Monday, September 29, 2014


I've been working on this commission most of this year - well, "pondering" quite a lot of that time rather than actually sculpting.  One problem is, the horse has only one leg on the ground, which isn't enough support for the sculpture.  The other big problem was, how do I translate that massive clump of hair (his mane) that's lying on his side into a flowing form that will look good and be reasonable to clean up, rather than looking like a tangled mess?  Thankfully, I've solved or figured out how to solve those problems.

Here's the pose photo, a gorgeous picture of the Friesian stallion Anton by world-renowned photographer Gabrielle Boiselle.
Ms. Boiselle kindly gave permission for me to sculpt this pose, for which my customer and I are very grateful.

Looking at the picture, you can see my problem with only one leg being down.  There's a tremendous amount of weight ahead of that leg and not that much behind, so it won't "balance" on that leg.  There needs to be another leg attached to the ground for support, so that other hind leg will be shown as moving through a tall clump of grass.  I'm not at that point in sculpting yet, but I'll share it when I get there.

First, I had to build the horse and get him fairly finished before adding the hair.  I've just started laying on the clay for his tail here and having started the feathers yet.  His eyes are ball earrings, in case you wondered.  It's easier for me to sculpt expressive eyelids if I have a hard eyeball to work with, rather than doing the eye in clay or wax.  And this way, the eye is genuinely round, not lumpy like a wax ball would be (at least in my hands - I don't work with wax as well as I'd like).

Early work on the mane and feathers.  Each leg is at a different moment in flight, so the feathers "fly" differently on each leg.  This horse has massive feathers as well as a massive mane and tail, so there will be a LOT more clay on him before he's "right" - and yes, that's a LOT of hair to sculpt!

At various points during my work, I get the piece off the base and hang it upside down so I can work on the underneath parts without turning myself into a pretzel (as I did for years before fellow sculptor Cathy Choyce told me about this method).  This is by far the easier part of this kind of work, since I can work with my arms at a normal level (as if I were typing). With most pieces, I work with the horse's back supported by my legs, but with that mane in the way, Anton has to hang free. Him hanging free means I have to brace him with one hand while sculpting with the other, which can be difficult at times, but still, it's a lot easier on my shoulders and back than leaving it on my usual sculpting stand and trying to twist my body to see underneath him!

For those who haven't seen this setup before, the chain slides through a hole somebody put in the joist overhead such as pipes would go through. (In my previous studio, I had an eye-bolt attached to a joist in the ceiling.)  I have carabiners and S-hooks holding it where I want it. I keep a spare plumbing T on the chain so I can unscrew my armature from the working surface and screw it to the T to hang the piece upside down. I sit in the black chair with the necessary tools and some clay on the wooden stool beside me at a comfortable height.

You can see my normal sculpting stand to the left of that photo and the drafting stool I normally sit on. The stand is adjustable by turning a crank which raises and lowers the top. This stand was worth the cost, as often as I change the height of my stand. My old stand was one of those where you insert a pin in the support pipe at various heights, but you have to LIFT the top to the place where you want it. I still use the old one at times. I don't throw much away . . .

This pic shows what I need to work on (as well as how much work I've done on the feathers). The hooves need to have the details (wall, sole, frog, heel bulbs) added, and there are holes or voids in the clay here and there (look at the tail and feathers for examples) that need to either be blended or filled so they won't catch the mold material and possibly tear the mold. I also need to smooth out his belly and other parts. By hanging him like this, I can make sure everything is blended, filled in where necessary and sculpted properly. After I hung him up I noticed the bone in the forelegs didn't show correctly, so I fixed that as well as a bunch of other stuff.  Changing your point of view is always helpful in perfecting an artwork.  I also use a big wall mirror to see it with fresh eyes.

All that hair means there are lots of undercuts. Undercuts are fine in bronze to some extent, but again, I have to fix anything that might trap the mold - voids or undercuts that get larger "inside" or "under," for instance. Silicon molds are very forgiving, but there's no point in tempting fate by leaving such things that can be repaired. Sculpture is about light and shadow, so there will be some places that LOOK like undercuts, but they will be angled inside the cut to allow the mold to pull free smoothly.

