arithmetical errors can cause a radical redesign, yet Beck lauds the element of the unexpected as both beneficial and challenging to all outdoor activities. Often, you “get a drawing that doesn’t look like what you originally planned, but it still looks good,” he remarked.
While many of Beck’s drawings remain intact for an entire season or two, his endgame lies in documentation. “It’s completely ephemeral, but the whole key of it is to get the photographs,” he said. “Most people will only ever see most of the world’s artwork as photographs. 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.” Images also capture the majestic settings where Beck works. “The drawing wouldn’t be nearly so good if it wasn’t surrounded by mountains,” he said.
His preferred place to work, he said, is France’s Arc 2000. Home to his apartment and soaring peaks, he said the area is almost always covered in powdery snow. In the future, Beck plans to explore the realms of LED light and projection, as well as new locations (one of his dreams is to make a piece in New York’s Central Park). His passion, though, lies in the experience of the work. “The texture of the snow and look of it when the light is shining on it,” he said, are among his favorite aspects. Whether composing drawings, hiking, or skiing, for Beck, it always comes back to a simple pleasure: “just walking and enjoying being out in the snow.”