Category: Sand Sculpture

The story behind the logo of the World Championship of Sand Sculpting

The story behind the logo of the World Championship of Sand Sculpting

 To the average person looking at this logo for the first time, it may seem a bit unremarkable. The very nature of the design doesn’t necessarily bring sand sculpting to mind, but  show this logo to most professional sand sculptors  and you will get an immediate reaction. This simple design, that was officially reintroduced to the world of professional sand sculpting in the summer of 2010, symbolizes the very best of professional sand sculpting.  

The story of just how this logo came to be starts in the mid 80’s when a man by the name of Joe Maize had the design  etched onto t-shirts at one of the very first professional sand sculpture events in Harrison Hot Springs, BC.  I never had the opportunity to meet Joe, but just ask anyone who has and you will get a sence of what kind of impact he made on everyone he came in contact with. His outrageous sence of humor and dry, say it like it is attitude were his personal  trademarks. Sadly, the world lost Joe to cancer in August of 2006. He was just 52.

Photo Courtesy of Carl Jara

When I learned that the World Championship was moving to the US in 2010, I immediately asked how I could help. Because I had experience with  graphic design, I was tasked with designing a website and more importantly restoring the logo that Joe had created all those years ago. The original drawing I had to work with was nothing more than a grainy scanned image. Suzanne Altamare a friend of Joe had gotten the copy from another friend of Joe’s, Charlie Beaulieu. Suzanne had been attempting to clean up this fuzzy image in her spare time. The image below is what I first saw. I imagine it was in much worse shape before Suzanne spent many hours  cleaning it up.

Joe Maize

The first part of the process was to create a black and white line drawing in illustrator followed by a careful color selection process. For the logos that were to be used in digital print and  the website, I added some shadow and lighting effects. The total process took several days of testing and tweaking. In the end it was worth all the hard work. There are several variations that reflect the specific area that the contest (s) will take place in as well as an official qualifier logo. They are all derivatives of this primary design. (other logo variations not shown here) The results are seen below.

Worlds Logos

This year the 2011 World Championship of Sand Sculpting will  be celebrating  25 years. To commemorate this milestone I’ve added a few  new features to the logo that reflect the silver anniversary of this amazing event. I consider it a great honor to have been trusted with the task of restoring this iconic symbol. Special thanks to Charlie, Suz, Doc, the countless others who have given their time and of course, Joe Maize for creating the original design. May your sand stand…. One Grain at a Time! 

 25-years World Championships

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Judging a Master Sand Sculpting Contest

Judging a Master Sand Sculpting Contest

Currently, there is no unified judging system in use at professional level sand sculpting competitions. What that means is that each contest sets its own judging criteria and appoints its own judges. As you can imagine, this has generated a lot of discussion and a great deal of criticism regarding the outcome of many  contests over the years. Imagine for a moment going to a baseball game in one city, with one set of rules. You then race off to another city with, you guessed it, a completely different set of rules. Now, I’m not trying to simplify the issue by saying sand sculpting is somehow like baseball. In fact the two couldn’t be more different. With any competitive process, there needs to be a set of standard rules in place in order to add legitimacy to that process.

The lack of a unified judging system is not the result of any lack of concern from organizers or sculptors. In fact the pursuit of the ideal judging system itself may be contributing to the lack of unification.  In order to shed some light on this complicated subject, lets take a look at a few different types of judging panels

Sculptor Judging This system is pretty much what it sounds like. At the conclusion of the competition, competitors judge each others work.  Pros: Sand sculptors are the best qualified to judge due to their understanding of the medium. Cons: Fierce rivalries can  lead to vote shifting, the practice of placing a perceived rival artist at a lower position in order to boost the score of another artist.

 Celebrity Judging You guessed it. The judging panel is made up of a mix of local news anchors, politicians and even costumed team mascots. Pros: Can provide an unbiased opinion of all the completed sculptures. Cons: Lack a clear understanding of the intricacies of sand sculpture, often voting with their personal tastes rather than for artistic or technical merit.

