Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My One-Handed Sculpting Projects

Before I knew I was going to need rotator cuff surgery in September, I agreed to be the "featured artist" in a gallery in Kettering, Ohio.  I like to do demos and meet the public, so when it was time for the show, I came up with a "one-handed sculpting" project I could do to entertain the public, keep me from going bonkers from inactivity, and make some nice Christmas presents all at the same time.

I started with 3" medallions of wood I got at Michael's. If you decide to use these, make sure they're not warped! I had to search through several packages before I found one where all the medallions were flat. These wooden medallions (my term - I don't remember what they're called on the packaging) don't have a loop at the top - they're just plain wood disks. I wanted to keep my medallions the same size and keep my Super Sculpey thin but have the actual piece thick enough to make good resin castings. The wood medallions did the trick.

I conditioned my Super Sculpey at home with my polymer clay only pasta machine (I have one for plastilene too - none for actual pasta, LOL), then took the strips of clay in a sealed plastic bag to the gallery along with my tools. I looked like Red Riding Hood with my basket over my arm with my clay, tools and reference photos, LOL!

I sat at a table in the entrance to the gallery to work. My left hand, which couldn't do any real work due to recovering from shoulder surgery, just lay on the table to hold the medallion still, while I sculpted only with my right hand. I used a cone-shaped "clay shaper" tool with a black rubber tip to do most of the work on the raised relief of the black horse. You use this tool on its side to roll the pieces of clay together and leave no "seams" between pieces - that's the best way to work polymer clays. I contoured the horse with this same technique. Using ribbon tools doesn't work as well with Super Sculpey as it does with plastilene - cutting the clay away doesn't leave as smooth a surface, so if you can roll the clay with one of these rubber-tipped tools, you'll get a much cleaner, smoother surface. 

The logo medallion (for my daughter's farm Dancing Horse Farm) was created by both adding and subtracting clay with a very narrow ribbon tool. I didn't do this original design and it is totally different from my style, so I found it more difficult to do than the black horse.

I baked the medallions (that's what you do with Sculpey products - polymer clays are baked in a kitchen oven to make them hard), then made a silicon rubber mold for both of them (one mold for two medallions). Unfortunately, it's been REALLY COLD here in Ohio, and all three of the molds I made wound up with bubbles because I couldn't get my studio above the 70 degrees required by both the mold rubber and the resin casting material. My wall heaters don't have thermostats like home furnaces do. The resin castings also had bubbles on their backs for the same reason.

I cleaned up the castings on the belt sander to remove rough edges, used small metal tools to clean up the convex bubbles on the face of the castings, washed the castings with Dawn dishwashing detergent to degrease them, then sprayed them with white acrylic paint made for plastic to be a "primer" coat (so other paints would stick well). I painted the black horse with black (Licorice) Folk Art paint and the gold on both pieces is Antique Gold Rub 'n' Buff. The Rub 'n' Buff is thick enough that the bubbles in the back of the castings aren't nearly as obvious as they were in the raw resins. I put ribbons on in the farm colors for the DHF medallion, red for the black horse medallion, and they were done!

I gave the black horse medallion (which is a portrait of Nanning 374, who I will be doing as a life-size bronze) to my client who hired me to do that job, to thank him for asking me to sculpt his horse again. I painted Nanning's name on the back of that medallion. The DHF medallions were gifts to the barn staff at Dancing Horse Farm, to thank them for taking good care of my horses while I'm recovering from this surgery and can't take care of them myself.

Anyway - I'm happy with my projects. Here they are (Nanning's is hung from a red ribbon with a bow on it in a similar style to the DHF one).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Best-laid Plans . . .

Well, I THOUGHT "Tolt" was ready to go, but my customer wants me to work on her face a bit more.  But before I could do that, my rotator cuff tore completely off the bone - yes, it was painful!  I had surgery on September 15 and am just now beginning to be able to do a little bit of work again between naps - seriously.  My left arm won't be back to normal until maybe March, maybe later, so I'm told, but I'm also told I'm doing really well with my therapy.  I just can't type long, can't carry much in my left hand, can't do any serious work with it, can't ride on my own (although I've started back riding, taking lunge-line lessons at a walk while my daughter, who's my trainer, works on my foot and leg position to avoid stressing my shoulder, bless her.  She has a four step mounting block made to help riders get on 18 hand horses, so getting on my 15.2 guy is EASY from that block!)

Anyway - Tolt is on hold while my customer gets new pictures to me as well as a list of what she wants touched up, but I'm working on other things in the meantime.  I was the featured artist at the Town & Country Fine Art Gallery in Kettering, Ohio, for the month of November.  I did a demo there every Saturday and on "Black Friday" of what I call "one handed sculpting" - making small medallions that will be Christmas ornaments or trophy medals.  Sorry, I can't show them to you - some of them will be Christmas presents from me to certain people!  After Christmas, I'll be happy to share them and then they'll be for sale, too. 

Today I made a mold for the medallions and tomorrow I hope to start casting them in resin.  I'm excited!  Making the mold was a lot harder on my shoulder than I thought it would be, but DUH!  I can't scrape leftovers out of a pot into a storage container without hurting my shoulder.  Making a mold is very much a similar motion!  I didn't HURT myself, but I'm sore.  Luckily, resin is easier to mix and pour than mold material!

