How to make sand sculptures

What can you sculpt?
Anything can be made from a sand sculpture: figures, machines, buildings, anything.  The limitations imposed by gravity and the tensile strength of the sand are overcome by the sculptors engineering and imagination.  

Type of sand?
If you only want your sand sculpture to last a day then beach sand is great as it is free, clean, and quick to use.  Beach sand is rounded due to tidal wash and wind, and has very little silt and clay.  This makes it more suitable for workshops.  However, if you want a semi-permanent sand sculpture then you must use building sand made from fluvial deposits that has angular grains mixed with silt and clay.  These three factors enable the sand to bond better but cause it to be slower to work with than beach sand, as the water does not drain as quickly.  The best beaches for sand sculpture tend to be those that are near estuaries, as the sand is constantly replenished with new fluvial sand.

How long does a sand sculpture last and what happens when it rains?
Beach sand sculptures will last for as long as they are damp; it is the water that bonds the sand.  Semi-permanent sand sculptures when outdoors can last for a month but are often kept for three months.  Sculptures kept indoors will last indefinitely.  Details are protected by a screen which is sprayed onto the surface of the sculpture during carving.  In addition, the sculptor engineers the piece so that water drains from it easily.
Prolonged downpours can damage sculptures, but the nature of the medium and the experience of the sculptor allows for repairs.

How are sand sculptures made?
Take some sand, mix it with water, compact it the best you can with vibrations and then sculpt from top down.  That’s the way to do it.  For a little more detail then read on.

Once you have the sand, the sculptor must add water and mix it thoroughly; any dry patches can undermine the structure and can be disastrous.  The amount of water added depends upon the type of sand.  Clay sand does not require a lot, where as beach sand needs gallons and gallons.

Compacting techniques: Soft pack, hand stack and hard pack?
Soft pack is where loose sand is simply moved about to where you want it, compressed a little with a shovel and hands, and then sculpted.  This method of sand sculpture is flexible and allows a very large sculpture to be made quickly.

Hand stacking is a technique largely used with beach sand sculpting.  You take very, very wet sand and plop it down, patting it gently and then wobbling it into the shape of a pancake with your hands.  Stop any vibrations once the sand is no longer like jelly, as you will break it otherwise.  Repeat the process by stacking one pancake on top of the other until you have achieved the desired height.  The larger your base the higher you can go.  Amazing Walter of the USA pioneered this technique, his work can be seen under 'hand stacking' in the gallery..

Hard pack on the other hand is where the sand is contained within forms and then compressed down using hand tampers or machines.  This is the usual method applied to large scale sand sculptures requiring verticality and dynamism, but can also be applied to the tower of a simple sand castle.  The result is a block of sand that resembles sand stone.  The drawback is that it is a much slower process and requires heavy equipment. 

Generally, large professional sculptures are made with elements from the three techniques. A detailed and vertical hard pack element may sit on a soft pack base with hand stacked details.

Sand Sculpture Tools?  
We use shovels to carve the basic form of the sand sculpture, followed by building trowels and then painting knives, spoons and brushes for details.  The sand is usually delivered in a truck and then hand compacted. However for a larger sculpture JCB’s and compacting machines are used. 

Where can you make sand sculptures? 
Sand Sculptures can be made inside or out.  If the sand sculpture is indoors then the floor needs to be strong enough to take the weight of the sand.  The floor is protected using a plastic sheet overlaid with plywood.  A wooden perimeter can then be fixed on to contain the sand which is brought in on pallets in 1 tonne bags.  With all sculptures there needs to be a good water connection and quite good access to move heavy loads.