Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Breadcrumbs Home

The Rugged Trail

Being an artist surely is fun, but still, it's no cakewalk. So many challenges, so many things to juggle, so much to dodge. We put in long, hard hours and try our level best, pouring our fervent selves into each piece. Sometimes things come together magically, but other times we just have to muscle through in the blind hope it'll all come together in the end. Yet nothing is certain when we start a new piece, even if we finish it at all. We can also feel inadequate and self-doubting at times and sometimes, just sometimes, may even wonder why we're doing this at all, especially given some of the awful criticisms pelting us. Honestly, if being hard on ourselves wasn't hard enough, coming from others can sorely test our camel's back. 

Ours is a crazy path to be sure and it doesn't necessarily get any easier either, perhaps getting even harder as we advance as expectations amplify. Yet we somehow find ourselves forging ahead nonetheless, drawing from a mysterious force of will we perhaps didn't know we had. Often times then the more established the artist, the stronger they are as if the battering and brilliance of the passing years has tempered them. They're seasoned trailblazers, charging down their rugged trails not necessarily in full control, but confident enough to stay surefooted.

Still, it can all get to be too much at times. For that then, a nudge to scoot us past our doldrums or a supportive word to sooth our doubts or an oasis of wisdom to replenish our inspiration may be in order. I'd like to share with you then some of my favorite quotes as they relate to creativity. I find they really help me in my moments of vulnerability, of self-doubt and despondency because just the right idea at the right time can swoop in to save the day, even change our whole outlook. So let's go!...

The Breadcrumbs

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." — Teddy Roosevelt

This truly speaks to an artist's struggle with the devotion, effort, and courage it takes to stay creative while still bearing the criticisms that would squelch us. And the struggle is real. It can be so hard some days, can't it? Going into the arena is a brutal business. 

It also speaks to the differing realities between the one who's taking all the risk—the artist—and the one who isn't—the critic. Whose efforts have more merit? Who's demonstrating more grit and dedication? Who's presenting something new to the world? Which one should get our attention more then? And should the one taking all the risks really give so much power to the one who isn't? The truth is this: Whatever the critic may say, they're not the one who's in the arena "marred by dust and sweat and blood." They aren't doing the work so should their words really be given so much weight? 

I also appreciate the idea of daring greatly because, indeed, just believing in yourself is powerful magic. We don't have to be super confident either, we just have to believe in ourselves a little bit. It's hopeful. So many people don't even start for lack of confidence, but just a little bit of hope can go a very long way. Which brings us to...

"Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion"
— Rachel Platten, Fight Song

When it comes to creativity, this passage speaks to the power of the singular moment, the singular person, the singular effort. It's so easy to get caught up in the flash and show of popular work, in the drama and excitement of show days, piece debuts, or model releases. Life is a big, thrilling, shiny place. But it's the sum of its parts, isn't it? And even one single effort has the extraordinary power to change everything, to shift an entire paradigm! And each one of us can truly make a difference. Isn't it wonderful? 

But it's not just about an outward "explosion," either—it can also be about an inner event, a rethink, a rejuvenation, a remaking, a rebirth. Sometimes our toughest battles, the worlds that need the most revolution, lie within ourselves. And sometimes the only hero that can save us is—us. So believe in yourself and in the worth of your efforts—even when it seems the world doesn't care or is even against you—because you just never know the domino effect they could topple into motion. 

"Some tiny creature, mad with wrath, is coming nearer on the path." — Edward Gorey

The Gorey illustration that goes with this passage from "The Evil Garden" lives in my studio because the tiny, wrathful creature is just so darned adorable! Now as for how he's connected to creativity, I grant you, you may wonder if I just included this to show you how cyoooot he was. Maybe.

But but but, seriously, yes...there's a connection. What is it? Pugnaciousness. Moxie. Pluck. Cheek. Every artist needs it. And sometimes, we need a lot of it. It can be the only thing that keeps us going if a piece is being particularly challenging or the world at large is being...particularly challenging. So get those little arms up and start flailing! Let's hear your war cry!

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." — Kurt Vonnegut

By our very wiring, we're a creative species. From the very first cave paintings to carvings to storytelling, we're driven to create—it's in our bones. Being so, I'm a big believer in the healing power of creativity. When I get low then, I go back to how joyous my art makes me and find reassurance. In this we can also be happy in the creative achievements of others, knowing the wonderment they experienced, too. This place is also common ground with artists, a means to connect to find more mutual understanding.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." — Winston Churchill

We're going to fall on our art face at times—that's the promise of creativity. And that's a good thing. We learn, we grow, we develop more empathy for the struggles of others. Like the most difficult horses, our mistakes are our teachers. Really, if we did things right all the time, how would we be so driven to rethink, explore, and discover? Mistakes aren't the end of the world, they're the beginning.

I also like the idea that success is fleeting, that wariness of our own status quo is something to be valued. It's so easy to become self-satisfied, but there's always some new way that bumps up the bar. Understanding that our stake in all this is never assured, we stay on our toes.

And in the end, we have to get back on our proverbial horse, don't we? We have to get up, brush off the dirt and gravel, bruises and all, and keep moving forwards, relentless, stubborn, brave, and hopeful. It tests who we are. I've learned that the best artists are a hungry, scrappy bunch. They gut it out.

"Each horse is practice for the next." — Ed Gonzales

My buddy, Ed, said this a lot and I love it. It's so hopeful, isn't it? So full of promise and assurance. Because it's true—each horse is practice for the next as we continually learn the progressive lessons. So don't let discouragement take too much of a hold—because while we will feel it from time to time—let it instead run like water off a duck's back. Just let it roll over you and move on, knowing that the lessons you learned can be applied to the next effort. And never forget, while we're only as good as our present piece, there's always the next one that will speak for us even more.

To that end, I also like this quote because it implies there's never an end, is there? And we can move forward at our own pace to boot. Two important components for staying curious and eager learning. It also provides great calm since there's a degree of acceptance here, even an embracing of our quirks and foibles that make our human and creative experiences so rich and unique.

"Creativity without discipline will struggle, creativity with discipline will succeed." — Amit Kalantari

Making art takes gumption, but making equine realism takes discipline. A lot. If we hope to be successful at this, we have to buckle down. That's simply how it is. Only discipline can hone the blade needed to cut through this inordinately tough art form because without it, there's no focus, no concentration, no impetus to perfect our skills. We have to "stay on target," as Gold Five would say, pushing forwards out of sheer force of will. Honestly, many artists flounder not for lack of skill, but because they have difficulty crunching ahead. 

"Make it work." — Tim Gunn

Sometimes we'll get stuck, spin wheels, confused or offtrack on a piece, or any number of minor catastrophes. We'll art ourselves into a proverbial corner. But because we should finish, it's time to switch gears, jury-rig, backtrack, go sideways, tweak and futz, or do whatever else it takes to save the piece, creatively rethinking it all. 

And there's great value in this. We discover, we innovate, take risks, ponder, and explore...we're changed by the process. Great challenges forge great artists because—yes—we make the work but the work also makes us.

