Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 Live Show Quality Guidelines

Here it is! I've updated and reformatted this 2005 publication detailing what constitutes "Live Show Quality," or "LSQ." It's free, so feel free to share it how you wish. You can download the PDF here.

What's curious is that ten years ago I was flamed into a charcoal briquette for publishing this Guideline, lambasted with just about every insult known to man. People were angry. Apparently it outlined "impossible standards." That had me quite confused since nothing in the Guideline was arbitrary. It was all gleaned from my own practical experience and discussions with many savvy artists, judges and collectors. In short, every tidbit detailed in the Guideline was what a winning piece already had—was supposed to havethere was nothing new here! And at the very least, it provided a goal, a baseline by which to gauge LSQ. I suppose at that point people didn't like it being formally spelled out because that made it "real." But it had to happen. There was just too much confusion about the term itself and that was leading to a lot of disappointment and frustration, especially among new showers. Not cool.

Yet much has changed since then, with the past ten years ushering in a fresh new attitude that's much more open to the current reality of showing equine figurines. Indeed, the turn towards anatomy has become more obvious and far more pressing. No longer are conformation and breed type the Kings of the County, but now anatomy has become the buzzword in winning circles. People are finally coming to understand that anatomy holds the key to realism, and we can't have one without the other. If we talk the talk, we gotta walk the walk.

The thing is, model horse showing will evolve only along its weakest link, and with the advent of the new hyperrealistic paintjobs coming out latelywhich perhaps have made the issue even more pressinganatomy now is that weak link. As such, this trend won't slow down, but will, in fact, compound as artists and collectors vie for that coveted rosette and judges become more educated on what actually constitutes bona fide realism. And hopefully with the help of this Guideline, more people will be on the same page, and that's a good thing for all involved.

So enjoy! And share freely!

"Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone." ~ Wendell Berry


The Yin And Yang of Equine Realism


Unlike many other types of art, artists focused on equine realism are confronted with an interesting dichotomy—"artistic believability." That's a bit of an oxymoron isn't it? Having to be both “artistic” and yet “believable” at the same time is a bit of a contradiction, right? As such, there's some tension between these opposing concepts. That's to say realistic work cannot be too artistic; otherwise believability is risked with undue stylization. Yet creating work that's too clinically sterile risks compromising the emotional content of the work, circumventing the purpose of the art altogether. For these reasons, we can think of the fine line between “artistic” and “believability” as the intersection where the real magic of realistic equine art happens, a delicate balance to be sure. So how do we weave them together into the creative tightrope we walk?

Yin and Yang: The Play of Opposites

A kind of artistic Yin and Yang can be said to exist within realistic equine art work, creating a kind of check system within our perception. Not only do they allow us to achieve balance when striding that fine line, but also the leverage to more freely play with the tension inherent in "artistic believability."

So what exactly is this Yin and Yang? Where does this tension derive? Well, we can think of it as the interplay between our acquired mental library and our technical anatomical knowledge. That's to say, between what we think reality to be and what it actually is are two different things. Put another way, it's the difference between what we habitually create and what we should create; they're just two sides of the same coin.

Know it or not, we constantly create within this tension, this tug-of-war between these two opposites. Veer off too much into either direction, and our work suffers, but teeter on the tightrope, and our sculptural abilities thrive. But how can this be?

All art is the creation of human hands, that magical concoction of our strengths, dreams, biases, and foibles. The Yin, it's a crazy amalgamation of all that is "us," no matter its manifestation. Being so, it gives our work a Voice as well as a distinctive creative fingerprint, what we'd call our "style." Indeed, our take on reality is unique which makes our work unique as well. And that works not only to our benefit, but for that of the art form's as well. For one, it lends a new spin on the expression of reality beyond the obvious for there's certainly more than one way to convey it! It also injects the art form with vibrancy and diversity, something very much needed in such a technical genre. Indeedy, when a multitude of brains approach the same problem from different angles, we gain immeasurable insights for our own work.

