Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Five Ps: The Foundation Of Realistic Equine Sculpture



Introduction



Sometimes we can get lost in the sculpting process since there's so much to juggle. Form, structure, personality, breed type...the list goes on and on. Because of this, we can become overwhelmed with what' we're doing, which can quickly take us off track and into troublesome territory. Once this happens, it's often difficult to claw our way out and that can lead to frustration and exasperation.

To amend this, we've already learned about DABPPRR, an organizational system for all the subjects at play when we sculpt or paint a piece of equine realism. But what about more specific issues? Having an overall organization is great and all, but what about something as focused as sculpting a head or leg?

While it may seem like an impossibly complicated task, it's actually quite simple once we deconstruct the process. We can even prioritize the issues in play to take our efforts from start to finish with greater clarity. And as we've learned, clarity is always a useful when it comes to realistic equine art! And, luckily, it can be found in a concept that keeps our sculpting moving forward confidently. Here's a hint: ”start simple, finish focused."

So what does that mean? And how can we organize our sculpting efforts? Easy! In five different levels of exactitude, as follows, in sequence:
  • Proportion
  • Placement
  • Planes
  • Precision
  • Presence
Why Focus On The Five Ps?

Equine realism isn't easy, that's for sure. It takes years of study and practice to even begin to get things right. One just doesn't pick it up on a whim. It being so daunting, it's easy for us to fall into some unwelcome habits. First, we can chronically fiddle with a piece so we don't ever finish what we start. But by not putting a period on the end of our proverbial sentence, we lose out on additional learning new pieces could offer. Secondly, we can become compelled to fixate only on one area, usually resulting in pieces that are uneven in scope or finesse. For example, we may focus on the head so much that it's much more highly detailed in comparison to the body. We have to pay equal attention to each section of our sculpture so it's a cohesive, harmonious pieceAnd third, we can start to believe we're simply not capable, that we lack the inherent talent to recreate equine realism well enough. Granted, there's a measure of natural talent involved, but for much of it, it can be learned given useful ideas and tools.

So what does all that mean? It means we need a method that mediates these traps for us so we stay confident and productive. It should also be fast, flexible, and applicable to all pieces with equal effectiveness. 

This is exactly where the Five Ps come in. By helping us complete a sculpture with greater clarity and accuracy, they essentially form the basis of what we're doing, only organized in a way that's conducive to success. And just as we ordered, they also apply to all pieces across the board, whatever the media. 

However, there's one tiny caveat: they're interdisciplinary, so if one aspect goes haywire, chances are the others will as well. Yet this does force us to be careful, to practice our craft with attention and care, and in the long-run that pays off. And even better news: everything we create can be fixed, nothing is unfixable. So don't fear. Don't let it paralyze you into not taking chances or being bold. 

[Oh...as a side note...the Five Ps started out as The Three Ps, those being Proportion, Placement, and Planes. But over the years it became clear this was incomplete, and so Presence and Precision were added to round out the concept. Perhaps more will be added over time.]

Anyway, let's explore each category with greater detail...

Proportion 

Proportion is all about relationships, or how each portion of the body relates to others. Said another way, it's comparative since the only way to gauge it is to relate it to surrounding areas. That's both good and bad. It's good in that it gives us plenty of relationships to compare against, yet it's bad since things can go awry pretty quickly. Just one askew area can throw the entire sculpture off. Nonetheless, a pair of calipers, good reference photos, and regular rechecking can keep us on track. As we gain more experience, too, our ability to gauge Proportion gets easier.

That said, Proportion does have six facets:
  1. The size of the blobs squished on the sculpture to form the features.
  2. The proportions of the sculpture as a whole.
  3. Symmetry.
  4. Balance.
  5. Scale.
  6. Focus.
For the first point, it’s handy to size the blobs close to the proportions of the structure we’re creating so we don't have to add more or remove some later. Take a hock, for example. It’s easier to use only the right amount of clay to create a well-proportioned hock. If we use too much, our hock may turn out too big or, conversely, by using too little, our hock might turn out too small. Yes, we can take away or add as necessary, but being able to accurately judge how much we need from the onset is a useful, efficient trick to cultivate.

Point two refers to the harmonious proportions of the whole piece. For instance, we should 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. The piece should have all parts married and flowing together just like a real horse.

Point three deals with body symmetry of each bilateral side, which should match and align. This is another component that's easily hiccuped since we each have a "good side" and a "bad side" with our hands. Plus when we're sculpting on one side, it's easy to creep off alignment with the other side to create asymmetries. We have to recheck ourselves often then, though that can feel a bit disruptive at times. Nonetheless, do it we must!

Point four is balance, or the consistency of the proportions compared to standing square as to movingare they the same? The body must "follow the hooves to the ground" since the legs don't compact or lengthen in their long bones. They can only compact or lengthen through the articulation of their joints, and those are limited parameters. So if we were to reposition our sculpture that depicts motion into a standing position, would one end tower over the other because we've contrived the long bones of the legs?

Point five entails scale, which is of critical importance for scaled equine figurines. Here we find specific portions compared to the whole to determine if they're too small or too big, relatively speaking. For example, a common fault is that specific features are often too big such as the eyes, white ticking, or pattern details. Scale also becomes of greater importance as the scale of our sculpture shrinks. So the smaller the piece, the more important scale becomes. 

Point six regards focus, or how intently we're dedicated to each portion of the body. The thing is, it's easy to become too distracted by one aspect of the body, and as a result it tends to grow in size or become more detailed than the rest. Again, we have to keep each body part in relative Proportion to the rest no matter how much it interests us or not.

What does all this mean? Well, it means that getting Proportion right isn't easy and often tedious. We really have to work at it...which is fine...we're used to working hard, right? (grin) But it also means that Proportion is vulnerable to errors so we should recheck it often with calipers and reference photos. In fact, it's important to catch Proportional errors early so one aspect doesn't cause a skew in another to then become a systemic problem. 

But it also means that Proportion is all encompassing, the foundation upon which the other five Ps are based. It governs everything we do, and in many ways creating a realistic equine sculpture is mostly about getting Proportion right. Indeed, once we have Proportion set, most of the job is already over! After that, it's just a matter of refinement and detailing, really. All this is why Proportion comes in as #1 on our list. It's simply most of the equation.

Placement

This refers to equine topography: where the bony and fleshy landmarks get placed while we rough out the sculpture. For instance, to sculpt a head we have to squish sculpting material on the armature in a way that very clearly reads "equine head" in its topography.  

It can be tricky, however, because an incorrectly placed blob can throw off other landmarks in their Placement, and then we have another systemic problem. Or we can place blobs asymmetrically and we then create another systemic problem. So it's important to always be on the mark. For example, a point of shoulder blob that’s placed too low can throw off the sculpting the foreleg, torso, and neck. If eye blobs are placed asymmetrically, then the detailing on each side of the face becomes asymmetrical as well. When such errors occur, our piece tends to look wrong yet we can't put our finger on the problem. Almost always it's because we have the topography wrong somehow, so we need to go back and check from the ground up.

A handy trick is to visualize Placement before smooshinig on clay. Being able to See where we are allows us to See where we're going. So try to visualize the surrounding landmarks as we work. Another handy trick is to poke a discreet hole in the clay indicating where bony or joint landmarks are because to let us place muscle groups or make corrections quite easily and quickly. And if we want to, we can even scratch in the bones if that helps us visualize where to put blobs. The trick is to work systematically to place those landmarks correctly rather than willy-nilly to make sure we get things right.

What does this mean? It means that it's easy to make errors in Placement. Equine topography is precise and distinctive so if we don't get it right, we've made an error in realism. But luckily, it also means that Placement is easy to fix—we just have to move things around a little bit, and clay is very forgiving. 

Planes

Planes entail the way the horse's body is sloped, angled, dipped, and curved. In other words, it refers to how the body's "hills" and "valleys" are sloped. That's because the "big ideas" of the head, hindquarter, torso, forehand, neck, and legs are Planed in a specific way unique to an equine. So duplicating these Planes is essential for an authentic sculpture. Honestly, if our Planes are correct, the piece will read "horse" even if our sculpture has no muscle definition whatsoever. Indeed, many pieces rely heavily on planes to get their point across. The work of Herbert Haseltine comes to mind, for example.

