Mr Sandman, bring us a dream-scape

Peter Donnelly AKA the Sand Man, Sand Artist or Sand Dancer has been creating masterpieces besides the pier at New Brighton for more than 10 years.

The Sand Artist

Peter is a very well known character in New Brighton, Christchurch. You may see him on his bike; a silhouette of blackness and devilry. The bike is made in the “chopper” style, made famous by the film “Easy Rider”. Instead of a big polluting and noisy engine, Peter uses the power in his legs to keep his carbon footprint as small as possible. He looks awesome riding his bike silhouetted against the bright blue New Brighton sky. With his hat on and his big black overcoat billowing out behind, it is quite a sight to behold.

Before Peter starts work he removes his footwear and his overcoat. He always works in bare feet as he uses them to flatten marks or rough areas in the sand that he wants smooth and to prevent leaving imprints in the sand.

Carried on his bike and in his backpack are his various tools and equipment. Pulling out a purple cloth he lays it out near to the pier. It is held down, to guard against blowing away, by clumps of sand. Strangely, when you look closer at the sand, most have a series of crescent curls. Next a hat filled with sand is placed in the middle of the cloth. A number of Paua shells are laid out in a pattern close to what will be the lower edge of his sand painting. This is not their final resting place, as they will be placed into an area of smooth sand in the artwork when it is almost complete.


The Sand Artist's Magical Staff

His cloth wrapped staff is his pencil to outline the edges of the shapes he will create.

The Sand Artist's Big Brush

The rake is his big brush used to create the darker areas. The clever thing is turning it on it’s back it can be an eraser smoothing out rough sand or removing an unwanted line.

It normally takes between three to four hours to make a design, which is around the time the tide takes to go out leaving a clean slate and when it returns to quickly remove the lovingly crafted masterpiece.

The sand Artist checks out a rival's work

Most artists would sketch out the overall shape of their design in pencil and then paint over them and fill them with colour. Peter often works out from a low centre position and slowly works outwards. This is probably because he is not able to go back to the centre easily like an oil painter with a movement of his hand, but would have to jump from one smooth  section of sand to the next.

Slowly the design grows outward and Northward. Occasionally he will return to his backpack for a drink of water, but as they say time and tide wait for no man.

Colouring in the darker sections

The design is best appreciated looking down from the pier. As long as you do not get too close, you can wonder at seeing the sand flowing through the tines of the rake, as if like water.

Creating Curves

The name Sand Dancer is due to the occasional flick of one leg when he creates curls and crescents in the sand. He can also pirouette as he creates small circles. He is sometimes like a ballerina when jumps from one smooth section to another.

The Sand Artist creating copyright

When he is close to finishing he goes on his long walk around the painting to create encompassing loops.

People Watching - The Sand Artist

Maybe at this time he is looking to spot any small flaws in the light and dark, areas. A final bit touching up and he is ready to move the Paua shells into their final position.

The Sand Artist's Paua Shells

When he is finally satisfied with his work he will salute the crowd’s applause and cheers with upraised arms and then a deep bow.

The Sandman Has Finished

At this point most performance artists would have rushed over and gathered up any monies thrown to them, but not the Sand Artist: He makes the long walk up to the pier, mingles and talks to anyone he meets. Finally he is able to look down from the height of the Pier to survey his latest and unique masterpiece.

What is normal and what is magical?

He will take a picture for himself, but unfortunately his camera’s lens is not wide enough to fit the great width of the painting in. I have a 24mm lens and can just fit it in.

Often just as he is finished or sometimes even before, the tide creeps up and wave by wave resets his canvas.

The Tide Resets The Sand Artist's Canvas

The day you are most likely to see Peter Donnelly is on a Sunday. Do not be surprised if when the tide is right and the weather nice he comes down on another day to carve the sand for us.


About Steve Taylor

Steve started off working with his father in the building trade as a painter & decorator before starting an apprenticeship in Telecoms. Steve was a Senior Signalling Engineer who worked for British Telecom and MCI/WorldCom in London. He was presented with the WorldCom Star Performer award for his improvements to the working systems. He was and still is a seller of real estate, but is now really enjoying the excitement that photography can bring. With photography there are only a few rules and they are mostly to do with composition. As always in life the worse the conditions the more extraordinary can be the results. If the weather is wet, cold and foggy the pictures taken will have a more surreal feel with the fog hiding the distracting backgrounds, the rain softening the colours and the cold making you more determined to get that perfect picture for freezing your butt off. One of the other strings to his bow is being able to turn a photograph into a beautiful digital painting. Give Steve a call on 021 241 3244 if you would like to talk about photography or real estate and you may also see the world in a different more exciting light.
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5 Responses to Mr Sandman, bring us a dream-scape

  1. avatar Riegan says:

    Thank you so much for creating this, I feel Peter deserves to be noted in the positive way, like you have done here. I will contact him and get him to view this work you have done in his honour.
    As well as this article, I have enjoyed seeing the creations you have put together high-lighting your photography with colour on the normal grey scales we see with Peters’ work on the beach.
    Keep up the awesome work.
    Thanks again
    (admin for Peters Facebook group)

  2. avatar Steve Taylor says:

    I spoke to Peter on the day of the Sandcastle Competition and it was nice to hear from him that the Californian sandcastle makers were very impressed with his work.

  3. avatar Kam says:

    Hi Steve, do you by any chance have Peter Donnelly’s contact details, its just that I have a project that maybe of interest to him, many thanks in advance.
    Kam (

  4. avatar Steve Taylor says:

    I haven’t an email address for him, but he does have a facebook page here

    He will be doing some artwork on the 3 and 4 March, if you can get down to New Brighton when the tide is low.

  5. avatar Amryl Malek says:

    Wow, great art and great artist!! Btw, found your website through your comment that you left at my Pier photo. Made a cursory glance through your website and like the content so far!! Hope to digest more of your writings and photos.

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