upon a time, there was a builder of castles. But he didnít
use sticks or stones to make his castles. He built them
out of sand.
It might seem like a fairytale, but
sculpting sand has been Damon Farmerís job for nearly 30
years. Damon is a professional sand sculptor. His job
involves turning tiny grains of sand into large-scale
works of art. "Itís interesting to see that thereís
a benefit to following your love and having it become
something you can make money at," says Damon.
"When I first started out, I didnít realize this
was something other people did. I liked sculpting out of
sand, and so I did it."
Although Damon currently builds fewer
castles than he did when he was starting out, his work
retains a fairytale feel. With a sand sculpture of Jack
and the Beanstalk, for example, he won the 1996 World
Championship in British Columbia, Canadaóand later
recreated the sculpture for the Castelli di Mare (Castles
of the Sea) competition in Jesolo, Italy. Invitational
events like these are all-expenses-paid trips that give
Damon the chance to travel around the world.
No matter where it is done, though, sand
sculpting involves more than just having fun in the sun.
Creating these sculptures, which can be as high as 20 to
30 feet, requires some special techniques and a lot of
"Itís a physically demanding
job," says Damon. Many sand sculptors begin a
sculpture by shoveling sand into a wooden or plastic frame
thatís about 2 feet high. Then, they carry numerous
5-gallon buckets of water to mix with the sand. As soon as
the sand is evenly saturated, it is pounded into the frame
with a hand tamper (a tool for packing sand) or a
gas-operated machine called a jumping jack.
After the initial layer of sand is
compacted, a smaller frame is put on top of the first.
More water is added, and again, the mixture is pounded
until compact. This process is repeated until the
structure reaches its desired height. "It ends up
looking like a wedding cake," Damon says of the
Next, the frame is removed from the top
Damonóstanding on a 6-inch-wide ledgeóbegins to
sculpt, working from the top down. "Itís all
deductive," he says. "Youíre taking away to
reveal the form."
Damon might work from a sketch, but he
doesnít do much measuring. Sculpting, he says, is an
easier art form than a two-dimensional one, such as
painting, which requires creating the illusion of depth.
"An artistic eye helps," he says, "but to
some degree, anyone with a desire to sculpt can do
There are no formal training requirements
for becoming a sand sculptor, but Damon says that practice
is one of the best ways to prepare for the occupation.
While developing his abilities, Damon says, he used only a
shovel and a butter knife instead of working with frames
or special tools. "My first sand sculpture looked
like something any kid would make on a beach," he
Damon has a degree in art. But, he says,
"thereís hardly any kind of education that wouldnít
come in handy." Sand sculptors use mathematics, for
example, to convert square yards into tons when
calculating the volume of sand that they need. They also
use math when ordering plywood, such as 2-by-4s, to make
Computer and Internet skills also are an
asset for sand sculptors. Damon created his own Web site,
which he uses to inform people all over the world about
sand sculpting and about his work.
Communication skills are important, too.
"Youíre dealing with people a lot," says
Damon, "sending people sketches, negotiating prices,
and communicating with spectators." Spectators like
to interact with sculptors, which often makes the process
of creating a sculpture as important as the finished
product. Sand sculpting is a performance art, Damon says,
so "anytime a sand sculpture is being built, people
enjoy watching it."
The ability of sand sculptors to draw a
crowd is one of the reasons why the work is profitable.
Cities sponsor sand-sculpting events as promotional or
tourist attractions, and companies sponsor them for
advertising purposes. Commissioned sculptures may be built
either indoors or outdoors, adding variation to the work.
It wasnít until the 1990s that Damon got
his first paid job. Now, he estimates that heís one of
hundreds of people who sculpt sand on a regular basis. The
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on
Damon accepts two types of sand-sculpting
jobs: Those for which he is solely responsible and those
for which heís a subcontractor to a company that hires
several sand sculptors. The first type of job, says Damon,
requires him to do everything, from talking with clients
to ordering materials, arranging lodging, and hiring other
sand sculptors, if necessary. But as a subcontractor,
Damon doesnít have to worry about logistics; he just
shows up and sculpts.
The extra work involved in an independent
job can be worthwhile, however. Damon estimates that sand
sculptors working on independent jobs earn about $500
dailyóabout twice as much as they can make
But sand sculptors donít work every day.
In fact, Damon says that many people, including himself,
do sand sculpting part time while also working in another
occupation. In addition to the income he earns from sand
sculpting, Damon makes money by painting and by doing
Sporadic earnings are not the only reason
why few people choose sand sculpting as their primary
source of income, though. The occupationís exhaustive
travel requirements are another reason. "People tend
to burn out if they do this full-time," says Damon.
For example, Damon lives in landlocked Versailles,
Kentuckyóso nearly all of his jobs are elsewhere. He
says that itís draining to be away from home and to
travel all the time.
To complete a project, sand sculptors
might work 8 or more hours a day for up to 14 days
straight. Sand sculpting is done just about anywhere that
can accommodate a delivery of sand. The ample supply of
sand at beaches makes them an obvious location choice for
many projects and competitions.
Beaches also have an ample supply of
water, a key ingredient in creating any sand sculpture.
Grains of sand in a sculpture are held together by the
surface tension of water droplets. Compacting the wet sand
makes the bond between the water droplets stronger,
helping the final sculpture to last longerósometimes for
a month or more.
While they are working, whether inside or
out, at a paid display or in a competition, sand sculptors
and their creations draw a lot of public admiration.
"Itís satisfying, as an artist, to have your work
appreciated," says Damon.
This gratification also helps Damon not to
be bothered by the fact that each of his creations is
short lived. "Itís like a song," he says.
"Itís there for people to enjoy, and then itís
courtesy of Damon Farmer.