Organizing sculptor lead judging panel This panel is composed of various individuals, with varying artistic backgrounds, not necessarily related to   sand sculpture. The panel receives all of its instruction, regarding judging, from the  event’s organizing artist. Pros: Panels artistic background can be helpful in the overall judging process. Cons:  There is always a chance that the organizing artist’s personal opinion will weigh too heavily on the judging panel.

People’s choice I don’t actually know of an event that relies solely on this method but it deserved mentioning. This method is simple, spectators cast votes for their favorite sculpture. Pros: A  larger number of votes can  add validity to the end result. Cons: Potential for a local artists to benefit unfairly due to  the home team advantage factor.

Now that I’ve covered the judging panels, lets take a closer look at how the votes are cast and calculated.  In most case judges are handed individual  voting sheets for each sculptor. These voting sheets vary from event to event.  Some systems use  the numbers one to ten, others use letters A through D. Both represent how well the artist has met the criteria  for that specific category. Most events have basic categories that an artist must score highly in to place in the top three places. Here are a few examples of those categories.

  • Artistic impression
  • Technical difficulty
  • Originality
  • Execution of carving skills

These categories can vary greatly from event to event, especially if the contest in themed based. In this case the artists are bound to create  sculpture that related to the theme of the event.

As sand sculpting contest progress and expand in the US and around the world, the need for a unified judging system is needed now more than ever. Here are a few things I would like to see in a unified system. 

  • Transparency: All judging results should be clearly posted for open viewing, including the names of the judges.
  • Every sculptor judged:  Every competitor deserves to know where they rank at a contest, not just the top five
  • Certified judging panel: An intensive certification process should  be established for judges.
  • Creation of sculpting genres: Architecture, contemporary, classical and eclectic should be separated in larger events
  • Best overall: Best over all should be selected from the top works from each genre
  • Simplified judging criteria: Quite simply, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.

 If you have any suggestions please add them in the comment section below.

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The Happy Couple and the Sand Castle

The Happy Couple and the Sand Castle

I have worked for many private clients over the years. I can tell you honestly,  that few clients have left as big of an impression on me as the families of Jim and Beverly.  It all started  a  few months back with an unassuming call from Marie, the sister of the groom. We talked for several minutes about what she was looking  for at  her brother’s wedding.  I could hear the sence of importance in her voice. I would later learn that Marie along with Adela, Jim’s personal assistant had done a great deal of searching for just the right person to create a  sand sculpture for this special day. At some point in the conversation something happened that was quite unique and remarkable,  Marie began to share the story of Jim and his fiance Beverly along with the fact that Jim was widowed, having lost his first wife  who was only 50.  I was moved beyond words. I explained that a majority of my projects take several days to complete, but that I was willing to take on this single day project, should she decide to move forward.  Marie concluded the conversation on an upbeat tone expressing her excitement about the project. She now planned on pitching the idea to a small group of collaborators that included  Adela, Jim’s assistant.

A few days later I heard back from Marie, this time by way of email. Again there was a overwhelming sence of excitement, even evident  in her digital transcript. She had gotten the approval from the family members that she was seeking.  The project was on. It was at this time, that I began to share in her own sence of excitement.  Just knowing how important this sculpture was to her and  for both families raised my heart rate more than just a few beats.

Failure is not an option & anything is possible  Are not just words or even  just a slogan to me. It is a philosophy that I adhere to and take very seriously every day. On a follow-up call to discuss the design of the sculpture, Marie had hesitantly mentioned the possibility of incorporating an airplane into the sculpture because of Jim’s love of flying.  After responding immediately with “YES!”, I followed up with the question” what type of airplane?” Within minutes I got a photo of a scale model of Jim’s personal plane from Adela, who secretly snapped the photo, I imagine, right under his nose.

