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!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Changing Writing Instruments Can Freshen Your Writing

In this month's meeting of the writing group I attend, the leader told us to get out our notebooks and pens and said we had to write for 20 minutes with no prompt at all.  (For those who may not know, a "writing prompt" is a first line for a story, or a subject, or an idea to help you get started. For instance, a writing prompt might be, "I hate it when . . ." or "When I opened the door. . ." - something like that.)

It can be very hard to come up with something to write about in a short time like that. Some in the group worked on articles or stories they were already working on while others made up either fiction or non-fiction.

I had no idea what to write, but as soon as he told us to start, three words popped into my head: Ping. Ping. Ping. It was a sound - like a fingernail tapping on glass or the beeping signal from a machine that's it's finished making coffee, or the sound of metal cooling off. I had no idea what was pinging, but those three pings were my start. So I wrote "Ping. Ping. Ping." and then started describing what I see most mornings. In the story, I'm sitting at my kitchen counter working on my laptop while one cat snoozes and the other is rolling around and smiling (my hubby's cat does that a lot) when I hear the pings. I can't figure out where the sound's coming from. It's only three pings, so I go back to what I was doing. A while later, I hear the three pings again.

As I wrote, I kept describing what I was seeing, all very ordinary things. I mentioned in the story that I was working on my sales tax, a very dreary job. When "story me" found out what was making the pings, it was a life-changing event!

In 20 minutes in LONGHAND I wrote nearly 1000 words!! And it's an entertaining read (so far!) and was great fun to write! I transcribed it into the computer last night, cleaning up some messy phrases and changing a word here or there, but really, I didn't do much editing at all.  I was amazed that it was so clearly written the first time through.

The lesson we were supposed to learn from this was that sometimes the freshest writing comes from changing the instruments you use to write. If you're writing longhand, you don't sit and edit yourself as much as you do if writing on a computer. Stopping to edit your work stops the forward motion of the story. The first draft should be written straight through, beginning to end, with no stops for corrections if you can manage it. I know this is true, but lately, I've been spending a lot of time "fixing" the first part of a novel I'm working on. I think it's going to be a good story, but it isn't just flying out of my fingers like others have. This one's more like (*gasp!*) work! Of course, I'm inventing a new world, which makes things more complicated, but I think it's a good read and writing it is interesting to me. My hand cramps if I write by hand very long, and my handwriting is terrible, but perhaps my story would move along faster if I tried handwriting the section I'm stuck on. I just may try it. I'll let you know how it works!

Doing Research for Your Art

I love the forums at  Artists of all experience and skill levels hang out there and discuss media, techniques, critique each other's work, etc. in a friendly, supportive atmosphere.  I highly recommend WetCanvas to artists of all levels, both amateur and professionals.

A few days ago, I was writing a second critique (at the artist's request) on a colored pencil piece and started getting philosophical about how you should look at horses (or whatever your subject is) in order to portray them in art. At one point, I said, "Sounds like I'm starting a blog post," so here I am, writing that blog post.

When you paint, draw or sculpt something that's alive and you want it to LOOK alive, you need to represent it as accurately as possible.  I'm not saying all art has to be realistic, but if you do something that looks at least somewhat realistic, then the joints and muscles should be in the right placement and position for whatever movement is going on.

"Reflection" (cold-cast porcelain, shown above) certainly isn't built realistically.  The structures in the head and neck are exaggerated or stretched to make the piece an impression of this horse.  Those who know this horse (Reg. name, "Rusted Spruce," show name when my daughter had him, "Imagine A Legacy," barn name "Stretch") recognize him despite his being stylized.  That was my goal, to do a recognizable portrait yet make it unique in its style. And yes, I realize there are errors in this piece, but it was also one of my earliest sculptures, so I was still learning my craft.  Yet despite its flaws, it's a lovely piece, has won awards and sells well.

