Picture of large sand castle and building tools around it.

What a sandcastle specialist uses to build his masterpieces

A former architect, Lou Gagnon often makes custom tools to sculpt his detailed creations.

Since building simple castles 20 years ago to amuse his daughter, former architect Lou Gagnon has developed his sand sculpting into a distinctive art form with customized tools.

Every summer, Lou Gagnon spends a week at the beach building sandcastles—big ones. An artist and former architect, Gagnon picked up the seaside pastime more than 20 years ago as a way to entertain his young daughter. His creations have since advanced from simple structures to elaborately sculpted tableaux with spires reaching as high as five feet. Gagnon’s sandcastles are intentionally impressionistic and built near the tide line, where water and wind can reshape them. “There’s an eternal quality to the form,” he says, “but an ephemeral quality to the object.”

A relic from his daughter’s childhood, this toy is Gagnon’s favorite tool. He uses it for “wet carving,” gently splashing away sand in areas where he wants arched openings and doorways.

Teapot

A relic from his daughter’s childhood, this toy is Gagnon’s favorite tool. He uses it for “wet carving,” gently splashing away sand in areas where he wants arched openings and doorways.

This story appears in the August 2021 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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