My BIG news is that I have a LIFE-SIZE COMMISSION of a Friesian stallion at play!  I'll be making the maquette (the small version, like my normal sculptures) and the foundry will have it digitally enlarged since it may be a year before I'm strong enough to do that kind of work.  They will have clay applied all over it and will get it close to what I'd sculpted, and then my customer and I will visit there (in Oregon) and he'll make sure I have the details right in the life-size (he will have already done this for the Maquette) and I'll do the finishing touches on the life-size, then the molds will be made, the piece cut up and it will be hauled to the foundry, where it will be cast.  It will take 3-4 months for me to sculpt the original, then a mold will be made on the original Maquette and a wax sent to the place where it will be enlarged.  While the enlargement is being done, the Maquette will be cast as a bronze edition, which will take 3-4 months.  The life-size will be finished 3-4 months after the Maquette is finished.  I'll post progress photos as I work on it.

Did I mention that my second novel, "Star Sons Book 2: The Gathering Alliance" is now on Amazon and other outlets?  Just do a search on my name and you'll find it.  You can also order it from your local bookstore by giving them the ISBN number.  I hope y'all will enjoy it!  It was great fun to write!

As I said, I've had shoulder surgery recently and can't sculpt normally with both hands.  Because of that, my dear non-artist hubby has volunteered to build the armature and lay on the clay for me.  I should be able to sculpt the horse one-handed for the most part once those things are done.  My customer is a kind and patient man who understands I'm recovering from serious surgery, so the timetable isn't as strict as it might be - a lot depends on how long I can work each day.  Right now, I can work a couple of hours and then I need to nap a couple of hours - seriously.  But I'm getting stronger every day!  And I'm REALLY excited at this opportunity!  I hope you'll enjoy watching this sculpture being created!

Monday, August 30, 2010

All but the Signature . . . I hope!

I think "Tolt" is nearly finished.  I just have to clean up the clay, make the pads under the horse's feet more uniform in shape and sign the title, my name and copyright along the sides of those pads.  Then I have to clean all that up too.  (Signing sculptures is a pain - nowhere near as easy to do as signing a painting!) 

I've spent literally two to three weeks pondering and picking at and trying to sculpt the rider's hands until today when I finally got everything to work the way I wanted.  It's very hard to sculpt the part of the fingers and palm that are near the horse, so I finally turned the forearms and hands out away from the horse so I could see the inside shapes better.  There are suggestions of fingernails there and even my customer's gorgeous sapphire ring is shown as a general shape on her left hand.  Her arms and hands were hard for me to do - getting the muscling and the shapes of the parts right is quite a challenge, but I think everything's good now.

I like the way the wrinkles turned out in her shirt and breeches.  I textured her clothing to make it look different from her skin when it's bronze.  I think it will be a nice look to have that slight texture on the cloth.

The clay stirrups you see on the working surface won't be the ones used.  I made Super Sculpey ones so they'll be sturdier to ship (Super Sculpey is a polymer clay you can bake in the oven so it's hard, unlike plastilene which is always soft.)  The stirrups, stirrup leathers and reins will all be hand-made at the foundry for each piece, although they MAY be able to cast the stirrups.  I'm not sure if they're thick enough to cast well unless they use jewelry-type casting (centrifugal casting). 

Without further ado, here are the pictures!

The shape behind the hoof is supposed to be a splash of dirt.  I may change it a bit before declaring a victory on this piece.
When I saw this pic, I realized I need to add a browband.  I'll do that tomorrow.

  I'll be glad to get this one finished!  I've been working on it a long time, but I'm happy with how it's turned out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beginning of the end - I hope!

I'm getting close to finishing this piece, HUZZAH!  I just need to add a bridle on the horse and do the wrists and hands of the rider, thicken the tail a bit and make the rider's eyes match better - they're a tiny bit off.  Then I have to sign it and I'm finished!!
The horse's tail is nice and thick-looking from the back, but from the side, it isn't quite bushy enough.  Like most Icelandics, this mare has a really thick mane and tail.  I think the mane looks pretty good, but the tail needs to be thicker and needs more movement as seen from each side.  I'll work on that today.

The "splash" you see behind that right hind foot is necessary for support and strength for the piece.  In real life, that foot would be flying through the air like both left feet, but the horse needs more than one point of contact with the base in order to be strong enough to stand without bending the supporting leg.  The "splash" of dirt may be modified a bit, I don't know yet.  It's easy to sculpt them in relief, but doing them 3-D, it's a lot harder to get the look I want.

The stirrups are on the working surface (the board) in front of the piece in the photo above.  They won't be attached until the piece is in bronze because they are too delicate to cast properly.  They will be hand made for each sculpture, just as the bit rings, stirrup leathers and reins will be.  I think I'm going to remake the stirrups out of Super Sculpey so they'll ship more safely.

See how nice and thick her tail looks from behind?  I need to get that feeling from each side too.  Her ears barely show from all the flying forelock in real life.  I'm still trying to decide if I want to put more forelock on her to hide more of her ears or not.  What do you think?  I'm open to suggestions!

The rider's neck looks a bit rough because I haven't cleaned this sculpture up with chemicals yet.  When I finish, I'll use a small filbert paint brush and some orange cleaning liquid straight from the bottle (I'll squirt it into a small bowl I can dip the brush in) and paint the whole thing with the cleaning liquid.  That chemical will melt the surface of the clay just a tiny bit, smoothing out some places and getting rid of the crumbs as well.  I may still need to do some clean-up with tools after I use the chemical, but the chemical will show me where I need to do that.

She looks like my customer, which pleases me a lot since I haven't done a sculpture of someone with an open smile before.  Every picture I have of her, she's got a happy smile on her face, so that's what I used.

I have stirrup leathers on the inside of the rider's legs, cut off at the point where they would not be against hte leg in real life as they stretch to support the stirrups.  The foundry will add flattened copper wire the width of the leathers I've started when they put the stirrups on.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to write me!  Thanks for your interest.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ahhh, that's better . . . "Tolt" and "Star Sons 2" news!!