Once I get the underneath parts fixed, I'll put him back on his working surface and glue the pipes in place - he won't be coming off there again until he's at the foundry. Then I'll add the grass under his feet and build it up to support that flying back leg, detail his tail, finish detailing his mane and forelock and sign him!! Then he'll be DONE and can go to be cast! YAY!

Once I get him upright again, I'll post some more pictures.  I hope this article was educational and entertaining!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Making Some Changes

Moving to a new home is EXHAUSTING but the living area of the house is nearly finished. We still have boxes to unpack in the office and we don't want to talk about the basement which is piled up with boxes waiting to be unpacked in my studio!  The majority of the living space is comfortable and we almost remember where we put things, which is great!  Yay!

Due to the move and how much longer it's taking to get things finished than expected, I'm going to cancel plans for an April workshop.  I'm not sure I'll be ready that soon, but I expect I will be ready for workshops and regular students by summer, so stay tuned!  Only you'll want to "stay tuned" via the blog on my website,  I already have a post there catching you up on all my news. 

I will leave this blog up for reference sake, but future posts will be on my website's blog, so please follow me there!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Date Change and a Sculpting Rant

Date Change:  Real life has gotten in the way and messed up my schedule, so my sculpting workshop is going to be in late April 2013, still at Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH.  I'll post the exact dates soon, but it will be the 3rd or 4th week in April.

Now the rant!  Someone posted in the Sculpture forum on Wetcanvas that when he bought some Super Sculpey in a local art supply store so he could start learning to sculpt, the clerks there told him he was going about learning sculpting the wrong way - that he had to learn to draw and he needed to learn anatomy first.  Here's my reply:

Sculpting does not require drawing skills - I'm a prime example of that.  For those of us whose minds work in the 3-D realm, sculpting is far easier than 2-D work. People who don't think 3-D (which is the majority of artists) don't understand the way 3-D thinkers think, the way we see things, the way we relate to things - seriously.  And they believe you have to draw before you can do anything else in art.  They'll point to famous artists who were/are both painters and sculptors (Michelangelo, for instance).  Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and claimed he couldn't paint (despite the evidence of the Sistine Chapel ceiling).  I'm the same way - I learned to draw *after* becoming a proficient sculptor and it is HARD HARD HARD for me to do 2-D work, but I can if I have to.  Don't let a 2-D artist's lack of understanding make you the least bit hesitant about sculpting.  Sculpting is in your hands and your heart and your mind and you'll be amazed at what you can create once you understand the materials you're working with. 

Now that I'm done ranting (for now, LOL!), I will say it's always good to learn anatomy any way you can.  However, learning it by DRAWING isn't necessarily going to help you with learning how to sculpt it.  You'll need to run your hand over the muscles of a horse or a smooth-coated dog (you don't want the muscles hidden by fur as they would be in a cat or long-haired dog) while its leg is being held in a flexed position, then study photographs done in excellent light of a leg in a similar position to see how muscles move under skin (for instance).  Studying anatomical drawings and even copying them if you can draw decently can be quite useful.  I use anatomy books with drawings all the time, but I mostly study anatomy in real life to do my art. 

You need to pay attention to how the body moves - for instance, have you noticed that when someone is walking, the leg bearing weight makes that hip actually higher than the other one?  (That's what makes women's rumps sashay prettily.)  If a group of muscles bulge, the same ones on the other side will be shaped differently.  I'm a horse artist, so I'll use horses as an illustration.  Muscles bulge the most when they're contracted, so when a horse is LIFTING (not standing on) his left hind leg, for instance, his rump muscles (and abdominals, etc.) will be bulging while the muscles on his right hind leg, the one he's standing on, will look flatter because they're engaged in supporting the body, not contracting to shorten or move that leg.  The more effort being expended, the more bulge you'll see in the muscles.  Muscles at rest are flatter and more relaxed looking than those being used to lift a limb.  If you haven't studied anatomy, you may not have consciously noticed such things, but they're also true in humans.  Most people don't have the muscular development or else they have too much body fat for the muscles to be defined the way I'm used to seeing them in horses, so I use upper level dressage riders (who are strong athletes and always have highly developed thigh muscles and lightly developed calves - which is a sign they're dressage riders rather than jumper riders or western riders - just a detail to be observed if you want to portray the sport properly) or dancers as reference, with the occasional body-builder thrown in for fun at times.  :)