Yet many sculptures have problems in this area, it being a common trouble spot for artists. Even an otherwise super sculpture will still be off if the planes are incorrect. Some common areas of problems are the hindquarter and the chest as well as the torso. But the single biggest problem area are the planes of the legs, especially the foreleg.

So what does this mean? Getting the Planes right isn't easy. We can become quickly distracted by too many other things and the Planes go right over our head. Then we have a sculpture that's off and we become frustrated. So work to distill the horse's body down to the "big ideas" of his Planes first to judge how the body masses are shaped and sloped in relation to Placement and Proportion. Indeed, it's not enough to have correct topography and muscle placement—we need correct planes, too. And here's where grooming comes in very handy by programming the Planes right into our hands. 

Precision

Now we come to laying in the muscle groups, joint definition, and head features. We also focus on symmetry of bilateral parts such as the head and legs. We need clean tracks with our sculpting tools, too, because Precision is absolutely essential at this stage. For instance, "pilling," blobs, and tears need to be removed or smoothed. Common flaws are tears or "pills" on the eyelids or the tendons of the legs, and often the mane and tail as well. Precision is all about exactitude, cleanliness, and symmetry, and of course, the correct Ps. 

So keep detailing, developing, and refining the topography and fleshy features. And thanks to Proportion, Placement, and Planes, we have the proper "canvas" to add all the fiddly bits, making it pretty easy to accomplish. With all the proper landmarks in place, it's almost a "connect the dots" by this point since our canvas is so correct. At this stage then, we get to detail and develop things further to make things "pop," but we need to clean them up as we go so they're smooth and cohesive. Refine and define is the name of the game here, but soften where needed, too. For instance, this is where we detail the muzzle so it looks fleshy and soft. It's where we refine the ears and detail that curious "v" where the rims meet at the bottom. We define the eyes with precise lids and orb. We define those lovely muscle groups of the hindquarter. We refine those tendons of the legs. In short, we deal with all the really fussy bits until our eyes cross.

But above all we need to keep our tool moving so we don't get fixated on one area at the sacrifice of the rest. We often tend to focus on the head, for example, which is understandable. It's full of expression and fun details. But we still need to think of the big picture to slowly and evenly create our piece to ensure harmony and cohesiveness. Yet we should always refine the Proportion, Placement, Planes and symmetry as we go to stay on track.

And the smaller the scale, the more important Precision becomes. For instance, one tiny blunder is huge on a 1:32 scale piece. If we were to enlarge it to 1:9 scale, that bobble would be gigantic, wouldn't it? So we need to hold our breath and make those tiny tracks absolutely precise and clean.

Just remember, too, that where Precision occurs on the horse, so it should be on our sculpture. For example, we need total Precision with the eye, the muzzle, the ears, the legs and joints, and where the hide meets the coronet. Even where the hair starts on the dock or crest. So our sculpting should be clean and correct in such areas free from bobbles, pits, tears, unevenness, or sculpting relics that would comprise them.

So what does this mean? Welp...this is where many errors occur, especially with clean lines, scale, and symmetry, particularly with small scale pieces. And Precision isn't easy to do if we're beginners. Getting used to the clay and tools takes time, so be patient. Keep at it and practice, practice, practice. And then practice again. Soon we'll get the hang of it and things will become more natural to us.

Presence 

At this point, we get to have fun with expression. This stage is all about "waking up" the sculpture with emotion impact, with a strong Presence. This doesn't mean crazy, pronounced expressions, however. It simply means infusing character into our piece, and that can be something that's subtle and subdued. Equine expression is nuanced and complex, so have fun exploring it, in all its countless manifestations.

And adjust the posture where needed. However, remember that the expression through the body should have been infused at the first stage of Proportion, so adjustments to posture shouldn't be so much at this point...just subtle changes perhaps. 

And as we go, we should keep symmetry in mind. It's very easy to create asymmetries now, especially in the face and legs, as we get too focused on inspiring portionsFor instance, we create beautifully done eyes which are asymmetrical because we became overly focused on the expression of that one eye. In other words, we still need to focus on the big picture—the Five Ps—even when we work on the detailed and emotional aspects

But go for it...give your horse some 'tude and see it come to life. Play with tail carriage, ear position, the look of the eye, the posture of the torso. Truly, the face, posture, and tail carriage can express so much, so have fun! The flow of the mane can add a lot, too. Honestly, these things are essential for giving our piece a "soul," a living presence that people can connect to emotionally.

Sequence

But how do we apply all this? It's great to know all these things, but how are they used to create a nice sculpture? Okay then...good question! So here's a suggested sequence to apply the Five Ps to provide an idea of how they all fit together: 

  1. Sculpt the correct Proportions in the clay. We should then have a "blank canvas" horse-shaped blob of correct Proportions. A correct "outline." Locking calipers are useful for this entire process. And the body should reflect the posture consistent to the emotional state we wish to portray, too, even at this initial stage. The horse expresses with his whole body, so we have to infuse that here now. Essentially we have to give the spine and, therefore, the posture emotion, too, and the only way to do that most effectively is right now. We should also infuse breed type at this stage, since that affects the lines of the whole body.
  2. Lay in Placement next, being careful to get the anatomical topography correct. Poke in needed reference landmarks and joint locations to gauge Proportion between them, helping to ensure symmetry and correct Proportion and Placement. Start getting the alignments correct such as those of the face or joints.
  3. Using the topography, carve in the Planes. Work from the big ideas then down to the more specific ones. It should be recognizable as a horse at this point. But don't detail or blend yet. Pay attention to symmetry, and smooth as needed.
  4. Recheck Proportions to see if areas are too big or too small and make adjustments. 
  5. Start blending in earnest, now being mindful of Proportions, Placement, and Planes. Check symmetry.
  6. Recheck Proportions, Placement, and Planes.
  7. Now start with Precision. Lay in the muscles, head, and joint details and delineations, and gooey details. To start defining, a handy trick is to use a sculpting tool to lightly trace the definition of the muscle groups and anatomical features to serve as a guide for further development. Recheck alignments and work on breed type. In short, lay in the anatomical and conformational specifics and details, and start to develop them in earnest. Then blend and smooth. Be mindful of symmetry, too.
  8. Check Proportion, Placement, Planes, and Precision, and make adjustments as needed.
  9. Develop and refine Precision. Check for symmetry. Blend and smooth.
  10. Lay in Presence, making adjustments as necessary. Maintain symmetry.
  11. Check the Five Ps. Make adjustments and blend. The sculpture should be a blended, finished piece at this point. So...
  12. Voila! Done!
See—it makes sense! We go from the big ideas to the specifics in a rational sequence. That's it. We don't complete each section one at a time. And notice that we recheck often. The thing is, as we work, things typically skew simply due to the smooshing of clay, so regularly checking keeps things on track. And over time and with practice, we’ll be able to do all the stages of the Five P’s simultaneously as it becomes more natural and familiar.

However, keep in mind that if we're working in self-hardening epoxy clays we have to approach things a little bit differentlywe have to complete each section as we go since the epoxy has limited smooshing time. Here's where clarity is even more paramount because we have to clearly see where we're going with the current section to ensure that the next one is correct and in synch. Actually, working in epoxy clays forces us to be efficient, fast, and clear in our visualizing, which can give us a long-term advantage, comparatively speaking to oil clays, which are infinitely more forgiving. In other words, we learn to put a period at the end of our sentences quickly. And, with epoxies, we have to get it right the first time or we have a lot of unwelcome time with the Dremel®. Nonetheless, the sequence remains the same, only for each section rather than the overall whole. And as we gain experience, we'll be able to do more sections all at once to harmonize everything even better.

Trouble-Shooting

Okay, something is way off. What is it? The head? What’s going on with that croup? Oh geez....what’s with that gaskin? What was I thinking?

Never fear! The Five Ps are here! Really, many times a chronic, yet unidentifiable, oddness is caused by an error in the Five Ps. Indeed, about 90% of all sculptural hiccups are identified and resolved by rechecking the Five Ps from the beginning. They're that fundament to our process. In short, if we can't put our finger on what's wrong, it's usually a blunder in the Five Ps. That means measure, and then measure again.