I finally saw what was bothering me about the rider's face.  I knew something was a bit off, but I couldn't quite figure out how to fix it.  Then I saw it.  The eyes were set too high (by about 1/16th of an inch), and the place where the nose dips in toward the eyes was set in the wrong place (by an even smaller margin).  So today I put dabs of clay in the places where the eyes were, smoothed that out and started over - not my favorite thing to do, especially on something as delicate and difficult to create as the eyes on this rider.  But I did it, and revised the shape of her cheekbones somewhat, her temples and browbone, the nose, and even brought the brim of the helmet lower and trimmed some off the top of the helmet.  I like it a lot better now.  I think I need to broaden the lower cheeks and jaw just a tiny bit on each side, and then it just might look like my customer!  YAY!  Here are some pictures to show what I accomplished today.

I know her helmet still needs straps, but I'm not going to add them until I'm satisfied with her face.

As you may be able to see from the pictures above, and will certainly see in the picture below, I also started working on the mane, getting the masses of the flying mane and forelock somewhat defined on one side, as well as filling in holes and undercuts so it will cast well.

I think this will be a beautiful piece!  I'm excited to see it coming together so well!

In other news, I've finished the revisions on my second "Star Sons" novel (titled "The Gathering Alliance") and am printing it out right now for a final read-through to make sure I haven't missed anything in proofreading.  The cover art is finished and there are only a few details to complete before it will be ready for publication.  HUZZAH!!!  I'll post ordering info here and on Facebook and my Yahoo groups when it's ready to go.  It will be available from me as well as from, and various other outlets. You will also be able to order it in your local bookstore with its ISBN number.  I'm excited to have this finished!  YAAAY!!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Evolution of a Face

As I posted on my fan page on Facebook, I had to cut the face off of my rider and redo it.  I thought you might enjoy seeing how a face evolves - at least, the way I do it.

My rider started out with just a piece of clay shaped vaguely like a head, with eyes, nose and mouth just roughed in to give me a place to start.  I left her like that while I worked on her body and clothes, the horse and saddle.  Now I'm back to working on the rider's face.

The face I first put on any figurative sculpture will look odd because I make the bone structure very prominent, particularly the cheekbones.  It's also my habit to start with more clay than I need and carve down to where the portrait is.  Above you can see I've started refining the features on the left side of the rider's face.

Here you can see the roughed in features and the basic shape of the head from the side.  It isn't too big yet, but it's heading that way.

At this point (a week later than the previous pics), I've added and subtracted and pushed and pulled the clay trying to get the features placed where I want them.  Some of it's coming together, but the cheekbones are, as usual for me early in a figurative piece, too prominent and too high.  As you can see, the head is now too big, although I haven't enlarged the helmet enough yet for it to look like a real helmet fitted properly to her head.  It's mostly a brim on the skull I'd made before at this point.  The nose is too long too.  This is a petite lady with nice cheekbones, but hers aren't this extreme.  This is just the way I do it as I try to find my way to the portrait. 

This is a couple of days later, more refined and looking more human, but the head is still too big.  I just  haven't noticed it's too big because I'm focusing on it too much.  The lumpy clay in front of the rider is the beginning of the flying mane on the horse.

Side view from the same day.  I like the ear but it's a little big for her.  I'm not happy with her nose, it just isn't right yet.  The head is still too big, and this is the day I realized that fact.  To say I was unhappy is a bit of an understatement.  *sigh*

After I realized the head was too big, I spent some of that time away from it trying to figure out what to do about it.  I finally realized I was going to have to cut off the entire face.   Argh.

Yes, it WAS painful to cut off her face!  And then I had to cut off both sides of her head (two nice ears!  WAAH!) and trim the back of it too!  But it certainly improved the piece.  After several hours of work, I was pretty well pleased with how she looks.  I used minerettes (tiny tools - see picture below) and a small, firm cone-shaped rubber clay shaper to do most of the work.  The tools near the top of the picture (below) are normal-sized tools.  There's a pop can to the left of the minerettes to give you an idea of their size.  The metal one has a squared off loop at one end and a pear-shaped loop at the other.  The two wooden ones are about half-again the thickness of round toothpicks.  The top wooden one has a curved blade shape carved in each end.  One of them has gotten rough from use (plastilene can grind down even metal tools over time).  The bottom tool has wire tips that end in flattened spoon shapes.  The wire isn't much bigger than straight pin wire.  I got these in Loveland, Colorado - I haven't seen them in catalogs, but if you search for them, you might find them.  I don't often need them, but sometimes they are exactly the right thing to use.

And so I made a new face on my rider.  Here's where she is today:

She still needs some work, but she looks a lot more like my customer now!  You may notice she has an open-mouthed smile now.  In every photo I have of my customer, she has an open-lipped smile which is very pretty but darned hard to sculpt.  I tried giving her a closed-mouth smile so it would sculpt more easily but gave up on it.  The horse is flying and she should look like she's having fun, so an open smile it is!

I don't have the right lighting in the studio to show the detail of her eyes, but they look better than they do in these photos.  I'm going to re-measure to make sure I have them at the right height.  From the side they look fine but from the front, they look too high-set.  Argh . . .

The mare has ears, a forelock and complete mane now, and I've started detailing it.  That's a lot more fun than fighting with tiny details in the face, but boy, fighting with those details is worth it.

Hope you've enjoyed watching "the evolution of a face"!  I'll post new pics as she continues to evolve.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Boots, breeches and stirrups

Today I made stirrups for my rider.  That's a lot  harder than you'd think.  It took me a while to find the right size wire to be the top of the stirrup (to look the right size while covered with clay) and to make the tread of the stirrup strong and straight.  I used scraps from the perforated aluminum sheet I'm using as the armature for Feather's wings to make the tread strong and straight and aluminum armature wire for the top.  The bottom loop where the stirrup leather goes through was added by just putting a roll of clay there and carving it down.  You may be able to see that on the pic of the rider with the stirrup in place.

