Pāpāmoa-based Kenrick Smith is a mindfulness coach who uses sand art to channel his energy and create a place of calm. He journeys to New Zealand’s coastlines to share his practice with others.
When did you begin drawing patterns in the sand?
During the first lockdown we were living in Katikati and were able to get to the beach because it was close by. One day I was out for a walk with my daughter, Ivy, who was one and half years old and pretty active. I put her down on the sand and drew a big sun for her with a stick. I was pretty curious that she went straight to the middle of the design. I created some more beach drawings a couple of times after that and then forgot all about it.
The second lockdown brought up a lot of things for me and my mental health was declining. I was diagnosed as having ADHD and that was a big thing for me at the age of 37. I tried to remember what I’d done the last time I felt calm and remembered the times on the beach with my daughter. I did some deep-diving into the how-to's of sand design, got a string and a rake and then started doing drawings every few days. I’d escape to the beach for a couple of hours by myself and found it really calming.
From your own mindfulness practice, how did you create a business opportunity for yourself as a commercial designer and sand artist?
Creating large-scale art in the sand had become part of my healing journey. I wanted to share the mindfulness techniques that I learned along the way so I created classes to share what I was doing. At the same time, I knew I could get paid if I could do really accurate logo designs. For now, I’ve got a niche and my intellectual property is that I know how to do these logos in the sand. The commissions pay well and support me to do other jobs free for great causes – I’m like the Robin Hood of sand art.
Being commissioned to be part of a worldwide collaboration with singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran for a video for his song Sycamore must have been a career highlight?
Ed Sheeran's Sycamore video was definitely cool and it was validating to be next to some of the world’s top sand artists on an international stage. Prior to that, my first big job was for Dulux New Zealand – a 55-person lesson, back in 2021. After that I decided to quit my day job and the call from Ed’s people came about six months later. It was quite intense!
This week I’m doing a free logo for a surfing mental health charity and the lessons that I give are really fulfilling and grounding, I’m just really keen to see people thrive.
What is it about designing sand mandalas that brings you and your students to a place of mindfulness?
It’s a simple, repetitive task. You’re outside, you’ve got sand between your toes, you’ve got the ocean, you’ve got birds, you’ve got sunshine. It’s the repetitive nature of it. Doing a simple task clicks our brains out of their default-mode, which happens to be great for ruminating, and into the task-mode network. The biggest misconception about this kind of meditation is that it’s about doing nothing. Instead, it’s about giving your brain something to do, so it can calm down and relax.
Are the weather and tides challenging in this line of work?
Definitely. It all has to be created within one or two hours of low tide. It can be frustrating when a potential client wants to do a class at a certain time that doesn’t fit the tides, but I find that I’m really in tune with nature now. The designs are gone in two hours. You learn to hold things really lightly and you realise that it’s not about the drawing, it’s about how you’re feeling in the moment, which is really powerful.
What are the tools of your trade?
I started with a metal garden rake but that bunched up too much sand. These days I use an extendable leaf rake so I can do wide and narrow lines. A hand-cultivator on the end of a broomstick is good for doing more detailed work. I use bamboo, as it's sustainable, and keep a string and measuring tape at hand.
How has this practice changed you personally?
I feel so much more grounded. I’ll go for a walk in the rain just to be outside. I quit the gym because I didn’t need it anymore. I do about 5,000 steps for a big mandala and it’s all of my body working – arms, abs and legs. It’s a really active practice and it’s great for my mental health. The ADHD has been a big part of my journey and I reckon it’s part of why my sand art is so good – I’m kind of using my super-brain!
Where to next?
There’s a book I read with my daughter that said that the blue whale is 26m long which is huge! One of their eyes is bigger than my head! So, I’ve been working on large scale replicas of sea animals at the beach, hopefully inspiring people to take better care of the ocean. My ultimate goal though is to put the call out to the people at Air New Zealand. I’m thinking of a 300m ‘Nau mai haere mai Aotearoa’ on the beach. It’d look fantastic from one of their new planes!
For more information about Kenrick's sand art workshops, see www.rakehealing.com
Explore more from AA Directions magazine while you're here:
- Top Spot: Shihad musician, Jon Toogood
- Ride the Twin Coast Cycle Trail in Northland