For instance, we may have goofed Placement with the biceps muscle and readjusting solves the problem. Or we may have blundered Proportion in the neck and now our Atlas bone is too narrow. Or we goofed the Planes in the hindquarter and now it looks like a turkey leg. Similarly, we may have messed up the Precision of the chest muscles, and now they're ambiguous and fudged. But by rechecking the Five Ps from the ground up, as though we were starting a new sculpture, will usually identify the fundamental, hidden problem. Truly, our calipers are our best friend, so use them often.

Conclusion

Let's face it—having a lump of clay in front of us is intimidating and confusing. We're supposed to turn this into a great looking horse? Are you kidding me? Butheyyes you can do it! By using the Five P system you can build yourself a super looking horse with relative ease. Well—at least more easily. Just always think of the big ideas first and work your way down to the specifics. And don't fixate on an area to get it just right, which is an easy trap. Instead work all over the body harmoniously—keep your hands moving and developing the entire sculpture at the same pace.

And these initial stages of our sculpture have so much creative energy, don't they? It's exciting to block in our piece and see it come to life. And it's with the Five Ps that we do this, and do this accurately. The truth is that great work is spot on with the Five Ps because they're essentially what constructs a realistic equine sculpture. They encapsulate the entire process in an organized, understandable way. If we apply them correctly and carefully, we can't help but create a cool looking horse. And we may surprise ourselves at how the Five Ps really help our potential unlock and bloom. They basically mediate many of our doubts and trepidation, too, because they have a sequence—a plan. And when it comes to lumps of clay, a plan is a welcome thing, isn't it?

Think about how you can apply the Five Ps to your work and make them work for you! They're easy to apply and their sequence will help you reach your goal of creating a nice realistic sculpture of a beautiful horse. Remember, think big picture then down to specifics. Don't ever forget to ”start simple, finish focused."

So until next time...mind your Ps!

"When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

DABPPRR: Equine Realism Easily Organized



Introduction

Realistic equine sculpture entails many things from understanding anatomy to skill with art technique to indepth knowledge about horsemanship. So many things and so interdisciplinary that, in fact, it can appear incredibly intimidating to comprehend.

Yet it doesn't have to be that scary. We don't have to feel overwhelmed or live in doubt about our ability to grasp all the issues in play. If only we could find a way to organize the issues we need, perhaps that might help us tackle all this in baby steps. And we can.

So let's find out how...

The Concept

One of the tricks to understanding how to improve within equine realism is clarity: clarity of understanding and clarity of purpose. But what's clarity? Well, when we have a deep knowledge base and truly understand how to best convey it in clay and pigment, that's clarity. In other words, it's an ability to confidently convey what we See in life into our media, with accuracy and skillfulness. Yet the truth is that no other animal is surrounded by so many issues we must weigh in order to produce a convincing and compassionate result. Know it or not, we've chosen the most complicated animal form to render artistically, making clarity of such importance as to be the defining factor between good work and great work. Being so, clarity takes time to cultivate, and even more mistakes to learn from, but when it comes to such a complex subject as the horse, the only way around it is through it.

So to foster our own clarity, perhaps we could create categories that could organize ideas for us? So we could create a checklist of sorts? And again, we can. In this, every single issue involved can be distilled into seven basic categories: 
  1. Design
  2. Anima 
  3. Biology
  4. Physics
  5. Perception
  6. Research
  7. References
Or "DABPPRR," for short. Knowing how this works can help organize our thoughts to hone our creativity to an ever finer edge, and being thus organized, we perhaps gain a degree of confidence and conviction that may have eluded us previously. That is to say, the issues surrounding our subject aren't willy-nilly chaotic. They have a kind of order, and once we see it, we gain a better idea of what to work on and how to mediate blindspots or knowledge gaps.

Now it should be known that these categories have no order. They're simply arranged to spell out the acronym "DABPPRR" for easy memorization. It should also be mentioned that every aspect of DABPPRR is geared towards attaining more realism in our work, or rather, improving our work so it creates a better impression of a real, living horse.

To spur this along then, let's discuss DABPPRR and what it means...

Design: The Vision

How we compose our piece can make or break it—it can speak to the majesty of the horse or fall silent. But what is it? Well, it's basically how our piece is put together from a design and composition point of view. How do all the parts come together to accentuate the narrative and further a coherent piece? For example, that planted foreleg may "stop" the sense of forward motion in a galloping sculpture, or the way in which that mane and tail are flowing is awkward, or the expression depicted doesn't fit the idea, or maybe the angle of the leg just doesn't work with the lines of the piece. How does everything flow together? Is it harmonious? Does the eye move around the piece, or does it get stuck somewhere? 

Design also deals with negative space and the flow of line in a way that creates a pleasing, cleverly constructed piece. And this not only applies to the sculpture, but the sculpture married to finishwork, too. 

As artists we have to make judgement calls in how each portion is positioned, and our work does best when it's oriented in a way that matches our subject's fluid, athletic, graceful motion. And when we apply a finish, the nature of the pigment should complement the piece, not create a disharmonious, distracting result. And we do this by paying attention to composition and design rather than just banging out whatever we want without thinking. There are ways to design a piece that forward the narrative along as well as accentuate the quality and "horsiness" of the piece.

Under design also comes our Voice or our artistic style, too, or the way in which we portray realism. Because—hey—the truth is there's more than one way to portray it! But there's also a sliding scale of realism as in some works are more accurate and believable than others, and we want to nudge our work to the "more realism" side, don't we? 

Anima: The Spirit

Now we come to the "emotional weight" of the piece, or its ability to communicate a real, living soul. And that's nothing to sneeze at. The equine is an animal that moves us, that inspires and captures our heart. Therefore, it's not enough that our piece be just competently done, it has to be compelling, too. It has to grab and hold us, just like the real thing. It should make us dream and imagine, to react to the piece as though it was a real, beautiful horse. And to do that, it needs a "soul," a personality...character. Without it, our piece will appear lifeless, artificial, and remote rather than provocative and enchanting. 

And what does a personality do? It expresses itself! But It's not just how we paint the eye! The horse is an animal that expresses himself throughout his entire body, all the time, and in any combination of emotional declarations. In other words, there's a great deal that goes into constructing an arresting presence that goes far beyond a brilliant paint job. Indeed, it ranges from expression, posture and balance to the tensions and relaxations of the body to the movement of the mane and tail to the psychology of his behavior to his natural instincts. 

In this, we have to train ourselves through field study and research in order to perceive just how his body is conveying his inner landscape. If we know how to listen, the horse is speaking to us all the time, and those are important words for us to hear. Not only does it feed our artistic soul, but we become better able to build more nuanced narratives and subtler designs that layer expression in such a way that allows our piece to really speak to us in fuller ways. Our arsenal of expression then goes beyond simply twitching an ear, and into the bigger words of equine language. 

As such, our sculptures begin to speak with a life of their own, they begin to live on their own terms and reach out to us...and that's exciting. And it makes us hungry for more! 

Biology: The Foundation

This entails every biological aspect of our subject from anatomy and biomechanics to his natural coordination to color and pattern characteristics to the principles of horsemanship. Essentially it's everything that entails the biological, body aspects of the animal to include details, conformation and breed type to proportion, planes, and placement of anatomical features to all the little details we add in sculpture or paintwork (such as the staining of manes, tails, and feathers to scars, wrinkles, veins, brands, and dirt). And because they deal with his body, braids, clips, and other conventions of show grooming are also included here. Don't forget technical finesse with the media, either! Quality skill with the materials leaves no trace of the creative process, but is invisible to best mimic a real horse...because if a real horse doesn't have such relics, neither should our work.

That makes Biology the biggest category of the seven since it entails so much information and skill which must be learned through field study, research, practice, and hard work. Yet despite everything we're obliged to juggle here, it's all within our grasp given a bit of gumption and diligence. 

Physics: The Forces

Now when it comes to Physics, this involves all the natural forces acting on our subject as a matter being alive in a Universe with natural laws. That means the issues of mass, balance, impact, resistance, centrifugal force, impulsion, torsion, inertia, etc. all come into play, influencing his body, motion, posture, and even his emotions. Indeed, our subject shouldn't exist within a "reality vacuum" but within a real Universe of action and consequence. 

