Creating joyful urban snowmen: making the most of found materials

Snowman sitting on bench in Glen Ellyn

A quick and easy snowman

A couple of large chunks of snow were sitting along the sidewalk by Einstein Bros, presumably from the snow plows. These chunks looked like they would make for a nice snowman. I picked them up and placed them on a nearby bench. Then I sought out the head in another pile of snow.

Lessons learned

  • It doesn’t have to be that much work to build a snowman
  • You can use existing snow chunks to build a snowman
  • Snowmen look fun sitting on a bench
  • Others will enjoy it too

Building a snowman in a metropolitan area can be a fun and unique experience

Despite the perception that building a snowman requires a lot of work, it can actually be quite easy to build one in a city setting. Instead of having to roll up three large snowballs, you can simply use existing snow chunks that have been left behind by snow plows on the street. This not only saves time, but also makes the process more accessible for people who may not have the physical ability to roll large snowballs.

A couple large chunks of snow were sitting along the sidewalk by Einstein Bros, presumably from the snow plows. These chunks looked like they would make for a nice snow man. I picked them up and placed them on a nearby bench. Then I sought out the head in another pile of snow. (My next-door neighbor's office is in the background of this photo.)

One clever way to make your snowman stand out in a city setting is to build it on a bench. This gives the illusion that the snowman is larger than it actually is and also adds an element of surprise and humor to the scene. Seeing a snowman sitting on a bench, as if it were resting and enjoying the metropolitan scenery, can bring a smile to the faces of passersby.

Snowman sitting on bench in Glen Ellyn

When building your snowman on a bench, it’s also important to consider the background of the photograph. A metropolitan background, such as a busy street or a skyscraper, can add an interesting contrast to the traditional image of a snowman in a rural setting. This can make for a unique and visually striking photograph that captures the essence of the city.

Another fun aspect of building a snowman in a downtown area is that others will enjoy it too. Seeing a snowman in an unexpected place can brighten up someone’s day and bring a sense of joy and wonder to a city that can often feel gray and gloomy in the winter. By building a snowman, you are bringing a touch of whimsy and delight to your community.

When it comes to finding materials for your snowman, the city offers a variety of options. You can use branches from nearby sidewalk trees for the arms, or look for garbage in the curb for materials to use for the face, such as cigarette butts or broken glass. This not only adds a unique touch to your snowman, but also turns found materials into something joyful.

Two days later…

More snowmen
Five degrees outside means great weather for building urban snowmen. I hesitate to say “urban” because I’m in suburbia. I guess these are suburban snowmen.

Yesterday, I headed straight home after walking Julia to school. I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the cold. I walked home with my hand covering my face. Today I was ready. Snowpants, scarf, double-gloves, layers of shirt-sweater-hoodie. I love the cold weather. The new benches in downtown Glen Ellyn were asking for more snowmen. I made four new snowmen.

I’m digging how these snowmen have their own personalities. Some of the snow chunks are a bit more… um, wide. Not exactly the round types. Sometimes I try to flatten out an edge of the chunk, so it can sit nicely. But I’m not standing there sanding off edges. I don’t mind standing in the cold, but these frigid temps make the ice chunks very fragile. Try manipulating the chunk, and it explodes into snow dust. Thus, you just work with the shape of the chunk. This allows for more unique personalities to come through. Maybe these snowmen can have their own names.

After developing the pics at home, the color just wasn’t working. The backgrounds in many of the photos were distracting. The hero in these photos is the snowmen. Not the bank in the background! Thus I turned the photos to grayscale.

I have to give props to the photo editing tools in Adobe Lightroom. You can automatically select the subject in the photo. With people, this feature works GREAT. Would it work with snowmen as the subject? Yeah, it does, but parts of the bench also get selected. But wow, Lightroom makes it easy to get a good start selected.

At first, I thought the taller snowmen look better in these photos. But when the snowman is short, you can keep most of the background to be just the bench. Thus the focus is on the snowman. However, I do like it when you can see the context of the bench in the area. That’s part of the fun of these snowmen. It’s in a downtown area.

Next time I’m going to carry some carrots in my pocket for the nose. Maybe pennies for eyes. I’ll also bring a pencil sharpener. The end of the sticks could be sharpened a bit to help pierce them into the frozen snow.

The following day

Brought carrots with me

The carrot gives the snowman not just a nose, but it gives him a sense of direction. You can see where the snowman is looking.

A coffee cup sat on one of the benches. Sure! I’ll put the coffee cup next to the snowman. Then I realized his branches should be holding the cup, and his head could be looking down at the cup. How do you know his head is looking down? The carrot!