"The only way round is through." — Robert Frost

Yet rethinking can bring us right back to the start, can't it? Sometimes there's no way to avoid it—you just have to grit your teeth and plow right through. Maybe we have to remove a part of a sculpture we love because it just doesn't work. Maybe we got the tone wrong on a paintjob, and though it's gorgeous, it has to be changed. Maybe we have to start over with a whole new piece. It takes a special kind of will to do that, but everything about our piece should remain changeable to serve the vision.

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." — Confucius

It's easy to become impatient with our progress, but that's normal. Here's the thing: Sometimes there a disconnection between what we expect of ourselves and what our skills are capable of creating at that moment, so we just have to wait until the two coalesce with experience. These limitations are temporary. So keep going. This isn't a race, it's a journey. Learning takes its own time, too—it cannot be rushed, short-cutted, circumvented, or cheated so give yourself time to absorb and process. None of this comes easy, but momentum alone, no matter how small, can keep the groove going.

Moreover, persistence and hope tend to be assets with equine realists to forge on in the belief that our efforts will be somehow fruitful. Indeed, those artists who accomplish the most usually have the most pluck—if there's a will there's a way most of the time. 

Now if we actually crash up against circumstances—because it happens—rather than stopping, why not just go sideways? Switch gears. So, say, if we get tired of sculpting full body pieces, think about bas-relief. Need a refresher from realism? Create stylized horses. If we're bored of realistic colors, paint in crazy colors and effects. If we're totally fried sculpting the head, work on a leg instead. Go in any direction, just keep going. You have an adaptable skillset so bend instead of break.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou

When people buy a piece of your art and bring it into their home, they're bringing you into their home as well. They'll remember their experiences with you every time they look at your piece. Let that be a win-win.

What's more, good work should move people, inspire them, find connection, and seek to elevate. We love horses and great equine art reminds us of that, reaffirms it, nurtures it. People should feel our work rather than just look at it.

"Follow your bliss." — Joseph Campbell

I like to believe that each of us is born with a special gift and it's our privilege to discover it. How do we know what that is? We follow our heart, our soul, our gut...our bliss. What makes us engaged and happy? What brings us that special kind of joy unlike any other? What's our funktionslust? You won't have to begrudgingly drudge through it because no matter what kind of hard work you have to invest, you still love it. You still wouldn't want to do anything else. And it can be anything! So if we find ourselves pulled in a particular direction, follow it. Don't be afraid and uncertain. If anything couldn't be more certain, it's that path for you! The Universe will conspire to help you. Which brings us to...

"Find what you love and let it kill you." — Charles Bukowski (or Kinky Friedman, depending on the debate.)

I like this quote because it speaks to the madness I have for my own art that deliriously, delightfully drowns me. Indeed, I can be single-minded pursuing it, absurdly focused creating it, ridiculously distracted by it, and just essentially possessed to the point where I lose track of the outside world. When I mean "possessed," I truly do mean that word and maybe that sounds familiar to you, too.

But in another way, it encourages us to go after what we love with abandon, joy, and fearlessness. Let it fill you up and give you a wondrous reason to get out of bed in the morning, devour the day with zeal, and fill you with great satisfaction when you hit the pillow at night. Let it possess you with its "good madness," as Neil Gaiman knowingly described.

"You didn't build that." — President Barak Obama 

No—no, I didn't. I wasn't alone. I recognize I haven't done it all by myself but took a lot of other people helping me along the way. From close friends to family to colleagues to mentors to teachers to business partners to other professionals to even my postman and accountant. A host of helping hands the Universe sent my way. In my soul there lives a special place that's eternally grateful, cultivating a deeper kind of happiness than simply creating a good piece—you see everyone and everything that truly went into it and it's humbling. My accomplishments were achieved with the help of so many. Our species, at the fundamental level, is a social one. We seek each other out and work together to create something new, a feat that can inject a great deal of meaning into our creativity. And, truly, if we remember where we came from, we can better appreciate where we're going.

"The only valid rule for a work of art is that it be true to itself." — Marty Rubin

I'll do me and you do you—that's the best and only way to do art. Draw from your gut, your inner singularity, your gifted uniqueness, and work from there. Be original and your original self. Tell novel stories. Don't be afraid to be "you" in your art. There's plenty of room for all sorts of styles, interpretations, variations, similarities, ideas, ambitions, art forms...whatever you can dream up, we can make room for it. Be true to yourself in your he-art, you're on the right track. This brings us to... 

"Comparison is the death of joy." — Mark Twain

Oh, isn't that the truth! There are few things that can disillusion us faster than comparing our work, our success, our achievements, our whatevers to that of others. Want to quickly deflate your enthusiasm? Apply someone else's standards, accomplishments, and aesthetic to your own. And think about it—that's pretty unfair to yourself, isn't it? You can't be someone else. You can only be you and that's more than enough.

So stay focused on you. Seek to perfect your own work and efforts rather than competing with others. When we jettison comparison, we'll become much happier, but even more, we learn to embrace our peers since they cease to be opponents. Which ushers in...

"I won't let my demons win; 
My only rival is within; 
I will fight through thick and thin;
My only rival is within." 
— Rival by Ruelle 

The only thing you have to exceed isn't another artist—it's yourself. You are the source of all your own limitations, most brutal comparisons, harshest criticisms, and anxious trepidations. Your own internal landscape can stop you at every turn or it can be a garden crisscrossed with promising paths. It's all inside you. So it's better to reflect everything inside and get going on the landscaping.

Because, know it or not, each of us struggle with the opposites of human nature, and our compulsions, thoughts, doubts, anxieties, overthinking, feelings...any number of things. All of this can become a creative distraction or they could also become its fuel and fodder. It's up to you how it all works best and everyone is different, but the point is this: Address the struggle within yourself where it originates, and make peace and find incentive there. "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste" advises the Desirderata and that includes within ourselves. 

"Don't be afraid. Don't be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, just for one moment through your efforts, then 'Ole!' And if not, do your dance anyhow. And 'Ole" to you, nonetheless...just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up." — Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert related how the Greeks had a very different idea of "genius" than the one typical today. They believed that genius was a spirit that visited to compel you to create an inordinately great piece of work. It didn't come from you per se, you had help from outside yourself. But today, genius lies completely within our person and that ushers in some problems. For instance, with the Greeks, if you did a problematic piece, you had someone to partly blame right? Our "genius" just didn't deliver. We have a buffer, a means to process failure better. But if genius lies only within us, we're entirely to blame with all the flooding awfulness that brings. It's a tempting, idea, isn't it? But that's what she's referring to with "divine, cockeyed genius" in that quote.

So anyway, just keep on rocking it even if your notes clank or don't come together quite right. We all have "bad horse days" and by the same token, we'll all create The Piece by which we'll always be measured, for better or worse. It's just the way of things. So whether your "genius" shows up or not, just keep arting. Because, lemme tell ya, sometimes you'll crank out a piece you think will fail horribly which ends up to be an insane success. Stormwatch was that for me. So forge on anyway because you just never know what will pop out of your effort. Give your "cockeyed genius" something to work with because there's always the possibility of magic happening.

