Making art with sand!

Jan 19, 2020

Slip. Slop. Slap. It’s hot. Let’s take the kids to the beach! Slip on bathers and a top. Slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat! Grab the boogie boards, buckets and spades. Pack the cricket bat and a tennis ball. Slip on the thongs (Aussie version of flip flops!) and throw in the towels. Let’s go!

We are so lucky here in Australia. Our beaches are expanses of soft golden or white sand perfect for exploring, walking, running, sitting, lying on; for a game of beach cricket; for drawing, building, sculpting… A visit to the seaside is not complete without the construction of a sandcastle or a water channel or some carved modelling or some doodling patterns - making art with sand. The feel of sand is part of our childhood: memories we create from generation to generation.

At the water’s edge 

Before we could walk, we’d be sitting on the water’s edge with the waves lapping at our toes, squeezing the wet sand between our fingers. As youngsters we’d pick up handfuls and slop it on our legs. Scraping grooves in the sand allowed us to create little rivers. Then we’d get more adventurous and see how long a channel we could dig then pour buckets of water in the top end watching it rush back to meet the sea. 

Under the cabana

Sitting under our cabanas or beach shades, little ones could dig holes and fill their buckets with soft sand. Attempts would be made to up-end the bucket to create a sandcastle. We very quickly learnt that castles are best made with damp - but not wet - sand found by digging under the dry, top sand or moving closer to the water. Experimentation! The damp sand must be packed down hard into the bucket filling it right to the top. Quickly turning the bucket upside down close to the ground takes a bit of practice. Pat the base of the bucket then lift it off slowly and carefully, and voila! We have a sandcastle! This is the basic achievement.

On the firm sand

Imagination can take you far! Sandcastles built in a circle, a square or a line: big ones, little ones. With patterned and different sized buckets come variations in shapes and designs for the castle, a town… Digging a channel around a castle can create a moat which can be filled with water. Scooping out doorways or tunnels is a challenge and may or may not be successful. 

Along the beach

Exploring the beach with a bucket to carry shells, interesting shaped seaweed, sticks, feathers and even coral or driftwood can result in a wealth of possibilities for decorating the sandcastle. Thinking about how each treasure was created and why it might be on the beach can make for enlightening discussions. Considering how each piece can be used on or with the sandcastle adds to the fun. Are they just decoration or do they serve a purpose? Sticks for poles or barriers, steps or paths, or a finial for the top of the castle. Shells for patterns, steps or windows. Seaweed for gardens or curved decorations. Our castles become pieces of art.

In the softer sand 

This is where it is fun to create hills and valleys to make lying on the sand more comfortable! Cover these undulations with a towel and you have a lounge on the beach! Dig out holes and create seats in a car for kids to sit in; build up mounds around to create the sides of the car and wheels. Even make a bus for lots of kids or a car and trailer! This is great family fun - older ones building with the help of younger ones, for the younger ones.


Then I love just creating patterns with kids, like doodling in the sand. Starting with, say, a mound of sand and then making swirls radiating out from the central dome. All of this can be done with a thong (flip flop) holding it sideways. Then fingers can be used to create extra lines that decorate these swirls making them like feathers or leaves, or finger tips to add spots or dots. Like all doodling, curves and lines can grow out and around but the design can also become more three dimensional with more mounds and ridges. Using the treasures found along the beach can add interest. More amazing artworks! 


Sand sculpting is taking things up a few notches! This summer the request from kids was to build a snowman out of sand! That was easy enough: a mound for his head and a mound for his body; stick for arms; cockle shells for eyes and a spire cerith shell for his nose. Other years it’s been dolphins, crocodiles, people… I guess this is how the professional sand sculptors started. It’s amazing to see where imagination and practice can go. On a grand scale, think of the sphinx carvings in the deserts of Egypt or the rock carvings at Petra in Jordan.

If you are near Melbourne, you might like to take your children to see Graeme Base’s Animalia in Sand at Borneo Discovery Park on the Mornington Peninsula. This is available for the summer of 2020. The Sandstorm Events website gives some examples of professional sand sculptures and more events for kids.

Sand animation

When I first saw the work of Kseniya Simonova over 7 years ago I was blown away by her innovative and artistic use of fine sand with her hands on a sheet of glass that is backlit. She is Ukrainian and now a famous Sand Animation Performance Artist. Google her name or use YouTube to see more of her inspirational work. This YouTube clip shows a recent artwork done for the start of the 2020 New Year. 

In the sandpit

If you don’t live near the beach, then your sand creations could be like those I see in the sandpits at school. With a water source nearby, kids create examples of all sorts of things similar to those mentioned above. Like all art, design and construction, if you show kids some techniques and possibilities they will develop their own creations.

While the sun shines, let’s get down and sandy! There’s a kid still inside all of us!

Teacher and Artventure Blogger