The Sandscripts of John Edward Heaton

Ephemeral – The Impertinence of Impermanence

As the tide edges down, a rich canvas is revealed to inspire
As the tide rises, the fruits of inspiration are swept away
All is temporary, the magic is in its creation—not its permanence —JEH 

Santa Barbara Magazine recently followed up last year’s profile of John Edward Heaton—photographer, hotelier, and all-around interesting person—with reposts of some of his “sandscripts.” I fell in love with them, and I think you will, too. Heaton says he has done around 700 over the years, mostly between Rincon and Gaviota, but some in the Philippines, and you can see many more by following #johnheatonsandscript on Instagram. When I asked what inspired him to start creating the sandscripts, he wrote up a response:

During our daily beach walks with my late wife Catherine, I would notice all sorts of fragmented zoomorphic and exotic textured shapes composed of ocean debris; algae, driftwood, even plumed or shelled marine life that had perished and drifted ashore. They intrigued me, provoked amusement or visions of ancestral offerings. I would comment about such whimsical apparitions to Catherine, and her inquisitiveness pushed me to manifest my thoughts by completing these visions in the sand so she could partake in the fun. I drew with pieces of driftwood collected from the beach, then a friend gifted me a pair of bamboo knitting needles to pursue the journey, and all slowly evolved from there.

Nature (the ocean) is the co-conspirator of these creations; it brings gifts to the shore, and the tide arranges them to inspire my visions. It also taught me to transfer the essence of what I see quickly and not lose myself in unnecessary detail—on the contrary, a tongue of water would never failed to cunningly swoop up and lick it all off, as in “see! for such superfluous detail you just lost it all!” … at first it’s a little disconcerting, then one realizes the ocean’s humor and teachings and one laughs / to this day I lose dozens of drawings to unnecessary detail. It has become an ongoing game of chess with the ocean and a big part of the fun. It cautions about wanting more when you already have enough, that little bit extra that can cost you all. It also teaches one to “let go,” as in: “the magic is in the creation not in its permanence—or possession”… to create and walk away, learn from it, evolve and break the nasty habit of controlling, promoting a lighter sense of being. It teaches one to observe and see—to notice and be amused by the dialogues with nature or those things that day to day fall unperceived—it adds entertainment and texture to one’s quality of life—it certainly added a whimsical and lovely dimension to Catherine’s and mine.

My favorite sandscripts are the ones that incorporate the landscape or debris to form the shape of beasts and humans. I asked Heaton if I could run a dozen, and he said yes. But choosing that few was difficult, so instead here are ten beasts and ten humans. Enjoy!

And now the humans….

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