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Sanding 101

DC Sandman

Chip Cooper, aka DC Sandman

“A day spent sanding is one in which no aging will occur,“ said DCSandman, aka Chip Cooper.

Chip wasn’t talking about sanding as in smoothing wood surfaces. He meant creating sand sculptures. Chip has been creating sand sculptures for 30 years, has won numerous awards in local, state and national competitions, has created pieces for many events and competitions, businesses as well as individuals. I had a birthday looming and it was Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Seemed like two good reasons to get a sand sculpting lesson.

sanding tools

Sanding essentials

We met on the Gulf beach at around Mile Marker 40. Chip brought a shade canopy, buckets, molds, shovels and sculpting tools. I brought water, sunscreen and mosquito spray. We discussed what type of project I wanted to make. I could have chosen a figure, object or a landscape but I chose to make a structure, the classic sand castle. Chip collected buckets of sand and water while I scoured the beach for decorative objects. To create the basis for the sculpture, Chip chose a fairly large mold: a plastic trash basket with the bottom cut out. He first sprayed it with WD40 to keep the sand from sticking, explaining that any lubricant such as PAM or even motor oil will do. He set the mold on the sand and shoveled alternating layers of sand and water into it, explaining that Port Aransas sand is some of the best anywhere for sculpting. He mixed the sand and water around until he got the desired consistency, removed the mold and voilà! – the shape held together.

Next, Chip explained the three main techniques used in sand sculpting. You can use a mold, as he just had. To make other features, you make a patty out of the water-and-sand mixture, cut out the desired shape and attach it to the rest of the sculpture. You can also carve shapes into the sculpture. Chip showed me how to use a knife or a trowel to carve the shape of the roof – with fancy curlicues at the corners, no less. A trowel, he explained, lets you carve without your knuckles getting in the way.

We attached dormers to the roof, first cutting the dormer shapes out of sand patties, then moistening them and attaching them to the roof. I couldn’t decide which type of roof treatment I wanted so we used all of them: slate, shingle AND thatched. Chip showed me how to create a Spanish tile roof with a little tool that he had invented out of a stick and a plastic spoon, and carved a Mesoamerican interlocking block pattern of which he was particularly fond. (When he’s not giving sanding lessons, Chip is a roofing contractor.  He knows a lot about roofs!)

sand sculpture in progress

Castle in progress

Once we had the roof the way we wanted it, we got started on the next level. (From the top down, that’s how you work, Chip explained.) He showed me how to cut out windows and make doors out of sand patties. By now the structure was starting to look pretty good, and I was getting cocky. I decided that I wanted a deck, with fencing. We cut out sand-patty blocks for the uprights and created a railing with whip coral found tangled in the sargassum. I tiled the courtyard with bottle caps. (Chip was pretty impressed with that little bit of creativity.) But the pièce de résistance was the “glass block windows” made out of an empty plastic blister pack that I had found discarded on the beach.

completed sandcastle

The finished product!

The castle was by no means finished. It could use more wings and features. I wanted to install a hot tub (a plastic margarine tub that I had found) and the whole thing was quite rough. Not competition caliber by any means. But I thought that was enough for my first lesson. So Chip made an elevated staircase leading into the castle and I stuck an ornament above the door. Chip had me sign my work and we called it done.

The next morning, I went to see how my castle had fared on the beach overnight and discovered it was gone, trampled flat by person or persons unknown. All that remained was a pile of bottle caps. So, you can’t just mosey over to Mile Marker 40 and see it. But you can see examples of Chip’s work on his Web site at www.dcsandman.com. Or check out the sand pit at 200 W. Avenue G. Chip’s usually got some sculpture on display there.

When I first scheduled the lesson, Chip had promised that I’d have fun and I did. Three hours had passed very pleasurably. I’m pretty certain that I didn’t age at all in that time and possibly even reversed the process a little bit. I felt refreshed and recharged. What a great way to have a party with friends or family. It would even make a cool corporate team building exercise. Beats firewalking, if you ask me.

To schedule a sanding lesson of your own, contact DC Sandman at (361) 852-4216 or (361) 658-4075 or send an email to DCooper@dcsandman.com. See you on the beach!

© 2010 by Devorah Fox. All rights reserved

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