You were born in San Francisco and took notice of the murals on buildings. You have an environmental science degree and you were in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, where you developed conservation education curricula for rural schools. Then you went to Burning Man to feed your desire for self-expression. Did all of these events set the tone for your working with sand?
Definitely. Each informed my being. Largescale artwork, appreciation for the natural world, living simply, a taste for a lifestyle that was informed by my own interests and self-expression, experiencing a community of people who gave themselves and each other permission to revel in their wackiness. These all played a role in setting the tone for my journey. When my own art exploration began, I came out of the gate with a motivation and energy that had been informed by many years of diverse experiences. It was as a spontaneous eruption of artistic exploration that surprised me with its suddenness.
I’ve read that you were doodling on the beach with a stick when the idea of sand art came to you. When was this and did you know at that time that all you needed was a rake and some wet sand to bring that self-expression to the surface?
The moment was December of 2004, while I was camping on a remote beach on the island of Kauai. I took with me on that vacation books on design, sacred geometry, natural form, and crop circles. We actually started with calligraphy, mimicking the scene from ‘Hero’ in which a calligraphy master likens calligraphy to swordsmanship. We were doing ‘swordplay’ calligraphy in the sand when one of us made a circle. Circles are the starting point for much of geometry and it set something in motion within me. I began explaining the things I had been leaning, what a circle has meant to people, how to divide it into 6 parts, and other simple geometry trivia. I suddenly had the vision of seeing how the beach was the perfect canvas for largescale designs. it came all at once, seeing years into the development of what was possible, seeing exactly where I could start doing it - Ocean Beach in San Francisco (on the beach I was on, and most beaches in Hawaii, there is no space for large designs and the sand, being generally coarse, drains to quickly to hold a visible design). It was literally a 90 degree turn from where I had been at that point, nothing in my experience would have indicated what would have come next for me artistically.
How long does it take you to finish a canvas and what is going through you head knowing that it will all go away with high tide?
I generally give myself 2-3 hours. During that time I am only thinking of finishing in time to get a good recording of the event, ideally a photo that can become a print. That is the golden standard, which generally does not transpire for many reasons- the design needs more development or was poorly executed, the location is not so amenable that day, the tide comes back sooner than anticipated (perhaps due to a storm swell at sea), or maybe the fog is too thick for a good photo(!). It didn’t take very long in the history of my doing this art that I came to terms with the inherent factors that are completely out of my control. And so in order to not go crazy and for the endeavor to always feel enriching, I had to shift my attitude to one of appreciation for the opportunity to have been able to go out to do the work, regardless of the outcome. Simply getting out to the beach is a well spent day. The rest is gravy. And so while I am working, I may have a desired outcome that is at the forefront of my focus, but I do not at all think about its dissolution.
What is that feeling like when you see it all wash away?
It's a release. I have no attachment to an artwork once I have finished it. The caveat is that I am able to get a documentation. Once that happens I am complete. I can feel frustrated if the photo wasn't able to happen before the piece has begun to wash away. I've had so many dramatic races with the tide in which I have lost- and many I have won. I hardly ever stay to watch it dissolve away as I have already spent enough time that day on the artwork. It's a relief to see it go- the spark that was the idea for the design has had its moment in the light. Either the design feels complete, or it evolves in the next iteration, or the line of inquiry is abandoned. In any event, the space is cleared for the next thing, both on the beach and in my head.
What type of rake do you use and do you always use rope as well? If so, what kind?
- I use a hand cultivator affixed to a broom pole for fine lines and a metal leaf rake for the larger lines. I use rope occasionally when I need to do large circles, especially ones where exact size is important.
When you are creating, it must be a very spiritual feeling. Describe what is going through your head and heart when you start designing?
The design process takes me all over the place. Actually, I should say that in reverse, from inspirations gathered from all over- found in daily life, perhaps while in the garden, or at the fabric store, or in a book, the design process allows me to delve into and run with the outlook of life of which the design is a product. That's perhaps the most fun part of designing- allowing my mind to inhabit different spaces and gain insights from new perspectives that are gained simply through engaging that line of inquiry. From iterations of variations, a design that feels compelling begins to emerge. I make tweaks to the design, while visualizing myself actually bringing it to life on the beach in large-scale- what steps are needed, what tools are required, how large can I go, what factors are important to consider? Once I am on the beach, the design gets to interact with the nuances of the location, and that's where the real fun is- how will my idea become reality? The shape of the beach, the features on it such as boulders and cliffside- these play a role in what emerges. On the one hand my mind is laser focused as I work, on the other hand everything else about my life falls way. My feet in the sand, the sound of the crashing waves, the focus on the art, the physical exertion- I lose the sense of self and am taken over by the act.
Do you always know how the art will turn art or do you just let the rake lead you?
Once I have started, I have a strong sense of what I will be doing from there out, generally sketched out in various versions. The features of the location have a heavy influence in what results. But when I think about it, where the rake is hitting the beach, I am in the flow of what feels right in any moment given whatever I am intending for the piece as a whole. The artwork can definitely evolve and take a sudden shift. Usually, though, it's more gentle than that- refinements of the envisioned design that on paper serve only as a possibility. These days I could do the same design over and over and never repeat myself exactly because I am engaging a process. Its the process that from a higher perspective tells me what to do. On the ground, however, interacting with reality vs pencil on paper- the contours of the beach, the varying size of sand grains, humidity of the sand, rocks or seaweed- the canvas itself is alive and unpredictable (in fact changing daily)- all impact the process. And once begun, the design is then informing its own creation. This is where I act on the feeling I am getting as the work is progressing, feeling the balance of weight within the frame, considering the area as a whole, working towards the image my aerial camera will get. And so in this sense, I never know what I will get. That's the exciting part at the end, having a view from above. The chaos all around me when on the ground coming together into something integrated. And big!
