Chris Dainty: Carving into Canada’s Capital Celebration at Winterlude 2018

Visitors come from around the world to watch as mesmerizing creations are formed from simple blocks of ice. Ottawa ice carver Chris Dainty took a break from the Crystal Garden International Ice Carving Competition to tell us more about his experience at this year’s 40th Winterlude festivities and his insight into the art of ice.


You are nearing the final hours of the Crystal Garden competition. Where did the inspiration for this year’s sculpture come from?

My carving partner Ryan Hill came up with the idea of creating Pegasus. Once we decided on this, I came up with a conceptual sketch and figured out how many blocks of ice we needed. In this competition, we only get 18 blocks of ice. I thought we’d save a few in case anything broke but it’s been good so far. One of my biggest challenges on this project was creating the wings for Pegasus. They are really high up and I didn’t want them to fall, but they seem to be holding.

Pegasus on display at Winterlude 2018

How does the fusion of creativity work when you have a partner for this event?

This is my first time working with Ryan, but it’s been really good. We each have our own skill sets. I work as an animator, so my background in drawing was an asset on the design side. Ryan is a wood carver, so details like the head are really his additions. We both work on everything, but we work off each other’s strengths. It’s a real team effort.


Ice sculpting is a unique hobby. When did you first set chisel to ice?

I’ve been doing this for six years now. When I first saw this competition, I knew I wanted to participate.  I met Suguru from the Canadian Ice Carvers Society and he ran a mentorship workshop. The first time I went, he handed me a chainsaw and said “cut some ice,” and I was hooked from there.

Chris Dainty

As an artist, what is it like working with ice as your medium, knowing that what you sculpt may only last a few weeks?

It’s really about creating in the moment. I love that it’s not going to last, you just have to do it and be confident in what you create. As long as the sculpture stays together for the competition, I’m okay with seeing it melt eventually.


You’re working on a special partnership with your animation company, Dainty Productions, and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Can you tell us more about it? 

The project is called Shannon Amen. It’s a 12-minute short film that includes a technique I call “Icemation.” We are animating large-scale ice sculptures through stop-motion and puppetry. There’s a lot of sculpting involved!


That sounds fascinating! What has that experience been like so far?

This project has been a dream. I’d always envisioned when I first got into ice carving how I could animate with ice because no one had ever done it before. I thought this is the craziest thing I could possibly animate. Let’s try this.

The story is about a close friend of mine. Her struggle with her identity and sexuality, expression through her art, and her eventual suicide. It’s a very personal project, but something I’m excited to be working on with the NFB.


This is your 6th year competing at Winterlude. What brings you back every year?

Well, it’s really intense. By day three my muscles are screaming, but it’s awesome to have an international competition like this in my hometown. Some of the competitors this year travelled over 35 hours from Russia. These are top-tier ice carvers, and to compete with them is a challenge I really enjoy.