I saw a photograph of one of Jim Denevan’s sand drawings and my head changed: every notion about sand and beach and drawing and playing shifted and opened up. I’d never thought about drawing in sand this way. Then I read the story behind his paintings, which I stumbled on on the artist’s website, and realized that this amazing process required no special tools, but a mighty amount of vision and patience, and the where-with-all to do it. Here’s what it said:

“Jim Denevan makes freehand drawings in sand. At low tide on wide beaches Jim searches the shore for a wave tossed stick. After finding a good stick and composing himself in the near and far environment Jim draws– laboring up to 7 hours and walking as many as 30 miles. The resulting sand drawing is made entirely freehand w/ no measuring aids whatsoever. From the ground, these drawn environments are experienced as places. Places to explore and be, and to see relation and distance. For a time these tangible specific places exist in the indeterminate environment of ocean shore. From high above the marks are seen as isolated phenomena, much like clouds, rivers or buildings. Soon after Jim’s motions and marks are completed water moves over and through, leaving nothing.”

Like a Tibetan sand painting, Denevan’s work exists for just a short period of time, then is washed away by the tide.


Denevan is a wonderful artist. And even though you might never make anything like his, you can pick up a stick and make drawings in the sand.

(That’s my plan, for the next trip to the beach.)


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2 replies on “what would you draw in the sand?

  1. Was this design inspired by Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”?

  2. Devenan’s spiral sand painting IS reminiscent of the The Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s monumental work. There are a lot of mentions of this on the internet, though I wasn’t able to find any mention of whether The Spiral Jetty influence Devenan. On his website, he’s reprinted a GQ piece that mentions some of his motivation for sand painting – his mom’s deterioration from Alzheimer’s – and his other great work, Outstanding in the Field: elaborate dinners held in fields, parks, on beaches to showcase local fare.
    For the GQ article:
    For info about Robert Smithson and The Spiral Jetty:

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