No matter where he goes, life's like a day at the beach for Dan Belcher -- more challenging than carefree, perhaps, but filled with fun in the sand.
Belcher is a professional sand sculptor who's created masterpieces around the world and in 47 states.
"Utah is one I have yet to carve in," said Belcher, of St. Louis. "I can't wait to see what we can make the sand do."
He'll find out next week, as he and Kentucky resident Damon Farmer team up to create a giant sand sculpture at the Weber County Fair.
"One of the primary challenges in creating sand sculptures around the world is finding local sand that will carve best," said Belcher.
Brad Goll, owner of Texas-based Sandpile Creations, the company sending the sculptors, has been checking out Utah's sand. He'll have 25 tons of the best stuff he can find delivered to the fairgrounds for Belcher and Farmer.
"No matter what we get, we're going to create something amazing," Belcher promises.
The right stuff
Finding the right kind of sand is key to making an amazing sculpture.
"We try to find nice, fine sand that has qualities that lend itself to compaction," said Belcher. "We do spend a lot of time packing the sand, layer by layer, into a series of wooden forms. We usually compact it with our feet, but sometimes with mechanical equipment."
The artists start sculpting at the top of the sand pile, removing wooden forms as they work their way to the bottom.
"Some of our basic tools are masonry trowels, but we use everything from concrete finishing trowels down to cake-icing spatulas to paint-palette knives," Belcher said.
Belcher and Farmer arrive on Monday and will be working on the sculpture for the following five days. They can't say what they're going to sculpt during the fair, because they don't know.
"We know they would love a patriotic theme, but we'll leave it open until we get there," Belcher said. "We like to come up with the design as we work. ... A lot depends on the quality of the sand."
After testing it, they'll come up with a plan.
"Having worked with a hundred different types of sand, you get a feel for its ability to hold an overhang, or get a deep-cut up-groove," he said.
Both sculptors come to Ogden with a lot of experience.
Farmer started sand sculpting in 1975. He has an art degree from Kentucky's Berea College and has been a full-time professional artist since 1978. He and Goll teamed up to win two second-place awards in the 2008 Tournament of Champions at Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia.
Belcher, who is also a landscape architect, saw his first sand sculpture in 1989, while attending a college conference. He's been a professional sand sculptor for 18 years, and claimed the solo world championships from 2005 to 2007.
Both artists are listed among competitors for this year's World Championship of Sand Sculpting, which will be Sept. 8 to Oct. 3 in Federal Way, Wash.
Belcher likes to look at each sand sculpture as a new challenge.
"It depends on who you're carving with, how well the sand is working out for the subject matter, the environment and reactions you're getting from the public," he said.
The weather, rain or shine, should have little impact on the sculpture.
"You get used to the fact that it's part of the process," Belcher said, but noted that a heavy downpour can cause parts of the work to erode.
"If that happens, you just re-carve and keep working," he said.
Belcher's already been through that -- and worse.
"I had a project in California, where we got hit by an earthquake. It took the top 10 feet off of the 30-foot sculpture," he remembered. "And once I was carving in a mall when they decided to evacuate because a hurricane was coming. I just kept carving away."
He's looking forward to coming to Ogden, and says it will be fun to see what the next challenges will be.
"It's a lot of trial and error -- mostly trial, and hopefully very little error," he said.