When Greg and Brandi Glenn visit the beach, they don’t picture a playground. They see a vast canvas made of sand. The Glenns own Sandscapes, a professional sand-sculpting business based in Los Osos. “Sand can be very nuanced,” Greg Glenn said. “It’s brittle and fragile and strong, all at the same time.”
Between March and November, the Glenns go on the road with their team of artisans, creating massive sand sculptures at fairs and festivals across the country. This year, they’ll visit about two dozen events, including the California State Fair in Sacramento, the Iowa State Fair and the South Carolina State Fair.
Greg Glenn, who grew up in Huntington Beach, became interested in sand sculpting after he graduated from college and met a team of professional sand sculptors. “I was instantly hooked,” the former land surveyor said.
By 1984, he was showing off his skills in sand sculpting competitions across Asia, Australia and North America.
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Greg Glenn met his future wife, Manhattan Beach native Brandi, in 1987. At the time, she was an assistant manager at a Santa Monica mall where his team was working on a sculpture.
She started to help out during her off hours, and before long, she, too, was hooked.
“It got to the point where we decided to quit our jobs and start doing sand sculpting professionally,” Greg Glenn said, undeterred by their lack of formal artistic training. “We basically just went down to the beach and started.”
The couple founded Sandscapes in 1991 in Los Angeles, and moved to Los Osos in 1994. (The same year, they wed on a beach in British Columbia, Canada, just before an international sand sculpting championship — exchanging their vows in front of a sand sculpture of Auguste Rodin’s “The Kiss.”)
“This is like the promised land for us,” Greg Glenn said. “Here on the Central Coast, we are blessed with really great sand.”
The company holds 12 world championship titles, but stopped competing professionally about a decade ago. Instead, Sandscapes concentrates on creating commissioned pieces — usually for events. Popular subjects include animals, castles and characters from fairy tales, cartoons and movies, as well as celebrities such as Cher and Oprah Winfrey. Surprisingly, Santa Claus is frequently in demand.
According to the Glenns, a typical sculpture requires 75 tons of packed sand and stands 18 feet tall. In place of scaffolding, the sculptors use a wooden framework roughly the shape of the finished project.
Depending on the size of the project, and the time allotted to complete it, a sculpture might require just three sculptors or up to five crews of five to six people each.
Brandi Glenn acknowledged the transient nature of sand sculpting, noting that a sculptor might spend days on a sculpture only to see it demolished by wind, hail or rain. But she and her husband no longer mind.
“It’s funny how Zen you get to be,” she said with a laugh.