Jim's Plane
Jim's Plane

About a week later, I received a sample of the sand from the beach that I would be creating the sculpture. While the sand was crystal white and  clean, it lacked the physical properties of good sculpting sand. Many sculptors at this point might have called the client and cancelled the project or convinced the client into a more expensive and time-consuming option of importing sand to a public beach. Instead, I simply altered the design slightly to accommodate for the less than stable sand. The final design that I submitted to Marie for her approval included all the options she requested. First was the classical enchanted  sandcastle, second was Jim’s airplane. The whole design was unified with  clouds  and a banner trailing behind the plane with the names of the bride and groom. A few moments after submitting the design for approval, I received a call from Marie. While the sketch was quite simple, she immediately saw my vision for her idea and shouted, ” I love it!” I can tell you, it really feels good to connect with a client  like that with the very first design submission.

Off to the beach Over the next several weeks Marie continued to stay in contact, discussing the details of the wedding. Prior to my departure for the project she had one last request.  Because I was going to be building this sculpture on the beach in the middle of the setup for their ceremony, there was a  need to inform the groom to avoid any awkward confrontation during the build.

The Plan We decided that I would meet the families at a local beach bar the night before the wedding. I introduced myself as long-lost cousin Sean from Poughkeepsie. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but for the most part, the family members  initially bought the story. I knew things would be a bit tougher when it came to introducing myself to Marie’s brother Jim, the groom. Jim definitely wasn’t buying my story one bit but was a great sport about the prank and played along. I could tell Jim was feeling a bit un easy by my presence. Perhaps Marie  has a history of pranking her brother?

Jim & Beverly
Jim & Beverly off the hook

Off the hook  After about an hour it was time to reveal my true identity to the whole family. Marie and Adela gathered both families  at one of the larger outdoor tables and I made my announcement. ” I’m actually not long-lost cousin Sean  from Poughkeepsie, I actually don’t even know where that is”, I said. ” I’m actually a world-famous professional sand sculptor that had been commissioned to create a wonderful  sand sculpture for Jim and Beverly on their special day.” It was pretty cool to see the look of both relief and excitement in Jim’s and Beverly’s eyes. Jim would later tell me that he thought I was a comedian sent in to give him a good roasting! The rest of the evening, I was able to spend some quality time getting to know all the family a little better. Some family members  actually continued to refer to me as cousin Sean. That was pretty cool.

A perfect day  The next morning I got off to an early start. Having examined the sand samples weeks earlier, I knew I had my work cut out for me. The crew at the Portofino Island Resort where the wedding was to be held, provided me with everything I needed to complete my sculpture. They even  gave me a crew of extremely hard-working laborers who tirelessly filled my water buckets. Collectively they hand delivered over six hundred gallons of water to the sculpture site. About seven and a half hours later the sculpture was finally complete. I had  a few minor scares during construction. At about the midway point the entire sculpture shifted almost six inches but remained completely intact. If I didn’t see it myself, I would have never believed it possible. Had the weather not been as perfect as it was that day, the wind a little stronger, the temperature a little higher, all of my hard work that day would have ended with disaster. I definitely had the assistance of a higher power that day.

The random encounter  One of the coolest parts of my job is meeting and getting to know new people. Sometimes completely unexpected circumstances create truly memorable moments. Prior to the ceremony, I was clearing the area around the sculpture  when a woman and her two young boys walked up to the sculpture.  She mentioned how she had heard some people down the beach talking about this cool sculpture and had to come and check it out. I could see that the sculpture had an immediate affect on her. It was obvious that it had brightened her day. We talked about the art of sand sculpture and how my daughter had inspired be to get into this business  almost twenty years ago. It was at that point that she revealed to me that she had recently lost her two-year old daughter to leukemia. Dealing with that type of tragic loss is a  struggle that she must face every day. Knowing that even for a few moments my sculpture lifted her spirits was a  very special moment. 

