When I was asked to do photos for a story on Vietnamese sand artists, I had no idea whatsoever what sand art actually was. I had seen artists who did real-time art using sand on a backlit panel – a constantly changing work which was skillfully manipulated by the artist to morph from one picture to another, but I had the feeling that this would be something different.
And as I discovered on arriving at the tiny studio in a narrow back alley in Saigon City, I was right.
It turns out that sand art is the discipline of creating painting-like images with colored sand in glass containers. Only a few people in Vietnam have mastered this medium. The works are generally two-sided, but can also be created in round vessels so that the image loops around as you turn it. The results are amazing
The works are created by first outlining the design with a marker on the outside of the glass frame.
Tiny amounts of colored sand are then placed into the vessel with what looks like a long-handled teaspoon with the edges bent up to allow it to fit into the narrow space between the glass panes.
Once the sand is loosely in position, a long, pointy skewer-like utensil is used to move the sand – a few grains at a time – into the specific location required.
It’s a painstakingly meticulous process that means that hundreds of hours of work maybe be needed for a single creation.
It was certainly an eye-opening visit, and I felt lucky to have observed these artists while they were creating their work.