Castles are perhaps the first things that spring to mind when we consider sand sculptures. Though artist Andoni Bastarrika demonstrates, there is much more one can accomplish with sand than build miniature structures. His animal portraits are so photorealistic that they will make you gasp in astonishment. Bastarrika makes the illusion by packing the sand so tightly that it looks like a canvas with fur and wrinkles all over it. He uses stone powders to paint the sand and other materials as needed to make it look more realistic. The finished creatures look like they’re sprawled out on the ground.

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While enjoying a summer day at the beach with his girls in 2010, Bastarrika had a realization about his natural talent for this unusual form of sculpting. He had states, “From that moment I knew clearly inside that I had to follow this path.” That was his defining moment. “For two years, when the beaches were deserted, I practiced during the fall, winter, and early spring.” After that, he was prepared to show the world what he could do.

Bastarrika has a preference for working with “nude” subjects, which includes animals, for a reason. Nothing is straight; everything is round, fluid, and formed in a spiral, he says, echoing the way nature is. Thus, I could model nude bodies without resorting to metal tools such as spatulas. Because my hands are so sensitive, I was able to model it easily with them. I started by searching for the right expression with my hands, and then I used a sharp stick and some bird feathers to get into the finer points.

In order for his work to resonate with an audience, Bastarrika is passionate about capturing the essence of his subjects. “I find it absolutely fascinating that people can mistake sculptures created from sand and water for the real thing,” he remarks. My sculptures are not lifeless; they possess a spirit, and this soul is identical to that of Mother Earth. She and all the most interdependent animals on Mother Earth are the subjects of my sculptures. For this, I look to the inspiration, power, and grace that the natural world offers.

Adorable is my middle name.

Does anyone care to take me home?

Just look at the soulful nature of those black beady eyes. 

When the king of the jungle paid a visit to the beach. 

Can someone get me out of here? 

Rocking that pose like a pro.

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