By Brian Wigglesworth
This November 14-17th twenty-four of the most talented sculptors from around the globe will gather on Siesta Key Beach to create large works of art made entirely out of sand and water, to compete in the 5th annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition. As a ‘Master’ sand sculptor myself, I designed this event, and with the help of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota County Parks, and many of the local businesses and organizations, in a massive group effort have made the Crystal Classic an incredible addition to the key and to Sarasota’s well known art community.
During the Crystal Classic we also host an amateur competition that gives budding sand artists of all ages the chance to carve sand along side the Masters. Throughout the event there will be a professional sculptor on site giving informative exhibitions and sculpting classes to help you beginners hone your skills and discover new techniques. But it may be a little late to learn as much as you might like before competing. So here in the Siesta Sand, I am going to attempt to give you some extra insight into the secrets of sand sculpting so that you will have time to practice these new techniques.
Some of the most often asked questions we get are “how do you get the sand so hard”, “how do make it stand so high” or “how can you get such detail?” Well the answer to all these queries is pretty much the same….we pound the sand into submission. You see when most people try to build something at the beach they gather up a pile of wet sand and start moulding, scraping and shaping it into what they want to create. Professional sculptors pile it, pound it, sculpt it! Meaning we don’t shape the sand as much as we first create a very hard block of sand and then carve it. How do we do we create the hard block? We use forms.
A form can be as simple as a 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut off and turned upside down so that that sides bevel out towards the ground allowing for easier removal. Or forms can be specially constructed wood panels that join together to create bottomless boxes of all different shapes and sizes. (The Crystal Classic uses over 300 such form.) A plastic roll sheeting called rhizome barrier that can be curled to various sizes and secured with small clamps is also very popular with the pros.
Whatever form you choose to use the process is pretty much the same. First set up your form in position and close to the waters edge so it’s easier to carry buckets of water. Then pile sand in the form about six inches deep. Now you are going to saturate the sand with water and stir it in with your hand or shovel. How much water? As much as the sand will hold, it can even have standing water on top, it won’t hurt. Every bit of the sand needs to be wet, a dry spot at the bottom can make a whole sculpture collapse when it compresses under the weight above. Now comes the pounding! You’re going to compress the sand, if it’s a small bucket you can use your feet or your fist and tamp or pound the sand very tight till it gets very firm. If it’s a bigger form you can use a tool called a tamper like we do, which is a heavy metal plate on a long handle that you slam down between your feet. Here is where I have to stress a point, between your feet! If your off a little to the left or right you may have to quit right here. After tamping you will probably be down to around 3 inches of sand, and assuming you still have all of your toes you are now going to repeat the process for the next 6 inches of your form, and keep repeating the full process until you have reached and pounded the top flush with your form edge.
We rarely use a form higher than two feet so after our form is full and tamped firm you can either continue to make your sculpture block higher by putting another slightly smaller form on top and continuing the process, or you can remove your form, either by separating the panels of a wood form, removing the clamps of a rhizome form or lifting your full bucket straight up to reveal your very hard packed block of sand that can now be carved with tools to create whatever your imagination allows. You’ll be amazed how strong it is and the intricate detail that can be cut into the sand. So go out and give it a try and watch the Siesta Sand for additional tips and tricks leading up to the Crystal Classic in November. Next time I will divulge some secret tools sculptors use to create amazing shapes and textures. Remember, have fun, respect the beach and sun screen, sun screen, sun screen!