However, keeping all this in check, guiding it to its final expression, is technicality, the Yang. Despite everything, we're first obligated to anatomical exactitude as a prerequisite for equine realism; otherwise we're simply creating figurative art, or HSOs (Horse-Shaped Objects). The more accurate our sculpture then, the more realistic it becomes, and this is no coincidence. But even in this we need to be careful—anatomical charts can lure us into a false sense of confidence with their neatly-packaged, cleanly-delineated features. 

How? Well, life is messy! In fact, it's what anatomical charts lack that deprives our work of so many necessary ingredients. For starters, being static illustrations, they can neither convey the 3D nature of flesh nor the changing nature it undergoes with moment and motion. And since the hide is stripped away to reveal the musculature, we also lack that essential ingredient for our workthe surface texture. We can also get lulled into the idea that all anatomical features are expressed with equal intensity, since every inch on a chart is conveyed with the same level of precision. Yet reality shows us that features exist on a spectrum of expression, and one that changes with moment and movement. Despite the seduction of a tidy chart then, we must never forget that living flesh is remarkably different from illustrated flesh, and getting too caught up in our anatomy charts means that it's life itself we can inadvertently omit from our sculpture if we aren't mindful. 

It's precisely for these reasons that our Yin and Yang operate best meshed together, in balance and informing the other, culminating into that unique alchemy of our art. Quite simply, we need artistic license to inform clinical technicality to bring it to life, and we need clinical technicality to lend substance to artistic license to make it credible. Again, two sides of the same coin.

So what exactly constitutes this Yin and Yang? Let's start first with the Yin

Going Mental

A solid mental library is one of our greatest tools and resources. Make no mistake: the better our mental library, the better our work. One of the reasons for this is because a mental library requires us to get up close and personal with the subject, being amassed through field study and focused observation over a long period of time with multiple animals in different circumstances. This degree of comparative inspection and intimate connection is invaluable for our clay, but it does take time, effort and dedication, and so there are no short-cuts. Observing the real deal in the mercurial moments of motion has no other substitute. Indeed, it's these sharply-focused, comparative experiences that program an unconscious understanding of how equines move, look, behave, smell, sound, etc., and on such a visceral level, accurate sculpting can become more of an instinctive act rather than a struggle. It can even be said that the best sculptors are those with the best mental libraries, their minds able to log and store the myriad of visuals the animal presents, to then accurately reproduce them in clay. And that's an important point: a visual memory doesn't does pertain to the living subject, but also to our reference materials and our sculptures. Being able to apply life's lessons to photos or clay is of equal importance as our interpretation of living flesh!

Speaking of which, when we have a goodly amount of real-life, comparative observation under our belt, we can then apply our Eye to photographs and charts. Being able to decipher between the living subject, reference photos, and anatomical charts—to have them all make sense to us without confusion or getting stuck—is the final culmination of our mental library. But again, it takes work! Comparing hundreds, even thousands, of photographs—especially at the same angle in the same positiongoes far in programming the multiple expressions of reality into our noggins, gifting us with insight into the options and exceptions that instill life into our clay. That's because effectively sculpting anatomy isn't just about learning the rules, but learning how those rules function in life, even how they bend or are broken outright on occasion. Unlike a static diagram or photograph, living flesh changes. Absolutely, horses don't' move like articulated anatomy charts! 

Put all this together and we then have the ability to instinctively recognize when something is "off" in our sculpture. We may not have the clinical knowledge yet to identify exactly whatthat comes with the Yangbut we can at least See that something is wrong. That's the first step.

Getting Technical 

So now we come to the Yang, or rather, the technical aspect of our craft. Here's where objective reality resides, the technical believability of our work. In this we're asked to convey the reality of "equine" as accurately as possible since anatomical faithfulness is the basis of realism itself. In a sense, we can think of the Yang as 100% absolute objective accuracy, as our goal or guideline. We aim for it with each piece and work hard to refine our understanding in field study and research. It's what guides our tool strokes and compels us to go that extra mile to ensure symmetry and consistency. It's our barometer by which our work is measured, by ourselves and by others, against the living subject, against references, and against other sculptures.