"If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." — Brené Brown

There's only one guarantee when you display your work in public: Criticism. Often a lot of it. Some people may be misguidedly trying to help, some are careless with their words, some are tone deaf, some are simply thoughtless, some are trying to impose their vision onto yours, and some are just outright mean. And everyone is a critic. A quarter-penny per billion trillion, criticisms can be exasperating, hurtful, and deflating, and even be about the dumbest things. They can be be outright wrong, too, since they often lack the equivalent knowledge base or creative goals. Yet note how vocal they are? Indeed, critics tend to blather the loudest and most often, perhaps because they like the perceived stature it gives them or they just derive their life force from disapproval. All in all, criticism "inspires you to stay small," as Brown put it, so if we don't know how to buffer it, criticism is going to paralyze us. We'll come to doubt ourselves and our abilities, even question why we're arting at all. At its worst, it can even cause us to dislike ourselves through shame, inadequacy, and unworthiness. Some people can truly be cruel and thoughtless. 

Directly linked to the first quote in this post by Roosevelt, the "Man in the Arena," here Brown also affirms that only those in your same boat know what's truly encapsulated in the experience. Everyone else? Not so much. They just aren't living the same reality you are. They aren't taking the risks, making the sacrifices, doing the work, taking the hits, and lurching back up after the beatings and stabbings to do it all over again. They're on the safe sidelines, in the safe seats. So instead focus on those who are also in the arena, fighting side by side with you. When they offer help then, that's the help to take.

But at the same time, we're also our own worst critics, aren't we? Brown observes, "We orphan the parts of us that don't fit the ideal...leaving only the critic." This could be our human penchant for "negative bias", or because we expect so much of ourselves, or because we're comparing ourselves others, or any number of reasons. Yet try to balance it with seeing your creative positives and congratulate yourself often. We truly do rewire our brains based on negative or positive thinking so keep that in mind when you start to wear yourself down.

There's this, too: Critics are loud, admirers are often quiet. Kind people just tend to be on the unobtrusive side whereas obnoxious types are in your face. For every critic then there are probably ten quiet people who love what you're doing only they may be too shy—or too put off by the boorish critics—to chime in. As such, toxicity may simply be more noticeable and corrosive, but usually not an indicator of the general sentiment out there. Just please remember this when criticisms start to beat you down. Remember the silence out there doesn't mean agreement, it means timidity and that's someone's anxious nature that asks for sympathy.

Likewise this related quote resonates as well: "Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you'll be criticized anyway," said Eleanor Roosevelt. Don't let anyone's ick detour you from doing what you love. Your joy gives you zestful purpose and when you do that with love, critics can't touch you, can they? The best rebuttal then is to be happy in your endeavors. 

And finally, notice that your critics aren't your collectors? So what they're saying is literally disposable and inherently skewed, isn't it? Only listen to your collectors and knowledgable peers if you wish to vet feedback; otherwise you're giving too much power to exactly the wrong perspective!

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." — Anton Ego, Ratatouille

Bingo—there it is...the true value of criticism. So you just keep on, keeping on, in full knowledge that what you're doing is worthy, worthwhile, and wonderful. You're a brave art warrior! And the people who matter most are behind you four square.

And actually Ratatouille is my all-time favorite film, for obvious ratty reasons of course, but also because I think it speaks to artists and the irrepressible, beautiful spirit of creating despite the forces that may be pushing against us. Indeed, Ego goes on to say in that monologue, "But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere." We've all heard it before, haven't we? "Drawing horses isn't real art." Or, "you didn't graduate from art school? Oh, then you're just dabbling." Whatever. Don't listen to them. You just be you. Great art is great art, no matter what.

"People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish...but that's only if it's done properly." — Bansky

I like this quote because it reminds me to never take things too seriously—good or bad, especially the bad. Stay playful, lighthearted, humorous, irreverent, and be silly whenever possible. Laugh at yourself. It's good for you. Because it's so easy to lose perspective in all this, isn't it? Doesn't mean we can't be serious about our work, of course, but it does suggest that we balance it with a bit of cheek, especially with ourselves.

"Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." — John Lennon

Every time I start a new piece, I draw on hope like a ratty chows down yogies. This is because—with every single piece—there are phases during its creation where I'm very uncomfortable, where I'm thinking, "What the heck am I doing?! You fool! You cannot do this, you useless, incompetent idiot. What were you thinking?" But those feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, disgust, helplessness, shame, and fear will eat you alive. This is where hope comes in. If you can just follow its glimmer, no matter how dark or monster-ridden it gets in there, you'll make it out and probably happily surprise yourself in the end. I know a lot of people talk about the importance of the journey over the destination, and that's true to a point—there's enormous value in the adventure. But the destination is equally important. It's the moment when you prove to yourself you can do it, that you can rise to the challenge despite the odds. You can be changed during the journey and still be just fine, perhaps even better off. And all fueled by the power of hope. You don't have to follow a giant beacon, either, just a little flicker can lead you through.

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." — Buddha

One of my favorite quotes, it affirms so much, doesn't it? Patience, serendipity, inevitability, stacking up circumstances to always be ready for the lesson, and on and on. It's also hopeful and assuring—have faith and trust that when you're ready, the Universe will send help your way, and stay open because it can come from anywhere.

It also alludes to this fact: We can only absorb at the moment what we can absorb at the moment—no more. In other words, if we aren't ready for a particular lesson because we don't yet have the ability to process a more advanced tidbit, it'll be lost on us and will usually render us frustrated. Learning builds on previous lessons and efforts, not absorbed all at once out of nowhere. So be patient, be persistent, and accept that improvement is often a series of baby steps, trusting that each is truly taking you steadily forwards.

I also like that it encourages teaching and holding it in a reverent place, and speaks to staying a learner, too. Yet it's a call to action to be a teacher as well. When we're invited to help others in their efforts, we ensure a clearinghouse of eager brains at the ready.

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour." — William Blake

I love how this quote speaks to the wonder of the world around us, even in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant thing or moment. Magic exists. As to creativity for me, it alludes to the wonder of where it comes from, how its manifested, what it encapsulates, and what it achieves. Each of us is a complete Universe, and each of our pieces is an expression of that Universe. And likewise, to see the same in our subject with all the infinite specialness he embodies takes our appreciation to the next level because, like us, each equine is a complete Universe, too.

I think this passage also suggests that the power of art to express the profound beauty of existence—and our subject—is a magical privilege to be reflected on and appreciated. I also like how it implies that every little touch lends power to the whole—every expressive nuance, every tick in a pattern, every dapple, every highlight, every line and curve, everything contributes in equal measure. The whole is truly the sum of its parts, no matter how seemingly small, and I find a lot of inspiration, challenge, and purpose in that.

I believe it also asks us to be mindful and present as we work to find marvel in our moments. That our entire Universe could narrow down to the love we're practicing, creating a euphoria of creativity. I find so much blessing in that.

This quote also nudges along the idea that no one's creative contribution is insignificant or without merit or wonder. There's always—always—something nice and encouraging to say about every piece even if simply the devotion, pride, and hard work it took to create it in the first place.  

