Artist Jim Denevan Uses Sand to Soothe the Soul

Jim Denevan makes memorable, but temporary, art.

Jim Denevan is known for founding Outstanding in the Field, a roving, farm-to-table meal event, and his disappearing art. That’s right. Denevan aims to make art that nature can destroy.

Stress relief with sand

Denevan started making art in 1995. The first material he used was sand. It was readily available in California, where Denevan resides, and soothing to work with.

At the time, Denevan used his art creation as a stress relief tool.

“My mother became ill with Alzheimers—regarding all off the stress and sadness associated with my mother’s illness, the drawing in the sand was not only only mentally and physically soothing it was also mentally and physically challenging.”

Denevan explains that his art helped him feel strong—like he was composing his life. This control allowed him to work through his mother’s illness and come to terms with other challenges that came up.

“I [experienced] having three of my brothers become schizophrenic in the same year… And I experience another brother dying in an accident when I was 15,” Denevan says.

“Perhaps at that time there was a clear feeling that art of some kind would be central to my existence—that I would express myself—I would speak of something of the human condition through art.”

Jim Denevan's sand art.
Jim Denevan

The appeal of the Earth

Denevan typically works with the tools the Earth provides—he uses a stick, sand, grass, and snow for most of his pieces. For larger, more complicated pieces, Denevan may use a rake or his pickup truck.

Depending on the size and structure of his work, Denevan may spend as little as six hours or as much as a few weeks on a piece.

Denevan, in his own… art

When we reached out to Denevan, he sent us some hand-drawn responses—some heartfelt, some tongue-in-cheek—on trash that explain why he does what he does, and a few thoughts on keeping the Earth canvas-ready.

Jim Denevan, 1

Jim Denevan, 2

EcoSalon: When did you begin making art?

Jim Denevan, 3

EcoSalon: Why use nature, and things that eventually wear away, as your art?

Jim Denevan, 4

EcoSalon: Why and how does nature inspire your art?

Jim Denevan, 5.1

EcoSalon: Do you think your art is especially moving now that climate change is becoming more of a threat?

Jim Denevan, 5

Jim Denevan, 5.2

Jim Denevan, 5.3

EcoSalon: What are you currently working on.

Jim Denevan, 6

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Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.