Sitting behind bowls of coloured sand, a man carefully manipulates a slim steel funnel through the narrow opening of a small glass bottle, creating a picture of dolphins swimming playfully in the sea. The scene attracts shoppers away from their purchases to admire his craft.
Can Erkan has been creating sand art for more than a decade after learning the skill back in his native Turkey.
Taking off his black dust mask, Erkan says: “I have been producing sand art for 13 years. I learned the technique from my friend’s father.”
The art form originated in Arabic country Jordan, Erkan explains, where sand is abundant.
Artists collect sand from the desert, dye it different colours and create artwork in bottles. He said he was amazed to see them turn sand and small glass containers into such interesting art, sparking his passion.
Erkan says he always loved drawing and sketching in his notebook in class instead of paying attention to his lessons, much to the frustration of his teachers.
“I was always jealous of the masterpieces of the Arabic artists, how they drew portraits, the faces were fascinating for me,” he says. “One day I decided to do this, and I managed to draw Che Guevara. Unfortunately that piece only existed one week – someone accidentally dropped the bottle and broke it.”
Four years ago he decided to bring his skills to the “beautiful country” of Cambodia. He has resided in Phnom Penh for seven months now.
The main material used in Erkan’s work is pure white sand from the Kingdom’s Koh Rong Sanloem island, but he has to source the right sized bottles from Thailand.
“If you have visited [Koh Rong Sanloem] before then you will have seen how the beach is clean and white. I collect the sand from the beach and bring it home, and then I dye it different colours,” Erkan explains.
Sand art depicting Angkor Wat, beach scenes and sunsets are the most popular with customers. Mostly his artwork is bought by tourists to take home.
“They are interesting souvenirs for tourists. They are all made from natural Cambodian sand and the bottles are sealed. That’s why customers have no problems getting them through customs on their way home,” Erkan says.
His creations can be found on the first floor of Phnom Penh’s Aeon Mall 1 and on Siem Reap’s Pub Street.
Buying a bottle of sand art is a joy in itself, but the most important thing is to see it being made.
“I think most popular aspect of sand art is making people amazed while they are watching me. They can’t believe their eyes, mostly because it looks impossible to draw pictures with sand in a small glass bottle,” Erkan says.
Erkan’s work comes in two sizes of bottle, and he usually spends around 10 to 15 minutes on each one.
Small bottles cost $10, while the larger ones are $15. For custom orders, like a company logo for example, the price can go up to $25 depending on the level of difficulty.
For more information check out Jan’s Sand Art in Phnom Penh on Facebook or contact 098 877 467.