And it's worth the extra effort; the more clinically accurate our piece, the more realistic it becomes. Technical accuracy and believability go hand-in-hand. Admitted or not, all the best sculptors rely on technically precision to impart reality, leaving such things as conformation and breed type for further down the priority list. Why? Well, conformation can only make a sculpture more "suitable" while type can only make a piece appear as its designated breed. But in no way can either increase the realism of a sculpture—only anatomy can do that. Conformation and type are simply the wrong criteria if we wish to establish equine realism. That's because being suitable and looking like a stated breed are merely incidental whereas actually being built like an actual equine is the very foundation of our efforts; otherwise we're sculpting HSOs.

For this reason, we lean heavily on anatomical texts and diagrams, take workshops and classes, and perhaps even attend a dissection for further understanding. What's more, we may tweak our process, seek better materials and tools, and find newer ways to troubleshoot. We find more effective ways to compare our work to our references and study the work of others for insights. We use our calipers and other fixed measurements to define a level of objectivity within our creative endeavors, applying equine topography, planes, proportion and placement to find reliable landmarks upon which to plan our composition. Altogether, we're basically trying to tease out more objective reality to infuse into our clay, forever aiming for that lofty goal. The point is we already know these steps are necessary because we intuitively comprehend we're beholden to a reality beyond the one we perceive, one that defines our efforts in ways that make us constantly stretch. 

And know it or not, but in doing so we're also trying to take our mental library beyond our blindspots, to ferret out those unconscious biases that compromise the believability of our work. Because it's in our mental library—the Yinthat our blindspots and biases perpetuate and within the technical aspect—the Yangwhere the solutions can be found. And this is exactly how we improve our work—our work just doesn't "get better," it gets more believable by having more technical accuracy infused into it. Do this while also refining our style and our technique, and we have what we'd regard as "improvement," and improvement that tends to enhance our own long-term satisfaction in the studio. So our Yin and Yang don't just function together, they improve together as well.

Yammering On About Yin and Yang

And that's an important experience. Why? Easythe living animal is no easy act to follow! Realism is difficult enough, but realism with this convoluted creature is even more precarious, and so it's easy to get discouraged, frustrated, or intimidated. Indeed, we can feel defeated even before we start! So maintaining self-actualizing growth and improvement can go far to keep our momentum in the studio humming. 

And momentum is important. Our brains need time to absorb and process all things anatomical in order to develop that deep mental library and penetrating technical Vision. Our brains need time to learn how to synchronize them, too. Indeed, someone can know a lot about anatomy, but lack a sufficient mental library to direct that knowledge effectively into clay. Yet without a thorough understanding of anatomy, a mental library has no context. Moreover, unless our Yin and our Yang are more fully developed and synchronized, we may not even be aware we have these deficiencies! We simply believe we have an adequate understanding yet fail to convey that credibility into our clay—and not even know it.

And that's no small thing. Because not only did we pick an immensely complex subject to portray realistically, but the delicate balance the art form asks of us is a tricky thing for an artist. We love art. We love horses. And horses are such passionate creatures, so full of life and movement! If ever there was a subject perfectly suited for artistic portrayal, it's definitely the horse! So it's easy to get caught up in the creative moment and lurch off course as a result, imbuing our sculpture with too much style to be believable. Yet it's just as easy to dial down our flair too much to produce something devoid of vitality or soul, that elemental anima that connects to us on an emotional level.

Finding that rare balance, that mercurial mix of style and technicality will always be a challenge for us, especially as we grow. Learning and advancementlike lifeare messy. They're unpredictable, surprising and unexpected. So we can expect our mental library and our grasp of technicality to be likewise uneven, meaning that we need to give ourselves the mental space to make mistakes and recognize corrections. Anyone who learned to walk a tightrope first tripped from time to time!

