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Artists carve messages of healing and hope at local beaches

When Editor-at-Large Andrea Naversen discovered a mysterious drawing on a local beach, it led to even broader discoveries of health, healing, and self

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Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was walking down a set of wooden steps overlooking Solana Beach when I stopped, transfixed by the image carved in the sand below: large concentric circles encompassing a sunburst. I stood for a long time, taking in this sand art, wondering what it signified and who had created it. Intrigued, I posted a photo on Instagram, writing: “So intricate, but so fleeting. The evening tide swept it away. Thank you to the artist for this magical moment.” In response to my post, yoga teacher Stacy McCarthy said that the image was a mandala or yantra, often used in yoga for meditation. “The elusive artist leaves these gifts often for us in Solana Beach,” she wrote, adding that it’s “the perfect pause to reflect on the beauty around us and to see the perfection of where we are.” 

Leucadia-based artists Kat and Mike Moore created this mandala in Solana Beach

I learned that mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit, a geometric image representing the universe. A sand mandala, demolished by the waves after completion, emphasizes the transitory nature of all things. I was determined to find the “elusive artist” who had created this symbol in the sand. This journey of discovery would lead me down several paths, connecting me with artists, a psychologist, and those searching for deeper meaning and healing in their lives. 

McCarthy had a hunch the artist might be Dr. Lisa Longworth, a psychologist, artist, and art therapist who incorporates art in her counseling practice, and she brokered an introduction. In conversation, Longworth (who wasn’t the mystery artist, as it turned out) shared with me yet another name of someone who is quite familiar with this form of expression — Sharon Belknap, a longtime graphic artist, sand artist, and hypnotherapist working with those dealing with loss. They told me of a recent trip to the beach to create art, where Belknap invited Longworth to join her in carving twin wings in the sand to symbolize a butterfly emerging from the “cocoon” of the pandemic. In her practice, Longworth’s “cocoon to butterfly” program and accompanying books combine psychology, creativity, and spirituality to help people navigate life transitions with more clarity, passion, and purpose. They laughed and danced to music, sand rakes in hand, while adding the finishing touches to the artwork. 

I was interested in learning more about Belknap’s use of this intriguing art as therapy. “Sand art is a celebration of my love of movement, creating large organic art paired with words that invite a pause, an inspiration, and a much-needed sign that all is all right,” explains Belknap. “I listen to music while creating but am open to engagement.” And she often draws a crowd. “Folks from the steps or bridges above [the beaches] call out their appreciation,” she says. For example, she recalls when, on her 61st birthday, she had planned to write “Within Love” at the center of a mandala when a spectator called out “Wish!” So, Belknap wrote that sentiment instead. She also works with those who are marking, mourning, or celebrating a life event. For example, she recently collaborated with a family whose loved one, Connie Kenyon, was celebrating the halfway point of chemotherapy. They sat on a bluff overlooking Cardiff State Beach, listening to country music and watching Belknap create, writing “Everything Happens for a Reason” in the sand. Shortly thereafter, Kenyon wrote to Belknap, “Thank you for one of the most memorable evenings of my life, and one I will cherish for a lifetime.”

Connie Kenyon (in plaid) with loved ones
Connie Kenyon (in plaid) with loved ones

Belknap knows she isn’t the only one who uses the sand as a canvas. “There are several wonderful sand artists in our area, each with their own style and purpose for creativity,” she says. In the end, it was Belknap who led me to the “elusive artists.” Leucadia-based artists Kat and Mike Moore create mandalas in sand, paint, illustrations, and digital media through their company, Beacons Mandala. Its mission is “to spread intention and healing through art.” 

Kat says when she and Mike were dating, they liked to meet at their local beach in the morning to meditate but found it “hard to quiet our minds.” Inspired by the work of local mandala artist Kirk Van, known as Kirkos, the couple did some research and found out that mandalas are quite healing. In 2019, the Moores began carving their own mandalas, working with sticks at first, and later, rakes. “It was one of the things that found us,” says Kat. “It has evolved into a huge passion project for us.” 

The couple has donated their time and artistry to benefit events sponsored by the Surfrider Foundation and other causes. They also create custom sand mandalas for workshops and events, partnering with organizations that support and promote positive intention and connect the community.But their most touching project was very personal. They created the mandala I had seen in Solana Beach in honor of their son before he was born. “We were in a state of ‘zwischen’ or ‘in-between,’” Kat says. “We did it as a reminder to stay present, to find the magic in the moment right now rather than always looking ahead.” Of course, the couple had so much to look forward to. Baby Jack was born on November 20. 

Artist Sharon Belknap creating our cover art in Solana Beach
Artist Sharon Belknap creating our cover art in Solana Beach
Featured Photo Artist Sharon Belknap creating our cover art in Solana Beach

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