Jim and Beverly's Wedding
Jim and Beverly's Wedding

The ceremony   As the ceremony got under way, the sun was just beginning to set. As the bride to be made her way down the aisle, the sun seemed to follow her. By the time she met her future husband at the end of the aisle the sun cast a magical spotlight on the wedding party. Officiating over the ceremony was Jim’s future brother in law John. I’m not sure if this was his first time officiating over a marital ceremony or not but  he did an amazing job. Once the nuptials were read and the wedding was official, the bride and groom made their way to the ocean’s edge followed closely by the wedding party and guests. As the couple passed the sand sculpture, they both caught my eye and flashed the thumbs up sign as they admired the sculpture. When they reached the water’s edge,  sea shells were ceremoniously tossed into the surf. I had never before seen such gesture at a wedding. What a fantastic idea.

Sea shells at the sea shore
Sea shells at the sea shore

The Reception This is the part of the story where I’m  usually packing up my tools and heading off to the airport for the next project.  If this was a typical client on a typical day, that may have been the case. That said,  this was not a typical client and as I mentioned, it was a perfect day. Marie welcomed me to  be a guest the reception.  I must admit I had a great time. Now this may not seem like a big deal to the average reader and honestly I don’t care. This is my blog and I just wanted to let the world know it was a big deal to me. Special thanks to my new friends from your long-lost cousin Sean …. from  Poughkeepsie.

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Sand Sculpting Ethics 101

Sand Sculpting Ethics 101

When I was first introduced to the world of professional sand sculpting, I marveled at the level of comradery and cooperation I witnessed. There is a wonderful vibe that surrounds you when in the company of such talented artists. For years I believed that the sand sculpting business was somehow immune to the trappings of cut throat practices. Unfortunately, I would soon learn first hand that, while a majority of sand sculptors have exemplary business practices, there are those in the business that make us all look bad.

In any business there are certain ethical standards that must be followed in order to advance the industry as a whole. Those that disregard these practices, may at first glance appear to be unaffected by their actions. Some might even refer to themselves as shrewd business men. I can assure you shrewd is not the word I would use to describe them.

So here they are, the top 5 reasons ( in no particular order)  that you might want to take an ethics class.

  1. You charge your clients $$$$ for additional sand sculptors but you only pay those sculptors $.
  2. You consider drinking and or smoking on the job part of your “artistic license”.
  3. Your idea of business marketing is to check  out your competition’s website calender of events and  then call all their clients.
  4. You’ve actually yelled at a competitor’s client for not hiring you.
  5. You market yourself at a fellow sand sculptors event, saying you could do a better job for less.

I’m sure there are many more  reasons you might need an ethics corse. I would love to hear any personal experiences from other sand sculptors. Please omit any names. The purpose of this blog post is to raise awareness, not to vilify any particular group or individual.

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Sand Sculpting events past, present and future.

Sand Sculpting events past, present and future.

Sand sculpting exhibitions and events have been popular in the United States since the late 1800’s . Historical accounts, postcards and rare photos confirm that sand sculptures have been attracting huge crowds to business districts for well over a hundred years. Early artists, some commissioned by business owners, some working strictly for tips, created huge relief sculptures along the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ. These sculptures attracted tourists and local residents, who marveled at these intricate creations. Unfortunately, after several decades of these successful exhibitions, a handful of con artists took advantage of the huge crowds these sculptures generated and caused a pick pocket panic frenzy that lead to the outlawing of sand sculpting exhibitions on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1944.  This law is actually still on the books to this day.

Sand Sculpture 1910
Sand Sculpture Atlantic City 1910

Rebirth

Following WWII families returned to the beaches in huge numbers. Americans were again embracing beach side communities as vacation hot spots. Soon family sand sculpture contests sprung up all over the east coast.  In the early 70’s, incredible masterpieces were documented reappearing in California. Gerry Kirk and Todd VanderPluym, collectively known as Sand Sculptors International (SSI) created fanciful architectural wonders that reignited America’s interest in sand sculpture exhibitions.  Another artist, the late Mark Altamare was leaving  his mark ( no pun intended) on the east coast. Starting in Ocean City , MD during the summer of 1968  Mark honed his natural  gift of  soft sand carving. By simply manipulating the freshly piled sand with  only his, hands he would craft wonderous classical and religious scenes. These three artists, while on different paths, all represented a new generation of full-time  professional sand sculptors.

