- Marianne van den Broek has been sculpting sand for 23 years.
- She spends about two days on each project, but says her biggest challenge is Florida’s unpredictable weather.
- She makes a living by teaching sand sculpting classes, making custom sculptures, and attending conferences.
This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Marianne van den Broek, a professional sand sculptor in Key West, Florida. Edited for length and clarity.
I am a professional sand sculptor in Key West. I have worked as an artist in residence at his two adjacent sister properties, The Reach Resort in Key West and Castle Marina Resort in Key West, for 12 years, but since he started sand sculpting professionally, he has been I am 23 years old.
I have worked on over 500 projects while working at this facility.my business name is “Just sand and water.”
I have made 1,000 to 1,500 sand sculptures so far.
When I got into sand sculpting at age 18, one of the first questions my dad asked me was, “Can I make money with it?” I said, “As a matter of fact, you can.”
Initially, I was hired by a marketing company that was doing sand sculpting projects at festivals. It displayed the story of the Odyssey through sand sculptures. About 70 sculptors worked over several weeks.
Originally I was hired to do sand shoveling work, but I was so intrigued to see what they were going to do that I asked them to stay and help.
I moved to Key West in 2005 and no one else was doing sand sculpting at the time.
The seeds of starting my own business came to my mind, and in 2008 I did just that.
The first year I made a lot of sculptures and worked with many groups in schools and boys and girls clubs just to teach kids how to make with sand. At the end of that year, the resort I currently work at called me and asked if I would like to move to their property.
I have been here ever since. Currently, I teach sand sculpting classes for all ages.
The hardest part of my job is dealing with the weather
I am on a roller coaster ride and am in a constant emotional state with everything that is happening. But at the same time, I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I kind of anticipate how I’ll protect my work by covering it with vinyl and being prepared for it.
Usually the first question people ask me is, “What if it rains?” They just think it will melt away quickly. But sand quickly absorbs a lot of water. Therefore, it would have to rain heavily to ruin my work. Just wait until the rain stops and put it back on.
sand sculpting is definitely a community
We have a Facebook group called “The Sand People” and recently entered a contest in Texas. We have 10 sculptors from all over the world and we are all very friendly even though it is a competition.
It also functions as a networking session and conference. We can interact with each other, ask what everyone is doing, brainstorm tips and tricks with each other, and get better. My work is definitely making positive progress as I learn more.
Like laying the foundation of a house, you start with a pile of sand.
If you take this process seriously, engraving will be very easy.
First, using a large amount of water, a mold is used to make a mold, and the water is mixed with sand and vibrated. It’s like crushing grapes. By doing so the water and air rise and everything settles down.
When the formwork was removed the next day, there was a lump of hardened sand. Whenever I have a block of sand and have to make the first cut, it always feels like it’s the first time.
But it’s muscle memory. Once you start carving there, go with the flow. Michelangelo’s point is true that the sculpture is already there, all that remains is to release it. Your brain is so well trained to watch it and connect with it.
It takes about a day and a half to two days on average to make one of my sculptures.
The beauty of sand is that it is shorter than other carving methods. If you’re working with marble, wood, etc., it will take more time.
People say I have patience, but I don’t think I have the patience to keep making marble for three months. The fact that I can knock out a sculpture in a matter of days is a huge advantage for me.
The longest project I’ve made has been going on for over a year
Resorts tend to leave it on average for 1-2 weeks. Castle Marina is a larger site, so there he has two sandboxes. One for my class and one for weddings and corporate engraving.
My sandbox is, as the name suggests, part of a roped-off beach, so people can see it, but they can’t touch it. But people touch it. They want to make sure it’s really sand. When you finish the sculpture and come back the next day, he has one finger mark on it.
But most of the time people are very respectful.
I don’t really use beach sand in my project
I use quarry sand. The sandy beach here is made up of remnants of coral and other marine material, not suitable for me to work with.
The sand I get is from an underground quarry. Fresh and new, each grain is still angular and sharp, so they stack together tightly.
The sand on the beach here rolls around all day and is constantly exposed to the elements. Each small grain of sand rolls up like a marble, making it impossible to stack the marbles.
You can build something with the sand from this beach, but it doesn’t have much height or detail. It’s structurally inconsistent. Using sand from the quarry also means not taking it out of the natural environment.
My wedding engravings average between $1,300 and $2,500
I do these engravings on a contract basis, but since I’ve been here so long, some of them come back for my 10th anniversary. My family still talks about the sand sculpting at their wedding, and it feels great.
I love working on proposals. Proposal is my favorite thing because it is a very emotional event. You are there when the question is asked and it is such a burst of energy when it is done.
I also love working with children and leading workshops that let their imagination run wild. Because what they see is different from what we see as adults. I love helping them create what they envision.
People often ask me if I’m frustrated because my projects won’t last
I feel like people always want to be attached to something. But for me, once I take a picture, it’s fine.
I take pictures of everything. I always make sure to shoot my work and share a lot of my work on Instagram. @justsandwater.
You become really good at letting things go. Sometimes I fall down in the middle of working on a project. I thought something was going to work a certain way, but it fell apart and I have to come up with a plan B.
You can’t get too hung up on it because your time is limited. You just have to move forward.
I would encourage anyone who wants to make this their profession to take up the challenge.
This profession requires young talent. I’m 41 and he’s one of my youngest. The world of sand sculpture needs new talent. If you want to intern with me, you are most welcome.
But it’s a physical job, it’s all done outdoors, there’s a lot of shovel work, and you have to be able to use a hammer. You must not expose yourself to the sun. I apply a lot of sunscreen.
Working in Florida in the summer, temperatures are usually above 90 degrees. You can get used to all of this, but first you have to be willing to turn off the air conditioner and spend time in the elements. And make sure you drink plenty of water.
people are surprised to see me working
They ask, “Is this your job?” I always say yes. Schools don’t teach you, but you can work as a professional sand sculptor.
nobody hired me. I came up with this job! I also set my own hours. This is part of the contract with the hotel. I love being able to set my own hours as the creative process can sometimes take a little longer.
For those who have a bad day, I recommend going to the beach and making sand sculptures. Because people will come to you and tell you that you are doing a great job. And how many jobs consistently get such positive feedback from others?