impermanence

Birth of a Sand Artist

People often ask me how I got into making sand animations. It probably started for me in childhood, before I ever thought about a career in the arts...

I loved to watch PBS programs, particularly because of the artistic content. As a child, I loved all things art related. On Sesame Street, I saw an animation of two sand men throwing a sand ball back and forth on a light box. There was also a sand alphabet animated on Sesame Street. I was fascinated. In the summertime, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, I would draw images in the sand, and wipe them away, trying to mimic those animations. I closed my eyes and faced the sun... and wished I could draw in the sand forever.

Later, I enjoyed watching International Film Festival animations on PBS. Every year the winners in the short animation category were broadcast. I loved watching them over and over. I told my mother I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I dreamt that I lived in New York. I started making flip book animations. 

Charlene Lanzel_childhood.jpg

I did become an artist when I grew up. I moved to New York City and found work creating window displays and also painting murals. I learned as I went along. Eventually, I landed jobs as a mural painter on big projects both nationally and internationally. I really enjoyed the work. I became very good at lettering and sign painting as well, which became useful skills later on.

While on a scaffolding, working on a large scale mural, I had an accident. I suffered from a head injury. A week later 9/11 happened. I needed something to ease my physical and emotional pain. I was out of commission for awhile healing, and feeling very vulnerable, so I started studying Buddhism. 

An artist friend of mine recommended a video to me that she had seen on something new called the internet. We had been talking about the Buddhist concept of impermanence and ephemeral art. It was a live animation by a Hungarian artist. He was creating sand animations on a light box, but as a live performance. An electric shock went through my body... I remembered how much I loved those animations from my childhood, and I had a flash vision of myself up there doing the performance. I had goosebumps. I watched it over and over.

As the internet grew in popularity, and YouTube came along, I saw a Ukrainian girl's sand animation performance getting passed around on Facebook. I started wondering if this art form was something for me to try.

Time passed, and the economy collapsed. Mural painters were out of work, due to advances in digital technology and the trend of minimalism. I needed something new to do. A co-worker mentioned sand animation and how desirable the art form was becoming. I decided in that moment to give it a try. I knew I had the skills necessary and I liked the idea of working with technology.

I spent a year researching, watching sand animation videos, and trying many different materials. I built my own sand table in my studio. It took me several months just to learn to move the sand. I also had to learn digital editing for music and film. It was a difficult process and I almost gave up. But, eventually, with a lot of practice and some patience, I created my first sand animation video and put it up on YouTube. A week later I was scouted to perform for the opening night after party for Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana show at Roseland in New York City.

The rest is history...

Symbols In Sand

The scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment did a column on the curiosities of the natural world... Sand bubbler crabs and the art they make. They happened to mention me:

"Intended to be temporary, most are swept away by a feather stroke soon after their completion – a type of ancient, oriental Etch-a-Sketch. Performance sand artists such as Charlene Lanzel (sand-artist.com) ... produce scenes with their hands in the sand spread over a light box, their works changing as fast as the next idea enters their heads."

~Adrian Burton

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fee.1417/full

It's an interesting read which I greatly enjoyed! Click the photo below to read the article:

The art of sand bubbler crabs.

The art of sand bubbler crabs.