Sandcastle Building

Insider Info

"I have always loved the beach, and sandcastling gives me a legitimate reason for spending lots of time there," says sand sculptor Lucinda Wierenga (better known as "sandy feet").

Sandcastle building, or sand sculpting, is a kind of performance art that can be done anywhere there is enough sand and water. Using sand, water, a few hand tools, and sometimes forms, people build all kinds of structures, large and small.

Sand sculpting is usually done outdoors at public beaches. Most sandcastle builders say the environment is friendly and relaxed, and that many people often stop by a work in progress to chat.

"I enjoy being a performing artist and speaking about sand sculpting. You get to work outdoors -- and tan -- next to the sound of crashing waves. There's no life like it," says master sculptor Paul Dawkins.

There's no real way of knowing exactly how many people are involved in sandcastle building. No one keeps official records. There are at least a dozen professional groups in the U.S. and Canada that provide sand, snow, ice and other sculpting services.

"I would estimate the number of pro sculptors in the Northern Hemisphere at somewhere in the 150 to 250 range," says Wierenga. As for amateurs, sand sculpture competitions sometimes attract hundreds of people eager to participate -- and many hundreds more are attracted to watch.

As time goes on, the trend in sandcastle building is always bigger, better, more detailed, intricate and original. These days, special tools and forms are available for people who need more than just a bucket and a shovel.

"Over the past couple of decades, some sand sculptors have started compacting their sand with big forms and tampers. Also, my partner and I have recently developed and started manufacturing a line of tools designed specifically for sand sculpting, and have sold several hundred sets from our Web site," says Wierenga.

Sandcastle building is a very inexpensive recreation that doesn't require too much equipment. The two main ingredients, sand and water, are readily available free at any beach. After that, all you need is a few basics -- shovels, pails and maybe a trowel. This is enough to get started on small projects.

However, if you want to go big, you'll need to get some additional equipment.

"For larger pieces, you would need forms in which to pack the sand to the desired height and dimension. A pounding device for packing sand into the forms. Many buckets for water. Shovels and carving trowels. A vehicle to haul the stuff around and a storage space," says sand sculptor David M. Dureault.

Small sandcastles or other structures don't require much physical work. But if you plan on attempting a large project, or entering a contest, you better be in shape! Sand and water is heavy, and you'll be hauling tons of both in five-gallon pails. This can be murder on your back.

Large wooden forms can also be heavy. Then of course you have to pack the sand -- and all this under the hot sun!

Some artistic ability couldn't hurt either.

Those who are physically challenged can participate, depending on the challenge.

"Anyone can participate. I've seen blind carvers at international competitions do incredible sculptures. Sand is just another creative medium," says Dawkins.

Sandcastle building is generally very safe. Some sculptors like to wear runners to avoid possible sharp objects in the sand. Twisted ankles are not uncommon. Neither are sore backs and sand in the eyes. By far, the biggest danger in this recreation is the sun. Make sure you have a hat, a T-shirt, and plenty of sunscreen!

It is possible to be gainfully employed in this recreation. Those who do are usually professional sculptors. Some sculpt not only with sand but also with snow and ice as well.

These people are sometimes hired by companies to produce sculptures for advertising. Some entrepreneurs, like Wierenga, have turned their love of sand sculpting into a good business by selling how-to books and sculpting tools.

Getting Started

It really doesn't take much to get started in this recreation. All you need is a beach, a shovel and a pail. Of course, a nice day will be a great motivator!

You may want to visit some of the sand sculpting sites on the Internet and get ideas by looking at the photos. The best way to get going is just to get out there, have fun and experiment.

As far as instruction is concerned, you can learn a lot just by watching others. There are likely a few books on the subject at your local library.

"Your own creative ideas will get you started for fun sandcastle building. But if you want to enter contests, the best way is to find someone to give you a few lessons or go watch the pros at a contest," say Jay and Nita Stephen. They are both sand sculptors.

"We personally watched the pros and gathered ideas from them and then incorporated a few of our own. There are a limited number of books concerning the subject, but it is always easier to understand when you see it done in person."

"All it takes is a desire to do it. Be advised that it is a lot of work, but there's nothing else like it. Just go to the beach, find some wet sand and make a pile," advises sand sculptor Larry Nelson.

"Practice the art of doing it. For more experience, attend sand sculpture contests or volunteer with a professional," says Dawkins.


Sand Sculptors International
Touted as the leading sand sculpture company

An award-winning sand sculpting company

Sandcastle Tips for Beginners
Everything you need to know to get started

The Sandemons
This site features a group of sand and snow sculptors

Sandcastle Central
Lucinda Wierenga's amazing site

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