Interview Shintaro Okamoto, The Ice Master

Article by Yvonne Lo
Photo credit Winston Hsu

From custom ice cubes for cocktails to life-like sculptures to ice bars and ice wares to ice fashion, Okamoto studio brings ice to a design and production level in ways never imagined. Okamoto studio’s ice is as clear and crystal as lake ice. The things they can do with ice have no limits.

Okamoto studio and their works have been featured in various press and media such as the Huffington Post, Time Out New York, Wall Street Journal, and featured on television shows such as “Iron Chef America”, “Martha Stewart”, “Will Work for Food”. You can find videos and articles of these on their website at Now it’s time to add AsianInNY to the list of press and media. Covered in frost, Shintaro Okamoto, founder of Okamoto Studio, came out of the freezer and into the warm, toasty office to speak with us.


AsianInNY: Tell me about yourself. How did you get involved with ice sculpting?

Okamoto: I started this company 2003 with my father, Takeo, he’s the master sculptor. He sculpted ice for almost 50 years and I grew up playing around with ice. I grew up in Alaska and not a lot of Alaskans played with ice, but I did. He had a culinary background so he touched upon ice when he was going through sushi school in Tokyo. Then my family immigrated to Anchorage, Alaska. Couple years down, one boring winter, we went to the lake and found a block of ice. We pulled it out, carved it into a swan and gave it to a friend. From then, it became a self-taught community of ice sculptor during winter time. We started doing exhibitions and competitions.

Being an ice sculptor was a total accident. Painting was always my medium. I think in 2D and color. It’s just the cross-road of life that created this monster that is taking over my life.


AsianInNY: How did Okamoto Studio begin?

Okamoto: I went to college in the East coast; I went to Brown University for undergrad. I ended up in New York, to finish up my painting degree for my masters at Hunter College. My father became free agent; he sold his business and he felt like he was done with Alaska. We always worked well together, and began to talk about what we could do and started looking into opening an ice sculpture studio here. It was challenging, because a lot of people were very discouraging of us to start one, because the city is a tricky place to do something like this. There was a lot of underpricing with other competitors; it was just a difficult place to be. But if anything, it gave us more encouragement to try something because we felt confident that we could bring something different and high quality. I was fortunate to have had such a great education and wanted to bring to the art world our ability and present what we could do – a fresh, modern, contemporary way of what ice is possible.

We really started with nothing and gave away ice sculptors for exposure. We were able to get connected to fantastic clients who were very supportive from get-go. New York City is such a club, its word-of-mouth. If you meet the right people, you can get referrals from all around. Still today, we never know what comes through the door, new clients every day, and something different every day.

AsianInNY: The ice that you use to create the sculpture, do you make them yourself?

Okamoto: We make some and we buy some. We have series of ice machines that make the raw block that allows us to control quality of the ice and the clarity of the ice. We get to freeze a lot of products inside the ice. Our machines create the clear ice by having the water circulate with the pump as it freezes from bottom to the top. What it does is eliminate all the still air bubbles that create the frostiness of the ice, so any impurities stays on the surface by freezing it from bottom to up. We buy some ice based on the sheer volume of work that we have to do to complete a project.

AsianInNY: As the seasons change, how does it affect your business?

Okamoto: We do fashion shows, film premieres, product launches, bar mitzvah, and weddings. It’s a year-round adventure for us. During the fall seasons, we do more corporate events. During the holiday seasons, there are holiday parties and Christmas parties that go into the New Year’s. The spring tends to be more advanced, for galas and award shows. When summer comes in, it’s mostly weddings. We get dozens of orders daily, it keeps us busy.

AsianInNY: You recently participated in the New York Festival of Light, please tell us how you prepared for the festival and what ice art installation did you do for the event?

Okamoto: I got myself into that festival because of Ira Levy from Levy Lighting, who is the founder and organizer of the festival. We’ve been working together for a very long time, at different events. It was an inaugural event for them and wanted to bring in an artist to think of what’s possible working with lights. He gave us a product to work with. We designed something that reacted something from that. It was a strand of LED lights, very festive, so that got us thinking organic shapes. So, we did clusters of organic forms that made little ice forms with glowing LED lights inside.

AsianInNY: What’s the most challenging sculpture you’ve made?

Okamoto: I think everything is challenging. We try to bring in something different and fresh every time. If we’re doing something repetitive, our challenge would be to do it more efficiently, or bring in something different or make it more specific to that event. It’s a tricky question, nothing is easy. That’s how I feel working with ice. It’s a material that melts away, that’s clear, slippery, wet and heavy. You can’t do it alone, it takes a great amount of team, and I’m really lucky to be around amazing people here every day.

Ben, Shintaro, Thomas

AsianInNY: As an Asian American, a Japanese American, have you encountered any difficulties growing up? How did you overcome it?

Okamoto: Of course, there was a lot of typical racial discrimination in the 80’s. I was very fortunate though because I could draw. I remember coming to America when I was in third grade, it was the first day and it was lunch time, I stood in the corner of the room at the chalkboard and drew E.T., I remembered I was so obsessed with E.T, because it just came out. The teachers and kids were really receptive, when you can do something; it makes it easy to make friends. For me, it was very little; I always had people asking me to draw a unicorn or angels. I did that and it was a way to draw myself to a lot of people who took care of me.

I’ve been living in New York for about 15 years now. Coming to New York as an adult, I think New York is an amazing city. It’s all about doing good work, and being sincere, and connecting to the right people.

AsianInNY: Do you have any words of wisdom, inspiration, or advice for upcoming artists?

Okamoto: Work hard, be sincere, and try not to work for free, maybe some for exposure. I often think artists get taken advantage of in society. What we create, the gift of creating something from nothing is often taken as free. I think the challenge as an artist is this is your skill, this is your livelihood.

AsianInNY: What is your current project and what’s your next project?

Okamoto: Right now we’re entering our holiday seasons. So there’s a bunch of holiday programs coming up whether it’s a live carving performance at Central Park for tree lighting, and we’re doing the same thing for Lincoln Center. We like to do things as community-based as possible. And we do a lot of private events, corporate events. We have a whole range of stuff. We’re doing a performance of a live installation at the Financial Center in February. We’ll be doing a lot of stuff for Super Bowl. Busy, busy.

It was a pleasure to meet Shintaro Okamoto and his team. Next time you have an event or an occasion to celebrate, look up Okamoto Studio. They will consult, design, and produce an ice sculpture for you will render your event unforgettable, and make it exceptional. Okamoto Studio fulfills each client’s needs and desires, translating these into the language of form, light, and evanescence. Their team of artists guides you through the possibilities to elevate your special moment, with careful attention to detail, timing, and budget.

To view their portfolio, services, and features, visit

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