Q&A: White Rock sand artist @PierDoodles shares her craft

Lucky residents can catch Larissa Walkiw’s artwork before it’s washed away with the tide

Anyone who frequents the White Rock beach has likely noticed one of the intricate art displays sketched into the sand near the waterfront pier.

From mandalas to sea creatures, and even a take on the famous Mona Lisa, the art is washed away by the tide as quickly as it’s created.

Larissa Walkiw, who has generated an online following through her Instagram account @PierDoodles, has been adding an artistic touch to the waterfront for the past three summers.

A relatively private person, Walkiw said she purposely did her first drawing on an overcast day in the hopes that it would go, for the most part, unnoticed.

However, the drawing caught the attention of a Peace Arch News reader, who submitted a photo of the artwork to the paper, which was then published.

She described the attention as a “wake up call,” and has since learned to be open to the idea of sharing her work.

A graphic designer in the financial education space by day, Walkiw recently received a grant from Coast Capital Savings ‘Power of Youth’ contest to start conducting sand art workshops.

While hosting a workshop Sunday, Walkiw agreed to answer a few questions for PAN.

The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Why did you start Pier Doodles?

I never imagined that it would grow in this way when I first started. The irony is that if someone were to tell me that ‘Two summers from now, you’re going to be sharing your work openly, you’re going to be doing this regularly. People are going to be asking you how to do it and you’ll be teaching workshops.’ I probably wouldn’t have done the first one.

I think there’s a lesson in there. Just start small, something you’re interested in, something you can do. Show up, do it with love, and it’s going to lead to something great.

How do you start a doodle?

I’ll describe how I go about doing a mandala. I start by laying down some guiding circles with a string. That will start as a framework, then using an improvised rake – it’s a garden tool attached to a stick. You just start from the middle, creating shapes. Layer upon layer, you build on it until you have a beautiful intricate work of art.

You don’t struggle with what design to do next?

No. That’s another question I get. ‘Do you plan them out? Do you improvise them?’

It’s about 50/50.

I remember the Star Wars drawing you did on May the 4th.

Yeah, that was a nice subtle one because it looks like a mandala, it looks tribal or something. I was working on it and from up on Marine Drive I hear a kid go ‘Yeah! Star Wars!’

That was awesome. When you’re working on it, it looks very different on ground level than up there. There’s always an air of uncertainty until you go up and see it. That’s part of the surprise.

What kind of reaction do you get from people who are walking by?

It’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m constantly blown away from people’s reactions. When I first started doing it, I thought the most common reaction would be, ‘Oh that looks so cool, I wasn’t expecting to see that today.’

But, overwhelmingly, the most common reaction I get is ‘thank you.’ It’s amazing. I think it’s a testament to how awesome White Rock is.

A man contacted you and asked for help with proposing to his girlfriend.

Yes. That was incredible. I thought it was an amazing idea and I was honoured to be part of it. It was a little stressful in that I realized it can be difficult to co-ordinate something that needs to happen in a certain window of time with the weather, and the tide, and nature. There’s a lot of variables involved but she said yes so it was successful.

What was her reaction to seeing the art?

You know, I gave them their space. I drew it, I sent him a text and I was out of there.

This will maybe sound cheesy, but for every work, as soon as I’m finished drawing it, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. No matter what happens, whether that’s tide, whether that’s vandalism, whether that’s someone running through it, whatever. It’s the beach’s artwork. That can be hard at first to grasp. Some people can’t get over ‘Why would you come back and keep doing this when it’s impermanent? Why do you spend so much time on something when it’s just going to get washed away?’

The important thing is that it’s not a single piece of artwork. It’s the knowledge that you can come back and do it again.

Are you a private person?

Yeah, it’s tricky for me. It’s a weird balance to navigate. I try as much to keep it separate, I suppose. I don’t think it’s about me. I think it’s about the artwork. It’s about creating a moment that people walking by can enjoy. It’s impermanent artwork and the moments that it creates are impermanent, too. It’s about connecting.

It’s too bad you lost your prime spot, right beside the White Rock Pier.

I know. This summer has been a little bit different but when it came down to it, it’s like, ‘Do you just stop doing it one summer because the pier is out of commission?’

When I framed it that way, it’s like no. It will be different this summer. I do miss my spot. It’s so much nicer, it invites more interaction, there’s a lot more people walking by, and it’s a perfect vantage point. I’m chomping at the bit to get back there.

Tell me about the workshops.

I won some grant money, that money has allowed me to get a website and purchase some equipment so I can start offering workshops. Not just this summer, but summers to come, that’s the next iteration. This is not my livelihood, this is not my business. I’ve heard some people walk by say ‘What a blessed life. You live on the beach and you make this art.’

No, I have a full-time job and I’m also going to school. This is just weekends when it works out.

To inquire about workshops, contact Walkiw at pierdoodles@gmail.com

She said she intends to go live with her website, www.pierdoodles.com, on Wednesday. Images of Walkiw’s artwork (below), can be found on her Instagram account.

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