Yearning For The Yin And Yang Of It All

Artists who excel in this art form are those who are able to strike a rare balance between creativity and technical fact, between this Yin and the Yang of equine realism. It's a peculiar art form, this one. So whether instinctively or with work, it doesn't really matterwhat matters is the final outcome. This is perhaps why equine realism tends to attract a certain kind of creative mind, one that essentially thrives on rules and variations on a theme.

"There is always more to be found by exploring the same subject again and again."
~ Dion Archibald

The balance may not be easy, and we may always feel as though we're fumbling within it, but being aware of the dichotomy and how it influences our efforts can go far in shifting more power into our willful hands and out of our unconscious tendencies. And that's really the point of understanding the Yin and Yang of equine realism: making more of what was unintentional into intention, of turning the unconscious into the deliberate. When we have greater control of both, as well as the balance between them, we gain more maneuverability in our development and greater freedom in our creative expressions since we aren't so beholden to what we cannot See. So work to develop them, and get them working together, and we can find sustained improvement and continued enjoyment in our studio for years to come!

"One of life's most fulfilling moments occurs in that split second when the familiar is suddenly transformed into the dazzling aura of the profoundly new." ~ Edward B. Lindaman


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Goo Factor


As sculptors of equine realism, we have to balance many facets of the animal in order to recreate a convincing result in clay. Being so, there are many variables at play, all existing in a sliding scale of accuracy. Yet at the basis are our anatomy charts, reference photos, field study, and various tidbits from our mental library, all working together to get us as close as possible to achieving that coveted goal of "realism."

As such, bony landmarks, muscle configurations, veining patterns, proportion, planes and angles consume our attention to help ensure we hit our mark. Conformation, breed type, gender characteristics also play their part. Gesture, expression, posture, and composition contribute their necessary qualities, too, as does technique, tool contours and smoothing methods. All these things add their unique and critical touch to our work, hopefully recreating this splendid creature in as faithful a manner we can muster.

Yet there's one aspect of this animal that's so sublime and mercurial that it rarely gets its fair due. And because its qualities morph so quickly and quirky, they literally go unseen by most. It's no surprise then why anatomy charts lack it altogether, since as a matter of course, it's stripped clean away to reveal the "more important" muscle masses and bony orientations. For all these reasons, many sculptors end up overlooking it completely as well, focusing almost entirely on everything but this one quintessential aspect.

Yet this missing element is as important as anything else, even as much as bone, muscle, planes, placement, and proportion, capturing a rare degree of realism by lending life and instance to flesh itself. Without it, in fact, it's impossible to convey the essence of living flesh altogether! So if we want to keep our sculptures from appearing too mechanical, more like postured anatomy charts rather than living, breathing beasts, this vital component is an equal imperative in our priority list.

But what is it? What's this elusive substance that goes so unaddressed so universally? What could possibly have that much power in our work, yet be so ignored? What could be so critical that goes so missing?

It's goo.

Yes—GOO. That mushy magical, that warm wonderful, that glorious gooey, goopy stuff we can call GOO.

It's one of my very favorite things! Along with the ABCs (anatomy, biomechanics and conformation), goo is equally important for a convincing equine sculpture, to create one that looks like an actual living animal rather than a static reproduction. Put it all together, we can call it The Goo Factor.

It dawned on me some years back as I was pondering how to take my sculptures beyond the lifeless illustration of an anatomy chart and into the world of fleshy, kinetic animals. Then ta-da! I had an epiphany of sorts, inspired by oogling the goo on my plump ratties—it was all about goo. I realized I couldn’t just sculpt the muscle masses as I understood them, or as they were depicted in all my anatomy chartsI had to sculpt as they existed in life. And that's very different from a chart. Flesh doesn’t just hang on the bones like an inert mass nor is it always taut and firm. It has a life of its own, a resonance with movement and moment, which must be infused to capture that look of living realism.

What Is Goo?