And we must recreate them; we cannot take them for granted. That means we need to see the passive flow of hair, the rippling of muscles, the effects of force on the body, the power of impact, and all the rest, plus all the tensions, relaxations, responses, resistances, releases, and other reactions to a "living moment." If we forget to input all this into our sculpture, we're going create a static, awkward, unconvincing piece that doesn't look like it belongs in a factual reality. It'll simply lack that living immediacy of life in each passing moment.

In this way, Physics speaks to "actuality' that adds so much "real life weight" to the body we sculpt. Physics also enhances our Design abilities to take the effectiveness of our work to the next level. For instance, the passive flow of the mane and tail can add a tremendous degree of movement as well as showcase the forces indicated in the piece.

Perception: The Sight

This is our ability to infuse objective reality into our work, taking it beyond our Voice and into the realm of equine realism's primary goal. And everyone has a different level of perception, which is why each artist infuses a different level of objectivity into their work. Or in other words, it's why some works are more effectively realistic than others. But this is good news! It means that it's not a matter of inherent artistic ability, it's the ability to perceive better than others—and that's something learnable and attainable, at least to a better degree.

Our perception, therefore, is something we have to work at, train, and shape into a helpful tool. It's also something that becomes better over time if we're doing things right. Indeed, this is exactly how we gauge our rate of improvement.

Perception also refers to how we understand the factors that go into creating a realistic equine sculpture or finish. For example, do we understand the contrast between anatomy and conformation? The nature of viability and functionality? The anatomical landmarks? And many more issues like them.

And our perception doesn't entail just the living subject, it also pertains to how we do so with our references plus how we translate all that into our clay. We have to do more than know—we have to do, as well! Knowing something is a very different task than doing something, especially when it comes to artistic media and objectivity (which also relates to judging). 

Research: The Rock To Stand On

Learning all these things takes proactive study, sacrifice, and a willingness to take risks, and lots of practice. Field study, workshops, booksmarts, artistic exercises, clinics, retreats, and many other venues for learning are just waiting for us to soak up their wisdom, so make ready use of them. Most of all, being with horses can be the most illuminating and inspiring way to learn. In particular, grooming them, running our hands over his body to program the planes into our mind, can be very helpful. Then lounging him on the lounge line can help us see his physical workings better as we're able to focus on specific portions changing in a controlled, repetitive setting.

And no matter how much we come to know or think we know, each of us has knowledge gaps we'll continually need to amend, so it's in our best interest to never stop seeking and learning. Indeed, the moment when we think we "know enough" is precisely the moment to dig back into proactive learning again. Science is also revealing a great deal about the equine, proving that many long-held ideas and practices have been wrong. And it's these things we need to stay on top of in order to create informed work. For example, almost everything we believed about the equine foot is wrong!

References: The Guide 

Now we come to our own reference library, or which various books, clippings, photographs, diagrams, and other guiding resources we have at our disposal. Yet make no mistake, building a solid reference library takes time, effort, and money, but a good one is worth its weight in gold. It will guide us and act as templates against which we can compare and contrast to make more informed creative decisions.

Good references also beg questions, especially when it comes to the practices imposed on this gracious animal. Many management, breeding, training, and riding paradigms harm our subject, but which are now institutionalized into normalcy. Unless we can differentiate between these and those that are responsible, our art will simply mimic those things we may not have wanted otherwise. Plus continuing a misguided perspective skews every other aspect of DABPPRR for us, making it a systemic problem that's not easily rooted out. 

Luckily, however, other components of DABPPRR help to change this condition such as additional Research, a changed Perception, and a better grasp of Biology. In this way, we discover that each element of DABPPRR is interdependent and interdisciplinary, and so our Reference base should be as well.

Conclusion

Having to account for all that equine realism entails is clearly a layered endeavor, as DABPPRR clearly illustrates. A simplistic understanding or approach then certainly won't help us here. But it also means it's not so bad, given we can organize all that we learn into one of these seven categories. This helps to create balance and thoroughness in each, which only serves to improve our abilities that much more. 

It also lends structure to our proactive education and improvement so we aren't out there, spinning our wheels willy-nilly and wasting precious time. Organization also lends substance to what we learn by providing an implied set of goals. Absolutely, when we can specifically target our weak areas and perceive our strong points better, we increase the potency of our efforts even more. Having purpose is always a good plan!

In this manner, our clarity will sharpen and many things previously unknown to invisible to us will start to pop out. For this reason, we can more effectively fix problem areas, taking our work to bigger leaps in quality much quicker. Our work will gain more authority and our confidence in our own work will heighten, plus our appreciation for the equine will deepen as well, as our overall understanding grows and expands.

And what's more clearly beneficial to us than that? So until next time...don your DABPPRR hats and create with confidence!

"Self–organized criticality is a new way of viewing nature...perpetually out–of–balance, but organized in a poised stage."
~Per Bak

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Common Artistic Errors In Realistic Equine Sculpture




Introduction

Every realistic equine artist has blindspots. It's just the nature of the game in our chosen genre. In many ways then, we can think of our "artistic style" as the amalgamation of all our blindspots; what we don't See is what characterizes our work rather than what we do when it comes to an objective art form. In this regard, it may be a good thing to keep some of our blindspots to further our own Voice, to stake out our own place in the genre. But by the same token, there are blindspots that actually have a reverse effect: they compromise our ability to attain more realism, and right under our noses. These are the ones we want to ferret out.


That means close, objective observation doesn’t apply just to the living animal, but perhaps even more to our own work. Indeed, when we can't see these kinds of mistakes we're making, how could we ever amend them? And it's in our perceptive abilities—of and between the animal, our work, and our references—that's the mechanism for plucking them out. Because of this, the nature of our perception is critical for improvement, yet it's typically the hardest thing to change. The good news though is that if we can objectively discover the problematic aspects of our work, we can fuel our own progress indefinitely, and to new heights we never dreamed!



The thing is, when we oogle a piece of equine realism, it actually “interviews” with us in a way. Immediately, its first impression snatches our eye, then as we study it, its technical substance should become clear to make a credible, beautiful rendition of the living animal. Therefore, the secret to striking work is having a good “hook” with the technical savvy to back it up. But if our work is peppered with blindspots that compromise that technical base, this hook is compromised as well, and our piece may not "interview" so well when we start to pick it apart. So if we fix these blindspots that steer our work away from objectivity, we actually amplify that hook for a much stronger whollop; our first impression and technical savvy match, and BAM! 

Yet we're back to the problem of how do we circumvent our blindspots if we can't even see them? We can start with the common technical errors found in equine realism. Certain aspects of our subject seem to be a trouble spot most artists, so perhaps if we discuss those, we might be able to rethink our own work and start to carve out other blindspots better. It merely takes a perception shift. It also means that if we avoid these common blindspots, we'll have an immediate leg up in the game. So let's get started!...

Patterns


The issue of pinto and appaloosa patterns continue to have problems in interpretation despite the ample resources that help us here. Perhaps some misunderstand the nature of a pattern, or maybe they haven't studied the resources, or it could be they just got fanciful and made it up. Either way, this issue can be avoided simply by researching and using good references photos and sticking to them. It's also smart policy to apply a pattern on the breed of horse depicted in the references since it now seems that we can't apply a pattern from one breed and place it onto another, especially when it comes to oddities. This is due to mutations which happen all the time, but which pop up only in certain bloodlines. But because these mutations are often attractively unusual, we're tempted to apply them to many other breeds. We have to resist that temptation. So we can't take a funky pattern from an Icelandic and put it on our Hanoverian sculpture, for example, since that pattern may be distinctive only to the Icelandic. 


Above all, however, patterns shouldn’t be wild imaginations or offhand interpretations. It's odd this still occurs with all the information now out there, but it does. Realism is partially about genetics: how the body, coat, and character of the animal factually manifest 
(the other part is physics, and the other part is anima). So when we slap on a pattern that's inaccurate, we're automatically creating an unrealistic result, by definition. It doesn't matter if the rest of the workmanship is stellar or if the piece is striking and luscious: errors are errors. Indeed, these pieces should essentially be disqualified from placings because they don't represent an equine in the first place. On the flip side though, that also means that the more faithful we are to realistic patterns, the more realistic our piece. And that's good news! It really makes it quite simple for us in terms of what to apply and how and to what.


