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Discovering the Art of Sand Sculptures

by Meredith Mullins on September 18, 2017

A lion sand sculpture, part of the great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculpting. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Winner of the 2017 Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest
© Meredith Mullins

The Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest

What lives and breathes sand and water . . . and brings out the kid in everyone?

What passion requires a unique combination of creativity, patience, delicacy, and grit?

What depends on building with the simplest of elements, but can rise to the pinnacle of artistry?

And what, without lament, is always inevitably destroyed?

Shovels in the sad, the remnants of a sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Grand finale for a sand sculpture: Inevitable destruction
© Meredith Mullins

It is the wonderful world of sand sculptures, or, for us novices, the wonderful world of plastic shovels and buckets and mounds of malleable sand.

Oh, I see. Sand and water open the door for creativity.

Drip sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The art of the drip technique
© Meredith Mullins

The Art of Sand Sculptures

There are sand sculpting events all around the world—well-known competitions from California to Florida and Europe to Australia. There’s even a World Championship of Sand Sculpting. Sand and water are a universal art form.

One of the classic sand events full of family fun is the Great Sand Castle Contest of Carmel—an informal competition held at the close of summer in Carmel-by-the-Sea on the central coast of California.

Roller skate sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A Roller Derby tribute by Dereck, William, and Adrian
© Meredith Mullins

This year’s competition—the 57th annual— took center (sandy) stage this past Saturday, September 16.

The invitation called for everyone who has ever built—or dreamed of building—a sand castle to come to Carmel Beach, fearless in heart, tools in hand.

Carmel is known for its expanse of white sand beach—so soft underfoot, it feels like walking on powdered velvet. Beautiful to look at. Difficult to use as a building material.

Todd Weaver makes a sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Veteran sand sculptor Todd Weaver makes the best of Carmel’s fine sand.
© Meredith Mullins

“The grains are round and fine because they’ve been rolled by the waves,” says Todd Weaver, a sand castle entrant and a veteran sand sculptor. “It’s like stacking ping-pong balls.”

He adds that some events import river sand for the competitions because the consistency is more like clay and easier to work with. Not Carmel.

What’s the secret strategy for this fine light sand? Water, water, and more water.

Sand sculpture with balls at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Todd Weaver’s final sculpture won the Best Theme Award.
© Meredith Mullins

Lines in the Sand

The theme of this year’s competition was “Lines in the Sand,” quickly addended by the disclaimer that following the theme is not required.

Golden Shovel Award for the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where entrants discover the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The coveted Golden Shovel Prize
© Meredith Mullins

Carmel city officials (including internationally-known professional sand sculptor Rusty Croft) and American Institute of Architects representatives make up the fun-loving and attentive judging panel. They awarded the following prizes:

  • First prize (Golden Shovel Award)
  • Second prize (Sour Grapes Award) (The winner of this award has to whine, mope, and tell the judges off.)
  • Best Traditional Sand Castle
  • Best Theme
  • Best Children’s
  • Best Bribe
Judges reviewing a sand castle at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where entrants are discovering the art of sand sculpture. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Judges review the “Stairway to Heaven” entry by Halden Frei and Sebastian Danielson,
which won the Traditional Sand Castle Award.
© Meredith Mullins

Judging criteria include the WOW factor, originality of design, artistic impression, difficulty of design, quality of carving, incorporation of theme, and quality of bribe.

Two simple rules are stated: (1) No machinery is allowed, and (2) All decorations must be found on the beach.

One guideline is unashamedly mentioned: Bribery of officials is condoned and encouraged.

And, oh yes, dogs must be leashed.

Sign to leash your dog at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, a day for discovering the art of sand sculpture. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Carmel loves its dogs, but not on Great Sand Castle Contest day.
© Meredith Mullins

On the Beach

As expert judge, Rusty Croft says . . . “Dig in.”

And they did.

For a two-block section of Carmel beach, sand sculptures of all shapes and sizes appeared. The sculptors were solo artists, duos, families, small teams, and groups so large they might have benefitted from org charts (diggers, water carriers, carvers, rakers, sprayers, beer-drinking supporters, and cooks and bartenders for the judges’ bribes).

Team of sand sculptors work on a sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The value of teamwork on the sculpture “All Lines Included”
© Meredith Mullins

There were children and adults. There were locals as well as visitors from afar who had driven hours to arrive at the beach by the 8 am start time.

There were veterans who had been to many of the sand castle contests over the years (including Jason Johnson, who had been to almost all of the 57 events, since he is a Carmel native and started coming as a child).

A sand sculpture aqueduct at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where entrants discover the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The delicate architecture of an aqueduct won Luci, Hannah, and Benjamin the Children’s Award.
© Meredith Mullins

There were birthday celebrants who, instead of a bowling birthday or a roller skating party, wanted a sand castle birthday. And there are first timers who just thought it would be fun to come to the beach for a day and build a sand castle.