There are 3-D anatomical models you can touch, move, light different ways to help you see anatomy.  I'm not talking about those wooden doll things you can pose to get proportions.  You can buy resin castings that are copies of Michelangelo's "David'"s ear, eye, nose, mouth, etc.  There are full-body anatomical models in resin.  There are some models that have half the man's body with skin over his muscles, and half showing the muscles with no skin.  You can get horse models like that too.  That's the way a 3-D mind learns anatomy, that and studying the real subject you're going to sculpt, whether people, horses, wildlife, etc.  (Suggestion - if you're going to sculpt wildlife, run your hands over taxidermied animals - good ones - rather than getting THAT friendly with a real cougar or whatever!  That's what I did to sculpt a cougar - it worked just fine.)

I "see" with my hands a lot. When I did my first portrait of a horse (rather than doing "imaginary" ones or ones based on reference photos), I asked the horse's owner to allow me to sculpt him from life once I had the piece fairly well along (I wanted to be sure I had the details and proportions right).  The horse was tied up and I put the 3/4 finished bust on a tall tack box near him.  I closed my eyes and ran my hands over that lovely stallion's head, then did the same to the 1/4 life-sized bust of him I was working on.  The resulting bust is easily recognizable as him by those who know him even without his huge blaze (a white marking on his face) that covers most of his face.  For people to recognize his bust that way rather than just thinking it's "just" a Quarter Horse is amazing to me since it was only my second attempt at a realistic horse and my first real portrait.  (Copies of that piece are still for sale on my website: Fascination)

Don't let shop assistants deter you from sculpting.  Get your hands in the clay (when using Super Sculpey, condition it first or your hands will get sore - it needs to be run through a pasta machine - rollers only, not cutters - several times to mix the oils in and soften the clay before you try to use it.  Pasta machines are about $25 and available at Hobby Lobby, Michael's, Dick Blick's, etc.).  Once you start working with the clay, your hands and innate knowledge will get you started on your first pieces.  Then you'll see where you need to improve your knowledge and skill and the rest of it will be a joyful path of discovery.  Let the 2-D people have fun with their paints.  We're creating art you can touch, feel and appreciate from all sides.  Good luck with it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Staying busy . . .

I've been staying VERY busy, which is how I prefer things, really, but so much is going on right now, I can hardly catch my breath!  Let's see, where to begin . . .

My life-size bronze of "Nanning 374: Spirit of the Friesian" was unveiled on June 23, 2012.  Over 100 people were there, including the head of the Friesian association in The Netherlands!  He came over just for the unveiling!  He told my client that this piece is "historic, and really portrays the spirit, fire and passion of the Friesian horse."  COOL!  This life-size is only the second one in the world - the other is a standing pose and located in The Netherlands.
That's me with my actually bigger-than-life-sized bronze (I told the enlarging place and the foundry, "do NOT let him end up under 17 hands!" and they made sure he didn't!  He's about 18.2 hands as he stands and if he stood straight instead of crouching as he is here, he'd be probably 19.2 - not UNDER 17 hands, for sure!).  This piece is located at Fenway Farms, Hortonville WI.  It's a private farm but visitors are welcome by appointment.

After that, I got busy with some advertising, show entries and contests.  One contest resulted in the life-size being included in an online arts magazine, "Art and Beyond."  Another contest resulted in a color ad and a feature story - and I DIDN'T win the contest!  That's a great result for an entry that didn't win!  An ad I placed in another magazine caught the eye of the editor, which resulted in a feature story on me and the life-size.  So watch for the October issues of "Riding" magazine and "Horseman's Corral" - those are the two that are doing stories as well as the ads.  Yay!

I currently have three bronzes (shown below: "Just Trying to Help," "Frolic" and "Windswept") in "An Equine Jubilee" at the Delaware Arts Castle in Delaware OH.  The show runs through Oct. 24.   It's a nice show with lots of good work!  Go see it if you can!  And be sure to check out the gift shop while you're there - they're carrying my jewelry!

