Most of the time, you'll find contractor Shane Aldridge working with elaborate tile and kitchen and bathroom installations with his construction company, One Pro.
But when Shane, 45, and wife Stephanie go on a beach vacation, Aldridge gets to indulge in a different form of art.
As Stephanie, who works for United Healthcare in account management, digs into a book, her husband looks for a spot nearby to start digging. He's going to start a sand sculpture.
His artworks have include a 16-foot shark, a bear, a giant Rastafarian, a turtle and several University of Kentucky sculptures, one of them 14 feet in diameter.
Shane Aldridge, a third-generation mason, says he stumbled into sand sculpture as a way to keep himself entertained on the beach, but turning sand into art has a devoted global following.
The Japanese city of Tottori features sand sculptures that can be several stories high — soaring pieces that feature grand staircases and battle scenes, and even grander personalities, such as Albert Einstein and Peter the Great. Closer to home, sand sculptor Roger Powell in Findlay, Ohio, puts together a massive Easter sand sculpture each year. Versailles artist Damon Farmer travels the world for sand-sculpting exhibits and competitions.
The Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach, Va., features an international sand-sculpting competition each year.
Shane Aldridge uses his sand sculpting as a creative and social networking tool. Stephanie Aldridge says that, from Mexico to Myrtle Beach, every beach habitue knows the Aldridges within a few days. He has yet to enter any competitions or even search for sand sculpture on the Internet.
But he does spend time thinking about his next sculpture, and ways to make it better.
"The more obsessed I get, I want to dominate the market," Shane Aldridge says. "I dream about it. I want to get better. ... (But) I'm no superhuman here in the sand."
He loves being known as "sand man," but his favorite nickname was the one he got in Jamaica on an anniversary trip with Stephanie: "carver."
"The reason I do this is far beyond recognition or competition," Aldridge says. "It's a stress reliever for me. ... It's like going to an all-inclusive resort. You can have as much fun as you want to."
Sand art can be immensely complicated, but its materials are simply sand and water — preferably sand that has square grains and is not worn down by the surf, so it sticks together better and wears better as it dries. Aldridge likes to build close to the water, so the water line helps wick water into the sculpture.
But he admits that, as careful as he is with his sculptures, there are times when he returns to find pieces of his work lost like, well, to paraphrase the great song by Kansas, sand in the wind.
He has an unusual favorite tool: his hotel room key. The flat surface is ideal for shaving layers off sand to carve in features.
He also uses a continuous-spray water bottle to keep the sand wet, plus four to five other tools, including trowels. A straw is used to delicately blow away stray grains of sand.
Some tools are found items: A pattern on a turtle sculpture in Belize was made by a can found on the beach.
Aldridge says he can spend seven to eight hours a day working on his beach art. Stephanie, who loves the beach both day and evening, is happy to read nearby while he works.
Although he loves sand sculpting, Shane Aldridge says he's happy to keep his interest at a hobby level: "You have to be all in," he says of the master sand sculptors. "But how much money is there to be made in sand sculpting?"