Too many artists depend only on pictures for reference.  That's fine, but you also need to learn about the subject, whether it's a horse or a human or a cat or a raccoon - whatever it is, it has a particular way its eyes are set (for instance).  Horses, being prey animals (dinner for other animals, in other words), have their eyes on the sides of their heads so they can see behind them as well as in front.  When a horse is grazing, he can see 350 degrees around him.  A predator has his eyes on the front of his face, like a human, a dog, cat, lion, raccoon.  These are species who chase down other animals to be their dinner.  Their range of vision is much smaller than a horse's - 150 degrees for dogs and cats, and a smaller range for humans since our eyes are set more to the front of our heads than they are on dogs and cats.  (Ref:

My husband was standing just a bit to the right of center (as he faced my horse Ricos) when he took this photo, which is why the right eye looks bigger than the left.  You need to pay attention to these distinctions when using photos for reference.

You may not be able to see the chipmunk in this sculpture since the photo's small, but this cougar, a predator, has his eyes on the front of his head.  The chipmunk, a prey animal, has them on the sides.  (The chipmunk's on the rock near the bottom and just left of center in case you haven't found him yet.)  This piece is "In the Wind" and is a bronze.  All the art shown here is mine, BTW.

Each species has a particular way of moving.  Horses have four legs, but they don't move the same way cats, dogs or armadillos do.  You need to understand the pattern of footfalls for each species you portray, and in the case of many animals like horses and dogs, you need to know how the breed you're portraying moves.  A dressage horse moves much differently than a Paso Fino, for instance.  A Chinese Crested moves much differently than a German Shepherd.  If you don't have a clear understanding of such things, you may make a bronze or a painting that will last for years and years but is portraying an inaccurate movement, inaccurate tail carriage, the wrong shape and attitude of the animal's ears, etc.  People who know that kind of animal will look at the artwork and shake their heads, wondering why you didn't do enough research to know how much weight that leg should bear at that point in the stride, why you have a Quarter Horse doing a pace instead of a trot, why your Chinese Crested isn't doing a prancing trot, why the German Shepherd isn't built with his haunches lower than his shoulders, etc.

One way to learn about the structure of animals is to go see them in person.  It's even better if you can run your hands over the animal's legs or muscles with your eyes closed as well as with them open, so you can get a real understanding of their structure.  What works for me, and what I recommended to the artist on WetCanvas today, is to find a horse (in this case) that has been bodyclipped (since they're in winter coats now) so the muscles, tendons and bones are as easy to see and feel as possible.  If you can't find a bodyclipped horse, then one with smooth hair over their legs will do.  A horse with feathered legs like "Masestoso" above, isn't what you want to look at for this exercise.  Point of interest about horses with feathered legs:  When examining a Friesian for one of my Friesian sculptures (an earlier piece than this one), I discovered the feathers start at the chestnut - halfway up the forearm, and just below the hock.  I had no idea they started that high until I did my research on a live horse.


"Presence" (Bronze, above) has lovely clean legs.  It would be easy to run your hands over them to learn their structures.  Before you start working around the back legs of a horse you aren't familiar with, ask the horse's handler to hold the horse's front leg up to keep the horse still and protect you from being kicked.  Then gently run your hands down his legs, learning the feel of the muscles, tendons and bones and how they work together.  Be sure to cup your palm over the hock bone itself - that point isn't sharp nor is it small.  It's a big, wide bone that will fill your hand.  Remember that when you're portraying it.

Once you've run your hands over his legs, if you're a 2-D artist, sit at eye-level to the horse's hocks, but far enough away that he can't kick you, and draw his leg, paying close attention to the joints, muscles and how everything's tied together.  Have someone lift a back leg and run your hands over that hock joint and the pastern when they're bent, then sit down and draw them.  Do the same for the front legs.  If you're a sculptor, do a quick sketch in clay of the leg you're studying.  You'll be amazed at how much this exercise improves how you portray legs.