No matter how fit or fat the animal, all horses have goo. But what is it exactly? Well, it entails all the flesh, really, since all flesh has a goo factor to it. But we can also think of it as fascia, hide, skin, fat and mushy bits that lie atop and between muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bone, which resonates and reacts to movement. It's all the "extra bits" in a way. In other words, goo entails all those fleshy parts that wrinkle, wiggle, jiggle, goosh, smoosh, and moosh.

As important as they are for sculpture, however, they're often the very things removed during dissection, which is why they rarely end up in an anatomical illustration. Yet these things are so very important if we want to give our sculpted flesh as much real life as our conjured personality because just as movement is to anatomy, as character is to an individual, as moment is to posture, goo is to flesh. It imbues character, quirkiness, life and moment to our sculpted flesh, so with it, our sculpture will appear alive, dynamic, more as a living, breathing, fleshy creature. On the other hand, without it, our sculpted flesh will appear mechanical and static, as rigid and dead as an anatomical chartor worse, noexistant. Our body of work will appear homogenous, too, since that's all an anatomy chart can offer us. All living horses have living goo, and our sculptures do best to mimic that as best we canwhich isn't easy, to say the least.

Because goo is changeable! It's squishable, mooshable, oozeable, stretchable, wrinkable, compressible, poochable, touchable, and oh, so inviting. Don't we love to ooze the gooey parts of our pets? The gushy, warm, fleshy, soft portions like dog ears and faces, and the bellies of cats? Or the entirety of a rotund rat? 

Well, horses have goo, too! Their fleshy muzzles and eyebrows are obvious examples, as is the fleshiness between their forelegs. Other examples are wrinkles and folds at the neck and at strategic areas of bending and twisting. Their muscles can be gooey as well, especially the pectorals, which distort, mush and stretch in relation to foreleg position. They can even jiggle and wriggle in motion, too. The neck is also quite gooshy, being amoebic in articulation, seeming to gain length when stretched and to shorten when tucked. If we play close attention, too, we'll even see the neck muscles ripple and swing in unison with inertia, say around a tight turn, or over a jump.

The Missing Factor

But there's another kind of goo often unnoticed, but vital nonetheless: fascia. This magical stuff usually gets the short end of the stick in dissections and anatomical illustrations, being treated like a disposable connective tissue of no circumstance. But the fact is fascia is anything but disposable! It glues the skin on, houses the "fly shaker" muscles, binds the entire body together, wrapping around everything, giving shape and support to the muscles, suspending the organs, and creating a network of interconnected, communicating systems. 

Together, it constitutes the largest percentage of body tissue and is all made of collagen. Aside from its many structural functions, it also serves as a heat sink, cushions and reduces friction and creates areas of needed expansion (like around vessels, veins and arteries). There are five basic kinds: 

  1. “Spiderweb”: acts as a supportive, suspensory network.
  2. “Bubblewrap": serves as a heat sink, reducer of friction, provider of expansion space, and is also a major kind of contouring fascia. Generally, it has air in it or sometimes watery fluid and often oily fluid. For example, there's a lot of bubblewrap fascia under the scapula and round the point of shoulder to mediate all the friction.
  3. “Tarp”: non-stretchy and wraps something such as the aponeurosis of the torso.
  4. “Gel wrap”: wrapping in jello-like loose connective wrapping, often serving as a heat sink.
  5. Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL): it pops the patella off the “thumb stay” of the femur to release the stay apparatus, or to “take the patella off the hook." It helps in lateral work by working as an abductor and a weak protractor and guards against locked stifles. It often manifests as an obvious strip from the point of hip to the stifle.
Clearly, there's much more to fascia than previously thought! Indeed, it could easily be argued that fascia is as important as muscles and bone in the living animal, and so the same can be said for sculpture, too. Most often, it's fascia that helps to give hide its various textures and character, whether at rest or in motion. Because if we pay close attention, we find that flesh has surface eccentricities, so we shouldn't be afraid to input some oddities into the surface of our sculptures to accentuate the appearance of living flesh. Ripples, bumps, stretches, wrinkles, and other curiosities are typical of the equine hide, features that need our attention just as much as musculature.

