The Orbital Sanders

May 27, 2015

We are THE ORBITAL SANDERS, a sand sculpture team based in Seattle, that has been creating sand sculptures for thirty years.

I hope everybody has had the chance to go to a beach as a child to play in the sand and make sand castles. It appears that some of us never quite stopped working with this temporary and vulnerable media.

The process of making a sand sculpture always involves three basic steps including Design, the Pound-up, and Carving.

Our sculpture designs typically use humor and include multiple pieces that together tell a story. The pound-up includes the hard work of shoveling sand, mixing it with water and compacting the mixture inside forms. We fill and stack the forms to create the blocks of damp sand to be carved. The carving is done from the top down by "reduction carving" as forms get removed. A variety of hand tools are used, starting with larger tools for rough shaping, and then smaller tools for finish carving and detail.

Sand has a tendency to dry out and collapse, so you always have to carve with a sense of maintaining support and structure. Since the sand that you are working with is all the same color, you need to rely on shape, shadow, and different textures to make things read well.

The dynamics of working as a team is very different than working as a soloist. Individual talents, personalities, and carving skills need to be coordinated and integrated into the final creation.

People ask us how we feel about working so hard on creating a sculpture in a non-permanent media like sand. But it is a performance art form, with people enjoying watching us during the process, as much as seeing the finished sculpture. The temporary nature of the media is also the Zen of the art form. It can be a matter of a few hours or days from when there is nothing, to a completed sand sculpture, and back to nothing when it gets removed or washed away. But there is always the chance to repeat the process and create something new.

Since all of our sand sculpture opportunities have a time limit, the time we have to create one is among our greatest challenges. We usually say that a sand sculpture gets abandoned, but not always quite finished.

Vern Cooley