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noun [countable]

1. a pattern on a sandy beach, made as a form of natural art

2. a landscape (=an area of land that is beautiful to look at) formed from a beach, desert, etc

'… designed in particular with sandscapes in mind, "BeachBot" is a fully autonomous turtle robot with the ability to draw giant sketches in the sand that would rival Donatello or even Michaelangelo.'

Science Times 13th January 2015

'More than mere beaches, sandscapes are a range of features from barren sand bars to dune habitats that support plant and animal communities.'

US National Park Service 2015

Childhood memories of trips to the seaside – plodding onto the beach brandishing bucket and spade – building vast constructions (some more successful than others depending on the 'quality' of the sand and the skill of the builders) – revelling in the finished creation – watching its gentle erosion into oblivion over subsequent hours of paddling and picnicking … Sand has long fascinated us as an amateur building material – there's something rather serene about its temporariness, knowing that our creations won't be around for too long, soon to be replaced by the equally ephemeral creations of others. And in recent times, the artistic phenomenon of the sandscape takes this tranquil creativity to a whole new, breathtakingly beautiful level.

the word sandscape is now used to refer to a type of art where sandy beaches form a natural blank canvas onto which huge patterns are etched

The word sandscape is now used to refer to a type of art where sandy beaches form a natural blank canvas onto which huge patterns are etched, usually lines and swirls which create intricate, stunning geometric designs. The concept is best explained by illustration, as in for example the wonderful sandscape image shown here.

The word sandscape hit the media spotlight in early 2015 when Cornish artist Chris Howarth took to the beach with a rake and experimented in the sand to create what he described as 'temporary graffiti'. The result was a series of mesmerising patterns on his local beaches which the public were able to enjoy until the tide came in and washed them away. Howarth took inspiration from UK 'sand artist' Tony Plant, whose equally stunning creations are exemplified in this article. Howarth and Plant create these amazing patterns by hand, but as the appeal of this kind of artwork broadens, there's a growing interest in developing automatic devices to produce it, such as Disney Research's turtle shaped BeachBot (check out the video here to see it in action).

Background – sandscape

As well as referring to an art form, the term sandscape is also often used to refer to any natural landscape consisting of sandy terrains.

The word landscape first appeared in English around 1600, and is derived from Dutch landscap, which literally translates as 'land condition'. The independent use of the form -scape as a combining element is older than you might think, with evidence dating as far back as the late 1700s. -scape can be said to mean something like 'denoting the specified type of scene' (so e.g. winterscape is a winter scene, nightscape a scene at night, etc) and has emerged as a relatively productive suffix. The word moonscape first appeared in the 1920s, and more recently we've seen soundscape (the sounds in a particular location which as a whole create a certain atmosphere), lightscape (lights as distributed across a particular vista, or the artistic arrangement of them within a specific venue) and even potscape (an artistic arrangement of flowers and shrubs planted in pots, containers etc).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last month …

Read last weeks's BuzzWord. Stuffocation.

This article was first published 2nd February 2016.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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