"Nanning 374: Spirit of the Friesian" was accepted to the American Academy of Equine Art's Fall Open Juried Exhibition, which will be held in the Scott County Arts and Cultural Center in Georgetown KY.  The show opens to the public September 15 and closes October 24.

I've been working on a relief of a pony I saw a picture of on Facebook.  The photo was lovely as is the pony, so I asked the owner if I could sculpt it.  She and the photographer both gave me enthusiastic permission.  One of the reasons I chose the photo is that the angle of the photo presents a very difficult challenge for sculpting a relief.  It's a head-on shot that shows the rest of the pony's body, all the way back to her rump.  That kind of foreshortening is very hard to sculpt, but I did it!  I just "declared a victory" on her today (translation:  I decided there's nothing else I can do to it, so I wrote my resin caster to find out what it's going to cost me to cast her).  Here she is.  I call the piece "Enchanting."
On the writing front, I wrote a short story (1200 words) and read it at the Western Ohio Writer's Association's Beatnik Cafe in Xenia the first part of August.  It was held at Blue Jacket Books in Xenia as part of their "Firs Friday" activities.  A good group of folks turned up to hear six or seven of us read our stories.  It was nice to hear  a good reaction from the audience for mine.  I wrote a fictionalized version of my aunt and uncle meeting for the first time.  I don't know how they met, honestly, but I used their personalities for the lead characters and the story turned out well.  I'll be sending a copy to my aunt for her to enjoy (she's a poet - writing runs in the family).

A story of mine,"Lisa Goodman, Writer," was accepted to an anthology that will be published this fall.  This was my first ever "horror/suspense" story and I'm really pleased with how it turned out (it still give me goosebumps and I know what's happening in it!)  I'll post info here and on Facebook when the anthology is ready to sell.  I'll be happy to sell you an autographed copy of it!

I'm teaching a sculpting workshop Oct. 1-5 at Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH.  The cost is $250 and the skills you will learn can be used to sculpt any kind of mammal, from cats to horses to humans.  Come join me!  We'll have a lot of fun.

I have a new commission I'm working on (which means "Levade" has been set aside for a while - paying work always comes first!).  I can't say much about it at the moment except that it's another gorgeous Friesian!   It should be fun to work on!

I'm always happy to read your comments as well as answering questions, so feel free to post them or email me if you wish.  I hope you're having an enjoyable summer.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to Fix Photos for Your Art Website

I saw a question on LinkedIn where an artist didn't know how to use Photoshop to fix his pictures nor how to build a website.  I said it was easy to fix photos and it IS, so he wrote me and I wrote the following to help him out.  I figured it was worth sharing, so here ya go.

I have Photoshop Elements 6, which came with one of my computers years ago.  Hopefully my instructions will make sense to you when you use your own version.

Open a photo file.  If you need to crop it, go to the symbol on the left side (the toolbar) that looks like these two symbols crossed: <> so they make kind of a box inside them.  That's the crop tool.  Put your cursor at the top left corner of where you want to crop and drag it diagonally down the the bottom right corner of where you want to crop.  You can move the location of the crop box by moving a corner (there will be a small box in the corner you can grab and move).  If a green check mark shows up, click that when you're happy with how you're cropping it.  If the green check mark doesn't show up (different versions do different things, y'know), go up to the "Image" word on the top tool bar and click that.  A drop down list will show up.  Click "crop" and then your picture will be cropped.  If you don't like how it turned out, go to the top bar and click "Edit" then choose "undo" from the drop down list.

Once you have your photo cropped, go to the Enhance tab on the top.  From the drop down list choose ""auto smart fix" which will brighten the image. If you think the colors were better before, go to "Edit" and hit "undo."  Go back to the "Enhance" tab and click "Auto sharpen" which will make your photo look more crisp.  Again, if you don't like it, go to "Edit" and hit "undo.

Now you're going to resize your photo to use on your website and other places.  Most photos are either 180 dpi or 300 dpi (dots per inch) when they come from a digital camera.  If you do use a digital camera, take your pictures as Large Format - that way you have plenty of "information" for the computer to use as you resize it. 

