Sand Drawing #38 — Expanding Universe


My earlier sand drawings were all Euclidean constructions — geometric designs made using only a straight-edge and compass. For a straight-edge I use two stakes and mason line. For a compass I use one stake and mason line. These two impossibly simple tools have been used for millennia, and are still used to this day, to produce some of the world’s greatest creations.

Most people are visibly shocked when they learn that none of my designs have any formal measurements or calculations involved, and that they instead emerge entirely out of self-referential consistency. Such is the power of geometry.

In contrast to the Euclidean constructions, all of the mandala or “flower” patterns that I have been doing lately, including the one above, have been created entirely free-hand, that is, using no tools other than my drawing implements, and relying on no pre-planned design. Instead, I start with some sort of small circular design, which serves as the center, and then add design elements in ever-expanding concentric layers. The free-hand designs appear to grow from a nucleus.

Both the Euclidean constructions and the free-hand designs have their own unique charms.

The Euclidean constructions are amazing for their precision over huge areas, which produce stunningly sharp effects. And the variety and complexity of patterns that can be produced with such simple tools as a straight-edge and compass are remarkable. Plus Euclidean constructions afford fascinating exploration and insights into the magnificent and vital field of geometry. Drawing them requires having a design plan worked out beforehand, and then executing that plan, so there is little “creativity” while actually drawing — the creative part takes place earlier at my studio. However, while drawing on the beach, there is a high risk of making serious errors (argh!), and there tends to be a lot of on-the-spot practical problem solving necessary to complete the design successfully.

The free-hand drawings, on the other hand, are amazing because there is no design plan. I spontaneously produce a central pattern, and then add to it by feel. I have accrued a mental collection of design elements that I can mix-and-match as the design expands outward, plus I invent new design elements or combinations as I do more of these free-hand art pieces. If you look at my various free-hand designs, you will see the underlying primordial design elements, and that different patterns emerge from using these design elements in varying combinations. The primordial design elements are atoms; the final designs are molecules. The free-hand designs are not really prone to errors. In fact, if I make an “error”, the best thing to do is simply make the error into a new design element and repeat it! (That’s true in painting and music too — if you make an error, repeat it and it will become part of the intended fabric. Or, similarly, if you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loudly, and then repeat it with conviction.) The free-hand designs require being aesthetically attuned the entire time, so in that sense they are more demanding than the Euclidean constructions.

My sense of it is that while people love both types of designs — the highly geometric Euclidean constructions and the intensely organic free-hand designs — they favor the free-hand forms. I think there are several reasons. First, the free-hand designs resemble flowers, and everyone understands and loves flowers. (Few mortals understand and love geometry.) Second, people are mesmerized that I can produce such large, highly-symmetric designs by eye. Frankly, I am too. Look at how perfect the final outer circle is in the above photo. And that design is enormous! Third, people love to watch the design develop. They wait with delicious anticipation to see what the next design element is going to be, and how it will be integrated with the previous.

To me, the free-hand sand drawings are a beautiful metaphor for the expanding universe that is our lives.