An Amazing Snow Drawing Begins with a Single Step
How snow artist Simon Beck is inspiring the world
“I get inspiration from simple geometrical shapes, such as polygons and fractals—mostly Mandelbrot fractals and von Koch snowflakes.”
Following a natural inclination, British outdoor enthusiast Simon Beck turned his love for mountains into an internationally-acclaimed art form of snow drawing. Beck travels to snow-covered mountains and lakes where he creates exquisite geometric patterns the size of two soccer fields just by walking in snowshoes.
Beck’s massive snow drawings are passion projects, but they’re also commissioned as logos and designs by brands such as Canada Goose, Audi, Maserati, and Land Rover. The latter asked him to draw a massive Land Rover Defender in the snow.
Were you the first person to do snow drawings?
I can’t find evidence of other people doing them in the snow before me, at least not on a large scale. But people have been drawing crop circles for decades.
How did you get started with this unique art form?
One beautiful sunny afternoon in December 2004, I wanted to get some exercise but I didn’t feel energetic enough to hike up a local mountain, which I’d normally do.
There’s a frozen lake beside my building, which is about the size of half a soccer field. It was covered completely with snow—there was neither a footprint nor animal track on it. The layer of snow on top of the ice was six inches deep, which was just perfect for making a pattern.
I thought, “Let’s go and draw a pattern on this lovely, smooth, flat area of snow.” I made the simplest pattern, a five-point star. To do that, I walked to the middle in a straight line, then I plotted five more points using compass bearings, and finally, I joined the points to create the star.
How did you go from drawing a simple star to such large projects?
At first, it was just fun. Soon after that first drawing, I made a 10-pointed star on that same lake.
After that, I started to do five or six drawings each winter. In a few years, I bought a pair of snowshoes that spread my weight evenly so I could walk on top of the snow without making deep footprints. In 2009, I was having some trouble with my feet, and I decided to make snow drawing my main form of exercise during winter.
People admired the drawings, and I thought, “Okay, well, let’s take this seriously and do as many as I can. I can then build up a collection of photographs with the goal to produce a book.”
Once you made up your mind, how did your path unfold?
In 2010, I had an operation and decided to use the four-week recovery period to set up my Facebook page and upload my photos. Once I put them on Facebook, they spread due to the power of the Internet.
Quite soon, requests came in. The first ones were to draw people’s logos in exchange for some gear. For example, Icebreaker, the outdoor Merino wool brand, approached me for their marketing and promotions.
What’s your process for making a snow drawing?
If it’s a design of my choice, then in bygone days I would draw it out carefully, do some measuring, and then draw it on the ground. But nowadays, most of my drawings are done from memory. I’ve done over 377 snow drawings, so I’ve got quite a repertoire.
Once I step onto the snow, there are four stages. Each stage takes roughly a quarter of my time, often about two hours each.
In the first stage, I outline the main grid of the drawing. This accurate measuring requires care and focus. I measure and mark out the frame of the main lines with careful measuring and pace counting. It’s tedious but essential to the drawing’s success.
The next stage is to draw all the remaining lines and shapes, like a join-the-dots exercise. Then I draw the fractals around the edge in the third step. It’s also quite tedious, but I’ve got to put in the effort to get a good result.
The final stage is shading. I go backwards and forwards until the desired parts have been shaded. For example, in some drawings, you can see different shades of grey. Depending on the orientation of the footprint, you get a different reflection of the sunlight.
Where do you get your inspiration for the patterns?
I get inspiration from simple geometrical shapes, such as polygons and fractals—mostly Mandelbrot fractals and von Koch snowflakes. The Sierpinski triangle, the von Koch snowflake, and simple stars make up most of my drawings. I often combine them.
What was your most complex design?
In 2016, I did a pear-shaped inverted Mandelbrot. It took 22 hours—a 12-hour and 10-hour session with a day’s rest in between.
I didn’t have the image firmly in my mind at the start and didn’t know exactly how I was going to draw it. I changed my mind halfway through and made the circles touch each other inside the overall pear shape.
The main challenge was drawing those circles without unwanted snow tracks going through the design. For example, the easiest way to draw a circle is to put down an anchor in the middle of the circle. I then tie a rope to the centre anchor and walk all the way around, which gives me a perfect circle. But I’d have those unwanted tracks going from the centre to the edge.
The circles inside the pear shape were done by judgment, which was quite challenging. They’re not spot-on, but the initial one, the biggest one, is quite accurate, and it’s a well-judged circle.
Then I drew the second largest one and worked downwards in order of size.
How do you make the shapes so accurate just by using judgment?
People look at the drawings and say, “Wow, that’s awesome. That’s fantastic. How do you do it so well?” I’m thinking, “It’s not perfect. It’s wrong here. It’s wrong there.”
It’s nice to get it perfectly right, but in the real world it becomes a trade-off between getting it perfect and taking too long to do it. In the snow, you’ve got to keep moving or else you’ll get cold or tired if you’re out for too long. Fortunately we tend to judge a drawing on the overall effect and only when we look harder do we spot inaccuracies.
What is your greatest reward from performing this art form?
I love walking through the snow when it’s all sparkling. I love being out in the snow, surrounded by mountains. The value of exercise is part of its purpose.
After many years, I have a portfolio of photographs that I hold the rights to. I can sell them to magazines or to anyone who asks for them. For example, a hotel in Utah is printing a collection of my pieces to hang on the walls in guest rooms and public areas.
What places do you see as future venues to do snow drawings?
A pipe dream would be to draw in places like Buckingham Palace Garden, the White House lawn, or in front of the Washington Memorial.
The Vallée Blanche in Chamonix would be a great place to make a drawing, surrounded by those fantastic mountains. Some of the lakes in Banff National Park, near Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, would also be nice.