Tiny snowman drinking coffee from an Einstein Bros Bagel cup on a bench in Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Tiny snowman looks up into the sky, with Glen Ellyn's Blackberry Market in the background. The building is in the Tutor style architecture.
A tiny snowman made of rectangle blocks of ice found by the Metra train station in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. One of the blocks I had to break off from the train tracks.

Although the carrots aren’t as visible in the grayscale photos. I tell you what—the grayscale photos make it a TON easier to play down the background. Sure, I like the background for context, but some of the backgrounds in these snowmen photos were just too loud. The focus should be on the snowman, not the background. I’ll keep doing these photos in grayscale.

The question is now, how long do I continue this series? I’ve built eight snowmen so far. They last only a day. Since these guys are so small, they tend to get knocked over easily. I’m not even sure they last for an hour. Part of me likes the idea of Glen Ellyn being taken over by tiny snowmen. But part of me also likes that only a few appear per day.

With most of my public art projects, I tend to do a few placements of a particular idea, and then I move on to something else. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to do 100 of something. With this tiny snowmen project, I know that I won’t get to 100 any time soon. For one, my time in the morning is very limited, because I need to get back home to do work. 3-4 snowmen in the morning are certainly the limit. And then, at some point, all this snow is going to melt. For now, I’m enjoying doing a couple a day. We’ll see where it goes.

All the tools to build a snowman

Our neighborhood library has a brand new digital sign. It faces a busy-ish street by the railroad crossing. I’m guessing some people drive by and don’t know what this big building is. This sign will help with that. When we first were looking at Glen Ellyn as a possible place to buy a house, we drove around the neighborhood. I was one of those people, I asked Sarah what that big building is.

Now that there is this new sign at the corner, it was totally asking for a snowman to be built on top. (and our library is just a couple blocks from downtown, so it’s still kinda like a downtown snowman)

Tiny snowman sitting on top of Glen Ellyn Public Library's new digital sign

Instead of making 3-4 quick snowmen, today I focused on making one snowman with more details. Like a face.

I was intending to use part of a pine cone for the face, but I forgot the pine cones at home. Could I have retrieved a pine cone from a nearby tree? Glad you asked, because I know all the evergreen trees in the area that drop pine cones. Seriously. I do. For our Christmas card this year, I walked around the neighborhood trying to find pine cone trees that drop a nice wide pine cone—not the skinny papery kind, but the kind that has good thick hard scales. There are only two trees that produce such a pine cone with a one-mile diameter. Neither is by the library.

As I walked up to the sign, a plethora of snow chunks were alongside the sidewalk. It was like snow chunk heaven!

Little pieces of a tree branch worked for the face. Whenever I break off the tree branches, I make sure that it’s like I’m a tree trimmer. I select the branches that would normally be cut by someone trimming the tree. Branches that will grow into the sidewalk. Or branches that are rubbing up against each other. Last year an arborist spent an hour with me walking around my yard telling me how to trim branches on trees.

I brought a pocketful of tools to use today.

  • Water spraying bottle (for fusing)
  • Pencil (to make holes)
  • Wire clippers (to cut the pine cone into pieces)
  • Carrots (nose)
  • Sock (for hat)

I thought if the chunks are sprayed with water and assembled together, that the water would freeze and fuse the chunks. Once the chunks were stacked, I spritzed them with water.

To insert the branches into the ice, I first prepared the hole with a pencil. Same with the carrot. The sharp pencil really made it much easier to insert the round end of the carrot into the ice.

Once all three chucks were stacked on the sign, I spritzed it with water. Looking good!

I even brought a sock with me for the hat. While emptying the garbage this morning, I noticed that Sarah threw away an old sock. Last night I was looking up how to make hats for tiny snowmen. Many people recommended cutting a sock in half, and using the toe part as a hat. This snowman was too big to fit a sock hat over, so I’ll keep the sock for another smaller one.

As I was taking photos, the snowman fell down! Here I brought all these tools to build a better snowman, and this guy fell apart.

During his plight downward, I managed to snap a pic. Talk about being animated! This guy was jumping off the sign!

When he crashed to the ground, his face landed face up, which gave him an amusing Humpty Dumpty sort of feeling. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men WERE ABLE to put Humpty together again. I was able to reuse the head. But the body split into two. With the wide selection of ice chunks laying around, I just used another one.

These ice chunks are like the library. The library is full of amazing resources and books, ready to be used to build knowledge. Outside the library is full of amazing ice chunks, ready to be used to build snowmen.

This time, I made sure to flatten out the top and bottom of the ice chunks by scraping them along the sidewalk. Kinda like rubbing cheese along a cheese grater.

