Thinking Outside the Sandbox

This Treasure Island couple raises the bar for beach art.
Anne Halliday

At 2:30 p.m. Meredith Corson and Dan Doubleday arrive on a mostly empty stretch of snow-white beach. Two hours later they’re surrounded by new friends, a group of stunned spectators captivated by their sculpture rising out of the sand.

The pair carefully waltzes around the 1,000-pound pile of sand, which is shaped like a giant, tiered wedding cake. Dan leads, blocking out the shape of a body, and Meredith follows close behind, adding the details. They carve, brush, and blow the pile into a beautiful female form. When they’re finished, the figure looks as though she’s built from solid sandstone bricks.

“I like the fact that it’s not permanent,” Meredith says, brushing sand from her hands. “All you have when it’s over is the memory of seeing it made. This is very much a performance art.”

A Winning Relationship
Dan and Meredith met at a Vancouver Island sand-sculpting competition in 1996, and their instant connection grew into a loving partnership. Since then, they have won nearly every competition they’ve entered, including individual and team world championships. In addition, their St. Petersburg company, Sanding Ovations, sculpts for beach weddings and does commercial work for companies such as Pepsi. The team also appeared on the Travel Channel’s Sand Blasters show in 2006 and 2007.

Neither Dan nor Meredith has any formal art training. They both stumbled upon their unusual talent―Dan while sculpting sand dolphins for his kids on a California beach and Meredith while watching the “World’s Largest Sand Castle” event on Treasure Island. Friends and family encouraged them to compete.

Mastering the Art
Professionally trained or not, the couple has honed their creative skills through sand sculpting. Of the two, Dan is the imaginative force behind new designs and daring ideas. He has become quite good at drawing, and he’s known for his ability to carve proportional human bodies. His innovations not only push Meredith to try new things, but they also challenge the sand-sculpting industry as a whole, Meredith says.

“I’ve just found sand to be the most fulfilling thing in my life because I really carve from the heart,” says Dan. “When I do solo pieces, I leave a part of my life―my kids, relationships, who I am―on the beach.”

Meredith, on the other hand, directs her focus to the details of each sculpture. Her steady hand adds the shadows and deep lines that bring the project to life. Even the tiniest, nearly imperceptible details matter, she says. “My lightbulb moment was meeting Dan and seeing what he was doing with realism,” she explains. “He convinced me I could do things I didn’t think I was capable of.”

Taking Time To Teach
Out-of-the-box sculptures are Dan and Meredith’s trademark. The pair has carved everything from a full carousel to a sandy replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Some of their projects have required truckloads of sand weighing as much as 200 tons. Dan isn’t a big fan of castles, and, really, who can blame him? There’s little thrill in making something that’s already been done, especially when you’re capable of sculpting a breaching whale, barnacles and all. •

For more information about Meredith and Dan’s work or to contact them for sculpting lessons, visit www.sandingovations.com.

How To: Art on the Beach
Meredith and Dan were kind enough to bring it down a notch―well, several notches―in order to teach me the tricks of their trade. Because I had never sculpted before, we settled on a simple castle. The results weren’t perfect. My turret turned out a bit lopsided, and the sides weren’t perfectly smooth, but my little, lumpy castle was the best beach art I had ever made. With the following tips, perhaps you can do even better.

In order to make a professional-quality sandcastle, you’ll need the right tools. Pros such as Meredith and Dan have their own special gadgets, but the more easily acquired implements below will do the trick for the rest of us.

  • Two 5-gallon buckets (one with the bottom cut out) and one piece of PVC piping, about 15 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. The bottomless bucket and the PVC pipe will serve as forms for the sand.
  • A shovel, a butter knife, some toothpicks, and a cheese-serving wedge
  • A balloon pump or small fireplace bellows

 

Meredith and Dan’s first hint is to select good sand. Lucky for me, they had already scouted out a perfect patch of powdery beach for our project. Steer clear of “bad sand,” which feels round and granular. As a test, make a “Florida snowball” (a.k.a. a ball of wet sand), and throw it a few feet into the air. The best sand will barely crack when you catch it.


"Thinking Outside the Sandbox" is from the April 2008 issue of Florida Living, a special section for our subscribers in Florida.