"If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart." — Buddha

Your art is important, for the world and for you, so dive in with your entire being with happy mania. It also relates to the Japanese concept of "ganbaru," of doing one's very best no matter what that is, and in doing so, everything gains a deeper meaning (just don't push yourself to excess stress). There's no small job, no insignificant effort so be present in the moment. 

This also gets to what I also heartily embrace, the German concept of "funktionslust" (the pleasure of doing what we're meant to do) and the Japanese idea of "ikigai" ("the happiness of always being busy"). When we embrace our creativity as a purpose in life, we gain a different perspective on challenges and obstacles because they cease to be creativity-stoppers, they become creativity-generators.

"I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing — which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself." — Elizabeth Gilbert

You're going to get knocked down by the creative life. You're going to faceplant, make mistakes, create bad pieces, get psychologically beaten up, and stumble towards your potential. That's the flip side promise of creativity and there's no way around it. And you'll probably also create a piece so popular that everything else you crank out afterwards will be viewed and measured through that lens, creating a dreadful pressure that damns you if you do or damns you if you don't with all the pieces that follow. People will love what they love and be disappointed in the rest. That's just the way of it.

But don't you love arting more than all this? Isn't your art where you find so much of what you need to be happy, serene, and balanced, too? Doesn't your art bring you a sense of joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction even if no one else appreciates it? Gilbert came to this realization after her manuscripts were rejected for almost six years and she came very close to quitting writing altogether. Can you imagine being rejected for almost six years? Talk about demotivation! But the point is, despite all the garbage, remember that you love arting "more than you love yourself." So try to stay in that inner space regardless of the consequences—good or bad—because what you do makes you happy and whole, so let the rest melt away.

"Because vulnerability is certainly a part of fear, self-doubt, grief, uncertainty, and shame, but it's also the birthplace of these...it's the birthplace of love, belonging, of joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. Without vulnerability, you cannot create." — Brené Brown

Creativity is an act of excruciating vulnerability. Indeed, being an artist takes a degree of everyday courage many others don't realize. Putting your everything into something then holding it up to scrutiny over and over and over again—fully knowing you're going to be repeatedly chopped to pieces by countless knives—takes a level of guts and devotion many folks take for granted. And to some, taking potshots can be sport or a means to amplify their self-worth at your expense. Truly, artists make themselves targets every day, especially in this age of keyboards that expose them to the worst among us.

But as tempting as it is to "armor up," Brown warns that this comes at a terrible cost: The numbing of the sensitivity we need to be thoughtful artists in the first place. See, we cannot kill off one and nurture the other—our emotions are a complete package. Instead then, we have to learn how to take the blows without missing a step to keep moving forwards, confident and hopeful. (Four related videos are recommended at the end of this post which, I think, are mandatory watching for all artists.)

"I'm not going to quit, I'm going home." — Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert talks about how whatever success or failure her work found, her visceral love of writing—that "place" where that feeling lived—was her "home." What a great way to put it, right? Home. Of course. Our sanctuary. 

We each have that home inside of us where our instinctive love of creativity dwells, and the biggest candle in the window burns inside of us. Our home is where our inner creative self shines in its pure form. No matter how lost you get on the map then, how "vaulted from your home" by success or failure as Gilbert puts it, your inner sanctum is always there for rejuvenation, affirmation, and new attempts. Return there, always.

Gypsy says, "Tom, I don't get you." Tom Servo responds, "Nobody does; I'm the wind, baby!" (Mystery Science Theater)

I'm an unabashed Tom Servo fangirl, and I love his quip here because it's so irreverent and matter-of-fact. Even if no one understands him, he still confidently keeps on being Tom. 

And for me, that's reassuring. Some folks—maybe a lot of folks—may not "get" your work. Many may flat out not like it. That's alright. We each have our way of doing things that no one has to like, and that anyone does like it is simply amazing! So you keep on being you, even if no one understands, can't see the same things you can, appreciates the same things you do, or gets where you're headed. Each of us live in our own vibrant reality so you live your Truth and they'll live theirs. If they intersect, great. If not, such is life. Your Truth is in your work and it'll speak for you even when you can't—and that's enough.

Home, Safe and Sound

And there ya have it—bits of wisdom to steer you back on course no matter how far you've swerved off. You'll make it "home," as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, back to that safe and exquisite place, that still point, where your creativity resides and rejoices, feeding your psyche, heart, and soul. Yay! Really then, in so many ways, these quotes have saved me, pulling me up when I was most down, or slapped some sense back into me, or got me to lighten up. They also kept me centered, serene, and bolstered my confidence, and I hope you find similar help in them, too.

But even more, I hope you find your own collection of fortifying ideas that keep your arting tenaciously tracking forwards. Because the journey is rugged and will always test you, and every artist—no matter how seasoned—has difficulty along the way. But as long as you find you way home, you'll be okay, because, truly, the guiding breadcrumbs you follow will always get you there. 

Speaking to all this, I highly recommend these four talks. They do well to inspire and reaffirm your convictions and reveal our commonalties within the creative process:
So keep homebase close, and wad all these quotes into a ball and gobble them down when you need a detox. Refreshing our élan vital can also refresh our art, even refresh our entire outlook on this delirious obsession. So chin up, strive forwards, and art on!

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." — Edmund Hillary


Monday, June 29, 2020

The Three Ps: The Story Of Every Sculpture


Four years ago I wrote The Five Ps, yet I've found myself referring to three of them most often when talking about sculpting. Why mostly these three? Well, they tend to be the practical brass tacks of sculpting realism because, quite literally, if we get them right from the get-go, everything just seems to fall into place all by itself. So when people ask how to start sculpting, these three components are the practically-based keys I offer first. Becausegoshthose initial stages can be overwhelming, can't they? Where do we begin? What do we focus on first? What do we focus on next? How do we make everything come together? These confusions can induce folks to concentrate on things best left for later stages or get so lost in the process, they go way off track and end up frustrated. By the same token, troubleshooting is a critical skillset since systemic errors can propagate so easily, yet, curiously, these are often generated in the Three Ps almost exclusively. Get them right then and we avoid a lot of work later. The Three Ps also tend to synergistically work together to steer the process so reliably as to almost be a surefire route to success. So put it all together, if there ever was a formula for effective sculpting in realism, from beginner to advanced, the alchemy of the Three Ps would probably be it. They just seem to be the answer to a lot of questions. 

And that's nothing to sneeze at! The horse is easily one of the most confounding subjects for artists. Degas admitted he struggled greatly with their structure and movement. Stubbs dissected one in his studio to better understand the complicated structures. Da Vinci did study after study trying to perfect his understanding. Countless other artists have labored mightily to make this animal even halfway convincing in their media, too. Yet no matter how advanced we become, it's still remarkably easy to stumble. Any which way ya tackle it then, there's absolutely nothing about the equine that's easy to recreate.

