A lot of work goes into making a good sand sculpture. Sculptors need patience and endurance to create their masterpieces from thousands of tonnes of sand. They can take up to two months to build and span up to 10 metres in height.
Sculptors use a special kind of sand that is also used on building sites and was most likely used in the foundations of your home. It is called heavy sand and is different to the sand you see on the beach because each grain is square, which means it sticks together better, like building blocks. The sand on the beach is smoother and rounder so it doesn’t stay together quite as well. Some beaches are located near the mouths of rivers have better sand for sculpting as it isn’t worn down by the surf.
The most important part of making a sand sculpture is the preparation, or what sculptors call “pound up”. Pound up involves building wooden walls in a square or rectangle shape. These walls are called “forms” and are about two feet tall. After the forms are built they are filled with sand, like a giant sandpit, right to the top. When the forms are full, sculptors set to work making sure that the sand is pounded down as hard as possible by whacking it, jumping on it and watering it.
Water is REALLY important; the water helps the sand stick together and helps it to set hard as it dries out. Successive forms are built on top of the first and compacted down so that eventually you have what looks a bit like a wooden pyramid of forms, as high as is required, all filled to the brim with sand that has been pushed down into them. When pounding up a couple of thousand tonnes of sand, this process can take weeks but care is very important because if the sand isn’t compacted hard enough the sculpture might collapse later. After the sand has had time to set the sculptors climb up, take off the top form, and begin to carve into the sand block left behind.
When you are on the beach this summer you might not have the time (or equipment!) to make forms but a bucket is the next best thing. Fill your bucket with sand that is damp, not too wet and not too dry but somewhere in between is best, then push the sand down as hard as you can into the bucket. Be careful of the strength of your bucket because too much pressure can crack it just as forms sometimes do when too much pressure is exerted on them. Once you are happy with your pound up, find a good spot on the beach, flip your bucket over and very carefully remove it, leaving the sand behind on the ground. Now you have the beginnings of your sculpture. If you want to go the extra step ask your parents if they have an old bucket that they can cut the bottom out of, that way you can start with your bucket upside down and fill the sand in from the top. This allows you to build up on top of each layer that you pound up with cups and containers like the professionals do with their smaller forms.
Now the fun part – carving. Carving gives the sculpture all of its detail and character. You can use almost anything to carve and most of the professional sculptors actually use cooking and dental utensils. You better ask your parents before you start using their icing scraper at the beach though. There are loads of tools you can use to help you carve out a work of art from icy-pole sticks to house keys (again you better ask before you try that one) and even water pistols can be used to cut a hole through the middle of your pile. Try to visualise what you want to carve out before you get started and then go wild!
If you can get one, a water spray bottle is a great idea to have handy while you are carving to keep the sand damp. Every once in a while, give your sculpture a couple of sprays so it doesn’t dry out. The rest is up to you. Try using stuff you find on the beach like sea shells and sea weed.