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From Grains of Sand Come Works of Art

August 23, 2000|Washington Post

Been to the beach yet?

If you're going, don't forget to build a sandcastle. Or sand dragon, a sand ship, a sand rocket, a sand-a-saur, a Sand-e-mon . . . a giant nose made out of sand. Whatever.

Here are some tips we came up with after reading "Sandcastles, Great Projects: From Mermaids to Monuments," by Patti Mitchell (Chronicle Books, $14.95).

What sand is best? Silty or clay-like is good. Grainy or pebbly is bad.

What's the basic idea? Don't try to build; try to sculpt. Mound up sand that you've gotten just wet enough, then carve it away. (How wet is just wet enough? Think this way: too wet and it melts, too dry and it crumbles.)

How now, brown mound? Here are some mounding methods:

* Drip. A globby approach. Dig a hole until you hit water. Scoop up a handful of watery sand, put your hands together and point your fingers down. Let the sand drip off and form a tower.

* Pancake. Another tower-making technique. Dig a hole until you hit water and form the gooey sand into pancakes, about three to four inches in diameter. Stack them on a flat surface near your hole. The stacks can be as high as two feet. Make the cakes smaller as you go, to prevent toppling. You can even make two towers curve at the top and meet, to form an arch.

* Flat mountain. Outline your base. With your shovel, build up sand at the edges of the outline. (This is to hold water in, as you build the mountain.) Now build in layers: first, the sand. Compact it (by patting it or walking on it), then sprinkle water onto it. Keep adding layers, alternating this way. Keep the edges higher than the middle to contain the water. Build it a little bigger than you want the finished sculpture to be. If the sides slip, you're using too much water.

* Mold. Pack wet sand into a container--anything from an empty yogurt cup to a paint bucket. Flip it over, tap it, lift it and voila! To make a really big mold, get a big plastic trash bucket, cut the bottom out and shovel sand into it. Jump in and stomp, or use a brick, to pack it down.

Any tips for sculpting? Bring these sculpting tools to the beach: fork, butter knife, putty knife or spatula, trowel. Keep the sand wet (use a watering can for big flat areas, spray bottle for places with a lot of details). Use the trowel to smooth big flat areas, the knife for little places. A fork can be used to add texture. A spoon or cup can help you make fish scales.

Where to build? You did build above the high-tide line, didn't you? Don't let the sea rip off your masterpiece.

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