In addition, what happens inside and along patterns should also be painted authentically. For instance, white areas need flesh shadings and not grey shadings, and mapping is a ticked and mottled combination of white and the body color, not grey, or a flat third color. Patterns should also refrain from edges that don’t duplicate the lay of the hair with all the whorls and splits they have. 
We also need to see expert application of the white and other pattern features. Things should be smooth and even, and opaque where needed, or ticked inscale and with practiced technique. Ridges (especially along the border with the body color or spots) or bald areas in the white areas or appaloosa spots, brush marks, and debris are common flaws. 


Patterns shouldn’t appear contrived or forced, either. It's hard to describe this quality but they should have the necessary spontaneity and genetic “luck of the draw” appearance. And the more chaotic the pattern, the more this component is necessary. For instance, a common fault with Appaloosas are spots that are more or less evenly spaced, shaped, and sized over the sculpture, or pinto patterns that follow muscle delineations rather than tracking over them happenstance. The folding of flesh such as in wrinkles also shouldn't have a pattern drawn straightly over them. We need the randomness and quirkiness of every pattern so it looks grown rather than painted.

Dapple Grey

Dapple greys are often misinterpreted because of their obvious difficulty. Really, dapple grey needs close study and use multiple references paired with exemplary technique to ensure a realistic result. However, the color fails in these common ways, as follows: 
  1. Dapples that appear as regimented polka dots. For example, an unskillful use of the “figure eight” technique of airbrushing that produces neat, even dots all over the model. Or handpainting that falls too quickly into regimentation. Dapples are typified by randomness of sorts, and if we don't capture that, our dapple greys will appear formulaic, contrived, and predictable, something the pattern most definitely is not. 
  2. Ignoring the greying pattern clearly observed during the greying process (not to be confused with dark areas seen on a sweaty, showclipped dapple grey horse). We need to see light areas where they characteristically occur and dark "networks" where they tend to happen. Reversing or misinterpreting the greying pattern is akin to reversing the white and dark areas on a tobiano. 
  3. Dapples can be poorly executed from a technical standpoint with the use of an airbrush. For instance, some have bald patches in the middle, resulting in blotchy little faint "donuts." Or they can have spidery splotches, like blowing on thin paint with a straw indicating the paint was too thin and the pressure too high through the airbrush. Some have pooling of white paint, as we see along the edges of some dapples. 
  4. Dapple greys that are too blended, appearing “powderpuff” and evenly soft. In reality, the pattern is grainy and roany in the dark networks between the dapples. It should also appear darker in some areas and lighter in others.
  5. Dapples that are of even intensity and placed all over the horse. In reality, dapples fade in and out of the dark networks and light areas in various areas, and along the border where they intersect. They aren't the same intensity all over the horse. The same can be said of all dapple coats.
  6. "Banding" is common as is "Patching." Banding is when we see a perpendicular dark area over the barrel with dapples nestled inside, like a reversed Belted Galway. The same can be said of Patching in which dark areas appear in patches with dapples inside, like a Victorian rocking horse. 
  7. Applying white areas with defined, even edges. In reality, the pattern appears like a broken honeycomb with the dark "networks" randomly poking in and out like a tree branch with the white areas. 
  8. Dapples that are contrived being a similar tone, spacing, shape, intensity, and size, typically exhibited like #5, all over the sculpture. However, dapples exhibit great variety in this department; they look like "ordered chaos."
  9. Approaching the color too simplistically by using only two colors of equal intensity and application. For example, merely basecoating the model white and then painting on the black honeycombs to form the dapples.
  10. Stark dapples that lack that diffusion zone between the inner white and the neighboring dark, a particular problem with “star dapples." Dapple Grey dapples should have fuzzy edges, not harsh clean ones, with a more intense inside. 
  11. A lack of detail to the color. For example, "sunbursts" on the gaskin and forearm, the mottling on the cannons and nasal bone, and the “bracelets” on the coronets are often missing. "Tracing" is typically missing, too, where tiny branches emanate from one dapple to connect to another.
  12. Applying the dapples after the dark areas are painted such as the popular "star dapple," so the dapples "sit on top." Instead the dapples should be paintedas much as possiblein conjunction with the dark areas so they "sit back" into the coat.
  13. Painting the dark networks the same intensity and pattern all over the sculpture. In reality, the networks exhibit just as much variety and fading in and out as do the dapples.
Art Technique

Technical finesse in the use of the media is critical or our illusion will fail just as easily as if a leg was bent backwards. Remember: if the real horse has it, so should our sculpture and paint job whereas if the real horse doesn't, neither should our sculpture and paint job. That means we need to pay keen attention to our artistry the moment we touch a piece with our tools. In a sense, everything we do comes down to technique, doesn't it? So from that perspective, workmanship often suffers from the following
 most common problems:
  • Flashing, seams, and seals that are insufficiently removed or pits, scratches, gouges, or other irregularities that are left unaddressed.
  • Details that are obliterated or compromised by overly aggressive prepping or primering. 
  • Foreign matter embedded in the primer or paint job.
  • Blobby, drippy, ridged, rippled, or wrinkled surfaces in the primer or paint.
  • Areas not sufficiently painted to create bald portions, or not painted at all, particularly in tight areas.
  • Sculpting technique that relies too heavily on slashes or sharp creases to get its point across. For example, too harsh a treatment of muscle definition, creating harsh grooves that define muscles rather than soft, fleshy curvaceous indications. 
  • Similarly, wrinkles treated with a slashing or cutting method, lacking the necessary soft, rounded, and fleshy appearance. They often appear too regimented, too, like an accordion.
  • Base coats that are uneven in texture, or so pebbly in texture as to be unrealistic.
  • Sculpted portions too harshly or coarsely rendered, commonly seen with veins, facial features, and manes and tails.
  • Clay "chatter" in which portions of the sculpting, especially in detailed areas like the head and legs, haven't been properly smoothed.
  • Areas not convincing as what they’re meant to represent such as flesh, hair, hide, bone, or horn.
  • “Pilled” remnants of sculpting material left on the surface, usually in manes, tails, and facial features, or blobs in the sculpting material because of insufficient blending and smoothing. 
  • Insufficient smoothing where necessary, or conversely areas that are too smooth as to obliterate hide details.
  • Sometimes critical areas can be left unsculpted, often seen on raised hooves, heels, inside the ears, inside the nostrils, or under the jaw. 
  • A lack of symmetry between bilateral pairs.
  • Muscles that are sculpted too deeply or pronounced for the stance indicated.  
  • Proportion, placement, and planes issues.
  • Anatomical (to include biomechanical) problems with the sculpture.
  • Paint jobs that aren't accurate to equine color genetics.
Eye Appeal

Granted, some colors on real horses are rather eventoned, like chestnut, compared to more blotchy effects such as sooty or pangare. Nevertheless, their coats have a glasslike quality that seems to glow from the inside and with light playing off the surface, we have an attractive sheen, glow, and interplay of color. In other words, even the "plainest" coat color has a 3D effect.


Or course, model horses are a far cry from the real deal and artists have to mimic these coat qualities in 2D pigment. So there's a big difference between a boring, uninspired paint job and a subtle one. Because let's be honest: a model with a flat and monochromatic paint job simply isn't interesting. It may be perfectly done in every other way, but without the “pop," it lacks that hook that catches and keeps the eye. And realistic equine figurines really do best as technically faithful eyecandy
they blend the facts with the fantasy. In other words, it's not enough to be merely competent. We have to be complementary.


A handy way to accomplish this is the use of luscious color, tones, shadings, highlights, and various effects in the paint job to "wake it up," to make it seem more 3D. We can still be subtle and have "pop" at the same time. Without a doubt, a "plain" chestnut, bay, or black can be made to glow like a jewel with a skilled use of pigment regardless of media, application, or tools. 


[Tip: Rather than use the white base as a means to create highlights when airbrushing, try other colors. For example, let's think about highlighting a dark bay painted with an airbrush. Don't just airbrush dark bay color over a white base to create the highlight color! No! Paint over that white base coat with reds, oranges, burgundys, golds, and yellows then shade in with the dark bay color to blend. These different colors will add rich lusciousness to the coat rather than the washy, flat effect whited highlights create.]


Convention


When it comes to painting realistic equine sculpture, it's easy to fall into old dogmatic habits of interpretation. Know it or not then, unless we're actively working against our own grain with every piece, we're creating more from these kinds of ingrained habits than we are from reality. And no artist is immune from this effect. Our brains are highly sophisticated pattern recognition machines that deftly identify and duplicate patterns. Even more, our brains will arbitrarily create patterns where none exist. And this is exactly what's happening when we become too enamored of what's expected rather than with what's actually there. 