Beach 1950's
Back to the beaches 1950's

 

A  Championship event is born

World RecordIn 1986 one of the first  organized sand castle competitions took place in the small town of Whiterock, BC. The event was successful in attracting over 100,000 spectators. Unfortunately the small town was unable to handle such large crowds. Wide spread vandalism forced the community council to ban future sand sculpting events at this small town. At that time it must have seemed like sand sculpting events would never get off the ground. Fortunately for these artists, not far away in a town known as Harrison’s Hot Springs, BC, a local Lions group, headed by John Green thought there would be potential for a sandcastle event in Harrison Hot Springs.  He persuaded the Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce  members to make an investment in a handful of professional sculptors from Whiterock to build an exhibition sculpture on the beach at Harrison’s Hot Springs. This first event in the spring of 1987 was a local success so they decided to hold a contest in the Fall of 1987 that attracted teams from Seattle and Vancouver to compete for a $2000 first prize.  Compared to current day sand sculpting contests that range from 21 – 27 hours, this team contest was only 4 hours long. The event continued to grow throughout the late 80’s into the 90’s with several landmark achievements such as setting two world records for the tallest sand sculpture and more importantly creating a place for sand sculptors to network and set goals for the future of sand sculpting as a competitive spectators event.

More sculpting events

The 1980’s also saw the creation of several other sand sculpting contests around the United States. Many of these events were started by city council groups, chambers and community groups hoping to boost their tourism industry. Sculptor from around the country flocked to these contests attempting to make  a name for them selves in the sand sculpting community. Events like Sand Castle Days on  South Padre Island, TX, the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach, VA and the American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers, FL  continue to contribute millions of dollars in stimulus to the local economies they support.  

Successes and failures

While these events experienced relative success, they were not without problems of their own.  Many events suffered from shifting control over the years of  mostly volunteer groups which failed to provide a stable platform for a unified contest series. Even with the birth of the internet and the ability to share experiences between events, most communities chose to keep a closed-door policy on the sharing of information.  Sculptors also struggled  to take advantage of the success of these events, partly due to the lack of a unified voice among sculptors but mostly because there were few events that were organised by sculptors. The simple fact was the artists were outnumbered by the organizers. Any artist who complained about less than stellar prize money or poor judging practices was most likely to be shut out of  the contest the following year.

The pursuit of structure

 Fortunately, a hand full of sculptors  had taken advantage of their exposure and were able to create independent sculpting companies of their own. This had  allowed them to make a full-time living creating sculptures for corporate and private clients  as well as help create new sand sculpting events of their own. This shift in control over events has been a slow one but constantly progressing forward. Event organisers have started to rely more heavily on the participation of sculptors in the oversight of their events as well.

Change is in the air

The most significant change in professional sand sculpting came in 2009. It became apparent after 22 years, what had come to be known as the World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Harrison’s Hot Springs was not going to take place. A shift in political and developmental policy at Harrison’s had forever closed the doors on the historic event. Even though the global sand sculpting community had never  fully come to recognise the event  as the one true World Championship, its loss was no less painful for all the artists that had attended it over the years. A small group of passionate artists that included Suzanne Altamare, widow to the late Mark Altamare under took the daunting task of finding a new home for the World Championships. Suzanne, a talented sand sculptor herself, was experienced and well-respected  by both sand sculptors and event organisers. Her passion for the advancement of professional sand sculpting events as well as the advancement of the artists themselves  is unlike anything this writer has ever known. It would not be long before a new location was found.   

A sence of unity

World Championship of Sand SculptingIn the fall of 2010 in a small town outside of Seattle , WA  known as Federal Way, a new World Championship of Sand Sculpting was held. While the event was far from perfect, it had successfully achieved what no single  event in sand sculpting history had done before. This event now had qualifying events in seven different countries! For the first time events around the globe opened up their doors and cooperated. A major advantage in this new open door policy was the ability to share travel costs of artists which in some cases had been up to the artist to cover. Much work is still needed to continually improve the system of professional sand sculpting. For now it seems that a hand full of artists have taken the lead. From what I have seen, there is nothing that can stop them.  For now this story is…. TO BE CONTINUED! 

