About 10 years ago, in the summers after my junior and senior years of high school, I participated with many of the other people in theater class in a festival in downtown Omaha, NE, called, “Sand in the City”. It was a big fundraiser of some kind, where groups would enter and create large sand sculptures in a parking lot. If you don’t know Nebraska, it’s smack dab in the middle of America, so oceans aren’t really our thing and the only beaches we have are some sectioned off areas on a few scattered lakes. We also had one of those sandboxes shaped like a turtle when I was a kid! But we didn’t play with it much. So at that point in my life, I had done very minimal (absolutely no) sand sculpting. It was an intense process. My theater teacher had teamed up with a friend of hers who was a sculptor and we met at his house as a group twice before the event each year to go through the basics of sculpting sand, and then we would practice in his driveway until it got dark.
I don’t remember everything we made, but I do remember a recreation of the Globe Theatre in London (of course something Shakespeare related- we were a high school theater group after all), a stack of books, a large bulldog, and a crown. I wish I could remember exactly what the bulldog and the crown related to, but I do remember they were fun. We got very serious about it as well, with spray bottles of water to keep the sand moist, and little knives and trowels to get sharp edges.
While it’s a fun memory, it’s one I thought nothing about until years later, when I had moved to Los Angeles, was going to the beach regularly, and had a friend visit who took me to the beach in a diaper. It dawned on me then that I had never tried to make a sandcastle here, in California, with the proper tools and environment. He helped me build what we could with our hands, and we watched the sun go down. Later I went back with some real sand-construction supplies, but that diapered day at the beach will always be special.
Before I fly into how to build an optimal sand castle, I thought it would be fun to look at some cool ones!
Like this modern geometric sandcastle.
Or this dreamy cartoony sandcastle.
Or THIS, which I found out is a called a “drip castle”, which is made by making your sand way too wet (yes that can be a thing, we’ll get into it), and pouring it, letting it dry, and pouring some more on top, and repeating that until you're satisfied- resulting in these haunting sandcastles that look like they’ve truly risen out of the sea.
Now for what you’ve all been waiting for, the steps! I will say that I’m going to have a certain bias towards being mere feet from an ocean in these instructions, but as my introduction shows, you can make a sand sculpture anywhere with sand, water, and some room to work.
- Plan First! I’m not saying you should have a fully drawn blueprint of your castle, but I think it’s a good idea to have an idea of what you want it to look like in your head, before diving into the sand with your little shovels. And speaking of little shovels, planning also means making sure you have the correct supplies. A cute little shovel and a plastic pail (as shown in the picture below) are obviously essential for feeling super adorable and baby, but I would suggest bringing a few other things to help the artistic process, like plastic cups for smaller towers, a spoon and a butter knife for carving details, and a little spray bottle you can fill with water for moisture.
Shoot for an overcast day! (If possible). An overcast day (a day with a good amount of cloud coverage, like in the picture below) will be better for your sandcastle than a regular day, because it will keep your sand from drying out as quickly. Obviously, this is at the mercy of Mother Nature, so don’t take this step too seriously. But it’s good to remember!
Sand + Water! This step is fairly self explanatory. For a sandcastle you will defiantly need both sand and water readily available. It might take a little while to find a good mix of how wet the sand should be, but it’s usually safer to keep it on the drier side. You can always spray it with the spray bottle later if needed. But it can definitely get too wet, like I mentioned with drip castles, which will make it look more like wet cement, and won’t hold together very well for sculpting purposes.
Build from the bottom up, with a strong, wide base. (Yes I also just wanted to use the term “strong, wide base”) But being serious, most sandcastles are built in a pyramid shape, with the bottom being the widest part, and the top getting thinner, and usually coming to a point, like the sandcastle in the picture below. Building with a strong base is an important rule of any architectural project, especially when you’re building with something as fragile as sand.
Carve out the details! Finally, carve out all of your details (windows, stone detailing, gates or doors, etc.) with your spoon and butter knife (yes I’ve specified butter knife twice. And that should be used with a caregiver’s supervision little one) to give it all of the finishing touches you want! Remember to spray your sand to keep it moist, but don’t get stressed if things fall away as you’re carving, it can be an artistic opportunity to make it into something new and fresh!
The last step is to enjoy your sandcastle, lay in the sunset in your wet diaper, and then ruin that diaper by jumping into the ocean to pretend you’re a baby mermaid. I haven't made any other crazy sculptures since I started building sandcastles again, but it’s really fun and relaxing to make a little fortress for your pacifiers and shells you find on the beach. Plus there’s the added sensory fun of playing with messy, squishy sand.
There’s still a lot of summer left this year, and a lot of fun to be had during it, so we hope all of our PlayTyme readers are making the most of it with the ones they love. Just like with our last Arts & Crafts article (Summer of Slime), we would love to see any sandcastles you make! If you think of snapping a pic while living in the glow of your sandy creation, send it over to us on Instagram or Twitter at @playtymeco. Thanks for reading, and stay cool this summer!