Describe some of the looks on viewers faces when they watch you work and how they react when you have finished a piece. Do you see the peace in them that you want to convey?
People who walk by below can often have no clue what is going on around them. While the people above literally can see the bigger picture. There have been tense moments as when a woman jogged through the area and sat against one of the rocks in the 'frame'. People started booing her! I don't actually see people's faces when I am working down below. But when I share my postcards, which I do with almost everyone I meet, I can see upclose their response, almost always a mix of delight, wonder, and curiosity. Which is what I intend to transmit in sharing my work. I feel blessed to be creating art that is received and appreciated across all labels of old/young, rich/poor, ethnicity, class, etc. I actually began printing and distributing my postcards with the intention that they would be in places where the images could have a daily, or many times daily, influence on consciousness. I thought of office cubicles, bathroom altars, refrigerators. And indeed they have shown up in these places. Raising consciousness, that is the ultimate desire. I'd like to think it has an impact.
Name some of your favorite sand art pieces, where they were and how they looked.
I'll talk about my current favorite. It is inspired by Japanese water flow lines. It is among the first of my pieces done specifically to the perspective from high in the sky, one that can then include the entire beach as opposed to just a portion. Aside from the aesthetic quality of the design, which I love, this is the current pinnacle of what I have been envisioning with the art since I gained the capacity to capture photos from above- my art stretching out and integrated with the landscape.
Best place you’ve ever created sand art and why.
The Island of Jersey, a channel island between England and France, is perhaps the best area I have worked. Many large, remote-feeling, rugged beaches, perfect sand, large tides, interesting beach features. Heaven!
Places on your bucket list to create sand art and why.
I can't say specifically where I would want to do my art. More I am drawn to the magic of exploring a place and discovering new locations. My bucket list would then consist of qualities of location and beach and story- how I would encounter them would be part of the journey.
Have you thought about coming to the Texas Gulf Coast? Galveston would be a challenge due to the oil industry dominating the Gulf. Maybe the sand would appreciate an artist like you to bring your aura and talent to its shores.
That has not occurred to me. I'm always open to possibility. I'll check into the area on Google Earth. Thanks for the suggestion.
Tell me more about the workshops that you teach.
That would take a while. In a nutshell they are various ways to get into the heart of the art I create and then giving the group a chance to do something together. They are a lot of fun and now I count 4 different approaches that merit their own workshop. I started them as a response to wanting to offer people the opportunity to create with me and then them having similar questions about the art.
You do marriage proposals in sand for clients. Describe the most creative one you’ve done to date. What beach? Assume she or he said 'yes'.
All my works have concluded in a 'Yes!' There are a few that really touched me. In one we had extended family on both sides along with the couple participate in making the artwork. I wrote the words in once they left to walk to the overlook. Another proposal was simply the word 'Believe'. It was commissioned by a lesbian and spoke to something important in the couple's journey together. It's pretty amazing to be present, and even the focus of, such a potent moment. There are few times in people's lives as energized as a proposal. It's a privilege to be there for them.
Tell me about your wife and son. How has life changed now that you are a father?
Ember is an integral part of most of what I do in the art and business. Though her attention is going more towards our boy. Kavi is almost 1 year old and loves the beach. I've appreciated carrying him on my back for most of the art I've done this past year. He's hitting an age though where travel is getting tougher as a family. Maintaining schedules is hard on the road in another country, so we're not traveling together as much. At least at the moment.
You teach sand art classes in San Francisco. Are any of your students planning to follow in your footsteps?
My footsteps in the beach art? Or my path of self and creative exploration? Or the thing about blazing my own trail? 'Not that I know of' to the first and 'hopefully' to the second and third. I don't really have an interest in having people do what I do, or have done. My real interest is in exciting one's own sense of potential, of bringing inspiration to the journey one is already on. Each of our paths is vastly different, rightfully and thankfully so. We get to chart it. So if there were any path I would want to show someone, it is the path of listening to one's heart, to pursuing one's joys, to giving attention and love to one's own light. The best we can do in this life experience is to be the powerful expression of whomever we are. The best way to do that is to find the feelings, thoughts, beliefs, actions, food, job, friends, and everything else that supports our light shining brightly however that looks along the journey. I am a proselytizer of that lesson :-) When lived this way, life opens up doors where we might never have expected it possible. How bizarre is it that I am making a living raking in the sand? There is no way to intentionally get here- it was, and is, the result of my ongoing journey of expansion. This approach to life is what I wish for all beings.
Tell me more about the charities you are involved with, like Artists for World Peace. Also, Kickstarter campaigns you have going on right now.
Artists for World Peace is a humanitarian organization that does works around the world. The Peace Belt comes from them and is worn by an artist as they do their thing. It then goes on to accompany someone doing humanitarian work. I recently did an artwork for them while wearing the belt.
A few months ago we successfully finished our Kickstarter project to fund a film and print series of the collaboration between a photographer and me. As part of that project we highlighted the group 'Save Our Shores' which champions waste reduction and heads beach cleanup efforts.
I also recently did a video spot for 'Walk Free' which advocates on behalf of ending modern slavery.