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Mapmaking to Earth art: a snow artist's journey to success

Simon Beck is a British snow artist and a former cartographer. Referred to as the world's first snow artist, he is primarily known for his landscape drawings created from snow and sand. 

Simon first started making his snow drawings in 2004 and has since created several hundred snow drawings around the world. Simon will chart out detailed designs with simple math, then executes them by walking in the snow to connect the points, where the patterns then start to emerge. 


What did you do after leaving Millfield in 1975? 

“I came to Millfield Senior School in 1971 after spending 2 years at Edgarley. I was one of the school’s pupils, getting a parents day prize for service (instructing orienteering to the juniors), and one of a small number whose names are on two of the honours boards. After leaving Millfield, I received scholarship to Oxford University for International Orienteering. 

“Having got into Oxford University in 1976, disaster struck when I discovered (rather too late) that the engineering course I’d chosen, was not suitable for me. After drifting in the doldrums for a while, I started to earn my living from surveying orienteering maps, had the option of mapmaking been available when I was 17, I would have done that – Although the older would have surely talked me into doing something else…  

“In addition to mapmaking, I also had an office job from 1990 to 1995, then in 2004 when the market was right, I sold the house I had bought in Bracknell and bought an apartment in the French ski resort of Les Arcs.” 

When did you start making snow/sand drawings? 
“Soon after the start of the ski season, I made my first snow drawing. It started as a bit of a joke, I wanted to get some exercise but nothing too strenuous, and I just decided to make a pattern on the very inviting frozen lake outside the building where I live - which had a 4-inch layer of snow on it. I had no idea how good the result would look when seen from the nearby chair lift the next day. Looking back, I should have taken snow drawing seriously from that day onwards, but to me it seemed such a natural thing to do, I imagined it had been done before (I was amazed to find, years later, there was nothing comparable on the internet). The locals and other skiers would often regard me as a fool who was wasting his time and more likely than not, would meet an early death either falling through the ice or being buried in an avalanche.  
“Things gradually came together, but it was after posting a load of photos on Facebook that my fame started to spread - this was when I was laid up for 4 weeks recovering from an operation in 2011. It was about then that I received my first commercial commission, to draw the TSL logo in return for some gear. (TSL make the snowshoes I use, ‘snowshoes’ are a plastic frame that straps to one's boots to spread one's weight when walking over deep snow.)” 


Where has your career taken you around the world, and what have been some of your most memorable experiences? 
“Not long after my approach from TSL, Icebreaker (Merino wool clothing company) approached me for work, and that was when the jet-setting started - 2 drawings at Grindlewald, including trips up the famously expensive Jungfraujoch railway, and a tour to New York, Chicago, and New Zealand. It was odd to be wearing gear labelled Icebreaker and ski pants labelled Avalanche, the biggest perceived threats when I am working, although the greatest threat is getting overtired.  
“I have also made drawings for Audi, Maserati, Land Rover and Skoda. The Skoda gig in China was memorable for being organised in a last-minute rush, I said it would be a miracle if it happened and if it did, I would give the money to the Taunton bell fund. The money donated funded the 9th bell, which is the biggest bell paid for by one individual. (Bells are numbered from 1 to 12, with 1 being the smallest.) 
“Corona Beer also hired me to draw their nice star shaped logo, and on 3 trips for Corona, I visited China, and the Andes, where we got good results, although we had to wait over a week for good weather. There were also visits to Japan to teach the techniques to the people who make the amazing rice paddy art and two visits to Russia back in happier times. It's great to see some of these places although always sad to have to rush away because the winter is all too short, and one soon needs to be somewhere else.” 


How long does it take to complete each piece?  
“The drawings are time consuming, especially the fractal edges; typically taking four hours to complete an area the size of a soccer field. The three main sites I use at home allow a circular drawing about 150m in diameter, roughly 3 soccer fields, although the usual reason for having to go home and complete it later is tiredness.” 


Why do you love doing what you do? 

“I am extremely fortunate to have come across the holy grail of art: something that looks good and hasn't been done before. My other careers didn’t unfold as planned, and I feel I messed things up when I was young through doing what the older people told me to do rather than following my instinct. My art developed from a stroke of luck; the fact I chose Les Arcs as the place to buy a ski apartment where there are several good drawing sites. The resort here enjoys what I do and have been tolerant towards spending time up in the mountains after hours.” 


What can make the job difficult? 

“I enjoy making the drawings when the conditions are really good, but of course this is not always the case. The biggest problem is that the whole thing is just a bit too dependent on conditions being right. At home one can wait until conditions are right then go all out for a good result, when having to fit in with others, one has to take one's chance.”