That pic is a bit crooked, sorry.  The leather goes up inside the rider's leg and is adhered to her leg and the horse, in the appropriate places.  I'll cut the stirrup off the piece just above where the leather goes through the stirrup when I get ready to send it to the foundry.  It would just drop off if the piece was dropped or shaken as it will be in shipping.  They can weld it in place in bronze.

The boots and breeches are done, and I think you can see the bottom of her shirt.  She was wearing a blouse that wasn't tucked in, and for now, I'm sculpting what she was wearing.  I'm going to send her pics soon so she can decide if she wants her shirt tucked in, sleeves on the shirt (her shirt was sleeveless), etc.

This shot's a bit closer, but also crooked - hard to get great shots with a phone.  I'll straighten these pics and re-upload them when I have more time.  I'm kinda rushing to get this online right now. 

BTW, this hind foot will soon be cut free of the wire holding it to the ground.  This foot in reality wouldn't have any dirt splashing up to support it, so I have to make it free.  I talked to my foundry about it to make sure having only two legs on one side would be strong enough to support a piece this big without it bending.  Bronze is soft, after all - it's mostly made out of copper.  Anyway, they said it should be fine, and they'll put bronze rods inside the legs touching the ground to strengthen them if they think that support will be needed.

When I cut this foot free, I will cut the wire up inside the hoof (thus ruining that nice hoof, so I'll have to sculpt it again) and then I'll put a wall, sole and frog in the bottom of the foot.

This is how the whole piece looks right now.  I haven't done any work above the waist - it's all just "placeholders" for now, measured pretty well, but not sculpted anywhere near what those parts will be like when it's finished.  I need to raise the shoulders a bit - they're too low.

Anyway, that's progress to date!  Comments and questions are welcome.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


It finally looks like I'm getting somewhere on this piece!  A lot of the previous work has been painstaking and tedious, trying to get the horse built properly, making sure there are no dips or bumps where there shouldn't be, and making the horse a functional being with all the joints in the proper places, etc.  Now I've added a saddle and the rider.  The rider will be removed for shipping - she's only attached by a couple of wires sticking out below her seat bones into the horse.  She'll be welded or soldered in place by the foundry when this piece is cast in bronze.

The saddle is supposed to be an Icelandic saddle.  In addition to looking at the photos I took of my client's two saddles, I researched them online and found quite a wide variation in how they look.  I'm going with the English show saddle look rather than the quilted seat I found on several Icelandic saddles simply because it's less distracting visually to have a smooth seat rather than a quilted one.  I will probably cut the flaps a little shorter - they look too long in comparison with the rider's leg.

I've had to redo the cantle of the saddle about five times now, trying to get it placed right and to make it fit the horse and rider both as well as possible.  I think I'm about there with the cantle.  Now I'm working on the length of the rider's legs and the shape of her boots.  I realized I had cut the wire too short on one leg and had to add some wire to have a good support for her foot.  That's why I'm posting these pics today, to show you how I did that repair.

I've cut off the clay at the bottom of her leg, exposing the wire.  I then attached a lighter wire, wrapping it securely around the existing wire of the leg, using pliers to help me get it as tight as possible.  After wrapping it several times around the larger wire to make it as secure as possible, I started twisting the wire to both strengthen the wire and to give the clay something to bite into so it won't slide around.  (Aluminum wire is slippery to clay if it isn't either twisted itself or isn't wrapped around another wire.)  I doubled the twisted wire (shown above) back on itself and twisted it some more to make it stronger (not shown), then added clay over that to make the new foot.

Here's a closeup of the wire before I folded it back on itself and twisted it again.

Here's the other side of the piece.  This leg is actually a bit too short too, but there's plenty of wire there.  I'll pull the clay off the foot, straighten the wire for a short distance to lengthen the leg, then bend the end up to support the foot and add clay to make the boot again.

I'm having to fight my dressage training in positioning the rider.  She doesn't ride dressage nor do other Icelandic riders (with a few exceptions I know of), so putting her in a dressage position would be wrong.  I haven't had this much trouble positioning a rider in a long time - I guess that shows my dressage training is becoming ingrained!  But I need to be careful about that with my art.  Not all riders ride dressage.

That gorgeous picture behind the sculpture is the International Andalusian & Luisitano Horse Association (IALHA) poster from a couple of years ago featuring the gorgeous stallion, Santiago.  His mane really does reach down past his knees and he seems to have a lovely disposition.  I was fortunate enough to see him at the Midwest Fiesta in 2008 and was given one of these posters then (I had my art booth there marketing my art while I was working on the original of "Feather," which is an Andy stallion now available in bronze).  I had no idea at the time that within a few months of that show, I'd have my very own half-Andalusian (El Paso Aricos, my dressage horse).  Surprise surprise!
This is a picture of my handsome Ricos with my daughter, trainer Jennifer Truett of Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH ( riding him.  Since I mentioned him in reference to that IALHA poster, I thought I'd include his picture here.  I like this picture so much, I use it as my desktop.

Back to the sculpture:  Don't worry about the rider's face - right now her facial features are more "markers" than anything else.  She doesn't look like herself at all yet!  Her face is even a bit mashed because I grabbed her head and changed the angle of her neck and head from the side (they were too far back).  Her arms and hands haven't been worked on at all yet.  I'll get to them, don't worry!

A lot of sculpting (the way I do it, anyway!) seems to be "take two steps forward, three steps back" at times.  As I work around the piece, I may find that something that looked and measured right before is now too long or too short in relation to some other part and the reference material.  Just  by bending one leg of the rider down so it laid properly along the horse's side changed the way it looked lengthwise, so I had to make some adjustments.  That kind of thing happens frequently.  Just one of the many challenges of 3-D work!

