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Sand art and play

Related subjects: Recreation

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Sand art has progressed well beyond simple sand castles, such as this elaborate sand sculpting display in Australia.

Sand art is the practice of modelling sand into an artistic form, such as a sand brushing, sand sculpture, sandpainting, or sand bottles. A sand castle is a type of sand sculpture resembling a miniature building, often a castle.

The two basic building ingredients, sand and water, are available in abundance on a sandy beach, so most sand play takes place there, or in a sandpit. Tidal beaches generally have sand that limits height and structure because of the shape of the sand grains. Good sand sculpture sand is somewhat dirty, having silt and clay that helps lock the irregular shaped sand grains together.

Sand castles are typically made by children, simply for the fun of it, but there are also sand sculpture contests for adults that involve large, complex constructions. The largest Sandcastle made in a contest was 18 ft. tall, the owner, Ronald Malcnujio, a 5 ft. high man, had to use several ladders, each the height of the sand castle. His sculpture consisted of 1 ton of sand and 10 litres of water, to sculpt.

Jack Sparrow sand sculpture


An elaborate sand castle.
Sand sculpture 'Give me shelter' 2008 2nd prize USF World Double Championship, by American Rusty Croft and French Canadian Guy Beauregard

Sand grains will not stick together unless the sand is reasonably fine. While dry sand is loose, wet sand is adherent if the proper amounts of sand and water are used in the mixture. The reason for this is that water forms little ‘bridges’ between the grains of sand when it is damp due to the forces of surface tension. However, if too much water is added the water fills the spaces between the grains, breaking down the bridges and thus lowering the surface tension, resulting in the sand being able to flow more easily and the structure collapsing. According to the BBC TV programme Coast, the ideal ratio is eight parts dry sand to one part water, (though this may depend on the type of sand). However, recent research has found that the optimal sand-water mix for building sandcastles contains 1% water by volume. (The same researchers also found that it is possible to build sandcastles underwater.)

When the sand dries out or gets wet, the shape of a structure may change and " landslides" are common. Furthermore, the mixture of fine (mostly sharper) and coarse sand granules is very important to achieve good "sand construction" results. Fine granules which have been rounded by the natural influences of seas, rivers or fluvials, in turn negatively influence the bonding between the individual granules as they more easily slide past each other. Research is thus necessary to find the most suitable sand to achieve an optimal, landslide-free construction.

Shovels and buckets are the main construction tool used in creating sand castles and sand sculptures, although some people use only their hands. Water from the sea to mix with the sand can be brought to the building site with a bucket or other container. Sometimes other materials, such as pieces of wood, are added to reinforce structures.

Sand sculpting as an art form has become very popular in recent years especially in coastal beach areas. Hundreds of annual competitions are held all over the world. Techniques can be quite sophisticated, and record-breaking achievements have been noted in the Guinness World Records. Sometimes contests are staged as advertising or promotional events.

Some sandcastle artists are purists, using no artificial materials, formwork, coloring, adhesive or heavy machinery. However, in sand sculpting competitions, the rules often require that the finished sculpture be sprayed with a stabilizing coating that preserves it and allows the work to be properly judged and enjoyed by spectators. This coating is often a simple mixture of environmentally-friendly wood glue and water. Coated sculptures can last for months.

Drip castles

A variant on the sandcastle is the drip castle, made by mixing the sand with water and dripping it from a fist held above. Some refer to the technique as "dribbling." When the slurry of sand and water lands on existing sand structures, the effect is Gaudi-esque.

Festivals and competitions

Since 1989, a World Championship in Sand Sculpture has been held in Harrison Hot Springs in Harrison, British Columbia, Canada, also known as " Harrisand". The competition has solo, double and team categories. The world's tallest sandcastle was built on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina as part of the 2007 Sun Fun Festival. The structure was 49.55 feet (15.1 m) high. It took 10 days to construct, and used 300 truckloads of sand.

An annual competition is held on Hanalei, Kauai every year. This is the main sand castle/art contest in Hawaii.

On September 1, 2007, Ed Jarrett completed his world-record 31.8-foot (9.66 m) high sand castle, at the Point Sebago Resort in Casco, Maine. The "Castle to the Sun" was constructed to raise funds to benefit children at Camp Sunshine on Sebago Lake. He created a 29-foot 3 inch (8.9 m) sand castle in Falmouth, Maine in 2003 declared the world's tallest.

An annual competition is held on Siesta Key, Florida every year. Its fine, white quartz sand regularly wins comparison rankings of beach sand, yet complex structures are built during the competition.

Professional sand sculpting companies

In recent years many artists have formed companies specifically geared towards creating sand sculptures. These companies have found a niche market with corporate and private clients looking to promote a business or product or simply to wow their guests at a special event. While most of these businesses operate part time, there are a few that operate as full time businesses.

Fight against the tide

A popular game is building a heap of sand, as high as possible, to withstand the upcoming tide. In the gallery below three photos of the same heap that gets surrounded by the sea.

Other sand games

One person is buried in sand by another; their sandcastle is visible in the background.

One of the main attractions of a sandy beach, especially for children, is playing with the sand, as it presents more possibilities than an ordinary sandbox.

One can make a mountain, a pit (encountering clay or the water table), canals, tunnels, bridges, a sculpture (representing a person, animal, etc., like a statue, or a scale model of a building), and many other things.

Tunnels large enough to enter are extremely hazardous; children have been killed when such underground chambers have collapsed under their own weight and instability, or due to the tide coming up or the structure being hit by a wave. Sometimes a dam can be built to hold back the water or some children will build tidal forts which are incredibly large sandcastles with thick walls to protect the keep from the sea, or canals can be dug to contain the water.

Burying someone up to his/her neck in sand, or burying oneself, is another popular beach activity.

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