“I felt like my head was on fire.”

That’s how “earthscape artist” Andres Amador describes the moment it struck him that he could turn his studies of sacred geometry and fractals into large-scale artworks using the beach as his canvas. “I’d backpacked into this amazingly beautiful remote beach, Kalalau Valley, in Hawaii, and was drawing circles with a stick in the sand. And it was as though a bolt came down and struck me,” says Amador. His body began shaking as he visualized the possibilities; he couldn’t wait to get back to San Francisco to get started.

Andres Amador
When people find out that Amador creates works destined to wash away, they’re enthralled, he says, because it speaks to an essential truth: “Our lives are impermanent, and the tide is unstoppable.” Photo: Norman Bonney

Walking along Bay Area beaches, you may be lucky enough to come across one of Amador’s “playa paintings,” large-scale patterns he creates in the sand using rakes and ropes as his tools. His pieces originally embodied precise geometric forms, but over time they’ve become more free-flowing and abstract, seeming to emerge from and interact with the landscape.

Spark: Culture Creates Community - A special KQED Arts seriesFor Amador, picking the right time and place is part of the art. “My favorite area is from Santa Cruz up to Fort Brag,” the artist says. “When I go further south, the beaches get too narrow.” Once he has the perfect location, Amador must wait for the right tide and then work fast. He starts an hour before low tide and works until an hour after — two hours in all. “I love the focus and drive that that requires,” Amador says.

Andres Amador and drone
Amador says his remote-control helicopter “explodes the possibilities” of his art. “I can get a sense of the entire landscape and can photograph from new perspectives.” Photo: Norman Bonney

The last regular job Amador had was 15 years ago, as a computer technician. “That didn’t last long,” he says. “I felt a yearning I could not understand.” He studied ancient geometry, created large-scale geometric sculptures and explored improvisational dance. But when Amador created his first earthscape piece on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, he seemed to find what he was looking for. Since then he’s been creating commissioned work and installations for businesses and individuals across the US and Europe. And Amador includes the public in the fun through his Playa Painting Workshops, in which participants collaborate to design and create their own large-scale sand artworks.

Photo: Andres Amador
Photo: Andres Amador

Seen at work from above, Amador is a spec in the midst of a massive pattern. Down on the beach, however, the overall design is hard to see. Amador uses flashcards to sketch and index quick inspirations, then refers to them while realizing the piece. But still, he says, after the piece is complete there’s always that moment of suspense when he scales a cliff or sends up his drone helicopter to film from above.

When the work and the photographs he makes of it are good, he enjoys the feeling of accomplishment. But impermanence is the essence of his art, and Amador doesn’t dwell on his productions: “Once I’ve created a piece, I feel like it’s moved through me and I can let it go.” As the tide erases his work, “I don’t feel an attachment,” Amador says. “I feel complete.”

Our thanks to paraglider David Sondergeld, who shot in-flight footage of Amador’s work for the accompanying video.

Andres Amador’s Earthscapes: Art that Goes Out with the Tide 28 April,2014Cynthia Stone

  • Beautiful. Also, love the work of original “earthscape” artist Andy Goldsworthy.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Lovely, but a bit of copycat as JIM DENEVAN has been doing this for more than a decade at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and around the world. See here:

    • Strandwolf

      Not much new under the sun. I recall a short story about an American Picasso fanatic who traveled to the Riviera village where Picasso lived and worked in order to encounter him in town. He and his wife stayed around for a week without running into him and on the final evening of their stay he decided to walk along the beach. In the distance saw an old guy fooling around with a stick in the wet sand. Some minutes later as he approached the now vacant stretch, on the incoming tide he beheld the most amazing lines and shapes being erased by the waves.

  • Wow- thank you so much for the lovely work, Cynthia! Your crew was awesome to work with. i so look forward to sharing this!! Many blessings!


Cynthia Stone

Cynthia Stone is an Emmy Award winning writer and producer dedicated to telling the stories of people and programs making a difference. Her television and radio documentary and feature work has focused on a variety of issues including education, the environment, trafficking, transformative programs that help children at risk, science and the arts. In addition to here at KQED, her work has appeared on Discovery, PBS, CNBC, Public Radio International/BBC among others.

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