   
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What is a sand sculpture worth?

What is a sand sculpture worth?

The value of a good sand sculpture can be a tricky thing to calculate. First of all I’m not talking about the sand castle you built on vacation with your kids. I’m referring to that sculpture you just spent three days creating for that major hotel chain. Perhaps you are relatively new to the professional sand sculpting industry or this is your first big client. Your first instinct might be to sell the project at a steep discount in hopes of being able to secure more projects down the road. You might even think that once you’ve shown your client your amazing skills, that you will be able to get full price for the next project. The fact is, by selling the project at a steep discount, you have in fact devalued your work. Once you have set a price with a client, it is nearly impossible to convince them that somehow it is worth more.

Working for exposure
The same rule applies for clients, such as not-for-profits that ask for you to create a sculpture in exchange for exposure. While there are a few exceptions to this rule, unless the client is offering you an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, you should seriously reconsider doing any projects like this. Always ask yourself, what is the actual value of the media exposure. If it is your desire to raise money for a particular charity, take the initiative to organize your own fundraiser. This way you will have total control of who benefits from your hard work.

The bottom line
Let’s face it, you are running a business. If you ever hope to be successful, you will need to show a profit. Even the most frugal business incurs expenses. By establishing a reasonable fee for your services, you establish a value for your work. The key word is ” reasonable”. I once read an article in an artist magazine that established an hourly rate for professional artists. The calculation was based on full time artists, assuming this was their own source of income. The article stated that any self respecting artist should charge a minimum of $75.00 for every hour that went into creating the piece. Keep in mind when reading this, the article I’m referring too was  written over ten years ago. In most instances, sand sculpture is created as a part of a performance in which spectators get to experience along with the artist, the creation process, struggles and passion of the piece. Few other mediums offer this opportunity to the spectator. This fact alone increase the over all value of your time. This is especially true if you are a great performer.

Travel and other expenses
Don’t forget to include these costs as part of your quote. Make this mistake and you could easily find yourself working for free after all the expenses are calculated. Typical project related expenses to include are travel (including ground transportation), lodging, and a daily meal stipend. Additionally, you must factor in all of your material expenses. Never assume that the client will know that these costs are above and beyond your cost of labor.

Ask a trusted source
If you’re still not sure what to charge for your work, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted source. I stress the word ” trusted”. Calling a fellow sculptor who also happens to be your biggest competition may not be the best source. In the end it, will be entirely up to you what your time is worth. My advice is to be consistent, in your pricing as well as the consistency or your work. By doing this you will develop a loyal following of clients and most importantly, the respect of your peers.

Infinity

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So you want to be a professional sand sculptor

So you want to be a professional sand sculptor

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, ” So what’s your real job?”  I can tell you that it is very rewarding to be able look them in the eye with a completely straight face and say, ” You’re looking at it!”  Becoming  a professional sand sculptor was something that actually found me, rather than something I was searching for. Back in 1991 when I stumbled upon my passion for sculpting, I had no idea there was such thing as a professional sand sculptor. Lucky for me it wouldn’t be long before I would discover the truth thanks in part to the invention of the world wide web. One of the very first sand sculpting websites I came across was put together by a former school teacher from Michigan who was now living in Texas  by the name of Lucinda Weirenga. Her website sandcastle central opened up my eyes to a whole world of professional sand sculptors, events, tips of the trade and more! I sent Lucinda, or as she is known in the sand sculpting community, Sandy Feet, an email introducing myself along with a few photos of my sculptures. To my surprise she responded with words of encouragement almost immediately. For this reason alone, the number one tip I can offer to  any aspiring sand sculptor, is to reach out to other sand sculptors for advice. You will find that most sand sculptors are willing to offer words of encouragement. Others may even offer up the opportunity to work along side them, should your work prove to be promising.