Now this wouldn't be such a problem if these habits reliably produced realistic results, but more times than not they're incomplete approximations. Indeed, some good ol' objective comparisons typically blow them apart in short order. Strange, isn't it? If we have to practice objective observation to our work already, how do these issues even persist? It's probably because many aspects involved with realistic equine art are difficult to render convincingly. It's also because many just don't See these issues in the first place. When these things happen, we tend to have stylizations, gross oversimplifications, or formulaic versions insinuating themselves as viable options, and then these get accepted as gospel. Ironically, this effect can become so distorted that what's actually correct may appear "wrong" to many people!


Spectrum Of Believability


Sculpting realism isn't as straightforward as many would believe. Not only is it technically complicated, but how we perceive reality has a big impact on how we interpret reality in our media. The fact is, there are many different ways to convey realism equally well, and no artist is truly 100% clinically objective. We're human beings after all, not equine DNA. 


This implies there's a sliding scale of realism, that all work rests on a spectrum of believability based on how it interprets technical reality. In other words, there isn't one way to convey reality, but there are certainly more effective ways of doing so, too. Is our style consistent to reality? Or is it an impediment?


Precision

Exactitude is a real problem area, in both sculpture and paintwork. Yet holding a rock
steady hand to produce clean, even lines and borders is critical to realistic work. Indeed, a sloppy pupil looks diseased, or a clumsy border between the coat and the hoof only reminds us that the piece has been poorly painted. Being so, chronic problem areas include the eye, muzzle, markings, legs, detail shading, coronet, where the hair meets the body (such as on manes, tails, and feathers), hooves, and ears. 


Wherever we see total precision on the animal is where we want to see it in the sculpturework or paintwork, without exception. We don't want to fudge these areas by any means. And precision is even more important on minis since even a slight bobble there means a giant booboo, proportionally speaking. 



Proportion

Everything about the animal has a proportional relationship to another, so it could be said that capturing these relationships accurately is the gist of sculpting realistically. Indeed, proportion speaks to everything we do in clay or pigment, being a whole lot more than simply getting the head the right size! Yet there are some common errors in proportion that need special mention, as follows:
  • Balance: As the horse moves, his whole body is engaged, not just his legs. This is because the spine is the origin if all motion, so the moment he shifts balance or outright moves, his spine is already engaged. However, his leg bones are also of fixed lengths, so his torso must move in synch with them in motion. So when a leg moves, that attached part of the body must follow as the hoof "reaches for" the ground. That's to say the torso's orientation will tip up or down, or rotate synchronized with the mechanics of a particular movement of the legs or neck. Let’s consider a horse standing square. When he stretches his right hind leg back, we see that his pelvis tips down on that side because that side must stretch down to reach the ground. Bones don’t lengthen or contract, which would keep the torso level, but remain at fixed dimensions. It's the articulations that open or close to "shorten" or "lengthen" a limb, and when it comes to this effect, that includes the tipping–up, tipping–down or rotation of the spine to accommodate planted hooves. Similarly, when he stretches his right fore leg forwards, we see his scapula sinks down on that side as that hoof "reaches for" the ground (the fluid nature of scapular motion adds nuance to this motion). So if he stretches both forelegs forward, his entire forequarter would tip down, wouldn't it? Otherwise his feet would be magically floating in the air. Likewise then, if he stretches both hind legs back as in a show stretch, his entire hindquarter drops below the withers. Similarly, if one hind leg is brought forwards and the other extended backwards such as in a good walk, we get the same effect: the hindquarter sinks down. That means the torso doesn't stay level in relation to posture and motion, but seesaws and rotates because the body must follow the legs down to the ground. So, for example, a sculpture depicting a steady walk with the hind legs spread forwards and backwards with one foreleg planted upright shouldn't have hind legs made longer (often through the gaskin) to contrive a level torso, but should have the hindquarter dipped down towards the ground. Failing to account for this effect is another common error because if we were to reposition such a piece into a standing square stance, the hindquarter would tower unrealistically over the forequarter, or the forequarter would tower over the hindquarter. The proportions of the body when standing “square” should always be consistent and synched despite motion. Mistakes here often manifest in a very distinct way. For example, to keep the torso level during a show stretch, a sculpture may have hind legs that are proportionally too long and forelegs that are comparatively too short. In short, the hind legs are lengthened and the forelegs are shortened disproportionately to contrive a level torso. If such a horse were standing square, the hindquarters would tower above the forequarters. This is also often seen with cantering, walking, or collected sculptures.  
  • Symmetry: Horses are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that one side mirrors the other side from nose to tail. While there’s natural variation with each animal (like with us!), of course, these tend to be natural subtleties in comparison to some extremes problematic sculpture can present. For example, sculptures can have mismatched limbs whose pair has bones of differing dimensions, eyes that are askew or different sizes, muscles of unequal bulk, ears that don't match, or asymmetrical pelvic girdles or Atlas wings, all of which can happen if the artist wasn't careful about measuring paired features with calipers. That means despite posture or motion, all paired anatomy should match. 
  • Distraction: At times the area of a sculpture can be so distracting that the artist forgets to harmonize the whole design. For instance, let’s consider a sculpture in a sliding stop. We immediately see that the hindquarter is unnaturally too large. That's because the artist was so caught up in the power of the hindquarter during a slide, she became fixated on it at the expense of overall proportion. Similarly, let's take a look at a Morgan sculpture. It's clear the hindquarter is too small for the body. But, here again, the artist became too focused on the expressions of the face and robustness of the neck and lost sight of the rest of the body. Proportions are best applied when first regarded as a whole, then as the specifics of a given area. Remember, everything has to harmonize together.
  • Scale: Creating work that's "in scale" is critical for realism, it being a key feature in proportion. Everything we do, from the flick of ticking to the draw of our sculpting tool to the size of physical features must be in absolute scale; otherwise we create an unrealistic result by definition. However, the issue of scale is often peppered with errors from ticking that's too big and cumbersome to veining and whisker bumps that are too large. This is especially true for minis in which a small indiscretion actually equates to a giant mistake of proportion, relatively speaking. For instance, heads, eyes, ears, joints, cannons, and hooves on minis that are just too large. Dapples and many types of patterns on minis are often too large as well. The issue of scale speaks directly to the believability of a coat effect or physical feature. Indeed, if it's done properly, we should have a hard time discerning between the art and the real thing in a quality photo! We should also think that a mini is a larger size since everything is so in scale.
Gender

Simply switching the plumbing doesn't adequately change the gender because, in life, genders have a passel of secondary sex characteristics that need attention, too. It’s important that stallions authentically look like stallions, that mares convincingly appear as mares and that geldings are built like geldings. Granted there are always exceptions, but we need to pay attention to secondary sex characteristics nonetheless for a correct overall appearance. For example, we can't turn an Ideal Stock Horse into a mare simply by removing the "bits," or turn a Lady Phase into a stallion by adding them.


So study photos and make objective comparisons to discover the differences that go beyond the “plumbing." For example, mares tend to have longer ears and are "lower to the ground," stallions tend to have bigger jaws, smaller ears, and more robust muscling, and geldings tend to have softer muscling and perhaps some physical eccentricities. Our work does best when it's respectful of these differences, plus it makes the sculpting experience more varied and fun.

Foals


Foals usually have inaccurate adult–like color rather than authentic foal coloration. We have to pay attention to color characteristics that typify the aging process such as that foal pang are, fuzz, and "off–color" coats that are so distinctive.

Foals also shouldn't have adult morphology, or lack those natural infant characteristics that distinguish them. For instance, the heads of foals are neither built like an adult's head nor are they bony like an adult's head. They're soft and underdeveloped in their bony structure with soft brows, teardrop bones, and jaws. They often have comparatively bigger ears and broad foreheads as compared to their jowls, too. Their bodies are obviously quite different from an adults as well, so we need to pay attention to every inch. Joints are bigger, and the proportion of the long bones bones is markedly different, as is the definition of the anatomical topography throughout the body. Using lots of reference photos is important with foals since they require such a different approach than when creating adults.