But here come the Three Ps! These three interdisciplinary ingredients deconstruct the process to take our efforts from Point A to Point Z with the clarity needed to stay on track. Basically, they fold big, complex challenges into a symbiotic sequence, turning what's complicated into something more easily interpreted or troubleshot. And they don't necessary require a super in-depth understanding of anatomy either, but mostly an Eye that can See what's there at face value, giving us room to learn that subject at our own pace. So what are the Three Ps? In sequence, they are:

  • Proportion
  • Placement
  • Planes

And that's pretty much it. In a very real sense though they're all the same thing if we think about it, or at least they entail the same conceptual approach. They're all features of relative spacial orientations, aren't they? About how everything relates to everything else in terms of length. Being so, they form a complete interdependent system together—take just one P out of the equation and it doesn't work. In a way they create coordinates on a 3D map: One deals with the relative distances that define each feature (or the relative size of things), one deals with the relative distances between them, and one deals with their relative distance from a singularity inside the animal. Put them together and we can create any realistic 3D equine we want.

So in essence, the Three Ps are a pure, simple distillation of what we do: Life-accurate proportional relationships. That's it. And that's both good and bad news. It's good because we have plenty of relationships to compare against to stay on target. Yet it's bad since things can go awry pretty quickly if we aren't playing close attention to things. Really, just one thing askew can throw the entire sculpture off. But even so, a good pair of calipers, solid reference materials, a sound proportional system, appropriate sculpting tools, and regular rechecking can really hedge our bets. Happily, too, the more experience we gain, the more our Eye refines to pick out what's off even without confirming with a recheck—it'll just seem wrong. On the flip side, too, it will also refine to identify what's right, helping us to say "done" all the faster.

The Traps Without The Three Ps

We probably already know that equine realism isn't easy, but what we may not know is that problematic habits can easily pop up in consequence. For one, we can perpetually fiddle with a piece so we don't ever finish it, chasing the ever-moving goalpost of perfection. We essentially get lost in a jumbled set of priorities that keep us from moving forwards. But learning to perfect our skills isn't the same as perfecting our piece. We need to finish what we start, and restart a new piece often because only through many pieces do we feed our knowledge base with new coordinates. Said another way, we develop the kind of mental library that greases the gears of our process. Learning how to say "done" then is just as critical as starting in the first place! That being the case, the Three Ps give us a kind of starting gate plus a finish line, encouraging us to chase that carrot, and in a structured way.

Second, we can begin to fixate on one area too early which almost always leads to errors. For example, we may focus on the head so much that it ends up more highly detailed than the body, creating an unevenness in finesse. Or that lopsided focus can quickly cause it or its features to morph out of proportion. Or we can self-sabotage ourselves with hidden systemic errors like asymmetries or misalignments. Yet if we worked the Three Ps from the start to finish, things tend to perfect themselves with less struggle.

Third, we can easily get lost in the process and find a lot of subsequent confusion, unable to find a way out and forwards. Yet the Three Ps present a kind of system that makes so much sense, we gain the ability to hop over that trap anytime it pops out in front of us. What's more, the separate components of the Three Ps helps us identify which one needs targeted development if we get lost again. Apply the Three Ps then, and we gain a kind of forward momentum that makes sense and supports our every tool stroke.

Four, sculpting different kinds of equines can intimidate us if they're so far outside our comfort zone, we believe they're beyond our ability. Yet the Three Ps provide such a clear methodology that's universally applicable, literally nothing is beyond our inspirations. Heck, the Three Ps can apply to any subject for that matter such as cats, dogs, elephants, orcas—whatever! They're a sculptural system for everything, not just equines.

And fifth, we can unfortunately start believing we're simply not talented enough, that we're inadequately skilled if we begin to struggle too much. But given the right ideas, we can make a far more successful go at things that cultivates our confidence, equips us for boldness, and feeds our curiosity for investigation. And the Three Ps can be exactly the right idea we need.

So wrap it all up and the Three Ps provide a system that lets us focus on the things that matter more at the right times rather than being distracted by the things that don't at the wrong times. But there's one important caveat: Because they're interdisciplinary, if one goes haywire, the others likely will as well. Yet remember that whatever we create, we can recreate—so don't fear. We got this. Don't let the prospect of failure paralyze you—because you will fail. A lot. That's simply the primary way the brain learns and how our skills grow. But the Ps help us troubleshoot so effectively we can instead learn to embrace our mistakes and discover that they're actually our teachers and doors and pathways. So in that spirit, too, let's take a closer look at each one, in sequence...


Our first priority is proportion, how each portion of the body is sized and relates to the sizes of other portions. Break it down then and it's about relationships since the only way to measure it is in relation to other features. That being the case, it also governs the overall shape of our sculpture because all those portions have to fit together like a jigsaw, inevitably creating the overall "outline" accurate to our references.

Now there's this, too: We often hear about "scale" when creating miniature equine sculptures, but scale is really just another way to say "proportion." And as our sculpture shrinks in size, absolute precision with scale becomes increasingly crucial because even a millimeter begins to represent a progressively huge amount. Indeed, 1mm at 1:32 scale is radically bigger proportionally than at 1:5 scale.

Because of its nature then, proportion pretty much entails everything we do. From deciding what size blob needed to sculpt an eye to the length we make the hip to the size we make the tendon, it's all an exercise of relative dimensions. So it's important to remember that, being all encompassing, proportion works locally, regionally, and holistically. By "locally," the dimensions of one feature relate to those of immediately neighboring features. Is the teardrop bone in proper scale to the eye, for example? Are the tendons in proper scale to the cannon? Are the zygomatics in proper scale to the eye? Then by "regionally," we have to account for relative proportions with surrounding areas. Are the ears in proper scale to the head? Are the biceps in proper scale to the hindquarter? Is the pisiform in proper scale to the foreleg? And, finally, a holistic assembly entails everything related as a whole. Is the knee in proper scale to the body? Are the "semis" in proper scale to the body? Is the rhomboideus in proper scale to the body? But in this, proportion also leap frogs to marry everything together. For instance, the hoof has to be proportional to the forearm to the hock to the ear to the biceps to the leg tendons to the eye and so on. Every feature relates to everything else, all fitting inside that "jigsaw" outline.

But here's the thing—it's so easy to be lured by the interest-value of the "fun" structural features like the eyes, ears, nostrils, hooves, muscle grooves, etc. We may even come to believe they're all that really matter and so "gloss over" the spaces between them. But the truth is that the interspatial landscapes are just as important. They aren't empty space or even negative space—they're a kind of feature themselves, chockful with their own information. For instance, the expanse of the barrel is loaded with curiosities, or the expanse of the triceps muscle, the jowl, or between the eye and nostril all have their own characteristics. And though these details may be subtle, they do well with due attention. (And we have to automatically account for placement in all this too, don't we? In fact, placement is really just another manifestation of proportion because those distances in between are also proportional relationships. With experience then, we'll find that we actually attend to both proportion and placement at the same time. Nonetheless, placement is separated out because it simplifies troubleshooting.)

