Sand Picture PDR: Aly Badran

I have been inspired by the Sand Pictures frames for my final Project. Some call these frames as dynamic/moving sand or magic frames, they really are. As I introduced that I first saw the frame in the Denver Art Museum’s shop and that it was the art piece that resonated in my mind the most.

What will it do?
The sand picture frames on the market right now are already dynamic. By flipping the sand picture upside down sand slowly escapes through the air bubbles forming a nice stream of sand that then forms a pointy shape that resembles a layered mountain  when it drops on the base.

What it will say?
I have always seen these sand pictures as aesthetically pleasing to look at. For a lot of people combining simple elements of nature in a dynamic motion is relaxing to look at. The vision that I have for this project is to have these frames create a calming atmosphere for the viewer. It might sound funny but I think that these sand pictures resemble life somehow. Life is cyclic, every day is very similar to the day before and after, but they are never identical. Like the sand picture frames, all they do is go inverted to repeat what they did when they were in their original orientation, but its never identical it’s always something new. This might sound funny again, but this motivates me to take every day as a new start to what I am trying to accomplish, to tackle the difficult challenges I face with determination hopeful that the sand settles where I want it to, if it doesn’t one more try will yield another answer.

After the great upcycling projects I have seen in class, I feel the bar was raised. Now I really want to come up with a very cool project, but at the time I am finding it hard to chose between various inspirations. Like most of us, I came across products that I wanted to buy and didn’t because I thought I can make them myself. Or even watched a DIY video online and wanted to make something like it. However I understand that this class is not about replicating a product you want.

I visited Denver’s Art museum last year and out of all the art pieces in the museum I was really inspired by a sand picture frame I saw in the museum shop. As you can see below a sand picture is a frame that houses a special fluid with air and fine sand particles. The frame is oriented so that the sand particles are held by the air and slowly falls between air gaps by gravity (same idea as a sand clock but in fluid on a 2D level).





Ideas I have to add to the sand picture frame:

  • Having stoppers in the middle so the sand can accumulate and form a certain or random shape instead of just falling on the base
  • Making this sand picture 3D (from a frame to an aquarium)
  • Adding other fluids like oil or ink to the sand picture
  • Adding other lightweight particles that can flow with the sand (hydrophobic sand?)
  • Incorporating something like Waterful Ring Toss to create a turbulent environment in the sand picture. That will be fun to watch 
  • Changing the frame
  • Add an interactive background to it
  • Add lighting effects 


I am still not very sure about the feasibility of the project but I would love some to read some feedback.

I will have to experiment with how this works first and then decide on the project, but will have to take action fast. Please let me know if you have encountered one of these sand pictures before and know how they are done or what’s the fluid inside it because I am sure its not water. I will be posting my updates in the comments section

Initial Design (in progress):
I mentioned ideas that I wanted to add to this sand picture frame above in the inspiration. Unfortunately I did not have the time last week to conduct tests that I want to see whether the project is feasible with the resources and the time frame we have.  I am still in the process of seeing how this works and what its made of. There isn’t anywhere on the web that says what the fluid of the sand picture is made of. William Tabar is the owner of Exotic sands claims to be the  inventor and the patent holder of the Sand pictures since 1985. In his introduction of the company he says that the “Liquid is highly guarded non-toxic trade secret solution.” So I am still exploring what works and what not. I am interested in making some modifications to the sand picture.  After I know the main fluid I am thinking of adding oil to the sand picture. If that works I would like to add a pump inside the frame that would inject the fluid to create a disturbance in the flow causing a controlled turbulent environment inside the frame.

Materials and estimated cost:

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 10.46.39 PM

My main challenge is to figure out the fluid used in these sand pictures to be able to replicate the product. The frame will be a little different to accommodate the extra features that I want to add.  I will list my challenges in order of difficulty and priority:

  • Biggest Challenge: Figuring out the fluid used inside the Sand pictures
  • Finding very fine sand and coloring it
  • Building the frame and sealing it properly to avoid water and air escaping it
  • Adding other fluids and their effect on the sand and fluid used
  • Adding a pump might affect the sealing of the frame


With these challenges I am planning to start prototyping early and see if this is still feasible. To find the suitable liquid medium I will start by using distilled water and see how sand reacts to it. I will then add sault and or alcohol to the water to prevent algae or any form of bacteria being in the water. Fortunately I borrowed one that is not perfectly functional but it’s a good start to know what liquid medium it is. Once I figure out the liquid medium I will move on to finding sand and glitter. I will start by very simple low resolution tests to have a better idea and make a decision in a timely manner.


I am aware and understand the difficulty in figuring out how to build one of these my self and modify it. I have a couple of other backup plans in mind; however, I would like to give this project a try and not quit early. Here is my plan for this semesterScreen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.01.47 PM



Below is my APD presentation:


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6 Comments. Leave new

  • This is a sweet project. Its feasible, you have a very good time frame, and I love watching these things work in action. I would recommend looking for super fine grain sand at a hobby store, like McGunkins, because they have a lot of choices for very cheap prices.

  • I like the idea of adding LED’s to the project. I also really like the idea of making the tank more 3-D than just a picture frame. It looks like you have thought out your challenges decently well. I’m excited to see how your project develops.

  • Meridith Richter
    March 4, 2016 12:11 pm

    The addition of an LED for a sun lit or moon lit effect would add a very nice effect to the overall look. Some sort of pressure driver like you mentioned would also be a really neat interactive component, in addition to the spinning of the frame to turn it upside down and back.

  • This is so cool. What colors are you planning on using? I think slower moving sand looks cooler and more relaxing. Of course it depends what kind of emotional aesthetic you are going for!

  • This is a nifty idea, and I like the idea of creating a picture that’s not quite the same as the last. If you turn this into a 3D version, I can see this being a lot like a snowglobe. Maybe you could create a scene inside of it!

  • Samantha Maierhofer
    March 4, 2016 12:10 pm

    Really cool piece. I like how they automatically make some abstract mountain shapes. It sounds like you have a couple challenges to still figure out but I am excited to see the end result!


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