Conformation


This issue is rather a hot topic since it can be influenced by horsemanship, nutrition, misunderstandings, personal opinion, rhetoric, and aesthetic taste. Plus, we all know a horse that's "inferior" in structure that out–performs and stays sound longer than an "ideal" counterpart. Many also seem to confuse the issue of conformation and anatomy, as though they were the same thing. But they're not, and knowing why is pivotal for our understanding of either subject.

Now while conformational points are easily learned, applying them from animal to sculpture can be tricky due to the introduced complication of artistic interpretation. For example, these problems routinely pop up:
  • Backs that are unnaturally too short, compelling us to ask, “Where’s the saddle supposed to go?” 
  • Croups that are too short, causing the dock to ride up onto it.
  • Necks that are too long which leads to chronic neck and back problems, in life. 
  • Hips and shoulders that are too short. 
  • Bony angles inconsistent to breed requirements.
  • Breed type too extreme for functionality. For example, Arabian heads being too extreme in type which compromises athletic ability and the animal's wellbeing, physically and psychologically.
  • Structure that compromises functionality.
  • Disproportionate parts of the body, especially with heads that are too big.
  • Calfkneed in the fore leg.
  • Offplumb in the hind leg. 
  • Legs lack adequate bone.
  • Legs that are swollen and puffy rather than having the crisp topography indicative of "clean legs." Likewise, puffy, indistinct joints and cannons.
  • Bowed tendons.
  • Feet that are coonfooted or clubfooted. 
  • Bowlegged structure and movement in the hind quarter or forequarter.
  • Pathologies in the legs such as ringbone and splints.
  • Muscle structure and bulk that indicate problematic riding and training.
  • Asymmetrical muscling indicating injury or problematic riding.
  • Muscle abnormalities characteristic of certain syndromes, injuries, or bad horsemanship.
  • Pathological feet, typically having contracted frogs or frogs that are too small. Or they tend to be too small with poor alignments, or they're mechanical sinkers, having high heels, bulbous or misshapen or asymmetrical to its pair.
  • DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis) and ESAD (Equine Suspensory Apparatus Dysfunction) which are serious leg pathologies.
  • Muttonwithers or nonexistent withers. 
  • Eyes that are too large and bulging, indicating hypothyroidism or ASD. 
  • Muzzles that are too small, interfering with biting up, breathing, and processing of food.
And not all points of conformation are created equal. There are those born out of aesthetics (commonly as "points of type") and those derived from functionality, or those features that preserve the animal's wellbeing. The latter should concern us more since it deals with structural features that ensure or prolong the animal's soundness while the former entails subjective aspects of "beauty" or "correct" type, those things that can go off–track rather quickly in the name of "perfect."

Anatomy


Anatomical issues are prevalent, too, perhaps the single biggest source of errors, so it’s important to be wellversed in this subject. The essential thing to keep in mind is that the equine moves and looks like an equine because he's built like an equine. So if we create features inconsistent to actual equine structure we've created something that isn't a horse at all. And missteps can be easy here if we aren't knowledgable because the equine is a pretty complicated animal, so it takes quite a bit of diligence and patience to get things right. But learning about equine anatomy is fascinating and rewarding, so it's well worth the work.


To that end then, despite the many ways we can get into trouble here, the most common anatomical problems are:
  • Incorrect cranial musculature and alignments.
  • Incorrect zygomatic arches, behind and above the eye.
  • Jawbones set too far back.
  • Ears set either too far forward or too far back on the crown.
  • Heads that have incorrect musculature and details, or lack the subtle nature of their musculature and details.
  • A teardrop bone tilted out of proper alignment.
  • Teardrop bone that's too large and bulbous.
  • Incorrect zygomatic arches.
  • Incorrectly structured muzzles.
  • Asymmetry in paired portions of the body such as the head, leg dimensions, and comparative muscle bulk.
  • The surface topography of the musculature is often misunderstood, or inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Standing anatomy indicated on a sculpture depicting motion.
  • Incorrect planing of the muscles and face.
  • Problematic proportions.
  • Asymmetrical, or broken pelvic girdles.
  • Placement of anatomical features are off, often causing the surrounding features to be off, too.
  • A hindquarter the same width as the forequarter. Instead, the hindquarter is slightly wider than the forequarter.
  • Shifted pelvic girdles, those not centered on the spine.
  • Forelegs that lack the slightly knock–kneed stance when seen from the front, standing.
  • Hind legs that aren't angled slightly outward from the stifle when standing. 
  • Hind legs that don't have the characteristics series of angled articulations when flexed.
  • Leg joints are often incorrectly structured with incorrect topography of the bony, ligamentary, and tendinous landmarks. 
  • “Spaghetti legs” with warps, twists, and distortions not present on the real animal (without severe injury).
  • Fore hooves and hind hooves are of the same shape and angulation.
  • Cannon and pastern bones with an hourglass shape, too thin in the middle with too much flare on either end.
  • Necks are often too thin, when viewed from above, because the atlas bone is too narrow.
  • A lack of goo and hide details; surface details that don't adequately represent the details of the hide.
  • Formulaic musculature that lacks the natural chaos of "living flesh."
  • Withers that ride up onto the neck, in front of the scapular cartilage.
  • Necks that tie into the withers incorrectly, often at the peak of the withers (see "Crane Neck, below).
  • Incorrect articulation of the neck.
  • Barrels of the incorrect shape being blockish rather than canoe–shaped.
  • Blockish heads with the planes of the nasal bone and area between the eye and nostril being too bulky.
  • Ears of the wrong structure, especially at the base and bulb.
  • Muscles that look like a literal anatomy chart rather than living, mercurial flesh.
  • Nostrils of incorrect structure, especially when flared.
  • Muzzle wrinkles that are too big and evenly spaced.
  • The fore hooves the same shape as the hind hooves.
  • Incorrect structure of the palmar foot.
  • Chestnuts that are misplaced or left unpainted.
  • Incorrect veining, or veining that isn't bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Eyelids, eye rims, and coronets that are bumpy rather than smooth.
  • Confusing the nature of anatomy and biomechanics, which shows up in the sculpture as anatomical errors.
Biomechanics


Like anatomy, equine biomechanics is a common source of confusion, and for good reason—it seems complicated! It really isn't all that confusing, and with a bit of research and knowhow, we can begin to decipher how the horse's skeleton articulates (which we'll leave for another blog series).

Nonetheless, like anatomy, the equine moves like an equine because he's built like an equine. That means if we create movement inconsistent to actual equine movement, we've either created a pathology or injury, or a piece that isn't a horse at all. 


Now all biomechanics is, is anatomy in motion, making the two issues essentially the same. However, we'll treat them as separate issues here for sake of clarity. But it does mean that if we aren't well–versed in the skeletal structure and interconnected nature of the joints then we're likely to misinterpret equine movement. So do some research and study to brush up on some fuzzy areas.