Paying attention to goo not only adds life to our sculpture, but can heighten the sense of motion and moment as well. Depicting skin that stretches, pooches, ripples and wriggles can add kinetic features to our piece that can amplify the sense of effort and speed. Carefully placing wrinkles or oozy goo in a composition can also heighten the sense of flesh and mass, adding weight to our piece. 

So What's The Hoopla With Goo? 

In a nutshell, goo adds life to anatomy. Without it, structure remains mechanical, inert and sterile; our piece will appear as a static sculpture rather than as a living animal. Goo also accentuates everything else in a sculpture. For example, goo makes hard bony areas or firm muscle masses more believable because of the contrast it creates. Delicate wrinkles on a firm neck or mushy veins on hard bone really help to impart the idea of a living animal with real mass and immediacy. Goo is also a blast to sculpt, with curves and gooshy features that allow an artist to play, providing a welcome contrast to the technical demands of realistic sculpture. And, ultimately, goo offers a deeper understanding of the structure and physics of the animal, beyond the strict mechanics of the anatomy, which can deepen our appreciation for our craft.

The truth is that anatomy is the blueprint—yesbut without imbued life, a sculpture is simply a representational facsimile of that blueprint. This is fine unless we really want to capture that rare anima that brings our sculpture to life. We must remember that every anatomical chart ever conceived was created from studying dead horses, and unless we compensate, our work dependent on those charts will be equally lifeless. Part of that compensation is factoring in goo, that peculiar nature of flesh, in order to instill vitality into our clay. Because if we step back and really think about it, we see that the living animal doesn't move like an articulated anatomy chart, like a jointed paper doll. This is because the animal's bony anatomy is encapsulated in goo which compresses, expands, mooshes and gooshes in tandem with articulation and inertia.

So What Kinds Of Goo Is There?

