My Story: Making art in the sand

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David Hilliam (known as 'Beach Tagger') is not your typical artist. Instead of a paintbrush, he uses a rake. And instead of a canvas, he has the beach. If you're lucky enough to stumble upon his work, it's a sight to behold. His massive pieces of 'earth art' have transformed Auckland's west coast beaches into breathtaking spectacles. We sat down for a Q&A with Hilliam to learn more about his unusual artistic craft.

How did you get started with earth art? 

I was aware of it but was never confident enough to go out and do it on my own because it is such a public way of doing art. But then I saw in the newspaper an artist from America was here for about 3 months and I was lucky enough to meet up with him a couple times. To be able to work with him gave me the confidence to go out myself.

Have you always been a creative person?

Yes, throughout school art was my favourite subject. It’s not my day job but I really like that it isn’t. It’s given me this creative outlet which I can pursue as a hobby. I think having it as a job would change it completely.

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What is your process?

A lot of the artwork is inspired by things I see online or fabric designs. Its all about pattern, if I see something with a strong pattern my first thought is “that would look really good on the beach”. I adapt it, take a photo on my phone and sketch it out on paper. This gives me an idea of where to start and proportions.

Then I head out to the beach with a little sketch in my pocket and go from there!

I use a leaf rake, it’s $15 and it’s all you need. No paint, no paper, it’s wonderful. It typically takes me an hour and a half to two hours to create a piece.

What is the experience like?

When I’m on my own, its just me and the beach and nothing else. It is a really meditative thing for me. A combination of art, exercise and meditation. I like doing it on my own and getting to some wild spots and places where there’s no one around.

What kinds of reactions do you get from people who see your work?

It’s always positive. I really like that. Children will often run through it as well, they’ll jump over the lines. I like that because it becomes interactive artwork on the beach.

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How do you feel about the fact that it will get washed away, that it’s not a permanent thing?

It doesn’t bother me at all. People have made the comment that it reflects life in a little way because nothing is permanent. As long as I get the photo I’m happy.

There have been times when I wait around to see it get washed away and that doesn’t worry me either. Its all part of the process really.

What have you learnt over the years of doing this kind of art?

My technique has changed over time. I’ve adapted the rake after seeing other artwork, I’ve cut it down so its a third of the size so its a thinner line. My designs are becoming more intricate as well. Because the rake is thinner, I can to get more lines and shade areas in. You get a real contrast between the line and dark areas which I love. The contrast on the west coast beaches is amazing.

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What’s it like when you’ve completed a piece?

It’s amazing because you’re going hard out for two hours and race through it. Even though it is meditative, there’s always that pressure of knowing the tides coming in. I’ll get the photo and then sit down and really relax and take in the moment, the environment. The satisfaction of seeing the end result is incredible.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I like the idea that it is earth art. I saw this quote that really resonated with me about the importance of making marks. It said “mark-making is so much more about the process, the feeling you get from doing it. Sure one can make spectacular marks that are worth something in their own right but the real pleasure is making the marks.”

For me, the physical process is more important than the end result. I don’t have any big messages, its more of the actual process and if there’s a story at the end that’s a bonus.


See David’s Facebook page for more of his artwork.


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