The little lump of clay on the horse's neck is a sign of my eagerness to get to the mane and tail.  They're some of the last things I do on a sculpture, but they're also FUN so I'm eager to get to them.  But it's too soon, so I was just messing around and left it there.

I'm pleased with the progress so far.  Yay!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Details, details, details . . .

Now I'm at the point of building the saddle on the horse and making sure it fits the rider.  The rider is nowhere near perfect yet, but she's about as thick as she's going to be front to back (this is a petite middle-aged rider).  I  may need to adjust the length of her legs once I get back to work on her, but for now, I'm just getting the saddle assembled and placed where it should be.  I know I need to get her body more proportionate and to get her sitting on her seat bones.  I'll get there eventually.

At first, I had the saddle a bit long for this rider - If you look carefully, you should be able to see I've just cut the clay at the back of the cantle so it fits the rider better.  I've just turned a bit of clay over to fill in some of the seat behind her, actually, and then put a cut behind the cantle as a marker for when I get back to work on it.

You can also see I've put feathers on three of the legs now, and those legs have also developed muscles, bones and tendons.  I've put a bit of clay on the neck as well, starting to plan out the movement of the mane.  The strips of clay ahead of where the saddle's knee rolls should be in the picture below are just extra pieces I haven't trimmed off yet.  I've only developed the saddle on the left side and a bit on top.  The right side will be done tomorrow.

Here are some detail shots of the horse and rider. 

Don't worry, her ankles and feet will be straight with no wire sticking out of them when I get finished.  For now, this is very much a work in progress.  The knee rolls are just being developed and will be shaped better before I declare a victory over them.

I'm pretty pleased with how it's coming along.  Hope you enjoy seeing its progress!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Resetting the leg and repairing the shoulder

Continuing  my saga of "Tolt's" leg repositioning.  I removed the wax from the shoulder area (a lot harder to do than it sounds - I'd put it in there REALLY well!) and broke the wax off the wire for the shoulder part of the leg.(The wax you can see here is on part of the armature.  It will anchor the wax I'm going to use for the shoulder.)

Then I cleaned all the clay off that wax that I could and dropped it into the pan to be softened so I could reapply it.

WARNING!!!  Working with melted wax is DANGEROUS!  You can be severely burned if you're not careful!  Don't say I didn't warn you!

I didn't need the wax to be melted, just softened, so I watched it carefully as it "cooked."  I had the electric griddle set to about 200 degrees so it would soften quickly (I'm not the most patient person in the world).  I turned it over every so often so it would soften on both sides.  When it was as soft as I wanted it, I scooped up a portion and put it in the shoulder cavity, which I had dug deeper so the leg would be set in a bit more than it had been before.  Then I pressed the wire in place, made sure it was straight to the horse's body and packed more softened wax on top of the wire.  I pressed wax around the wire until the wax cooled too much to maneuver anymore to make sure the wire was strongly set. 

The little knob of clay at the bottom of that leg isn't the basis of the hoof - it's actually part of the ground.  Its function is to give the wire a strong anchor to the working surface.  It will be surrounded and covered by clay as I build up the ground and the hoof for that leg (as shown below).

I added clay over the wax, rebuilt the shoulder and reattached the clay from the leg to the horse's body.  I haven't done any muscle detail yet, and it probably needs a little more clay to be added, but here's the finished repair.

If you noticed the thin band of clay around each coronary band, those are there so I can put hair on the coronary band.  They will be textured and the clay blended in to the pastern so you'd never know I had a "worm" of clay around each hoof once upon a time.  :)

The repair went well and didn't take too long because I thought it all out before I started (always a good plan!)  Moving the leg forward that small amount (about 1/8-1/4 inch) made a huge difference.  I'm happy with it now.  Onward!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just when you think you're making great progress . . .

*sigh*  I was going like gangbusters on "Tolt" (not "Tolte" as I've been spelling it -  my customer corrected me.  :)) and thought I was getting close to where I can start making it look more finished when something that had been niggling at the back of my mind reached up and slapped me in the face.  Well, figuratively speaking, anyway.  I didn't like the way the right front leg was set for some reason, and today I figured out why.  It's too far back.  *sigh*  I'll have to rip it out and re-insert it and rebuild all the muscles again.  Argh . . .

Other progress on it:  The head is nearly finished except for the ears and the bones behind and the eye sockets, so I added the beard today.  Icelandics, like many cold-country horses, have beards and feathers, and the customer wants the beard included on the piece.  I've done lots of horses with feathers before (mostly Friesians), but never one with a beard like this.  It took me a while to get it to look the way I wanted it to.  It still needs a bit of work, but I'm fairly well satisfied with it.

The back legs need more detailing in the tendons and so on, but the hooves, pasterns and fetlocks look good, so I put the feathers in place to see  how I liked them (sometimes I put them in and then take them off or revise them a LOT before I get them the way I want them).  These aren't too bad.

I realized the heartgirth (depth of the body) was too deep, so I trimmed down the neck, withers and the part of the back where the saddle sits, and then it was right.  Then I worked on the muscling in the neck.  The problem I'm having with the muscling on this horse is that she's not built like the breeds I do most often (warmblood, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred).  Her coat and skin are thicker than any of those breeds and the muscling isn't as distinct.  (Thicker skin means the tendons don't show as much and the few blood vessels that show aren't prominent.)   I've been sculpting what muscling I know must be there, since it doesn't show in any of the reference pics I have of this horse or others of her breed, and then smoothing them down so they aren't as distinct.  I think that's going to work well for this piece.