Anyway, for further clarity, lets break proportion down into four facets:
  1. The size of the clay blobs squished onto the sculpture that block in the structures
  2. The proportions of all those clay blobs together as a whole
  3. The symmetry in size of those clay blobs
  4. The projected structural balance of all those clay blobs

Point #1: It’s useful to size the initial clay blobs close to the proportions of our target structure. Having to add or remove too much material can create distortions we can avoid by using only what we really need. Now some artists pop on an appropriately sized blob and shape it to the necessary form while others make little "snakes" and dollops to immediately block things in. It's up to you which one—or applying bothworks best. And if we sculpt enough finished pieces, this ability to best gauge blob size becomes more natural over time. But the point is this: Start thinking about proportion the first moment you apply clay since it should govern every smooshed-on bit and every tool stroke.

Point #2: This refers to the overall harmony and reference-accurate measurements of the whole piece (here's a method for measuring them). It's really what most people would think of as "proportion." For instance then, we make sure the head isn’t too big, the back too short, the gaskins too long, the muzzle too small, the eyes too big, etc., in relation to each other and the whole. We also pay attention to the proportions characteristic of a breed, type, gender, age, or species. We check that details are proportional themselves while also proportionally expressed over the entire piece and not oddly clustered in one area. In short, we ensure that our piece has all parts harmoniously married together as accurately to our references as possible. Yet it's this facet of proportion that often goes off-track quickly if we get caught up in sculpting, so recheck it often. Calipers are instrumental here so get good ones that can measure on the fly (this is what I use). 

Please note that what measurements are taken, how they're taken, and where they're taken is the system here, not the actual lengths (diagrams above and below). Those lengths vary with each individual, species, breed, type, gender or age, and so are specific to this particular depicted Thoroughbred mare.

Now I've included this young horse with a slight head turn to demonstrate a few things. Firstly, don't be shy about doubling up on some measurements for clarity. This youngster is going to present some proportional challenges with all his "in between" lengths since he's still growing. I could even add more if I wanted, and I probably would. But this illustrates that age can factor into our measurements (which means this, too: What phase of color we put on our sculpture should ballpark the sculpted proportions that depict the imagined age). Secondly, note how this system works even with a slightly turned head? I've done enough proportional comparison studies to know what the length it would tend to be anyway as compared to the rest of the body so I can go forwards nonetheless. Third, I'm not accounting for conformation here, only measuring what's in front of me. So if we want to do that, we have to create more of an amalgam to pick and choose which lengths we want—and the only way to do that well is to have done lots of proportional comparisons. Study, study, study!

Point #3: This entails bilateral symmetry of every paired aspect of the body which should be of equal size and align pretty closely (sharing a job with placement again). This is another facet that's easily hiccuped since nearly every artist has a "good side" and a "bad side" with sculpting, perhaps having to do with handedness. Plus it can also be difficult to flip things in our minds to mirror the other side. So here too, recheck often with our tools and even with photo editing programs that can overlay transparencies of each side for direct comparison on our computer. Also think about flipping references in a photo editing program then print those out, too. For example, I've done this with the popular Ellenberger illustrations and often do so with the head references I've chosen to use. But symmetry also shares a job with planing in that it entails how "pooched out" from the median any given feature is compared to its pair. An eye orbit set further outwards than the other is an error in symmetry just as much if it were set askew. All that being said, however, remember that horses—like us—have a natural degree of some asymmetry, especially on the face. As long as it's within what would be acceptable in life, it's not something to worry about.

Point #4: Balance is about the consistency of the proportions despite motion. Are the moving proportions of our sculpture consistent to our references if it were standing square—are they the same? The bones don't change in proportion when the skeleton moves so if our moving sculpture doesn't match the proportions of our standing references, we've made an error. In this way, the body must "follow the hooves to the ground" since the leg bones don't compact or lengthen. Instead, it's their articulations paired with the motions of the spine that do so. So if we were to straighten out our flexed neck, for example, would it be too long or too short as compared to our references? Or if were to straighten out the hind leg, would it cause the hindquarter to tower over the forequarter? Things like that. We have to fix the pose to fit the proportions rather than fixing the proportions to fit the pose.

Wrap all this up and it means that proportion is literally everything we do, right down to the smallest blob of clay that makes all the difference in a correction. Going further then, placement and planing are just manifestations of proportion as well. So whether sculpting an ear, placing a pectoralis minor, shaping the topline, forming the hindquarter's surface contours, or inputting every muscle groove, it's all about proportional relationships. That means we can't let one thing slip past us which is why it can be so painstaking—recheck, recheck, recheck. The fundamental nature of proportion means, too, that there's no compensating for an error, big or small. We cannot make the muzzle bigger to balance out an eye that's too big, or make the hindquarter smaller to balance out a head that's too long, or make a gluteus maximus bigger because our biceps group is too small. But it all also means this—if something just seems off, check proportion first since it's often the source of hiccups, especially those that scoot by under our radar. Yet if we get proportions right, not only is most of our job is actually done for us, but we'll automatically create a pretty darned good sculpture outright. This is also why knowing how to make a good armature can help us along quite a bit by blocking in the correct proportions right from the start. For all these reasons then, proportion comes in at #1.


While placement can be folded into proportion in practice, for simplicity's sake it's separate in the Three Ps and refers specifically to "equine topography," the anatomical landmarks we use to map out our sculpture. In other words, the equine blueprint has anchor points, or landmarks that indicate the skeleton beneath the skin that need proper orientation on the sculpture. Being so, those anchor points give rise to the fleshy features, and so it goes. As such, these anchor points can become our literal connect the dots, and it's placement that deals with the proportional distances between them, locally, regionally, and holistically. Like with proportion then, without proper placement there's just no realism in the first place because it's not enough to just squish those proportioned clay blobs onto our sculpture, they have to be positioned in the right places, too. So, for example, we can't just pop on zygomatic arches willy nilly—we have to place them in a very specific, anatomically correct way. Or we can't just plop a trapezius muscle wherever we'd like—it has an exact anatomical position. Or we can't orient a femoral joint on the fly—it has to go in the right place on the pelvis. In this way then, placement has much to do with symmetry, too, since the placements of bilateral features have to match pretty well. Along with all this, we'll find that certain features can serve as anchor points for others, even cascade in a sequence. For instance, the ears have to be properly and symmetrically placed so the eyes can be so the tear drop bones can be so the nostrils can be, etc. So put it all together and, like with proportion, there's no compensating for an error in placement. One ear set lower than the other, or one Atlas wing set farther back than another, or uneven points of buttock simply have to be fixed.

Here are some basic anatomical landmarks we can apply, adding more as our knowledge base grows and as our sculpture develops since muscle grooves, tendon lines, cartilage edges, nostril rims, etc. become new landmarks. Towards the end, even smaller details like veins, moles, ergots, and chestnuts, etc. become more new landmarks. Think of it as progressively adding more dots to the connect-the-dots.