Family inside sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The Elfwing family from Sweden came on a first-time whim.
Their strategy: working from the inside out.
© Meredith Mullins

As for the sand forms, the variety was inspiring. Castles, aqueducts, Aztec ruins, sand villages, animals, sea creatures, shoes, man in a bathtub, and amazing mazes—all built within the four-hour timeframe.

And even though the “Lines in the Sand” theme was optional, several entries were particularly creative: “Lion in the Sand” and “Lines in the Sand-al.”

A sandal sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where entrants discover the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

“Lines in the Sand-al” by Makenna, Connor, Neil, and Kyle
© Meredith Mullins

There was also “A Matter of Perspective” (a village of structures that spelled out L-I-N-E-S when viewed from a specific spot), and a structure with balls that appeared to be tumbling down carved steps but screeching to a halt just before the line in the sand (although one ball figured out an escape route).

Sand sculpture that spells out LINES for the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculpting. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

This village of structures spelled out L-I-N-E-S when viewed from the prime spot.
© Meredith Mullins

Tales from the Sand

Tom and Roan Collom were spontaneous entrants. They had no tools with them, so they adopted the “caveman approach”—their feet for rough digging and a Frisbee for a more refined “shovel” approach.

Two people digging sand maze for their sand sculpture, discovering the art of sand sculptures at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Tom and Roan Collom go back to basics with the “Feet and Frisbee” approach.
© Meredith Mullins

With just these basic tools and the spirit of the day, they built a participatory maze, so visitors could plot a journey through the tangle of sand paths.

The Frei family designed multiple entries, including a birthday celebration and a mound constructed by Dad and his toddler, who kept smushing and jumping on the sand structure.

“I’m going for my fourth spire,” Dad said. “I think I’ll call the project ‘Ruins by a two-year-old.”

Dad and child make a sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Dad and his two-year-old sand sculptor build . . . and rebuild . . . as needed.
© Meredith Mullins

The Humpback Homies went big. A whale of a design, inspired by all the whales that have been in the Monterey Bay lately.

The Homies’ claim to fame, however, is judge bribery. In fact, they have remained virtually undefeated in this category over the years.

Whale sand sculpture by the Humpback Homies, part of the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The Humpback Homies sit back and relax after completing their whale.
The next step: the bribery portion of the contest.
© Meredith Mullins

This year was no exception. Their lobster gazpacho, filet mignon, organic fruits and vegetables, ice cold beer, and caramels won the hearts of the judges (although a champagne and caviar bribe and a taco stand offered by competing entrants raised the stakes.)

MariJane from Humpback Homies serving snacks at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where everyone is discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The Humpback Homies’ lobster gazpacho bribe was a thing of beauty.
© Meredith Mullins

A “Go with the Flow” Philosophy

Aside from muscled shoveling, hand and foot compacting, precise water/sand formulas, and engineering/architectural design, just about everyone on the beach had the “zen and the art of sand crafting” attitude. Going with the flow.

Woman patting sand sculpture by hand at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, where entrants are discovering the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Hands-on work by first timer Melodie Bahou, building an Aztec ruin with Cielo Cervantes
© Meredith Mullins

“You have to be ready to change,” mused Dereck Farren, talking about the fickleness of the sand. “It’s fun anyway, even if your creation fails.”

Of course all the artists have to be ready for the inevitable destruction. The tide will come in. The art will change . . . and ultimately will dissolve back into its simplest form.

“Once, our castles lasted for three days,” said Doug Evers of the Familia Creativa team. “Each day the sea changed the shapes.” But in the end, everything disappeared.

Abstract sand sculpture at the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest, showing the art of sand sculptures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Even the Sour Grapes winner “All Lines Included” by Craig and Scott Comming (and team)
will wash back into the sea.
© Meredith Mullins

Soon, the sand sculptures of the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest will be gone. The judges will no longer accept bribes. The lobster gazpacho will be just a fond memory. The carving tools will be put away. The beach will return to its pristine whiteness. And dogs will run free again.

Until next year.

Winners and judges of the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest of 2017, discovering the art of sand sculptures in the best possible way. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The grand finale of the Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest 2017
© Meredith Mullins

The Great Carmel Sand Castle Contest is sponsored by the City of Carmel and the American Institute of Architects/Monterey Bay.

For more information about the art of sand sculpting, visit Judge Rusty Croft’s Sand Guys website.

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Comments:

2 thoughts on “Discovering the Art of Sand Sculptures

  1. Awesome – I had no idea that this takes place every year. I loved the way that you covered so many different ways of digging and building with great action photos. Thanks for sharing!

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