If you’ve been frequenting the sandy beaches along the rugged, Welsh Pembrokeshire Coast in Britain, you might have noticed some mysterious shapes appearing in the sand.
These intricate murals are beach-based works of art created by local sand muralist Marc Treanor.
Inspired by crop circles, the enigmatic formations that occasionally appear in corn and wheat fields, Treanor forges stunningly intricate patterns and pictures by raking wet sand.
When he’s done, Treanor watches as his hard work is consumed by the crashing waves, but he says that’s all part of the experience.
“It’s completely part of it, it’s totally integral to the work and the fact it is impermanent and it is temporary,” Treanor tells CNN Travel.
That said, he usually has chance to capture his creations on camera for posterity.
Three stage process
Treanor says there are three key steps to creating the perfect sand mural.
Phase 1: sketching out the pattern at home, on paper.
Phase 2: Heading down to the beach, rake in hand, and getting started on the creation process.
That can be quite intimidating, he says.
“Many times I’m just looking at the beach thinking ‘I don’t know where I am, I don’t know I’m doing,’” he laughs. But once he’s got over that hurdle, he starts digging and creating the mural.
When the raking’s complete, it’s time for the most magical part, phase 3:
“This is the sort of contemplative side, so ideally there’s a nice viewpoint and whoever’s been involved, we can all go up to the clifftop and gaze down upon the beach and watch the creation being reabsorbed by the sea,” says Treanor.
From one of Pembrokeshire’s striking clifftops, Treanor and his team – sometimes friends, sometimes strangers who’ve just happened to pass by – watch as the art disappears.
Sometimes he doesn’t even manage to photograph the mural – one time, he realized too late he’d forgotten both his camera and his cell phone.
He let this realization wash over him.
“Actually it was quite nice just to let go of that need to preserve it and just let it exist for whatever time it exists for in real time,” he says.
One of Treanor’s most memorable creations was an intricate symbol created on the day of the UK General Election in 2015. A passerby helped him out and they shared a bond across political and ideological divisions.
Treanor and his friend were struggling to create the complex mural alone, when a stranger offered to help them. They started chatting as they raked – and the newcomer said he worked as a bombmaker. Treanor couldn’t hide his disapproval, but the group still worked together to create the resulting sand art.
“Then we finished the design and went up to the promenade in Tenby and looked down on it,” recalls Treanor. “This guy was quite taken, you could tell that he was quite moved.”
“We left him there, sitting, and me and my friend went to have some dinner, and about an hour and a half later we came out and he was still there, gazing down at the beach, by which stage the design had nearly gone. And I looked at my friend and I said ‘I think his bomb-making days might be over.’”
It’s these unexpected encounters with others and unlikely connections that defines Treanor’s work. You might think this work would be an isolated exercise, but in fact it’s usually far from it.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist and it can be very easy to try and push people away, because they’re not going to do it how you want it to be done,” admits Treanor.
But the sand artist says it really is more fulfilling when other people are involved too.
He recalls a recent moment when he was approached by a group of kids who wanted to help out.
“I had to try to find a way of them being involved and we did it […] and it was really great,” he says.
As Treanor’s art continues to appear up and down the Welsh coast, he’s finding he’s increasingly being noticed and commissioned to do some exciting, different projects.
He’s managed to recreate people’s likeness in a couple of instances, he’s been employed by local tourist agencies and he’s even helped instigate a wedding proposal.
“It’s just leading me in such interesting directions, I mean this year’s been crazy busy, I’ve had twelve commissions,” he says.
In the past, his jobs have included long distance lorry driving, gardening and selling medical equipment – not to mention bringing up his children – but now his sand art is turning into an unlikely full-time career.
“This year I’ve worked with local councils here improving their tourism push, and I’ve worked for the European Environment Bureau, along with three other sand artists in Europe actually, and we all did this piece to do with bringing awareness to plastic pollution in the oceans,” says Treanor – who created a dramatic Poseidon rising from the ocean throwing a plastic bottle back to the land.
People living elsewhere might not realize there are sandy beaches scattered across, Britain – it’s not all shingle and rocks.
Nevertheless, as the seasons change as the weather worsens, the sand muralist is considering taking his artwork to beaches overseas.
“In the winter time I would love to start to travel a bit more and to work on beaches in warmer climates, or just in different countries, it would be really interesting to take this a bit further afield,” he says.
He’s daydreaming about sand in South Africa, the US west coast or Thailand – but he’s still got a soft spot for Wales.
Treanor is proud that his work helps to showcase the beauty of the Welsh coast – and maybe even attract more people to visit this shoreline.
“The beaches are exquisite, when the weather’s right, or even when the weather’s not, it has a different energy when there’s a storm raging and the waves are pounding, it’s so exciting,” he says.