Once you've cropped it, save your original file with a name that lets you know it's the original:  "Pegasus bronze original cropped" perhaps with the date, too, so you can resize it differently in the future if you need to.

If you might be sending it to be used as a magazine cover or a postcard for a show, save it at 8x10 inches and 600 dpi.  If you will be using it in a magazine ad inside the magazine or perhaps in a book, save it at 8x10" and 300 dpi (these are industry standard dpi for advertising and magazine or book ads or copy).  Mark each file as you save it with all the information you need:  "Pegasus bronze 8x10 600dpi"  that kind of thing. 

For your website, resize the photos to be no more than 6" on the longest side and save them at 72dpi.  If this looks too grainy to you, save it at 100 to 120 and see how you like those.  Those are all low enough dpi that they can't be easily stolen by someone wanting to make cross stitch patterns with your painting, for instance.  Save the photo as "Pegasus bronze 6 in 72dpi" so you can find it easily when building your website.

If you want to - a lot of my painter and photographer friends do this - you can put a copyright watermark on the photo.  To do this, click the T (type tool) on the left tool bar, then set your cursor where you want the text box to start and drag diagonally until you're happy with it.  You can move it around after you finish typing, so it doesn't have to be perfectly placed at first. Once the box is in place, choose your font, something bold that will be easy to see like "Impact."  The font box is at the top of the window in the second row of tabs (it appears after you hit the "type tool").  Choose a large size (like 48) and a color that will be complimentary but still apparent on your picture.  There are a variety of grays that do a good job of this.  Also choose if you want it centered, left or right justified.

Now put your cursor inside the text box and if you want the copyright symbol, hold down the Alt key on your keyboard (it's near the space bar on a PC keyboard, dunno where it is on a Mac) and while holding it type "0169" - when you release the Alt key, the copyright symbol (c inside a circle) will appear.  Then type the rest of your copyright words (website, your name, whatever you want).

Once you have your copyright words typed, look at the toolbar on the second row above the window and you'll see a white box with a red line diagonally through it next to the word "style" - click that, and you'll see a choice of bevels to put on your words.  If you click the right fly-out arrow at the top of that box, you'll see the word "visibility" among others.  Choose this and then you can choose "hide" which allows only the embossing to show or "ghosted" which makes the color transparent.

Now you can move your watermark if you want to.  Put your cursor ABOVE the text box and slide it around the screen until you're happy with its placement.

Don't click SAVE or your photo will have that copyright on it forever and you won't have a "clean" version if you need it.  Instead, click "Save As" and give it a name like this:  "Pegasus bronze 6in 72dpi watermark" - something that clearly identifies it for you.

And that's all there is to it!  Don't worry about "layers" or any of the other things offered in Photoshop if all you're doing is fixing your photos to use on a website or in advertising. 

If you get stuck, go to your Internet search engine and type in "How do I add a watermark" (or whatever you need) "in Photoshop Elements 6" (or whatever you have).  There are YouTube videos that show step-by-step how to do pretty much anything you want.  Photoshop Elements 6 is such an old program, the videos are all for 7-9 or whatever number they're up to, but they have kept the basics the same to the point that you should be able to figure out what you need from the available videos.  I did the watermark part of this post by using a video that was made for Elements 7-9.

Get into Photoshop and just play with it.  You'll soon figure it out.  Just remember to save each changed photo with a unique name and don't overwrite your original!  Have fun with it.  Good luck!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

New Works in Progress

I always work on something when I'm in a booth at a show.  At Equine Affaire, with four 10 hour days to be in my booth, I get a decent amount of work done while talking to folks.  Sculpting during a show is a great way to teach people about the process of creating sculpture.  This time, I also had a digital picture frame doing a slide show of the Nanning sculpture being digitally enlarged.  That gave me even more educational material to show the process of going from idea to finished  bronze.

All that said, I started a small sculpture of an Andalusian stallion doing a levade (a 45 degree rear that's held for a few  moments - part of "haute ecole" or "high school" dressage.  It takes incredible strength to hold that position).  Several years ago, I was allowed to photograph the spectacular Andalusian stallion Alborozo at his home in Malibu.  His owner, Avi Cohen, put him through all his paces and let me take all the photos I wanted which was incredibly kind and generous of him.

