Sandcastles 101 Tutorial
Welcome to Sandcastles 101. I hope this tutorial helps you get the most out of your day at the beach. We share with you the tricks and tools to wow your friends and family, not to mention other beach goers, and maybe even give you an edge to win the local competition. So, let’s get started…
Buckets are number one – the bigger the better! WATER is the most important thing about a sandcastle. It’s the thing that makes it stay together and you will need LOTS of it. The bigger the bucket the better, but keep in mind that they are REALLY heavy when full. You still want to be able to carry them up the beach.
Shovels are handy when making large forms but remember, you will be shoveling wet sand, so go easy on your back.
Carving tools can be made from anything and everything. Something as simple as plastic knives and forks work well (please take all trash with you after). Simple everyday household items like chopsticks or a trowel can work well too. If you really want to get fancy, a painters palette knife makes sharp edges easily. A large soft paint brush creates smooth surfaces, and a straw is a must-have to blow the sand away as you carve out fine detail. A spray bottle with water is also a good idea to keep surfaces wet.
Just because everyone else does, doesn’t mean you have to create a “Castle” out of sand. Your ideas are only limited by your imagination. Other popular options are, turtles, mermaids, sharks, and other seaside themes. But every now and then dare to be different. The only side note I will make to this is:
- 1/ When entering a competition, the judges like to see a story. What is your mermaid doing? Is your shark about to eat a fish? Add humor when you can.
- 2/ Bermuda sand will not hold heavy undercutting, large arches, or freestanding arms etc. It will support tunnels and small arches though. Keep this in mind when you are planning your design. You will spend hours trying to get your mermaids hand to point or her nose and chin to stay on, but you can’t win against gravity.
- 3/ In the competition your design should face the ocean but don’t forget to add something to the back of it as well. Judges will take into consideration how well you have used the whole plot and that your piece can be viewed from all sides.
When planning a Sandcastle on a regular beach day, think about the background for photos, where the sun will be when you finish, do you want to have the water as backdrop or the beach or rocks? Plan out where you want things to be and draw a rough outline in the sand before you start. In the end the pictures will be the only thing left and you want to make sure you get a good one with the perfect backdrop.
MAKING A VOLCANO:
Water, Water, Water… Dry sand is no good and a pile of dry sand will not absorb the water you pour on top of it no matter how many buckets you use. The water will just run down the sides. For really big shapes I recommend the Volcano method. You start with a wide base that looks like a doughnut made of handfuls of wet sand. Pour the water into the center so that it is forced to flow through your sculpture. Mix the wet sand like a cement mixer and pull it up onto the sides to raise the height of your volcano. Don’t dig to China! Shovel dry sand into the middle, add water, mix, pull soaking runny wet sand up the sides. Give a good “Pattycake” to the walls of your volcano. Repeat. The harder packed and wetter your sand the easier it will be to carve and the less likely to crumble. When you have reached a desired height then fill in the Volcano with wet sand. Give it a solid pattycake (don’t be shy) to make sure it is well compacted with no cracks. Add large handfuls of wet sand to the top or sides where your design needs arms, legs or turrets etc.. Always make sure these additions are larger than you need and cut away the excess after. Now you are ready to carve.
- Start to cut away at your mounds and shape them into your sculpture’s arms, legs, turrets, or towers. At this point I recommend taking time to walk around and look at your piece in progress. That tower you just spent the last hour perfecting actually leans away from you when you look at it from the other side. This becomes important if you want to keep things in proportion.
- Always work your details from the top down so that the sand you cut away doesn’t fill in the details below and ruin it.
- Lettering, windows and doors, should be sketched out lightly and cut away with a sharp stick or metal object like a pallet knife. Straws are key and used to blow the sand you are carving out of corners and crevices. It’s magic and the number one tip that will keep your castle looking clean. I keep my straw on a lanyard around my neck so I don’t lose it in the sand.
- Tunnels can be made in carefully packed, rock hard sand. Draw out an arch then scoop into it with a spoon and if you can, go from both sides and meet in the middle. Widen and clean up edges with a stick after. Be careful how thin you make your tunnels. Always remember support and gravity.
- Cracks are never fun and always scary. They can often be fixed by adding water and GENTLY patting some very wet sand on top, then adding more water to cement it in place. Prayer works here too.
- Textures can also play a huge role in adding life to your sculpture. Soft, smooth surfaces can be made with a wide house painters brush. Often a rake can be used to add rough lines or even out a surrounding area. The contrast of a smooth surface next to a rough surface can really pop your sculpture.
- “Dribbles” using handfuls of wet sand and letting it drip through your fingers can make great hair, trees, or tops to your towers.
- Make sand balls with a little bit of wet sand and a dusting of dry sand. Press between cupped hands until firm then toss back and forth between hands to get a consistently round shape. Add them to the tops of walls or towers, draw a face on one and make an army of Sandmen.
- To make stairs simply create a smooth ramp in the direction you want the stairs to go. Start at the top making 90 degree cuts down half an inch and then across half an inch, then down again and continue until you reach the bottom.
- If you are in a competition or want to make your pictures really stand out, don’t forget to clean up the space around your finished piece. Move buckets out of the way. Undercut a line around the base of the sculpture to lift it off the sand around it. Rake away foot prints and divots or smooth the sand around your piece for a clean photo worthy masterpiece.
I hope this tutorial has helped bring your ideas to life. Be sure to take lots of pictures of your finished work because chances are tomorrow you will have a clean slate to start all over again. This time BIGGER and Better than yesterday!