With the tops and bottoms nice and flat, I restacked the snowman and took some more pics. Hopefully, this guy will be able to stand longer than just 30 seconds. This is rather humourous, because yesterday I was just wondering how long these snowmen last. Not very long, apparently! But with these photos, they are able to last much longer and be enjoyed.

Found objects

One of the things about this series of snowmen that I really enjoy—these aren’t finely crafted snowmen. I’m not rolling snowballs. I’m not making perfect round shapes. These are found objects. Objects created by plows moving snow off the streets and sidewalks. Castoff snow created into something new with their own personality.

Position of arms

Why are snowmen always built with their arms in the air? People don’t stand around with their arms raised up.

Some of my next snowmen will have their arms lowered down like normal people.

I cannot resist making snowmen

With the wind chill at -16 today, I had no intention of making snowmen. Walk Julia to school, and then come back home. No carrots or sock hats. With the temperatures this cold, it probably doesn’t make sense to use my phone to take photos.

Our walk to school was quite pleasant. We both bundled up nice and warm, so walking in this cold was no problem at all. In fact, Julia even found a little evergreen twig frozen to our driveway. She pried it off and carried the twig to school, where we left it at the same tree by the school entrance.

On the way home, I wanted to see what our nature preserve looks like in this frigid cold. The sidewalk right by the forest had a bunch of snow chunks. I just couldn’t pass them by. I stacked three chucks together. Of course, I had to take a quick photo.

Tiny snowman sitting just outside Glen Ellyn's Native Plant And Tree Restoration Project

The loop around the forest was quiet. Quite a few animal droppings. Not sure what that was about. Do animals like to poop more in the cold? This was my first time walking all the way around the circle trail. Since the trail is not plowed or shoveled, there were no ice chunks. With the temps this cold in the past week, the snow was just fluffy snow. No chance of making a snowman.

Or maybe I COULD make a snowman, “Hey, I could pick up a few more ice chunks from outside the trail by the sidewalk and carry them over.” I wasn’t too discerning with the ice chunks. Actually, they were more like snow chunks. Not frozen, just light airy blocks of snow that disintegrated pretty quickly when trying to pick them up.

Now where to put it on the trail? The birdhouses along the trail are pretty neat, which would serve as a nice anchor. Once I set a snowman down by a birdhouse, I realized that this doesn’t make for the greatest photo. The birdhouse is six feet up high. The composition can’t be as tight.

Tiny snowman by birdhouse in Native Plant And Tree Restoration Project of Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Ah well. It was a nice walk. I absolutely love walking in this very cold weather. I’ve always wanted to live in the South Pole.

Almost all the snow is melted

No ice chunks along the side of the road. The snow that remains is wet enough to roll into snowballs. Even though I like this snowman project to be found ice chunks, I couldn’t resist making use of the remaining snow.

Some of this remaining snow was by the Prairie Path. I rolled up three snowballs and placed them on a path bench. The clock tower on Glen Ellyn’s Townhall made for a nice background element.

Tiny handmade snowman on a Prairie Path bench in downtown Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Snowman survival

A tiny snowman survives to the next day! Normally when I build these tiny snowmen, there is no trace of the snowman the next day. It either falls apart, or someone knocks it over. Then it melts or gets stomped upon. The life of a snowman in a public area. Today I was surprised to see the tiny snowman continuing to stand by the Prairie Path. Albeit, he was missing his head. But his body remained intact. And his arms were still attached.

Two tiny snowmen sit on a Prairie Path bench by Main Street in Glen Ellyn. The snowmen have their arms around each other like friends.

I was carrying with me several slabs of ice chunks I found in the Metra parking lot. (Yesterday, I didn’t see any ice chunks on Main Street, but the parking lot provided some unique chunks). When I picked up these chunks, I wondered where to build the snowman. I wanted a new spot, especially since this might be the last snowman for a while. Then I spotted my snowman still standing on the trail bench. Wow! Ok, I will put this one in the same spot—right next to the other one—so he has a friend.

At first, I built him on the other end of the bench for balance. But that looked silly. Why the gap between the two snowmen? His friend was frozen to the bench, so the new snowman slid over by his buddy, with his arm reaching around his friend’s back. Oh, in addition to being frozen in place on the bench, he was also missing his head. He got a new head, courtesy of the ice chunks from his new friend. That’s what friends do.

I didn’t bother putting faces onto these snowmen, because the ice chunks were too frozen, making them a bit challenging to work with. Alternatively, I put chestnut hats on both snowmen.

Two tiny snowmen greet walking commuters along the Prairie Path. In the background is Glen Ellyn's townhall.

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