Gargoyle Carving 101


Gargoyles….love  them. Spent a good hunk of time last winter photographing them in France and the UK. And I love snow…so Gargoyle 101 was obviously made for me. This is the week before Yellowknife’s Snow King Festival begins, so it’s pretty busy down on the ice. Snow King volunteer, Lady Icicle offered the 3 hour course with the carrot of actually having your own gargoyle gracing the turrets of the castle. What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Armed with a hack saw, paint scraper, 2 knives and 2 chisels, I trotted off to the castle. The day was sunny, bright and about minus 20 with only a little breeze. To be on the safe side (having learned from bitter experience), I wore my minus 40 outfit.

Five eager virgin snow carvers were armed and ready to work. After minimal instruction from Lady Icicle (looking at drawings, encouraging us to just go for it etc.) we leapt right in. As usual, I leapt way too fast. I attacked the flat face of my snow brick with glee. It was only about 30 minutes later that I noticed that everyone else was attacking from a corner, to make the gargoyle more 3 dimensional. One look at my gargoyle/cat and it was obvious that I was having trouble with this 3 dimensional thing. It was also obvious that my only carving experience has been with pumpkins. Well, what do you expect, I’m a photographer.

I decided to be mature about this, so instead of smashing my gargoyle (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Garfield), I soldiered on. Around me, some pretty amazing gargoyles were starting to emerge from their snow cocoons. The warm up shack (with cocoa and cookies) was in steady use, but for the most part, we were all quiet and focused. This snow carving is fun.

In the background, the sound of a dozen or so snow castle workers provided a soundtrack of hammering, sawing etc. Site visitors commented on our work and snapped photos. Small children seemed to like my offering. On a suggestion from a member of the Snow King’s crew, my gargoyle got a second snow block and morphed into a sphinx. In fact, I believe he will probably end up being a bench for small children in some obscure corner of the site. Oh well, my aspirations of having a magnificent gargoyle gracing the towers are dashed for now. But don’t despair. I’m not giving up. Anyone can make a snow block (pile up snow; leave overnight to settle; cut with saw). I’ll try again. But first I might head back to the castle to fix the front legs of Garfield/gargoyle/sphinx.

Lady Icicle discusses the merits of a snow block with a neophyte carver

Trying to decide where to start was our first problem.


Carving tools come in all shapes and sizes. My favourite was the paint scraper.


Where else can you use a machete with wild abandon?

No Sue ! Don't do it.

Shapes began to emerge from the snow blocks.

My Garfield gargoyle was destined to become a sphinx.

Our little group carved away, while in the background, the Snow King's castle was undergoing the finishing touches.

Finer detail work was done with the small chisels and knives.

This Cheshire cat gargoyle was particularly menacing.

Lady Icicle's evil flying monkey will strike terror into the hearts of even the most stalwart villains...and that is the point of gargoyles, I think.

Four hours after starting, our Vancouver Island visitor was chilly but pleased with the outcome of the afternoon.

And as for my effort...let's just say I have learned from my mistakes. My next gargoyle will be epic!


About franhurcombphotography

I'm a photographer and writer based in Yellowknife, NWT, 62.5 degrees north latitude. I've been taking photos across the north for over 35 years. Some of my blog content is old....most of it new. My style seems to change on a regular basis, which keeps life interesting. Enjoy.
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2 Responses to Gargoyle Carving 101

  1. Jane says:

    I like this Fran

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