Part Time vs. Full Time
In the world of professional sand sculpting you will come to realise that there are two distinct groups of sculptors. There are those who, while extremely talented, choose to hold down full time positions in other areas of expertise while they pursue sand sculpture on a part time basis. This group is actually split up into two smaller subgroups. There are those that just love to carve and do not want to concern themselves with the business side of sand sculpture and those that are attempting to transition to full time. The second, much smaller group, is made up of a fortunate few who have been able to find the balance of being creative and running a successful business. To figure which group you will fall into is not as simple as it may seem. First you will need to determine your level of passion for the art. Afterall if you plan on making a living at this you better be prepared to eat, sleep and….well you get the point. Next, you will need a solid business and marketing background. Just like any business it takes more than just the desire to succeed to have a successful business. There are necessary skills you will need to hone if you plan on making it through the first three year on your own. If the business side just doesn’t thrill you, consider bringing in a partner or even hiring temporary help to run the business side of things.

It’s a Growing Industry

The good news is that currently sand sculpting is expanding in the United States. Each year there are more and more events, competitions and exhibitions being created with the backing of professional sand sculptors. Existing events are also feeling the pressure to finally recognise the artists that have for years directly contributed to these events successes. There is also a core group of sculptors that has made it their focus to expand opportunities for other sculptors and ensure that these artists are properly compensated and appreciated for what they contribute to the art community as a whole.

So the next time you are at the beach just playing in the sand, remember to document your work. Send out those photos and never stop trying to improve your skills. With enough dedication, planning and raw talent, anything is possible.

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What is Quick Sand ?

What is Quick Sand ?

Contrary to popular opinion quicksand is not something that you might get stuck in while on safari in the Amazon Jungle. In Actuality,  Quick Sand is the newest craze in professional sand sculpting. Quick Sand made its world premier  in Fort Myers Beach, Florida at this years inaugural Sand Bash. The rules are quite simple. Competitors compete head to head in a paired bracket system. Only two sculptors compete at a time  with each  getting a five gallon bucket of sand and only 10 minutes to complete their sculpture. The twist is that the subject is pulled out of a hat just prior to the start of the round. When the ten minutes expire and the whistle blows the winner is selected by audience applause.  The winners of each round move on to the next round until there are just two competitors left. Just to make sure the artists are on their toes, the subject matter gets progressively more difficult in the later rounds. At this years inaugural event, the final round  was between Suzanne Altamare of Daytona Beach Florida and Jorvis Kivits of the Netherlands. The video of the final round is currently featured in our features video section of this blog. You can also find the video on Youtube. Their final test was to carve a bust of thier challenger. It was very close, but in the end it was Joris Kivits that stood victorious in the first ever Quick Sand Challenge. There is no doubt that the sand sculpting world has finally stumbled on to something really cool with Quick Sand. I for one applaud the organizers for having the vision to introduce this new form of competion.

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What makes sand sculptures stay together

What makes sand sculptures stay together

 One of the most frequent questions any  sand sculptor hears is “what makes the sand stay together?” Without going into a lengthy discussion on the laws of physics, surface tension and micro gravitational forces, I will attempt to answer this question. But wait, this is a blog, so lengthy discussion it will be. For the sake of simplify this conversation all my references will focus around just a few grains of sand.

 First off  all sand is not created equally. When magnified the differences  are as obvious as apples and oranges.  Depending on your location the sand may consist of pure quartz crystal, a mix of several different minerals, seashells and organic matter, volcanic ash or even crushed coral. How well the sand will stick together is directly related to the size and shape of the individual grains. NASA scientists have done extensive studies on sand cohesion in an effort to see how different soils react during seismic activity. I won’t go into all the details here but if you want to read more on the test summary can be found here. The University of Chicago also has some great information. Go head, check these articles out than come back and finish reading the rest of this post.

