Friday, January 29, 2010

Adding a Rider to the Icelandic Sculpture

While it is possible to build an armature for a horse and rider as one piece, I chose to do the rider separately so I can work on her detailing up close without the horse in the way.

As you can see, the horse has progressed a good bit since the last time I posted about her.  Her right hind leg is close to finished as is her right shoulder.  The bulk of her body is pretty much there, I just have to make sure all the depressions are tightly filled so the surface won't collapse if touched, carve away what isn't the horse I'm making and smooth everything out.  Easy, right?  Not when you're working this big!  I'm used to being able to put my hands around the horse's barrel, warming the clay with my hands and smoothing it with my thumbs.  This piece is simply too big to do that.  I'm having to use a lamp and a hairdryer to warm the clay enough that I can smooth it with my hands.  I can carve it down with the tools, but sculpting is in my hands, so I have to run both my fingers and palms over it to see if it feels right to me.


The horse has no saddle at the moment, but will by the time I've finished it.  The rider's right leg isn't quite long enough yet and the foot isn't formed at all, but I'm just seeing how the horse and rider fit together here.  

I need to build up the thickness of the rider's legs and arms so she'll be proportionate.  She will have short hair and be wearing a helmet and Kentucky jods (breeches that are boot-cut so she can wear short boots) unless my customer decides she wants to be in different clothes.  I can always add long sleeves if need be and change the style of her pants and boots.

As you can see, the horse's right side is more developed and the rider's left side is more developed.  I have pictures of the rider's armature somewhere - maybe in my laptop.  I'll post them when I figure out where I filed them!
The rider's eyeballs are made of harder clay in a different color so I can see what I'm doing when I shape the eyelids, browbone, etc. around them.  The horse's dark eyes are either beads or earrings - I've forgotten now what I used.  I like to use a hard spherical thing as the eyeball so I can build the eye socket properly and not get the eye out of round.  That isn't possible for humans, since the pupil is cut out to make the eyes look alive.  Horses have horizontal, sort of rectangular pupils, not round ones like we have, so their eyes are usually shown as just round, no pupils cut out. 

The direction the horse is looking is shown by the angle of the upper eyelid and the position of the head, neck and ears.  The direction a person is looking is shown by the location of the pupil and iris of the eye, with the pupil cut out (like a bowl, a rounded cut) and the iris either cut out more shallowly for dark eyes, or just scribed on the eyeball for light eyes (like blue eyes, such as my rider has).  The direction a human's eyes are looking is also indicated by the highest arch of the eyelids, since the lens of the eyeball pushes the lid out a little bit.  I haven't carved out my rider's pupils yet. 

This face isn't really a likeness to my customer yet - it's more of a place holder while I get her proportions right.  Once I'm happy with the rest of her, I'll detail the face so it looks like her, then add the hair and helmet.  The line carved down the center of the horse's face is there to help me compare sides to make sure she's symmetrical.


Here I'm seeing if she's sitting straight, if her shoulders and knees match (not yet, although the shoulders are close), etc.  I haven't worried about doing a likeness of the horse yet either.  As you can see, her right eye is a bit low.  I've already repositioned both eyes twice to get them at the right height for the size of this horse's head.  Once I move the eye that's in the wrong position (I think that may be the horse's right eye, the one that we see on the left side of the photo), her face will be straight.  Then I can detail her head, finish detailing her neck and the rest of her, and add her saddle.  Her bridle will be added after I add the ears and before I add the massive amount of flying mane this mare's going to have.  Getting things "straight" with each other is one of the hardest things about sculpting, in my opinion.

The rider has two prongs that come out where her seat bones would be located on a real person (dressage riders may chuckle at the idea of how easy it would be to "plug in" if you had such prongs coming out of your seat bones, LOL!).  These prongs are inserted in the horse's back to hold her in place.  When I've finished sculpting the rider and her saddle, I will mark the saddle to show where the rider should sit and will cut off the prongs.  The rider will be sent as a separate piece, not as part of the horse.  Since her armature isn't built as part of the main armature, she would come off the horse in transport if I shipped her mounted on the horse.

Can you tell that the rider's shoulders and head are just a wee bit off?  The head is leaning a little bit to the left and the left shoulder is a little bit high.  By "a little bit" I mean perhaps as little as 1/32nd of a difference.  You'd be amazed how much of a change can be made by carving off a tiny bit of clay or moving something like an eyeball just a tiny bit. I use a mirror and photos I post on my computer to help me see where the errors are.  Sometimes it's hard to see them when I'm looking at the real sculpture.  The artist's eye at some point tends to see what they hope is there, not what's really there.  I've heard this lots of times, mostly about painters, but it's true of sculptors too.  Looking at it backwards (in a mirror), in a photo or even upside down is quite useful in helping you see with fresh eyes.

You can see the mare's frog, heel and hock on the right hind leg.  That shows this leg is nearly done.  A lot of the detail I put in the rear end of the horse will be hidden by the tail, just as a lot of the detail in the neck will be hidden by the mane, but I put it in there so I know it's correct before I add all that hair.  I also need to add feathers to the legs and a beard to the horse's head and throatlatch.  All of that comes much later.

That's where we are for now!  These are "pose approval" photos which I send to my customer for them to approve.  If they like it, they'll send the second payment on the job.  If they want something changed, this is the time for them to tell me or I'll have to charge them extra for the time it takes me to make the change.  All of this is spelled out in my commission contracts.

I hope you're enjoying watching "Tolte" evolve from wires and pipes to a finished bronze!


  1. Very fascinating!

    Are you going by a photo?

  2. I took detailed photos and measurements of this horse and rider in order to portray them. I also have other pictures of Icelandics to help me get the muscling right on both sides with the horse in action. Glad you're enjoying it!

    Lynda Sappington

  3. Looking great Lynda! What a project! can't wait to see it finished!

  4. Thanks Kerry!