One thing sculptors do fairly often but painters rarely do (to my knowledge) is to work from lots of reference photos of other horses of the same breed in order put the subject in a different pose than we were able to photograph.  In this case, I saw the mare trot but not tolt.  I revise poses fairly often, but it's easier to do with breeds I'm familiar with.  None of the reference photos I have of Icelandics tolting are well-lit enough for me to see any detail in their legs, which is frustrating to me.  I'll get it, it's just a lot harder than I'd like it to be to get it right.

Painters are dependent on the light on their subject, so they will usually paint from a photo that has the pose and lighting the way they want their painting to be.  They may do something different with the background, or may add or subtract foreground or background subjects, but whatever is included in the painting has to be lit the same way.  That isn't the case with sculpture.  We sculptors need to see the subject from all sides in the same position, which often means using reference pics of other horses to be able to see the muscling properly on all sides.  None of the pics I have of the horses in that gait are high def or well-lit or crisp enough for my satisfaction, but I'll figure something out.  If all else fails, I'll go visit the Icelandic farm in our area and take my own pictures - or at least run my hands over the horses' legs.  My hands "see" the sculpture in ways my eyes can't, so running my hands over a  horse like the one I'm sculpting is often quite useful.

As for this leg that's set too far back, I've dug it most of the way out now and will have to soften some wax in the morning so I can put it back in the right place.  It will be a pain to bring it up to the level of completion it was, but it's better to fix it now than to see it in the bronze with that leg set too far back!  Argh . . .  Yeah, it's progress - three steps forward, four steps back - but still, it IS progress . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shipping Two-Dimensional Art

One of the biggest headaches (and heartaches) I have when I put on the Dancing Horse Farm Art Show is dealing with art that arrives poorly packed.  Today I spent the afternoon at DHF staring at some damaged paintings that probably wouldn't have been damaged if they'd been packed properly.  I've written articles and blog posts about the proper packing of art before, but it seems the message still hasn't gotten across to everyone, so here I go again.

Many shows won't allow glass on artworks.  I've been told that pastel artists prefer glass to Plexiglas because Plexi can develop static and pull pastel dust from the painting onto the inside surface of the Plexi.  If you can ship your art without glass, please do so!  If you must use glass (and if the art show allows it), many artists put a masking tape "X" on the glass to try to protect it from shattering.  (With the tape in place, if it does shatter, it may not break in as many pieces and may not damage the painting.)  If you use Plexi, leave the blue plastic film on the face of it to avoid scratches in shipping.

Sandwich (one piece in front, one piece in back) your frame in either thick cardboard or Styrofoam board.  You can connect the two pieces of board with masking tape to make it easier for the art show personnel to take it apart and reassemble it.

If you use cardboard to protect your work, wrap the entire "sandwich" in bubble wrap.  The bubble wrap MUST be wrapped thickly enough that you can no longer feel any corners or sharp edges!  If you can feel an edge or a corner, that edge or corner is not well enough protected.  Even if you use cardboard corners to protect your frame, it is not protected enough unless the face of the painting (or its glass), the back of the frame, the corners and all sides of the frame are protected by thick enough wrapping that you can't feel any edges at all.  That usually means at least six layers of bubble.  If you use small bubble, it will take more layers, if you use large bubbles, you may get away with less, but more cushioning is better than less.

Once you have the glass protected and your painting well-wrapped, slide it into a box made of heavy enough cardboard that the sides can't be pushed in by hand pressure.  You may want to line the box with more layers of cardboard or Styrofoam board. 

If you think I'm being overprotective, you should be aware that UPS standards say if a package isn't cushioned well enough to survive a 4-foot drop to concrete, they won't pay the insurance claim.  That's a good standard to use for all shipping.

You may think your painting is well-packed now.  Nope!  Now it's time to get a larger box and line it with Styrofoam boards - NOT PEANUTS!  Many shows, including mine, will  not accept work shipped in peanuts unless the peanuts are confined to plastic bags.  The box you just packed will be slid into the larger box lined with Styrofoam or BAGGED peanuts, and THEN, dear friends, your art is well packed - well, it will be when you close the box.  Be sure and mark "Open Here" if it matters which end should be opened first.

There is a much better and easier way to ship two-dimensional art than what I described above.  Art Float boxes ( are as strong as plywood boxes, but lighter weight, and have sponge foam fitted inside it which you can adjust to fit different paintings.  These boxes are well worth their cost and can be used over and over and over.  They can't be easily punctured like most cardboard boxes and they really are lightweight especially considering the amount of protection they give your work.  Trust me, art show workers LOVE to see this kind of packaging!  It's easy to unpack and easy to pack - wonderful!

I have received shipped work with one thin, limp strip of bubble wrap just loosely wrapped around the painting in a single box with no other packing.  Guess what happened to the painting?  Yup, serious damage.  I have received shipped work wrapped in blankets, in a box stuffed with chunks of sponge foam.  Those paintings were fine but it was heck trying to repack them to return it after the show.  I have received paintings where the artist trusted UPS to pack them right.  Yes, the art arrived intact, but when I opened the box, loose peanuts exploded all over the room.  It was a nightmare to clean up and a nightmare to repack it and it frustrated me and took way more time than it should have.

PLEASE be kind to those who have to unpack and repack your art.  And please, be kind to the art you spent hours and hours planning and creating.  Protect it like you would your children -send it off safely in packaging that will be easy for the folks at the other end to use to return it if it doesn't sell.  They and and your art will all be better off for it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trying Something New

I'm an equine artist, but I sometimes want a change of pace and do something different.  ("Tolte" isn't finished, but will be worked on at Equine Affaire - I'm saving some of the work for then.  More pictures after that!)