Ok you’re back. If your head doesn’t hurt too much from all the technical descriptions and scientific awesomeness, I’ll get on with my description. Basically all sand ever wants to be is beach. Along comes a child, or in the case of professional sand sculptors over grown children, and decides to stack the sand into a castle or other amazing structure. To do this the sand is piled high, water is added and the sand is compacted either in a bucket, form or simply by hand. Now lets look at those few grains of sand I mentioned earlier. When water is added to the sand, something really cool happens, a tiny bridge is formed between the two grains. If the grains are uniform and have large surface areas similar to bricks, the bridge will be relatively large in comparison to the grains, pushing  most of the air away from the sand.  On the other hand if the grains are rounded or have irregular surfaces the contact point of the bridge will be smaller, trapping more air between the grains. In both examples the  sand will stay together. The question is, how strong the structure will be, and how it will react to certain environmental conditions, gravitational forces etc. Square  shape grains that resembles bricks  can actually be stacked quite easily even with very small amounts of water. The lack of air also slows down the evaporation process of the liquid bridges between the grains.  Round or irregular shape grains have smaller contact points between the grans and trap more are. This speeds up the eveporation process and thus weakens the oveall structure.

The easiest way to test   the sand in your area is to take a baseball size clump of wet sand in your hand and press it into a snowball shape. Toss the ball gently at first between your hands. If the ball holds its shape, chances are you have found the perfect source for creating a wonderful sand sculpture.

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A perfect day at the beach

A perfect day at the beach

A typical day at the beach for me may be somewhat different than the norm. While your idea of the perfect day at the beach may simply be the sound of the surf, a gentle breeze and the sun washing over you as you relax in your lounge chair, for me it is all about the consistency of the sand and the distance between tides. Ever since I became hooked on sand sculpture it is nearly impossible for me to “relax” at the beach. Oh, believe me I have tried to just sit and stare at the pounding surf only to find myself  subconsciously moving the sand with my toes into small piles just begging to be transformed into something… anything my imagination can conjure up.  This is why I rarely resist the urge to just dig in and let my passion take over.

My perfect beach day starts with a shovel, a large pile of sand, plenty of water and of course some type of plan. Now for this discussions sake, this beach day is purely recreational. I am not creating something magical for a corporate client or the newest widget on the market, this is just for me and the other 2 or 3 hundred people who also happen  to be at the beach this day.

My plan is simple. I begin the exhausting process of piling and wetting and packing several tons of sand. It’s fun to see the look on peoples faces as they see this crazy man making a giant pile of sand. Still better are the passers by with their curious questions. ” What ‘s it going to be?” or “What you making mister?” My answer is always the same, ” I have no idea!”, I tell them with a  completely straight face. They usually promise to return and see the finished project as they continue on their way. The truth is sometimes I have a very clear plan while other times the idea only comes to me after the sand is all piled and ready to carve. Other times, for no reason at all, the idea will change and evolve during the carving process itself. The over all goal however is to create something that will make people smile, wonder or just simply stop in their tracks and gasp.

When the sculpture is complete, sometimes 6 or even 8 hours later, I get to take it all in. The smiles on people’s faces, the joy in the passing child’s eyes or the amazement of the elderly couple strolling down the beach. A perfect stranger approaches me  with a very serious expression and asks me, “Doesn’t it bother you that you spent all that time creating this beautiful sculpture and the tide is just going to wash it away?” My answer is always the same.  My art is for the moment. It’s impermanence is meant to mimic our own fragil existance on this planet and illustrate the importance of enjoying each moment. Too often we forget to stop and appreciate the small wonders in life. My goal is to simply make people pause and enjoy the sculpture in the moment.  

 As the tide approaches I gather my things and leave my masterpiece behind. I turn back for a moment and gaze back at my creation and the growing crowd that has gathered around it waiting for the tide to take its final toll. Small children attempt to construct a wall of sand to protect it from the crashing waves. Their parents and older siblings join in on the futile struggle. Finally a large wave breaches thier effors and you can hear a collective gasp from the crowd as the sculpture finally gives way to the enormous power of the tide.  I smile and turn away, shovel in hand, it has truly been for me …..a perfect day a the beach!

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