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The Guide: How to build an awesome snowman

Tips for creating a snowy masterpiece

Photo courtesy of Fran Volz

Learn how to take your snowman up a notch with tips from snow sculptor Fran Volz. Volz's creations have included snow renditions of Marilyn Monroe, the Statue of Liberty and pandas.

December 25, 2010 | 12:41 p.m. CST

Grab a corncob pipe and a button nose. And a magic old silk hat if you can find one. It’s time to build a snowman. From the classic three-tier snowman to Smurf sculptures, here’s how to make your snowman the envy of your block.

Some relish their masterpieces in the privacy of their home, but others make a living off them. Snow sculptor Fran Volz is the founder of Snow Visions, Inc., which has put on a snow sculpting competition—with $1,500 for the first place team—in Chicago since 2009. The 2011 competition is Jan. 28-30 at Navy Pier. Considering his elaborate representations of Marilyn Monroe, the Statue of Liberty and colorful pandas, it’s comforting to know Volz started in his front yard.

Once you complete your own snow interpretation of Truman the tiger, Lady Gaga or your grandpa, send us pictures of your creations at vox@missouri.edu. Or send to us on Twitter or Facebook.

Tips for building a snowman

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In 1987, Volz built a Smurf sculpture in the front yard of his residence near Chicago. Neighbors honked in approval as they drove past, so he decided to keep going. Every winter since, Volz sculpts four or five snowy creations in his front yard for people to see. Here are some of his practical tips on snow sculpting appropriate for the beginner:

• Wear leather gloves for agility and use garden tools to shape: Especially for those who pay attention to detail, leather gloves will be helpful for shaping and the finishing touches.

• Have something in mind before you start: some competitors will bring oil-based clay models beforehand, but having at least a mental image would be helpful for the front yard creation.

• Mix a little room temperature water with snow in a wheelbarrow before forming base: This mixture will turn even the most powdery snow into ideal snowmen packing snow. Volz recommends you toss just a little bit of water atop the snow, then mix it with your hands and arms, then repeat until you get dense snow. Don't pour it straight in or you'll get a puddly mess.

• Beware of top-heavy structures: In the snowwoman’s case, pear-shaped figures are more desired than apple or hourglass because snow is extremely heavy and will topple even the finest snowy representation of Betty Boop.

• Use hardware cloth squares, that steel mesh usually used for fencing in small animals, for softer snow and sand paper for icier snow: Smoothing out the edges of the snowman will give it a marble look. Either can be found at a local hardware store.

• For color, mix acrylic paint with water in a spray bottle: It’s best to paint in the shade because the colors will run when the sun hits it. For more detail, mix the paint and water in a glass and use a paintbrush. Volz says getting the color right is an experimental process; you have to test in an out-of-the way location and tweak until you get it just right.

• Volz uses a five-sided wooden box to make snow blocks for more elaborate creations. He lines the inside with car wax, so snow will slide out more easily, and drills holes in the bottom for the same reason. He fills each box with snow and packs it down with his foot or a shovel until it's nice and compact. The blocks he creates then become the foundation for elaborate sculptures.

Expert Village, a user-generated instructional video site, details another process in 15 videos on how to build and decorate the perfect snowman complete with a basketball jersey and bandana (including an entire 61-second explanation on how to add a mouth). In the videos, Expert Village contains these additional tips:

• After packing the base of your snowman, add a fresh snow around a stick in the base to hold the second snowball in place

• Spray the finished snowman with water to freeze the top layer of snow to keep it from melting too quickly.

• And for goodness' sake, lift every snowball with your legs and not your back.

If you’d rather build your snowman in Russia, check out the newspaper Arguments and Facts’ annual snowman competition. Contestants were asked to create representations of Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2008 as captured in this YouTube video. Entries included a crocodile and the president’s dog.

Or if you would rather escape Missouri humidity next summer to Australia’s winter, Falls Creek alpine resort in Victoria holds snowman-building competitions twice a week throughout the snow season.

Though the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts more rain than snow this winter, consider these tips before heading out the door on a snow-white morning eager to flex the creative muscles left limp from cabin fever.

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