Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't Put Away That Sandshovel!

Summer may be winding down, but that doesn't mean you have to abandon playing in the sand. There are still quite a few sand sculpture festivals and competitions yet to be held, both family-friendly and professional:

Sandcastle and Sculpture Day - Held annually on the third Saturday in August, on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. The 2011 competition is this Saturday, August 20th, so if you're hoping to enter, you'd better hop to. The application deadline is Friday, August 19th. 

Itching to get building, but not sure how to prepare? No worries. I dug around and found some basic sand sculpture building tips to get you started, courtesy of and These tips are helpful for sand sculptors ranging from tall to small, and everywhere in between:

First, gather your supplies. 
You don't have to go out and get any special gear. Just poke around in your kitchen, garage, anywhere there's miscellaneous stuff, and see what you've got that you could use. First and foremost, you'll need big water buckets - some of those giant 5 gallon plastic paint buckets work well, if you have a few empties hanging 'round the garage. And you'll need shovels - long handled ones with short scoops are ideal - and the more, the better. After that, use your imagination: pastry knife, old paintbrushes, spoons, butter knives, toothpicks, water spray bottles, rakes, ice cream scoopers, drinking straws, funnels...really, anything that looks like it might be even a little bit useful. You should also have a drawing or photo of what you'll be building, so you have a reference to work from.

Next, find your spot.
Pick a spot on the beach. Scoop up a golfball-sized wad of wet sand into your hand and form it in a ball. If that sand ball can roll around on your flat palm without breaking apart, you've found your building spot. You also want to pick a spot close to the water - 'cause you'll need lots of water - but not so close that your masterpiece will get washed away by the next big wave. Check for the high water mark, and use that as a guide for where you want to park your project.

Then, prepare your sand.
You'll need very wet sand. Very wet sand. Did I mention VERY WET sand? Dig a hole close to the water, but not too close (see above suggestion), scooping out that VERY WET sand from the hole and piling it onto the flattened out spot where you've decided to build. If digging a big hole doesn't get you down to the water table for that drippy wet sand, or if you can't get enough sand that way, haul water up from the ocean/lake/body of water with your buckets and dump it on the sand. 

As you pile up the VERY WET sand, form it into a rough approximation of the shape of the thing you're sculpting. (It could be a castle, sure. But, it could also be a mermaid, or a giant spider, or a dragon, or even a life-size sculpture of Chuck Norris. Be creative!) Anyway, pile that sand up, gently jiggling each plop you add to the pile, so that it settles into the sand beneath and it all bonds together - do not pat, punch, stomp the sand. Gently jiggle. Jiggle. Jiggle. Keep plopping and jiggling until your pile looks big enough for what you're planning to carve it into.

Finally, get sculpting.
Carve out the details, and turn that sculpture idea into reality. Here's where you get to use all those odds-and-ends you gathered back in the first step. And don't forget those most wondrous of sculpting tools that you always have on you - your own hands and fingers. 

Keep referring back to your drawing/photo/reference to keep yourself on track as you sculpt the sand. Always start at the top and work your way down, and keep the sand wet (remember that water spray bottle?). And remember: patience. Carve out a little at a time, not in big chunks, and you'll have more control, making your sculpture look just the way you imagined it would. And if something goes wrong, just adapt and go with it. You may find that what you thought was a big mistake takes your work of art into a totally unexpected, yet fantastic direction. And don't forget to take a picture when you're done. Your sandy sculpture won't last forever, but at least your memory of it can.

* * *
Now, go have fun!


  1. For a dad who just knows how to dig big holes with his son at the beach, this is a big help and was written in a way that it even makes sense to me. Thank you.

  2. Great post! Thanks for the advice and links. Sand sculptures are fun. :)

  3. Anonymous, digging big holes is exactly what your son loves to do, and that's all that matters.

    LJ, glad you enjoyed it. My sandcastles always crumble, so I'm hoping these tips help me the next time I'm at the beach.


So, what's on your mind?