Like most artists, Sergii Shcherbinin uses standard tools like oil paints, paintbrushes, canvases and sketch pads to create works of art.
But Shcherbinin also uses a pretty unique medium that you don’t see every day: sand.
Shcherbinin is a sand artist, also called a sand animator, who uses only sand, his hands and a lightbox to tell mesmerizing stories.
“In essence, sand animation is just playing with light and shadow,” says Shcherbinin, 44.
You’ll find Shcherbinin board the Oasis of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that recently underwent a $165 million refurbishment project. He performs during the “Frozen in Time” ice skating show (yes, the ship is so massive there’s room for an ice rink onboard!), which tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author who wrote some of the most well-known fairy tales around. Remember “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes?” Those stories and many others were written by Andersen.
Using a custom lightbox and an overhead camera, which projects his sand art onto a large screen behind him, Shcherbinin tells the story of “Thumbelina,” Andersen’s classic tale about the tiny girl born from a flower. Using only his hands, Shcherbinin manipulates the sand to draw whimsical scenes from “Thumbelina.” You can see some of Shcherbinin’s performance in the video below.
Many people in the audience have never seen or heard of sand art before, so they watch in awe as Shcherbinin masterfully draws faces, flowers, dragonflies and other recognizable figures in the sand.
Shcherbinin hails from Kyiv, Ukraine, where he worked as a graphic designer and artist alongside his wife, Aleksandra Vodnytska, who is also an artist.
The pair taught themselves sand art some 15 years ago, then reached out to one of the production companies that helps put together the shows and live entertainment for Royal Caribbean.
Vodnytska helped launch Oasis of the Seas when it was a brand new ship in 2009, spending two months onboard performing as a sand artist. Shcherbinin later joined her on the Oasis, and they performed together until their daughter was born. Vodnytska headed home to Kyiv to raise their daughter and continue her work as an artist, while Shcherbinin remained on the ship. He spends anywhere from five to nine months on the cruise ship before returning home to Kyiv.
Since there are very few professional sand animators in the world, Shcherbinin had to teach himself how to transform the sand into meaningful shapes. To create “Thumbelina,” for example, Shcherbinin spent five months sketching out scenes on a notepad, then learning how to draw the shapes in sand.
“You need to practice and practice — how to do this line, how to do that shape,” he says. “You need to create your own technique.”