Jeff Strong '76, P'11,'13: The sandman
When William Blake wrote, “to see the world in a grain of sand,” he probably never imagined what sand sculptors can do with 13 tons of it.
A lot, it turns out, if you know how to pick just the right kind of sand and have worlds of patience. Jeff Strong ’76, our resident world-class sand sculptor, says the best sand for sculpting is made up of a range of particle sizes—the finer, the better—and has a slight clay composition. That makes it good for “pounding up,” the process by which sand and water are mixed within a series of stacked wooden forms and then tamped down.
“It can be grueling,” says Jeff. “Depending on the design, you may end up moving several yards of sand during the pound-up and carving.”
Using short-handled shovels, concrete trowels, palette knives, and other modified tools, along with a soda straw to blow away excess sand (!), the sculptor gives the art its form from the top down.
“You have to see into the sand—imagine what you need to take away to create depth in the piece,” says Jeff.
Sand sculpting competitions were originally held between tides. Most events nowadays are timed competitions that occur over the course of two or three days, which requires plenty of planning. Jeff has a sandbox in his backyard where he creates prototypes of his designs, calculating the size and number of forms needed. Modeling at home also gives him a sense of where the design might need modification.
Providing a balance to Jeff’s day job at UPS as development lead in the Office of Technology Services (he’s in his 30th year working with computers at the college—clearly a man not lacking in stamina), sand sculpting taps into his degree in art design. He started sculpting nearly 10 years ago, and later, after he was part of a team that constructed the tallest sand sculpture ever built—29 feet, 3.5 inches—he was hooked.
“I don’t do it for the money or recognition,” Jeff says. “Sand sculptors tend to be a playful bunch. I love seeing new places and hanging out with fun people. And it’s nice if you win.”
Now considered a master sculptor, Jeff is invited to several competitions each year. In June he joined the Orbital Sanders team in Ocean Shores, Wash.—the team’s entry, “Discovering the Missing Links,” which showed archaeologists discovering cavemen playing primitive golf, won first place; he also solo sculpted at the North American Masters Invitational in Port Angeles, Wash., in July; and he will be a member of Team U.S.A. at the World Championships, to be held in September in Federal Way, Wash.
Jeff says it’s easy to try sand sculpting by starting with a couple of five-gallon buckets: Cut out the bottom of one of the buckets and fill the other with water. Turn the bottomless bucket upside down. Add about 6 inches of sand and enough water to fully saturate it. Mix thoroughly. Then start “pounding up,” or packing down, the sand. Repeat the process until the bucket is full. He says you may need to tap the side of the bucket to loosen and remove it. Voilà! You now have a form to start carving. Use any sculpting tool you can think of and a soda straw to blow away excess sand. One bit of advice, though: carve into the sand, beyond the surface, in a more 3-D sense.
Info on making art from sand is at http://sandcastlecentral.com.
— Cathy Tollefson ’83
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of the Puget Sound alumni magazine, Arches.