Writing in Sand

Site_Specific International Land Art Biennale 2013

Beach calligraphy workshop

by Tessa Kruger

People often write in the sand with their fingers, or with the help of a stick. But many of us don't know this pastime can be turned into an art form, practised for both the pure enjoyment and beauty of it.

For this reason, leading South African calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe will introduce people to beach calligraphy, a cutting edge form of land art, through a workshop held at the second Site_Specific Land Art Biennale. It will run from Friday, 16 August to Sunday, 18 August in Plettenberg Bay where the event will be held.

Participants in the workshop will be initiated in the various techniques of beach calligraphy and pattern and mark-making and will be equipped with two different beach art tools. Van der Merwe is the world's first beach calligrapher and has developed his own tools and techniques for carving onto the sand.

"Not everyone wants to do calligraphy, so the workshop will teach pattern and mark-making as much as it does writing," says Andrew. "The expanse of wet sand at low tide provides wonderful opportunities for mark-making," he adds.

This form of land art mainly offers enjoyment and excitement: "It really is such a tactile and visual thrill: the tools cutting smoothly through the sand, the flowing lines, the rhythmical cracking and rucking-up of the sand, the letters filled with the foam of a wave, the low sun and blue shadows on the beach. Very few people have experienced this," enthuses Andrew.

But there is also a spiritual dimension to beach calligraphy and mark-making as part of its beauty is in its temporal quality. "The whole body is engaged in a dance performed to make the work, while one is aware of the fact that it could be washed away at any moment, and will certainly disappear at high tide. Yet the effort is worthwhile."

There are also valuable spiritual lessons to be learned from the art and Andrew hopes to share some of them during the workshop.

He has taken his hobby of writing in the sand to a professional level as he relishes the physical nature of the act. "It is my invention and I now feel ready to share it," he says.

The workshop will host three sessions over two days at low tide and low sun. Interested parties can contact Andrew van der Merwe at:  (021) 761 4400 or.

You can also connect on facebook.com/beachscriber or view his beach calligraphy on behance.net/beachscriber. Cost is R750 and includes two handmade pieces of equipment.


Beach Calligraphy by Andrew van der Merwe. Photographs: Andrew van der Merwe.