What kinds of goo exist? Well, a lot! Wherever there’s something fleshy and mooshy, there’s goo. For instance:
  • Wrinkles: These are folds of skin, either small and delicate or rather bulbous, in larger rolls. They can appear on the neck, throatlatch, between the ears, between the forelegs, on the pastern when flexed, in the elbow area, on the flanks, on the hindquarter or were the buttock meets the back of the gaskin when the hindleg is flexed or extended. They're also common on the face, such as the brows and muzzle, and that wonderful squishy chin. Studying the living animal and photos will reveal that wrinkles are very common and can appear in the most unexpected places. Because wrinkles are folds of skin, they can also be more substantial like those on the crest of a Welsh Cob stallion or Drafter, or sometimes on the torso if the horse is really bending around, perhaps to scratch his barrel. And it doesn’t matter if a horse is wiry or pudgey, various types of wrinkles always occur, and so infusing them into our sculpture will do wonders for adding life's texture and “touchability."
  • Depressions and Concavities: Goo also manifests itself in the depressions and concavities muscle assume, especially when in motion, as the flesh is mushed, gooshed, pushed, pulled and pooched, forming dips and channels that don’t exist when the horse is simply standing. Remember, the horse is a 3D animal and so his muscles don’t simply move over each other, they also dip in and out and smoosh around each other during contraction or relaxation. That is to say, muscles don’t only move back and forth and up and down, they also move in and out. This kind of goo does amazing things for sculpture by instilling a sense of mass and fleshiness, keeping it from becoming a “flattened” technical depiction of anatomy we see in a diagram. Truly, muscles aren't stiff, fixed masses, but kinetic and squishy, dynamic features, producing lovely contours as they react to each other in motion. 
  • Sliding Skin: The skin isn’t attached to the muscles or bone on the whole of its inner surface as though natured coated it with spray adhesive and smoothed it evenly over the muscles. Rather, it’s “tacked down” by fascia at random points, allowing the skin to slide over muscles or bony areas with relative ease. And the more mobile an area, the more likely the skin is “slideable" over that area. For example, the skin on the elbow has a lot of sliding ability, which you can watch every time a horse lifts his foreleg. Also look for this effect on the ribs, stifle and shoulder. Watch how a horse flexes his hindleg and see how the stifle slides under the skin, or when a horse breaths deeply, how his ribs ripple underneath. 
  • Amoeba: When studying motion, it’s important not to interpret the body as moving like a stick-figure or an articulated paper doll. Granted, movement occurs at the joints and those joints have parameters for articulation, but within those parameters is life. That means it’s a mistake to think only of the skeleton and forget that its cloaked in flesh that smooshes and stretches during articulation. This is the amoebic nature of flesh and understanding this concept is essential for realistic sculpture. For example, notice how the neck seems to “lengthen” when stretched or “shorten” when tucked? Or how the neck seems “longer” when the scapula is extended back or “shorter” when the scapula is lifted upwards? Or on the hindquarter, a deeply flexed hindleg will cause the gaskin to smoosh into the hindquarter musculature, with all sorts of wrinkles and gooshing. The skeleton does articulate, but it doesn't do so in a vacuum! Always remember that it does so enveloped in goo! Which leads to…
  • Distortion: Because the skeleton is buried in flesh, which is smooshable and stretchy, when it articulates, muscle bellies are stretched and gooed, distorting away from their normal appearance when standing. And the less an area is characterized by subcutaneous bone, the more this distortion can happen. Indeed, one of the most lovely and interesting aspects of movement is how the flesh changes as a consequence. The neck, pectorals, triceps, and hindquarter are typically the sites of the most distortion, so observe them on real horses to get a better understanding of just how much this effect comes into play when interpreting motion.
  • Stretching: Flesh also stretches! Clear examples of this can be seen in the elbow and flank area as those little skin flaps that stretch when the limb is extended. Another clear example is the skin overlaying the girth and triceps area, which can be seen to stretch when that forearm extends forwards. Also muscle bellies can be stretched during extension, which is easily observed around the shoulder and hinquarter when the respective legs are extended forwards or backwards, or in the pectoral area, when the forelegs are abducted.
  • Muscle Resonance: This sublime manifestation of goo occurs when inertia acts upon relaxed portions of flesh, making them jiggle, flop or ripple in resonance to the physics of movement. For instance, a bowed posterior portion of the forearm on an extended foreleg because the flexor muscles are relaxed, how the triceps goo and hollow when relaxed, or the Sternomandibularis muscles jiggling, rippling, or bowed due to the inertia of a sharp turn or spin. Our eye often misses these moments, but when our Eye is honed, we'll be able to observe such effects in living horses, and then in photos. They add a wonderful touch to sculpture!
Tips For Infusing The Goo Factor