When I started this sculpture at Equine Affaire, it was nothing but pipe, a board and some spools of wire.  I made an armature (metal support for sculpture) and started adding clay, building him up and working on his muscle masses.  I haven't started work on his legs yet, as you can see in the pics below.  The tail is short like that because the horse's tail is tied up this way so he won't step on it while performing.

This is where he is now:

My second new work in progress is a relief of a lovely mare that's an Arab/Welsh cross.  She's a palomino with a wide blaze.  I saw her pic on Facebook (she belongs to an online friend of mine) and asked if I could sculpt it.  She agreed and I started on it, but life got in the way and I had to leave it unfinished for quite a while.  Now I'm back at work on it and it's an intriguing puzzle to solve.  It's a difficult angle to do as a relief, which is one of the reasons I wanted to try it (silly me!).  This is one of those things we self-taught artists do - find a new challenge and fight our way through it as a way of increasing our skills.  So this piece will go through some serious cases of "the uglies" before it becomes the beautiful piece I see in my head.  Anyway, here she is along with the photo that inspired me.  It'll get better, trust me!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Other aspects of the art biz

Most of the time, I write about the creative process.  There are other aspects to the art biz than applying clay to a pipe and wire armature, and I'm going to talk about that today.

My daughter's logo for her business, Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH (where I'm the Marketing Director/Webmistress/Newsletter editor, which keeps me VERY busy!) is beautiful and seemed like a natural design for jewelry.  With her permission (it IS trademarked, so it required permission), I started trying to find a way to make it into jewelry.  I knew her clients would enjoy it as jewelry and I also thought it would be a good way to promote the farm.

As you can see, it's very graphic in nature.  In fact, it was created (by my friend and fellow artist Marcia Van Woert) digitally.  I tried to sculpt it in various ways but had little to no luck (and no, I have no "digital" skills at all when it comes to creating art).

While I was in Oregon last July having the maquette of Nanning 374 digitally enlarged to life-size (the bronze will be installed in April, YAY!), I saw their 3-D printer at work (not on my piece - that was done with a different process).  The 3-D printer takes a scan or a digital image and prints it out in three dimensions in resin.  That's pretty darned cool! 

I asked if they could make jewelry blanks for me from this image and they said "sure" - and so they did.  They were GORGEOUS!  I sent them to a pewter caster and learned they were too thin to use to create the molds.  Rats!  The pewter place's cadcam guy re-did them at the proper thickness and jewelry was "born"! 

Now design ideas are running out of both my ears, and my daughter's in the same condition, LOL!  So far, we have two styles of earrings with the logo 1/2" wide, 3/4" wide pendants and zipper pulls, and I'm making beaded bracelets using the 1/2" charms.  They're all so beautiful!  And since they're pewter, they're AFFORDABLE! 

(Shown above:  Ball earrings, french wire earrings - both with 1/2" charm; 3/4" pendant; zipper pull using 3/4" pendant.)

All of them say "" (the farm's website) on the back.  The earrings don't have the texture shown above on the back, but they do have the lettering.  They're available at an introductory price of $10 for either style of earrings (ball earrings or french wire), $10 for a pendant with your choice of chain length from 16" to 24", $12 for the zipper pull.  There's $3 shipping/handling within the USA.  You can order them by contacting me (I use for DHF business) or directly from the website at

It's SO EXCITING to see something like this become a reality, especially after trying for so long (literally years!) to create it.  And it's wonderful to see the excitement of those who know and love Dancing Horse Farm when they see and wear the jewelry. 

I'll be selling this jewelry (along with my sculpture) at Equine Affaire in my booth (#529-530 in the Bricker Building at the Ohio Expo Center - state fairgrounds) April 12-15, but the prices will be higher.  The current prices are introductory only.  If you want some DHF jewelry and want to get the best price, order it soon!

I love learning about all the ways art can be produced.  Learning about 3-D printing and cadcam stuff is really interesting to me, although I'll never conquer doing them myself.  There are SO many techniques and technologies that didn't even exist when I was a young'un.  Being an artist is endlessly fascinating . . .