Sketching stories into sand
Nathaniel Alapide, who creates artworks for Jumeirah Beach Hotel, tells Janice Rodrigues what it's like to make masterpieces. only to watch them get swept away by the tide a few hours later
Nathaniel Alapide is an artist. He works hard, sometimes under the sweltering sun, recreating famous pictures or paintings, and perfecting every line and curve. However, unlike other artists, Nathaniel doesn't get to see his creations mounted or framed. In fact, most of them disappear within the hour, lost to lapping waves or the footprints of enthusiastic viewers. After all, Nathaniel is a sand artist and the only thing he gets to remember his work by is the snapshots he takes of it. But with his optimism and happy-go-luck nature, he doesn't mind one bit.
"For me, sand art is not really about the end result but the process of creating something beautiful with the time you have," the 39-year-old Filipino explains. "When I start sketching these pieces, I feel calm and peaceful. It's like meditation."
It's hard to believe after seeing his sprawling masterpieces, but Nathaniel only started experimenting with sand art three years ago. Prior to that, he worked as a lifeguard at Wild Wadi Waterpark, drawing and painting on the side whenever he got the time. He's also an ardent fan of water sports, and it was while he was surfing that he got the idea to create art, right then and there on the beach, for the world to see.
"When you're surfing, you spend a lot of time waiting for the waves and I couldn't help but notice how smooth and perfect the shore always looked," he explains. "The idea that it would make for a perfect canvas formed."
Armed with nothing but a rake, Nathaniel's first attempt at sand art was a graceful sketch of a tree, created as a tribute to his late grandmother. As his designs became more extensive with time, his popularity grew and it wasn't long before Jumeirah Beach Hotel approached him with the offer to do what he loves professionally. And the answer was, of course, a resounding 'Yes'.
"My day usually starts with an elaborate work of sand art, although, for that, the tide has to be low and there has to be a nice, large area to work on," he explains. "I then have sand art sessions for children, or help out with sports activities or special artwork that the hotel may need. On a good day, I actually get time to create another work of sand art in the evening. It's like living a dream."
Since he started working with Jumeirah Beach Hotel six months ago, Nathaniel has done countless designs, some larger-than-life recreations of famous paintings, and some ideas of his own. He gets his inspiration from the world around him, the books he reads and the people he meets, and while sometimes he sketches a picture on paper before drawing it on the sand with his trusty rake, most of the time he simply starts 'drawing lines and going with the flow'. Along the way, he's created artworks for the hotel's VIPs or as special favours for guests, and each one has its own story.
"One time, a guest wanted a sand art sketch to propose to his girlfriend, so we did everything we could to make it special," he recalls. "I drew up a design and we threw rose petals all over it and, when other guests saw what I was doing, they all waited to see how the evening would pan out.
"She said yes," he adds with a chuckle.
The reaction from viewers is undoubtedly the best part of his job, with many people choosing to jump right in the middle and take selfies of his work. But far from putting up barriers to protect his art, Nathaniel encourages this.
"I want people to know that the artwork is there for them to see and interact with. Most people see that I've been working on a design for two or three hours and know that it's going to disappear in the next half an hour, and that just makes it all the more precious. You don't get that with other forms of art because if it's a painting in a gallery, you know it's not going anywhere. Sand art makes for a fleeting experience. You just have to enjoy it while you can." A lesson that can be applied to all aspects of life.