Ok, so now we know about goo, let's get it into our clay, and here are some tips: 
  • We should know our anatomy. Goo can distort or hide anatomical structures, so if we’re going to learn about goo, we have to first know about anatomy, otherwise we'll get confused. We have to learn the rules before we can break them!
  • Life study is a must. We cannot learn about goo by simply studying photos or anatomical diagrams. We have to seek out the living animal and spend a lot of focused time observing how living flesh behaves. 
  • Don’t overdo. The sculpture will look odd if we make the effects too extreme by getting carried away. The trick is to find an interpretation that gets the point across that’s both technically accurate and artistically pleasing. 
  • Know our goo. Work to identify the different types of goo and under what circumstances they appear. For example, wrinkles are always present in one place or another while amebic goo mostly occurs around areas of flexion or extension. Also, several types of goo may happen simultaneously, such as wrinkles, with concavities and distortions, so also pay attention to cumulative effects. 
  • Remember what goo is. Always keep in mind that goo is pliable flesh with a squishy, soft, warm quality. It’s seductive and alluring and begs to be touched. So we need to keep the goo in our sculpture fleshy and soft looking, avoiding methods that would make it appear harsh, regimented, or mechanical. That's to say our goo shouldn't look like joint wrinkles on an artificial limb. 
  • Preplan our goo. Because goo is an integral part of our finished sculpture, it’s important to consider how it’s applied. For example, large bundles of rippling muscle on a Quarter Horse are fun, but aren't accurate on an Arabian. Jiggling muscles on a standing sculpture will look strange as would static goo on a moving sculpture. So identify the appropriate types of goo and the necessary degree needed for it to complement our sculpture. 
  • Think in terms of curves. Avoid straight lines and straight planes when sculpting muscle masses. Horses are made of flesh, not polished sheet metal.
  • Details count. Veins and moles contribute to the illusion of fleshiness, so instill them when appropriate.
  • Study other artists. Taking note on how other artists sculpturally express goo will help us decide how we wish to approach it in our work. 
Because of its fleshiness, sculpting goo can be tricky. So for a head start, avoid these common missteps:
  • Bundling: Characterized by a discreet bundle of wrinkles, tightly amassed around an articulated area and possessing a definite border between wrinkles and the surrounding unwrinkled flesh. In truth, wrinkles fade in and out and blend gently with the surrounding flesh with no real border; it’s all very chaotic, gentle and gradual. 
  • Measured: Each wrinkle shouldn't be the same size or width nor should they be evenly spaced and regimented. In reality, wrinkles tend towards different widths and various distortions in a more chaotic fashion. Remember, a wrinkle is a bit of folded, soft flesh, and so our sculpted hide shouldn't behave like a segmented accordion.
  • Slashing: Again, a wrinkle is folded flesh, so we should try to avoid tooling that causes a slashed, harsh, or grooved look. Keep them soft and fleshy.
  • Channeling: Muscle masses are round and curved, and the defining grooves between them are often softer and more mercurial than an anatomy chart depicts. So we should avoid tooling that creates a harshly carved groove into the clay to denote muscle definition, with sharp edges and lacking that rounded, softened nature of living muscle masses. 
  • Excess: So much about recreating convincing goo is knowing when to apply it and when not to, and in which areas and why. If we don't apply goo, our sculpture will appear too static whereas if we apply too much, it'll appear lumpy and odd. Goo is a very powerful element to our sculpture, so be clear about how to apply it.
How To Study Goo

Field study is ideal for studying goo! Watch horses in person during motion, and the lunge-line is a good starter by creating a focused situation. Pay particular close attention to the shoulders, throatlatch, forearms, elbow area, hindquarter, neck, ears, lips, chest, genitals and barrel. Look for the wrinkling, wiggling, jiggling, rippling movement with each stride and phase of movement on the horse’s body. Slow motion video is also a great way to study how goo resonates with motion, how it ripples, jiggles and distorts in synch with the nature and force of the horse’s movement. 

Then turnaround and attempt to decipher and identify goo in photos. This type of training can train us about goo very quickly, better enabling us to imbue it into our clay. In fact, we’ll discover that goo is a whole new level of understanding that deepens our appreciation of equine anatomy and lends interest to our sculpture.


Anyone can apply anatomical charts and diagrams to copy the anatomy faithfully into sculpture. That's easily done with a bit of discipline and gumption. But it takes a new kind of understanding to mimic the life of that anatomy, to capture and reinstate the fleshy, rippling, gooshy nature of living flesh. Indeed, an anatomy chart is one thing, but living flesh is entirely another.

Its the understanding of goo that helps us transcend the technical by adding character, moment, and life to that anatomical base. It brings the moment to the surface—literallyand communicates the mass and movement of the animal in ways a strict technical expression can fail to convey. In doing so, we've gone one step closer to capturing "living realism" in our clay, expressing this lovely animal more completely and faithfully.

So, until next time, ooze in that glorious goo!

"There is a better chance of getting an exciting painting from a laboured study with texture than from a fine drawing without it." ~ John Sloan

Related Posts with Thumbnails