A friend of mine (Holly McCullough, makes those baby dolls that look like real babies.  The process of doing this - painting the delicate skin tones, the veins beneath the skin's surface, rooting mohair for the baby's hair, etc. - is what Holly does.  She buys the sculpts to "reborn."  She asked me if I'd ever considered sculpting dolls.  Well, no, but I am interested in figurative sculpting, so I decided to give it a try. 

There are various ways to make the doll heads.  You can buy a sculpting form from to which you add full round eyes (as opposed to flat-back eyes) and polymer clay like Super Sculpy (which is what I used for this one).  They have an instructional DVD which I found very helpful, but as I worked, I decided  they must have left out some information.  They say to put two layers of clay on the form and just push that around to get the features you want.  But their form isn't shaped like a baby's head, IMO.  The back is too flat and the forehead slopes too much.  I had to add four layers of clay to bring the forehead up to the rounded look I love in babies.  I also had to put four layers of clay on the cheeks to get them pudgy at all.

I think the chin is too far forward too - a baby's face, as I recall and as my research so far shows me, kind of falls away there, with the chin being farther back than the nose more than my doll's is here.  The ear looks big, but it fits the size of what they had on the sculpt as the ear locator.  

I'm not that happy with his face.  Sculpting squinchy eyes is hard for me - I'm used to doing big, open, soft eyes but little babies eyes aren't like that.  I  may have too much depth in his eye sockets, I'm not sure.  He's CLOSE to done, but even if he is and I bake him this way (well, after I finish smoothing him), I'm not satisfied with him.  I think the sculpting form restricted me too much.  The next doll I do will be done on a styrofoam form that has no details, just a kind of shelf where the eyes go and then a pudgy place below that.  It's small enough that I'll have to add a lot of clay to it, I think, before it will be big enough.  But in those layers of clay, I will have the freedom to build the face and head the way I see them.  Hopefully then I'll like the resulting baby better.  When that kind of sculpting form is baked, it shrinks to a nugget inside the head.  I got those from owned by Stephanie Sullivan. She has everything you need to make doll sculpts or do reborning, and she's local, so I had a lovely time talking to her!  If you get the Secrist DVD, you'll see one of her sculpts near the very end.  I'll post pics of the new baby when I get it done.

I know these babies will look a LOT different after Holly "reborns" them - I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out!

The best thing is - this has been quite a challenge for me and has tested my sculpting skills in ways they haven't been in years.  That's FUN for me!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter

We went to see "The Lightning Thief" last week (, the first of the Percy Jackson books to make it to film.  I haven't read the books, so this post is going to be comparing the Percy Jackson film to the Harry Potter films ( especially the first two HP films which were directed by the "Percy Jackson" director, Chris Columbus).  I won't be comparing films to books or books to books.

My husband hasn't read any Harry Potter books nor has he read the Percy Jackson books.  He's not much of a fan of fantasy, honestly.  But on our way home from the film, we were struck by the differences between Harry and Percy, their strengths and weaknesses and other characteristics.  Percy came up short in every way. 

The hero in a film, novel or story has to capture your imagination, be sympathetic, charming and likable in various ways even if he's not a totally nice guy.  The depth of his character development will depend on if the story or film is character-driven or story-driven.  In Harry's case, although his stories are adventures and full of action, the center of interest for the story is Harry himself, his character, his goodness of heart (even if he does break the rules every so often, he's a good kid), the serious way he looks at his life, his "saving people thing."  In Percy's case, the adventure is the thing, and not much is done to develop his character.

While both boys have adventures (well, in Harry's case, it's more of a mystery than an adventure at first) starting at the beginning of their films, the emphasis isn't the same and the results are hugely different.  Do we care about Harry?  Absolutely.  Do we care about Percy?  Not that much.  Why the difference?

In Harry's case, he's a genuinely nice boy who's kind, generous and protective of his friends.  Percy seems like a nice enough kid, and he's kind and generous too, but he also has no qualms at all about killing someone, and when he loses someone close to him, his pain is so brief, you wonder how much pain he actually felt.

Harry has a melancholy nature because he lost his parents when he was a baby and grew up with horrible relatives.  Percy isn't melancholy, but he is somewhat rebellious.  Of course, we meet him when he's a teenager, not a young boy like Harry, and Percy has his mom, who he loves, and a horrible stepfather.  One of the things I noticed about Percy early on was that his rages, rebellion and everything else are mild compared to those of many teenagers.  He doesn't seem to feel anything to any extreme, certainly not as much as Harry does.

Percy hasn't been beaten down throughout his childhood the way Harry was.  Harry's a survivor with a strong moral compass.  He got through his childhood on his own, with no outside help, and he has a good sense of right and wrong despite the way he was treated by his relatives.  He has depths to his personality that just doesn't show in Percy.

Percy's had plenty to eat, a relatively normal childhood (he takes the usual classes, although he does have a learning disability, and seems to have friends at school, unlike pre-Hogwarts Harry; he has clothes that fit  him; there's no "Dudley" to make his home and school life hellish).  Percy's had a protector all his life (his best friend) as well as his mom.  The only real hardship he's had to deal with is his stepfather.  Yet of the Percy's the one with the "I'll do whatever it takes" attitude from the beginning of his adventure that includes breaking all kinds of laws, no remorse about damaging property, stealing things, or injuring other people.   You might expect Harry, who's been abused all his life, to have that kind of attitude, but the only "I'll do whatever it takes" attitude we see out of Harry is when his "saving people thing" kicks in.  He will do whatever it takes to rescue someone, even at the cost of his own life, and it doesn't take Harry long at all to decide to jump into such situations.

