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Local artist carves his niche in a pile of sand

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - Updated: 10:14 AM


Not many folks can say they make a living playing in the sand.

But not many folks have the talents of Amsterdam resident Phil Singer -- who is a professional sand sculptor and caricature artist.

On any given summer's day, Singer can be found outside his home at 343 Route 67 -- just past Manny Corners in the town of Amsterdam -- sculpting fictional characters out of water and sand.

His current work-in-progress are life-sized sculptures of Disney's "How to Train Your Dragon" characters, which Singer is currently crafting on his front lawn.

Singer said the exhibit is practice for a gig he booked at Schenectady's annual Summer Nights Beach Party in July.

"The real reason I am doing this is just to make sure that when I get down to Schenectady, I am going to be able to work with what they are giving me," Singer said at his home-studio Tuesday afternoon.

He said the event's sponsors have asked him to design their company products, such as an air conditioner, in front of Proctors Theatre.

Singer, who has spent his life designing elaborate monsters, animals and animated figures out of sand, would like to be more creative with the display.

"I am trying to talk to them to find a way to make it more dynamic and interesting to the public," he said.

Singer has grappled with producing conventional artwork before, when he worked for an advertising agency, six moths after attending the Kubert School in Dover, N.J.

He said the job was mundane and limited his ability to express his artistic abilities.

After leaving the agency, he moved to Amsterdam and began drawing caricatures at various festivals around the capital region.

Today, he describes himself as a freelance artist. His business, titled Phil Singer Art, promotes his caricatures and sand sculptures.

He said he did not start sculpting professionally, until four years ago.

As a professional, many towns and cities hire him to construct large sand sculptures for events such as Historic Edinburg Day in Edinburg, Niska-Day in Niskayuna, and ParkFest in Wilton.

Singer's fascination with sand sculpture began on the beach, with his family.

He was born in Northville. He said growing up, his father taught him how to create "drip castles."

"We would take trips to Florida with my parents. My grandparents lived down there, and we built sand castles," he said.

He said the sand would seep from his hands and pile up like evergreen trees. Eventually, Singer learned how to mold the drip castles into large artistic creations.

Singer finds inspiration in animated movies that he enjoys as much as do the children in his life.

While on vacation in Florida or California, Singer said he would form large characters such as Marvel Comics' the Hulk and Disney's "Despicable Me" minions, for his own enjoyment.

"And then I found out people do it professionally," he said.

Although it looks like fun, Singer said turning a pile of sand into a piece of art is challenging.

He does not use any form of glue or paste to hold his creations together, either.

"It is just sand and water, it all has to do with weight distribution and compactablilty," he said.

Weather plays an important role for his sand sculpture technique. Mother Nature can easily ruin his display and this is especially disheartening when the piece is incomplete.

Currently, his large sculpture sits under a tent on his front yard. He said recent hot and muggy weather is the perfect condition for the statues.

He fears another relentless day of rain and hopes to finish his creation before a storm hits.

Otherwise, once the sculpture is completed, he lets his artwork wither away naturally, until it is just another mound of sand.

"Once I get it complete, I am OK, as long as I get pictures of it," Singer said.


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