Digging in the sand is the best thing to do on any beach vacation. Even little ones can dig trenches and have fun. But building beautiful sand sculptures? That feels like a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be. These simple tips will help you and the kids build sand sculptures like a pro — without spending a penny on fancy tools and supplies.
When I met Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga on the beach on South Padre Island, I wasn’t expecting much. Art has never been my forte. That gene passed from my mom to my daughter, skipping me altogether. But a couple of hours on the beach with Sandy and I was empowered.
Those lumpy-looking “castles” are now a thing of my past. My sand sculptures still look nothing like hers, but today my sand castles come complete with staircases, turrets, windows and doors.
These easy tips for making sand sculptures are designed to turn everyone into a sand artist.
How to Make Sand Sculptures
1. Use the Tools You Have at Home
Grab a bucket and some shovels — the garden shovels and hand spades you use for digging in the yard work just fine. There’s no need to buy special sand shovels. In fact those cheap plastic ones they sell at every beach shop likely won’t last long. Stick with metal if you can. Bring at least two sizes of buckets — a 1 gallon and a 5 gallon.
Next, grab some old spoons, knives and forks, a ruler, a old comb — anything that can make its mark on some wet sand. Bring along a reusable metal straw (skip the plastic ones that are so dangerous for animals on land and in the sea). Finally, an ice cream scoop, melon baller and graduated size measuring spoons will come in handy for sand castle detail work.
For smoothing the sand and adding textured finishes, you’ll want an icing spatula and an old paint brush.
2. Modify that Sand Bucket
This was the biggest surprise to me in my sand sculpting lesson: the best bucket has the bottom cut out. Remember when you were building sand castles as a kid? You would fill those cute little molds with damp sand and turn it over filled with optimism …. only to end up with an unformed lump of wet sand?
Buckets without bottoms are the answer! Fill the bucket with sand, shimmy it to loosen the sand and pull straight up. Voila! You have the basics of your sand castle.
3. Just Add Water, But Not Too Much Water
The key to a sturdy sand castle is sand consistency. You need enough water to hold the sand together, but not so much that it melts into a soupy mess when you take away the bottomless bucket.
I found this to be a challenge. Mine was consistently inconsistent. Don’t give up. Once I hit upon the right combination, the results were impressive. The sand stood at attention waiting for my artistic skills to carve it into a castle.
The key is to add sand, then water, then sand, then water. Pack the sand firmly into the bucket. Pat the sides of the bucket to loosen the sand and lift the bucket off to reveal your castle base.
4. Get Creative About Your Sand Sculpture Designs
While sand castles are the go-to sand sculpture design, there are easier options, like a sea turtle. It’s all about shaping the wet sand, with no need for building an intricate high rise structure complete with turrets, bridges, windows and doors.
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Of course, if want to go the traditional route, that’s when the spoons, forks, knives and other kitchen utensils come in handy. We used the knife to carve an outdoor staircase that wound up the side of our “castle.” We used the melon baller and measuring spoons to scoop out windows. We used the straw to blow away excess sand and the paint brush to smooth the finish after we carved stones into the walls.
It was fun and I was just proud enough of my creation to be a little sad that it would all be washed away with the high tide that night.