In this way, placement can be tricky because an incorrectly placed blob can displace other landmarks or create asymmetries, especially in the early stages when we're blocking in the piece to then entrench as a systemic error. So, for example, if a point of shoulder is placed too low (i.e., our scapula is too long) that can throw off the anchor points of the foreleg, torso, and neck. Or if the jaw joint is set too far back, that affects the head's other placements. Or if the patella is too high (i.e., if the femur too short), that will alter the proportions of the hindquarter and hindleg. Or if the eyes are placed asymmetrically, then the teardrop bones on either side will be asymmetrically placed as well, potentially throwing off the measurements on either side of the head. One point affects others. When such errors occur, our piece tends to look wrong yet we often can't put our finger on the problem—it bugs us but we don't know why. We'll also usually fight the piece since things just don't seem to fall into place as they should. It's important then to always be on the mark as closely as possible by understanding landmarks and rechecking their placements often. Understanding skeletal alignments well enough to predict where those landmarks would be is another handy approach. And the good news is this: When our landmarks are correct, everything locks into place naturally and the piece literally sculpts itself. So if we have persistent problems, go back to basics: Check proportion first then check placements because it's often one of those two. Because here's the thing: Those anchor points want to be in the right place so if we're careful, we can help them help us. (This is often why it's easier to paint pieces with correct placements since the color and pattern characteristics simply fall into the correct places, letting the piece "paint itself.")

It's often useful to visualize placement before smooshinig on the clay—to know where we're going before we get there. Where is our sculpting going? What's our next step with placement? Heck, draw on the clay with a pencil if need be! A handy trick with oil clay is to poke in a shortened toothpick on an anchor point to connect the dots better or make corrections clearer. For instance, the point of shoulder, point of hip, femoral joint, humeral joint, base of the neck, and many others can be noted with snipped toothpicks. Or think about drawing on the bones and muscles for clarity. And if we want, we can block in the bones in the early stages if that helps us visualize where to orient things. The trick is to work systematically to place those landmarks correctly rather than willy-nilly. Really, who wants to fight their sculpture?

All this together then, think about starting each sculpture in the same way, creating a methodical system with a consistent starting point. Whatever beginning point works for you is the right way, but for me, the wither and shoulder are my starting points. The benefit though with a method is that it creates a "chain of effect" that can pinpoint errors quickly when troubleshooting. For instance, if I feel something is off that I can't recognize outright, I go back to the withers and shoulders and remeasure everything from there in the sequence I sculpted, and that always seems to tease out where I went wrong. If we're doing everything all over the map though, tracking down the skew is that much harder. What's more, using a consistent sculpting sequence also makes the whole process faster—the more of a system we have, the more efficient we become.

What does all this mean? It means that placement is precise and technical. It's not fudge-able. It's not arbitrary. It's not open to artistic interpretation. So if we go about things carelessly, we'll either be fighting our sculpture or creating systemic errors unknowingly. It also means there's no compensation for incorrect placements—it's simply a fundamental error in realism. A displaced eye is a displaced eye—there's just no way around it. A displaced cervical serratus has got to be fixed. A displaced point of hip just has to be moved. But, on the other hand, it also means that placement errors can be easily fixed once pinpointed. In this, non-drying clays are very forgiving and simply entail moving anchor points around. Unfortunately though, epoxy clays aren't, and so fixing placements can be a real bear. In this case, working harder to ensure correct placements from the get-go is especially important and where having a system can be a particular boon. Any which way though, it also means that the more pieces we finish, the more accurately topography gets programmed into our heads, allowing us to more naturally place them quicker. So make a friend out of placement and we'll find our job so much easier.


Planes are all about the way the different body portions are angled, sloped, dipped, and curved. In short, it's about the body's surface contours. But these contours coincide with the underlying anatomy and, that being the case, planes are like proportion and placement, only they're comprised of points that poke out from a singularity inside the animal. Think of one of those pin toys. Going further, each gender, breed, type, age, species, and individual has its own planar tendencies as well, establishing the look of each very early on. And planes are a powerful thing because if they're correct, our piece will read "horse" even if there's no muscle definition or detail whatsoever. Indeed, many abstract or impressionist sculptures rely almost entirely on planes to get their point across as do lot of "spartan" realistic works—the sculptures by Herbert Haseltine come to mind, for example.

Very basic planes just to get an idea. The green portion represents the "shoulder bed," or "cliff" created by that strong plane. Note the tendency to form a "T" due to the hindquarter's general high points, too.

But planing doesn't just pertain to the contours, but also the angles features are set. Such things as the eyes, for example, are angled rather specifically onto the head so we can't just pop them on there haphazardly. Specifically, the eye's canthi are set, or "swiveled" at a slight angle forwards at the front canthi, and a slight inwards angle at the bottom rim—it's not flat on the head like a dolphin, whale, or fish. Or, for another example, the "shoulder bed" of the scapula and its muscles forms a "shelf," an outwards angle that catches light rather obviously.

Like proportion and placement, duplicating planes is essential and benefits from targeted study and practice. The best way is getting up close and personal with horses to run our hands over their bodies, programming those planes directly into our noggins. Daily grooming is a practical way to learn this, too. (And people wondered why I'd spend hours grooming horses rather than riding them! It's also something I love doing anyway.) In lieu of that, another handy study technique is to analyze how light bounces on the horse's body in a photo or videos. Where are the highlights and shadows? How are they flowing over his body? And just as importantly, where are the "grey areas" and what do they reveal about the surface contours? Then imagine blocking in those areas, our hands actually shaping the clay to duplicate the play of light with directional lighting mimicking the sun's location. Another handy way is to create some study maquettes using only planes. How little can we do and have it still read "horse"? How much can we do before getting into the nitty gritty of sculpting? In between there is realm of planing. Or think about distilling a horse down into a series of flat planes. How angled and big would these "tiles" need to be to get the point across? The flatter the angle or bigger the tile, the more basic the point. Then how would we curve, distort, or stretch those tiles to form the contours?

Some basic cranial alignments to get some baselines. However, keep in mind the blue line will vary a bit with breeds, individuals, and species. For example, some Arabians can have a slightly more concave axis whereas others, especially some Iberians, can have a more convex axis. (This Thoroughbred has a straight axis.) Notice how the line of the zygomatic tends to run under the set of the ear (pink line)? Also note where the “button” of the zygomatics are? It sits right next to the jaw joint at the back of the jaw. And notice how the back of the jaw runs up in front of the ear, to curve towards the high point? Regarding that, on some horses that highpoint can be more pointy while with others it can be flatter. Regardless, the ear placement is pretty much consistently set on the skull, that cranial depression being its seat. It's more of an anatomical position rather than a variable one. For this reason, the ear can serve as a pretty good landmark to build the rest of the head. Anyway...forgive his missing teeth!

It's not enough to just change the profile, we have to account for the axis of the entire head as well. This is where understanding anchor points with placement can be really important. (Anyway, we'll get more into all this in the future head sculpting series I'm working on.)

