One Saturday during Spoleto season, overstimulated art fans make a pilgrimage to the Isle of Palms for a different kind of art appreciation: Sand sculpting. The Piccolo Spoleto Sand Sculpting Competition is celebrating 25 years of temporary art on the beach June 1, and Jack Tracey has competed in the event since the ’80s. He’s become known as a bit of a sand sculpting expert — he’s even been hired to create pieces for corporate events. But it took some time to get to where he is today.
“We’ve lived on Isle of Palms since 1979, lots of beach time raising children, summertime hanging with regular gang of about eight or nine kids and their parents,” Tracey says. “I would often dig in the sand and just make large smoothed shapes. Circa 1984-ish, one kid said, ‘Do you think you can make a lion?’ So I made the head of something that pretty much looked like a gorilla. I was trying for the lion.”
Over the years, he’s won prizes for various sculptures. In 1997, he sculpted a very large abstract anchor with his wife, Janis Helene Thompson Tracey. Sometimes working solo and sometimes with a group, he’s also sculpted a “night faerie,” a sink (which won first prize for most realistic), a chain, and a dock. He says he’s hoping to make a tiger sometime soon.
1. Assemble a good tool kit.
You need shovels, trowels, a variety of cooking utensils (spoons, forks, knives), buckets, a large nail, a big straw, a block of wood, string, and a big spray bottle of water. Bring plenty of objects with straight edges, and scoops.
2. Dig down a bit.
Have your sculpture start below the surface of the shoreline to add to the height effect.
3. Soak your sand.
Really drench it. The consistency should be like thick pancake batter. Then jiggle it to tighten it. Do not pound on the sand pile because it creates cracks.
4. Remove any debris.
The sand you’ll be working with should be free of trash bits, shells, sticks, and seagrass.
5. If you’re sculpting in a competition
Start with a plan. If you’re just enjoying the beach, start digging and see what reveals itself.