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Sculpting a New Life

California carpenter builds a second career from sand castles

Kirk Rademaker found his second career by playing in the sand. While working as a project manager for a busy Oakland cabinet company, Rademaker escaped the stress by spending weekends at the beach, building sand castles from a book.  His talents as a sand sculpture artist grew. He was invited to international events and eventually became so successful that he quit his job to join fellow sand carver Rusty Croft to start Sand Guys, creating sand sculptures for clients around the world.

See also: Exploring the lighter side.

Now 60, Rademaker makes a living making art. He shares with us an insider’s view on how sand sculptures really work.

How do you start building a sand sculpture?

The first thing I do is make a pile of sand. Don’t use dry sand, use sand that’s damp. You can shape it; I’ll take a bucket that doesn’t have a bottom in it, turn it over and fill it with sand and water and then pull it off. The result is a form in the shape of a bucket. Then you start carving, and you work your way from the top down. You’re making a world for yourself with stairs, ramps and just invent as you go. 

How long does it take to make various sand castles, from your smallest to your largest?

I always figure if I go to the beach, I’m going to spend at least five, six hours. Anything less and you really can’t do anything. This is for the smaller sand castles. The longest I’ve worked on were sand sculptures in Turkey and Portugal. It took nearly a month to carve those sculptures. You’ve got this huge pile of sand and you’re not carving with a palette knife, you’re carving with large trowels and a shovel, so it’s very difficult.

Jane Pauley interviews Kirk Rademaker who builds sand castles for a living

Kirk Rademaker builds sand castles for a living. — Photo by Jonathan Sprague

What’s your favorite thing to create?

My favorite sand sculptures are mechanical fantasies. To me, sand looks like machine parts. I like anything with linkages, chains or gears. I also like robotics, hydraulics, nuts and bolts.

Have you ever just jumped on a sand castle once it served its purpose?

I won’t destroy it. But, I’ll start making cuts to see how strong the sand is and see how far I can take it before it falls. It always hangs in there longer than you think. It’s actually kind of fun because people on the beach don’t understand why it’s still standing and you don’t either. Then it finally gives way and everyone groans, “Oh!”

The following artists contributed to some of the sand sculptures featured in the Kirk Rademaker story:

Rusty Croft, Morgan Rudluff, Bouke Atema, Helena Bangert , “Amazin” Walter McDonald, and Lucinda Wierenga.

Portions of footage courtesy of the Travel Channel.

You may also like: 50 Shades of Grey and 5 less painful books for beach reading.

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