Harry will do the very best he can in adversity, but he will also hope for help since he feels inadequately prepared to deal with the dangers facing him.  Despite his lack of training, he always rises to the occasion.  He succeeds with the  help of his friends, but also because of his own courage and good character.  Percy has a demi-goddess as a sidekick and another "super-friend" helping him, but there's more of an "I did this" feeling to Percy than there is to Harry, who always credits his friends for their help, even if what they did seems minimal to the rest of us in comparison to Harry's efforts.

Harry's modest about what he can do and embarrassed when someone praises him.  Percy seems to take such things in stride, and not just because he's a teenager.  When Harry's Percy's age (in the later films), he's still modest about his accomplishments and still says he had "a lot of help" while in truth, it was nearly all Harry's great courage, power and sheer luck that got him through the crisis.

These films are fantasy, yup, but Harry's films show him learning how to do what he needs to do, while Percy, who's a demi-god (half-human son of Poseidon) picks up a sword and immediately knows how to beat other more experienced people his age in training.  Harry has to learn how to use his powers and how to analyze situations so he can deal with them.  Percy just goes from high school kid with learning disabilities to demi-god hero without having to learn any skills to speak of and with no real mishaps on the way to becoming skilled.  He gets some weapons and is instantly the master of them.

Perhaps the difference between them is that Harry is human and Percy is a demi-god but I prefer Harry's humanity.  It's obvious that he cares when his friends are hurt.  Harry's scared to death yet faces danger bravely despite the full knowledge that he's very likely to die from the danger he's about to deal with.  Percy sort of stumbles through things but never seems to be scared, and he laughs when he survives a battle, unlike Harry who suffers through his recovery both emotionally and physically.  Harry gets hurt in battle, Percy doesn't.

Being a demi-god doesn't mean Percy can't be killed, yet he never seems that afraid of what he's getting into.  Nor do we see  him plucking up his courage the way we do Harry.  Percy just jumps headlong in to whatever he's about to do.  Harry dreads what he has to do, but faces the worst with grim determination despite his fear.  Harry is human.  Harry's much more heroic and a far more complex character than Percy.

The Percy Jackson film and the first two Potter films were all directed by Chris Columbus.  I don't think Columbus slacked off in  his direction of an experienced teenage actor (Logan Lerman, who plays Percy) versus his direction of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, who was many years younger than Logan and a much less experienced actor at the time.  I think it must be the writing of the characters themselves that's the difference.

Even in the first HP film, Harry has a depth of character that Percy just doesn't exhibit.  He's horrified to have killed Professor Quirrell, despite the fact that he was fighting for his life.  Percy gives his most serious opponent a moment to decide if he's going to surrender or not, but when he doesn't, Percy does away with him with no apparent remorse but more of a "good riddance" attitude.  Yes, Harry was a young boy when he killed Quirrell, but even in the later films when he's around Percy's age, while Harry is determined to kill his enemies, you can tell that it costs him something to even contemplate it.

Remember, I'm not talking about the books here, since I haven't read any of the Percy Jackson books.  But based on the films, Harry at any age we've seen so far is more sensitive and has a wider emotional range than Percy.  Harry's rages are harsher than Percy's and  his joy is more palpable as well.

Harry normally doesn't kill without remorse, although when he kills Voldemort, he won't be sorry he killed them.  There will be a cost to his spirit and we will see that.  And remember, Harry doesn't use the Unforgivable Curses properly because he isn't a cruel enough person to manage it.  Harry tries to disarm his opponents rather than kill them.  He uses "Expelliarmus" instead of "Avada Kedavra."

Percy deliberately uses lethal force, knowing exactly what the consequences will be.  Percy also doesn't seem to be that bothered by killing someone he thought was a friend at first.  It's his lack of remorse, his lack of moral depth that bothers me and led to this blog post.  It's also what prompted my husband, who cares very little about fantasy, to talk about it on the way home from the film.

Could the difference between Harry and Percy be in the skills of the actors portraying them?  Possibly, but Logan is a very experienced actor, one who's been nominated for a lot of awards and won three (I checked  Daniel is a gifted actor (nominated for a lot of awards and won 19 so far) who was so well-cast as Harry that he didn't need a lot of experience to play him well as he honed his acting skills.  Dan's growing skills have added layers of complexity to his portrayal of Harry, but still, I think the basic morality of the characters is based in the writing, not in the acting or directing.

When you're creating characters in your writing, I try to give them depth as well as a lot of action.  When I read,  watch TV or films, or write my own fiction, I want to see complex characters who are torn by the things they have to do to deal with the adventures facing them.  Some people prefer to write action with very little character development, but to me, a more entertaining story is where I see how the action reveals and develops the character of those involved.

Will I see more Percy Jackson films?  I don't  honestly know - perhaps I will.  But I will definitely see the last two HP films.  I'm looking forward to seeing how Dan will play the darkest scenes in Harry's life.  I'm sure it will be a rich and layered portrait of a good man who has more required of him than anyone should ask.  I think Logan is probably capable of greater things but he needs better material to work with.  It will be intersting to see both of these young actors mature and develop their craft. 

I wish them both lots of excellent scripts and talented directors and co-stars.  And I'll continue to work hard to create richly layered characters with great moral depths in my writing, as well as great adventures.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


It's always fun when I get a new bronze from the foundry for the first time!  I've just received "Feather" and it's wonderful to see how he turned out.  He's 9" long x 8" high x 3 3/4" wide including the turned head and flying mane.


As you can see, he's available in both bay and silver.  He was intended to be a Pegasus, but after cutting him apart four times to try various armatures for the wings, I decided any wings I put on him would vibrate too much in shipping and damage the horse.  I had one bronze sent to me with no patina on it so I can make wings to fit it and mark where they go on the bronze.  Hopefully doing it that way will work!

If you'd like to see pictures of "Feather" as a work in progress as well as pictures of him with his first set of wings, click here:  "Feather"