Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Snow Art of Simon Beck

Simon Beck, 54 hails from the south of England but spends his winters in the French ski resort of Les Arcs creating beautiful gemetric desings in the snowfields around the resort.

An example of Simon Beck's Snow Art

An alumni of Oxford University, Simon works as an orienteering mapmaker (converting maps to a form suitable for orienteering) and, even as a young person, had an interest in geometric designs, commenting that “I used to draw a lot of geometric designs, used spirograph a lot, and made polyhedral.”

His internet home is on Facebook where you can find pictures of his work as well as an interesting set of interviews, a few points from which form this blog post.

Simon made his first snow design in 2004 and his designs typically take about 10 hours to create from start to finish - making it a challenge to complete a design and still have daylight to photograph it, indeed Simon comments that “ and are often based on classic mathematical constructions such as the Mandelbrot set, Koch curve or Sierpinski triangle, Simon suggests that a good beginners design are “Sierpinski triangle, flower of life, stars formed by surveying the corners of a polygon and joining them up”

A design based on the Kock curve

Of course, a common question to Simon is to ask how he plots out the design and actually makes it in the snow...

A snow art design

Simon initially draws the design on paper using a pencil, ruler and protractor - and then transfers then to the actual snow using a handheld orienteering compass, with distance being estimated using pace counting or measuring tape - with the lines being kept straight by walking towards an aim point in the distance. Simon uses snowshoes, which do a good job of marking out the lines and filling in areas.

Curves can be judged or made using a clothes line attached to a centre point. This latter method is more accurate, but means that Simon needs to physically walk to the centre of the circle, which may not be ideal for some designs.

How the snow art looks up close

As it takes so long to complete a design, they are often completed in the dark and Simon has to wait until the next day to take a photograph. Indeed, Simon estimates that “at least 25 percent have to be done again because of failure to get the photo”.

Another hazard is making an error, as Simon explains “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)”

Another beautiful Kock based design

The designs generally last until the next heavy snowfall (which can sometimes be the same night they are completed) - but may survive as a “ghost” below fresh snow, or even other designs, for several months.

A design based on the circle of life

Perhaps the most touching, and thought provoking, of Simons comments relates to what he hopes people will get from seeing the designs:

“I hope to spread the message the 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 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”

And finally, one for those who remember the 80's

All images used by kind permission of Simon Beck.

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