by Brian Wigglesworth
If you haven’t caught this column before, I’m Brian Wigelsworth and I am one of only about 250 Master-class sand sculptors in the world. I’m also the creator of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic, the world’s largest ‘doubles only’ master sand sculpting competition, held right here on Siesta Key, Nov. 15-18th this year. Here I try to give you up-and-coming sand sculptors techniques, tricks, and insight on how to create better and stronger sand creations.
In the last couple editions I talked about how to make a stronger sand sculpture by creating a strong block of sand to carve by pounding sand and water in to a removable form, and then gave you an idea of some of the varied tools we use to sculpt our creations. But we haven’t had a way for you to send in specific questions you may have, so I thought I would cover the most common and general questions that we hear a lot from the people who come to watch us on the beach, or at competitions.
The first and most popular question is one that I mentioned in our first column, “How do you make the sculpture so strong, or stand so high?” Again, we compact, very tightly, the sand into two foot high boxes, stacked, or layered, on top of each other. Then we remove the boxes one at a time, starting at the top, to reveal a very hard, compacted block of sand which we then sculpt, one layer at a time, carving it totally to finish before taking off the next box and working our way down to the bottom.
Another question asked many times a day at every event is “what happens if it rains?” We are constantly spraying our sculptures with water because it is water that holds a sculpture together. A normal rain shower won’t really hurt the sculpture much at all, it can actually strengthen it. A driving rain can put little stipple marks on the face of the sculpture which an artist can easily smooth out. A heavy downpour can do a little more damage, but nothing an experienced sculptor worries about, it just may take a little more time to sculpt the detail back in. But keep in mind, now that the sculpture is saturated with water sculpting is much easier, the sand will cut smoothly when very wet. If it rains heavy for an extended period of time, that’s when we start to see major damage. But the sky has to drop more water than the sand can absorb before we get a major collapse, and that’s a whole lot of water. But rain can hurt an event in other ways, by killing our visitor attendance. It almost seems as though people will melt in the rain before sand sculptures will.
Then, we also get the entertaining questions as well. At last year’s Crystal Classic we were working on the very large center sculpture when a lady walked up behind me and asked if she could ask me a question. I responded, “Sure!” She said, “Where do you get all the sand?” I looked puzzled, turned my head and looked down the huge expanse of beach to my left, then turn my head again and looked at the huge expanse of beach to my right, and then turned around and looked at the football field length of beach before you reached the water, I turned back and looked at the ladies face, surprisingly still poised, waiting for an answer. I pointed to the red life-guard chair and said “right over there, that’s where the best sand is”. She seemed satisfied.
In fact, with all the huge piles of sand we use at the event you might wonder where it all came from. But seeing as Siesta is a protected beach, we are not allowed to bring in foreign sand, nor take any amount of sand from this beach. So we have large front loaders skim just up to six inches of sand, evenly, off a large portion of the beach to use for sculpting. And after the event the sand must be placed right back from where it came so that the event has a near zero impact to the natural beauty of our beach.
People also always want to know “how long the sculptures will last?” And that always depends on really one major factor, humans. There are always those few who feel the need to destroy. It’s a shame but it’s a fact of life. But much to the distress of art enthusiasts and other onlookers, we have a need to destroy the sculptures ourselves after an event. They can become serious hazards to young children who seem possess a natural instinct to dig tunnels in sand. These sculptures consist of tons of sand and can easily collapse a tunnel dug through them, possibly burying someone inside. So they’re closely watched, all night, by armed guards, until they can be safely leveled and returned to the beach.
It seems a lot of folks are very curious of where we get our ideas for what we create. Professional sculptors in competitions are trying to think of something that hasn’t ever been done before. And that means something none of the other sculptors have seen done before either. And let me tell you, to a Master sand sculptor working for the last, say 20 years, EVERYTHING has been done before. So it is a daunting task to come up with something new. For instance, when I came up with the idea and design for a 5 foot high, 70 foot long catwalk, with a 15 foot high backdrop sculpture to hold a Margaritaville Apparel fashion show on top of last year, I was ecstatic to find out that it seems it had actually never been done before! A sand sculpting first for Siesta!
Some sculptors struggle with coming up with an idea months before an event while there are some that don’t have any idea what they’re doing until they have pounded up their sand, then sit and stair at the pile until something in it’s form speaks to them. These are the ‘never do today what you can put off ‘til tomorrow” kind of people. (Yes, they are always male sculptors).
Other questions are: “How long does it take?” As you can imagine, that all depends, on size, sand quality, complexity, etc.
“Can you do it inside?” Yes and we do quite often, for resorts, trade shows, weddings and banquets.
“Have you ever had a collapse?” Most definitely, we all have. All it takes is one small area at the bottom of sculpture that didn’t get wet or compacted, that later, under the weight, compresses causing a shear that can take off a whole side of a sculpture. But we don’t let it defeat us, we always go right back to work fixing it. (But it can make us rather grumpy.)
“Do you add anything to the sand besides water?” No, we sculpt with just sand and water. If the sculpture is to last multiple days, we may spray a thin layer of a environmentally safe sealer on the finished sculpture to hold the moisture in.
“What are the wires sticking out of the top of the sculpture, part of the framework that’s inside?” As much as we like to make up all kinds of ridiculous answers for this question like, ‘they’re up there to improve our cell reception out here on the beach’ or ‘they’re to attract lightning in the hopes we can turn the sculpture to glass’. The short wires we stick in the top of sculptures are called ‘bird wires’ or ‘butt pokers’ and keep the sea birds from landing on the art. Because gulls and other sea birds like to perch on high spots on the beach and they can do quite a bit of damage.
But the hardest question we get usually comes from the smallest guests, “How do you do that?” Well…I…I still haven’t figured out the answer to that one. If you have a sand sculpting question you’d like to ask, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to answer it.
But until then, save me a spot by the red life guard chair, it has the best sand!