Looking for basic alignments can be helpful here too, to get planes spot on. For instance, the head has a series of baseline alignments we can use as springboards for the necessary adjustments to fit each individual, breed, gender, or species (also above). Breaking things down into basic shapes can also help visualize planes more easily (below). For instance, the planes of the hindquarter form a kind of "T" from the high points made by the point of hip to point of buttock and the femoral joint to the stifle. Or the cannon bone is a bit like a tube with a plank edgewise down the back. Or the triceps is kinda like a triangle. Oddly enough then, in this way, recreating our subject in abstract actually helps us achieve more realism. And here's the thing—our brain already keys in on correct planing, or patterns of light play, and so it plays a big part in a sculpture "looking right." For these reasons then, planes are part of the sculpting process from the very beginning and what we progressively refine or increase in number to add complexity, texture, and detail. So if we have proportion and placement right, our planes have a better chance at being right as well, helping the sculpture to "sculpt itself."  

Try to distill things down into basic conceptual shapes as we block in the features, thinking about each of them in terms of proportion, placement, and planes as we go. Here are some simple ones to get you started, keeping in mind we can distort them as needed and some can change with motion. They'll get smaller the more detailed or further along we go, too. The point is though, everything can be deconstructed into simple shapes to visualize what we're doing better. 

So what does all this mean? Getting the planes correctly blocked in is crucial in the early stages so that those patterns of light play will read correctly and help anchor points stay on target. Indeed, trying to get proportion and placement right on an incorrect plane is darn near impossible, requiring artistic manipulations that can veer from accuracy. All this makes planing so powerful, even one off kilter will make an otherwise great sculpture look odd. Complicating matters, its errors tend to hide the most as it's easy to be distracted by details, muscles, and features. As such, planing mistakes are usually the most likely to fly under our radar and entrench in our blindspots deepest, often making them enormously difficult to tease out. Really, if we have a problem seeing the "big ideas" of an equid, we'll probably have a problem getting everything else right, too. But the upside is this: Get planing right and our sculpture will read "horse" so strongly, we've gained a big leg up to a successful sculpture. We also gain tremendous artistic freedom in style. Indeed, we can input as little detail as we want based on our own aesthetic or we can create as abstractly as we wish, opening up whole new facets of work for us or of understanding structure. It also means correct planes will help us keep anchor points in place since that play of light gives us "reverse information," coming at the issue from "both sides."

In Sequence

But how do we apply all this? How are proportion, placement, and planing used to create an accurate sculpture? It's all about teamwork, about how they work together to actually do the work for us. Because here's the thing—just with these three, if we get them right, we can pretty much create a good realistic equine sculpture from start to finish. Our ability to troubleshoot will also improve since we'll gain a better idea where to start looking and what the solutions could be.

Nevertheless, the Three Ps work best when approached with a kind of initial sequence when we first start sculpting as beginners. We'll definitely reapply them as needed throughout our process, but when we first dive in, think about loosely working like this so they guide us more easily through the most potentially confusing early phases: 
  • Get the clay onto the armature and sculpt in the proportions first—and try to be as close as possible. The wire armature itself should already be portioned out to help with this so that claying up just fleshes out its ideas. In fact, if you wish, you can sculpt the blocked in bones to further clarify structure. We should then have a horse-shaped "blank canvas" comprised of the correct basic proportions with the head, neck, body, and legs all scaled consistently to our references and each other as a general "jigsaw outline." Incidentally, age, breed type, species, or gender characteristics should be clearly evident even at this stage since proportion plays such big role with them. 
  • Work on placements next, the correct anchor points in the correct locations to map in our sculpture—again, try to get as close as possible with the understanding this will be refined with more precision and detail as we go. Poke in orienting toothpicks or draw on your sculpture, if needed. 
  • Using these anchor points as references, now sculpt in the planes, working from the biggest ideas to progressively more detailed ones. Use either additive or subtractive sculpting techniques, whatever you need or prefer. Our sculpture should then progressively look more realistic as we add in more, smaller planes for refinement and detail. 
  • Start sculpting in earnest, continually rechecking and finessing the Three Ps until completion. 
As we work though, remember to recheck, recheck, recheck! We're smooshing clay, right? Ever so slightly then, smooshing things can push anchor points off their mark, even if they're fixed by a toothpick. Even so, with practice—finish enough pieceswe'll actually come to work the Three Ps simultaneously, more fully and effectively expressing their synergy to speed up our process. What's more, our Eye will refine to recognize the Three Ps more like second nature rather than something we have to work at. 

Now if we're working in polymer, oil, or ceramic clays, we can "work the whole sculpture" at the same time, which is so wonderfully easy. The "open time" of these mediums is very forgiving. However, if we're working in self-hardening epoxy clays, we have to deal with each body section separately since the epoxy cures so quickly. We need even more clarity then to project where we're going with this media, which is all the more reason to really pay attention to the Three Ps at every step. It also means that working the Three Ps simultaneously becomes even more important with epoxy clays since the suggested sequence doesn't work so well with them all the time.  

What does all this mean? Well, for starters, that the Three Ps can be separated for trouble shooting, whether in our piece or our skill set. Doing so helps to reveal our trouble areas and blindspots pretty quickly, too, so we tend to progress rather quickly compared to those who work less organized. And progress not only in our work, but in the understanding of our subject, and that feeds right back into better sculptures. Yet the Three Ps work best when smashed together into one process, attending to all three simultaneously, because the truth is they're all the same thing that just approaches the same issue in three different ways. This is why working all three at the same time is so effective—we're literally working with three check systems and finagling things with a lot more information. 

Yet the Three Ps aren't the only way to work, or maybe the suggested sequence won't work so well for you. Because in all actuality, whatever system that works for you is really the best way, so don't hesitate to create your own or tweak this one. The point though is to consider using a system since it provides a strong advantage that promotes accelerated development. This is exactly why those who complete many pieces using a system—whatever it is—tend to make developmental leaps compared to those who fiddle and work all over the map. 


Let's just face facts: Having a lump of clay in front of us to turn into a sculpture is daunting, isn't it? But by relying on the Three Ps, we have trusty helpers from start to finish. Because they encapsulate the entire process in an organized, understandable way, we really can't help but create a a good sculpture with their careful application. In this way, the Ps actually empower us to just keep forging ahead because they'll never fail us. 

Happily then, relying on the Three Ps unlocks our potential because we'll no longer be fighting everything, especially ourselves. They'll also mediate our self-doubts with their structured process, their plan, their method to the madness. And when it comes to turning an inert lump of clay into a beautiful sculpture, a plan is a welcome thing! Truly, the Three Ps arm us so well, we can take on any equine subject—heck, any subject—with greater confidence and accuracy. Nothing will be unreachable. 

And the initial stages of sculpting, when we're first applying the Three Ps, have so much energy, don't they? It's exciting to block in our piece and see it come to life! And what's particularly fantastic about the Three Ps is that they keep this energy in the piece by dampening the temptation to overwork it. Truly, when we're more confident in what we're doing, we become more confident in saying "done." 

Technically speaking then, the Three Ps are the trifecta of equine realism—they're the first and primary things that establish "realistic horse." Apply them and recheck them often, and their alchemy will make magic happen! Sculpting realistic horses may seem like a really complicated prospect—and it is, make no mistake—but it can all be deconstructed with this handy approach. Proportion, placement, and planes—the reliable tripod that supports all our efforts. Build on them, trust in them, and they'll always form a surefire foundation for success!

"Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small."

~ Sun Tzu

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