Updated: Jul 31
Oregon beach artist Odessa Ford risked her entire livelihood on a whim after falling in love with a new art form. The result is a passion for a medium that she never imagined she’d be a part of.
It all started in 2018, when Ford was on a road trip through San Francisco and she noticed that one of her favorite artists, Andres Amador, was hosting a collaborative art-making workshop.
After connecting over their shared passion, Amador showed her a new type of art that she’d never been exposed to before: beach art. He let her tag along during one of his intimate projects with a family, who’d commissioned him to make a personalized illustration in the sand.
Ford, a lifelong painter, said she fell in love with the art form at first sight.
“I saw the rake in the sand as perhaps a new medium for me as an artist,” Ford said. “The next day I got to go along for an exhibition with Andres and a family. It was just a wonderful experience to watch.”
Once she got back home to Boise, Idaho, she made the decision to pack up everything she owned and move to where there were actually beaches to practice on. Her 20-year-old child even agreed to uproot their life and come with.
“We drove clear to Pacific City, went to a local hardware store and I bought a few rakes,” Ford said. “I think that was the day that passion really ignited for me.”
With the new passion burning, Ford knew she wanted to stay in Oregon. She moved at first to Salem, then landed in Eugene where she’s currently based.
“I didn’t know if I was just going to fall flat on my face and that this was going to be the biggest mistake of my life,” she admitted.
So why take the chance in the first place? Perhaps only an artist can understand. Ford says that, despite her doubts, something deep down was telling her she needed to pursue this new passion.
She says part of what draws her to the medium of beach art is its impermanence. For all the planning it takes to produce a piece of beach art, it will inevitably be washed away when high tide comes.
“There’s something that captivates people about it,” Ford said. “The fact that it’s impermanent makes it so much more special. The waves are going to come in in a couple of hours and wash it all away ... so for those who get to witness it, it is quite extraordinary.”
It truly does take passion to do this kind of art, because the planning that goes into a single piece of beach art can be hampering. Ford says you have to find the right stretch of beach at the right time, during a low tide that provides enough time to put together a large enough illustration before the water comes back in to wipe the beach clean.
Anyone who knows anything about the Oregon Coast will know just how finicky the weather can be. Ford’s managed, for the most part, to avoid driving far only to have the rain and wind make her art impossible. Even still, it’s an unavoidable part of being a beach artist in Oregon.
When conditions are just right, the results can be extraordinary.
After years of perfecting her style -- in which she wears flowing dresses and turns the raking into a dance-like performance as she draws her creations -- Ford is now looking to make her art into a proper business.
She finds that people are attracted to this art style for particular types of events that may benefit from capturing a unique moment in time, like wedding engagements and announcements. During one particular proposal at Devil’s Punchbowl near Newport, Ford said she really connected with the personal nature of the process.
“Really, my job is to give them that emotional experience,” she explained. “With a proposal … he’s so nervous and has so many other things going on that my job is to make sure that the message is something he really wants to say.”
She described finding a stretch of beach with a nice overlook, where the couple could look down and see the message scrawled in the sand along with Ford’s illustrations. She completed the work and then described how she also anxiously awaited the answer (she said yes) so she could add that to the message before the tide came back in.
“That was just a beautiful experience to get to share with them,” Ford said. “I get to hear their stories -- how they met and fell in love.”
She finds that the temporary nature of the artworks -- even though she always takes a photo to commemorate the occasion -- tends to connect people to the moment even more.
“It brings people absolutely present in the moment,” Ford said. “Because you have to appreciate it while it’s there. It connects people in a way that no other kind of art form does.”
More photos of Odessa Ford's beach art (click the arrows to navigate):