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got sand?Tools, to Each His Own

Sand sculpting 2

by Brian Wigglesworth

In the last edition here in the Siesta Sand I told you how to make a stronger sand sculpture by packing your sand tightly into a form. This edition I’m going to answer another, very popular question Master sand sculptors hear a lot, “What kind of tools do you use?” Well if you were to take a hundred different professional sand artists and look in their tool bags you would likely find that no two sets of tools look very much alike. Due to the small amount of people engaging in sand sculpting on the level that we do, no company has ever produced a set of professional sand sculpting specific tools. Sand artists have developed their own tool kits, by either creating them from scratch, or using or remodeling tools from other mediums or professions.

Some sculptors travel with a small handful of tools while others, like me, collect them as if we believed ‘he with the most tools wins’. A few tools we all utilize are shovels, buckets for water, rakes to groom the finished sand area, Tampers to compress the sand and some kind of carving instrument. This is where things start to vary. Many sculptors believe heavily in the concrete trowel, specifically the Marshalltown 7” x 3” pointing trowel. This is a heavy duty trowel that will cut through beach sand as well as the clay-heavy, glacial sands that are used in other areas around the world. Sculptors will keep these beloved tools till the blade has been worn down to a nub no bigger than their thumb.

sand sculpting 1I work predominantly with beach sand so I use a thinner set of knifes for carving, the Liquitex paint palate knives. This photo is just a small part of the tools that I carry.

Starting at the left, you’ll see an array of corner and rounded trowels for shaping and smoothing large areas of sand. The round end ones are swimming pool trowels. Next is a large concrete margin trowel for straight cutting large areas. Then the heart of my tools, are the16 Liquitex knives, with the eye shaped one being one of my favorites when a larger tool is needed, but I will come back to these. Above those is a drywall mud knife that I use for creating very straight cuts and corners. The next two tools at the top are very interesting, first, at the top is an antique aluminum ice cream scoop with a bakelite handle like your grandma had, which I use for scooping sand out of tight interior areas. The other, many of you equestrians may recognize as a curry comb, for combing out a horses coat. This is an invaluable tool when working on very large flat or slowly contouring areas like the side of a whale or flowing waves. It cuts away the sand quickly and evenly with long sweeping motions.

Now with the Liquitex knives, you can imagine the four larger ones are for roughing the sculpture, getting the basic shapes cut in. The next seven I use more than almost any other, for the cutting of finer details. I will have five of these in my hand at one time like I can’t decide which one will do the job best. Then the next five are custom knives where I take a flat knife and bend it into certain shapes to accomplish specific tasks like converse or convex shapes or clothing folds. These five are in my other hand. Yes, a third hand would be very helpful. Clay loops are also popular with many artists. The red handled metal pointer above them is for the tiniest little details like the pupils of eyes, stitch details on clothing or even small lettering.

Another fun tool is the round furniture sliders. These are perfect tools for grasping the sponge interior like a handle and using the smooth side to run across the larger areas of the sculpture to create an ultra smooth surface. Keep in mind that we frown on using any kind of coloring of the sand, all color must be indicated by differences in texture. Deeper textures will make things darker or shadowed while smooth areas will appear lighter or highlighted. Use these techniques in different levels to give the feeling of color differences. The half-moon serrated trowel is great for achieving a textured area by dragging it across sand at different angles. The large paint brush can also give you a smoother textured surface, as well as it being great for moving excess sand away from a sculpting area. The smaller brushes are for smoothing and dusting, a make-up brush is wonderful for dusting fine sand without disturbing detail, though my hula girl duster does a super job at that too, and she always makes people smile when they see her on the pile. Most sculptors will also carry a hard straw or tube for blowing sand out of tiny areas and away from the finest details that even a fine brush may destroy.

And finally the three colored circles at the top right are called “Willy Spheres” after the Dutch sculptor who invented them, Wilfred Stijger. Wilfred has attended the Siesta Key Crystal Classic several times and hopefully will be coming back again this November 14th. These tools are fun for any age, they will make a perfectly round ball of sand every time simply by turning them in a spiral circle on a clump of sand.

For those of you are just gaining momentum with sand sculpting and may not want to get this involved in tools yet there is an excellent tool kit for beginners and intermediates that you can purchase right here on Siesta. It’s the “Can-You-Dig-It Sand Tools” kit by Master sand sculptor Matt Long, who is also returning to the Crystal Classic this year, and it is available at “Gidget’s Coastal Provisions” in Siesta Village.

So when it comes to which tool is the best for sand sculpting, too each his own. So grab your shovel, buckets and tools and get out there and Pile it, Pound it, Sculpt it!