The thing is, almost all the problems we find in equine art exist in this category alone. But while they come in an almost infinite variety, the most common are:
  • Movement that's stilted, rigid, and awkward, lacking the athletic, agile, fluid motion characteristic of equine motion. This is due largely to the artist not understanding that motion beings in the spine, not the legs.
  • A "reality vacuum" in which physics aren't represented on the articulations of the body or the hair properly. In other words, a lack of "mass" because the mass of the animal and the forces of physics aren't present in the design of the sculpture. 
  • A tail out of synch with the spine.
  • A bent hind leg on a straightforward plane, from stifle to hoof. Or, worse, an articulated hind leg with a hock that’s angled away from the median rather than towards it, indicating a busted stifle. In life, the stifle pops out around the barrel, angling the gaskin and hock inwards towards the median and outwards. Then the hock’s spiral joint rotates and positions the cannon more forward, keeping it from pointing out on the same plane as the popped out stifle. And the more extreme the hind leg articulation, the more pronounced these effects. Studying photographs of the real animal do much to illuminate this mechanism of the hind leg. (Tip: study the hind leg flexion of Hackneys, Saddlebreds, Racehorses, and Jumpers since they provide very clear examples of this effect.) 
  • Incorrect articulation of the legs, most commonly seen with a ruptured Reciprocal Apparatus of the hind leg or a ruptured Stay Apparatus of the fore leg. Don't forget that whatever the scapula or femur do, so must the radius or metatarsal, respectively. That's to say the angle between the scapula and humerus should synch with the angle between the humerus and the radius, and on down the foreleg. Likewise, the angle between the pelvis and the femur should be complementary to that between the femur and the tibia and that of the hock, and on down the hind leg. In other words, the metatarsal should reflect the femur's angulation, especially when the leg is flexed. The tendinous and ligamentary connections of these limbs oblige both the fore leg and hind leg to articulate like a drafting lamp; their joints don't articulate independently. (This mechanism is referred to as the Reciprocal Apparatus for the hind leg, and the Stay Apparatus for both the foreleg and hind leg.) When we create a system that does have independently articulating leg joints, we've created a horse with a fatal rupture injury. Such errors often manifest as standing shoulders with articulated forelegs, flexed shoulders with standing legs, flexed stifles with standing hind legs, or standing stifles with articulated hind legs, all of which are only possible with ruptured flesh that ties them together. By the same token, we can create an articulated knee with extended elbows, another common error. An addition typical mistake is to create fetlocks that aren't articulated enough to match the bend in the hock, stifle, or hip as though they were loosely hinged at the fetlock joint. In reality those tendons that run down the front and back of each leg pull on the joints of the foot, extending them when the femur is extended, or flexing them when the stifle is flexed. 
  • Similarly, a foreleg that appears like it's being dragged, like the stereotypical caveman. This is because the artist doesn't understand the drafting lamp design of the foreleg.
  • To turn the head, necks are often mistakenly bent laterally at the Atlas joint, the joint between the skull and the first cervical vertebra. However, this joint can only produce a "yes" motion with a teensy amount of some lateral articulation, but only when the poll is flexed. In horsemanship this is referred to as "twirling the head." In contrast the joint between the Atlas bone and the Axis bone (the third cervical vertebra) can only produce a "no" motion, as a swivel mechanism, not as an actual bend. So the proper way to turn a untucked head laterally is to swivel–rotate the joint between the Atlas and Axis bone with the actual turning of the head happening with the joints between fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh cervical vertebrae. It's surprising to find that the head laterally turns at the lower end of the neck and not the upper end, isn't it?
  • Incorrect articulation of the neck. For example, necks that articulate as though the cervical column lays under the crest (“rainbow neck”) rather than replicating the motions and the "gooing" in and out effect caused by its S–shaped structure. Due to that structure, the neck can "lengthen" when stretched or "shorten" when compressed. Misunderstanding this mechanism often leads to necks incorrectly articulated when strongly bent to the side, too.
  • The base of the crest blending into the top of the wither ("crane neck"). In life, the wither has a depression at the bottom of the neck to rise into the point what we call the wither to depress again as it flows into the spine, even when the neck is arched or lowered. 
  • Asymmetrical sides of the neck, especially when the head is turned or tucked.
  • Not understanding that all motion originates in the spine; whatever the spine does, so must the head, neck, torso, pelvis, tailbone, and legs. When we forget this, we can create show–stretched pieces or, in contrast, basculed with normally–standing backs and pelvic girdles. In truth, the spine hollows and the pelvis becomes more level in a show stretch, and the spine rounds and the pelvis curls under during bascule. Similarly, we can create a spine (and rib cage) inconsistent with the depicted motion, resulting in awkward, odd movement rather than the fluid, athletic movement characteristic of the equine. 
  • Static barrels in relation to balance or motion. However, because the spine originates motion, the barrel should swing out over the supporting hind leg, in synch with the spine and the momentum of motion, often referred to as “schwung” in German. 
  • There are two layers of carpal bones in the knee: the first layer adjoining the forearm and the second layer atop the fore cannon. But because of a tight network of ligaments binding the second layer to the top of the fore cannon, the knee can only articulate at the space between the top layer of carpals and the radius and the first carpal layer and the second carpal layer, meaning that the second carpal layer cannot articulate with the top of the cannon. This is why the top bend is more abrupt and the bend in the lower half of the knee is more rounded. So if we create a knee that's articulating at that abutment between the second carpal layer and the fore cannon, we've recreated a fatal rupture in those ligaments. 
  • When articulated, the leg joints are oddly distorted or asymmetrical.
  • Musculature that's formulaic and ever–faithful to the infamous Ellenberger illustrations (or similar) despite stance, motion, or physics. In life, flesh changes and morphs with movement and balance, distorting away from the artificial contrivances of an anatomy chart. In other words, muscles and flesh change away from a static anatomy chart the moment balance is shifted or the animal moves. Really, horses don’t move like jointed anatomy illustrations plus they have goo! This means that our every sculpture should have a different expression of muscles and flesh.
  • A mouth opened at the chin like a trap door, a typical error found in equine sculpture. However, the joint of the jaw lies behind the eye, causing the entire mandible to drop and stretch the lateral facial musculature.
  • Broken pelvic girdles with the two bilateral sides articulating independently, or the "box" is asymmetrical. In reality, the pelvis is a fused girdle of bone, forming a static box between the two bilateral sides, equally aligned with each other and perfectly centered on the spine, regardless of posture or motion. Said another way, the points of the hip, croup, and buttock must always form a perfect box no matter what the spine or hind legs are doing. This means the girdle can only articulate with the femur at the femoral joint and with the spine at the sacroiliac joint (Note: this "joint" shouldn’t actually bend, but “float” due to a tight array of ligaments that lash the pelvis onto the sacrum). 
  • A pelvic girdle that doesn't articulate with the sacrum, i.e. the spine. Again, because the pelvis is lashed to the sacrum, the girdle must do what the sacrum does (and ultimately what the spine does). So if the sacrum is leveled, the pelvic girdle levels, if the sacrum is curled, the pelvic girdle is tucked, if the spine rotates, so must the sacrum and therefore the pelvic girdle. Think of a pipe cleaner formed into a square attached to another pipe cleaner that's straight. Now carefully twist, hollow, or bend the straight pipe cleaner. Do you see how the square one, or "pelvis," moves in synch? So if our pelvic bone has asymmetrically placed points of hip, croup, or buttock (when seen from above and rear), or if the pelvis isn't moving with the spine, we've created a fatal injury.
  • Static shoulders, lacking the fluid nature so characteristic of its anatomy. The shoulders aren’t affixed to the torso by boney connection, but by a muscular and ligamentary network referred to as “The Shoulder Sling.” Therefore, they slide forwards and backwards, and even up or down, dependent on motion and balance.
  • Incorrect flexion at the poll, with the tuck occurring between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae (which is a broken neck), often accompanied with a bulb of crest popping up behind the ears and blending into the crest.
  • Incorrect flexion of the fetlocks and pasterns when the foreleg or hind leg are extended backwards, keeping the angle of the fetlock too closed when, in fact, they open up in this position.
Eyes

Eyes often have mistakes because they're so difficult to render correctly. They have to be of a certain set and specific angles and of a defined shape, but get any of those points off, and our eye will look odd. But despite the many ways eyes can go wrong, they tend to have these following issues:
  • Tilted Eye: Where the canthi of the eye are misaligned clockwise or counterclockwise with the ear-eye-nostril alignment.
  • Tilted Pupil: When the pupil is misaligned clockwise or counterclockwise with the canthi. 
  • Eyes set too low towards the nose.
  • Human Eye: When the equine eye is depicted with a round pupil.
  • Forward Eyes: Eyes set on a forward–facing axis, more like a dog, rather than on the sides of the head, like an equine.
  • Flat eyes: Eyes lacking a properly rounded cornea, indicating serious disease or infection, or a failure in sculptural technique.
  • Cataracts: When the pupil is painted with a murky or opaque color rather than a clear dark tone indicative of a healthy eye.
  • "Jackie O" eyes: Eyes that are far too large to be accurate for horses, usually a failing in artistic license.
  • Buggy Eyes: A globe that bulges out unnaturally and often indicative of hypothyroidism or other disorders.
  • Possessed Eyes: Eyes that have been painted with a homogenous color, lacking the gem–like quality and color depth so typical to the equine eye.
  • Brows of the eyes are often exaggerated to unnatural proportions or are too pointy.
  • Asymmetrical eyes.
  • Frog Eyes: When the eyes are placed too high on the head, often distorting the brow to become too protruding and large.
Nostrils

Nostrils are another area that's tricky to sculpt, meaning that they can go wrong any number of ways. They also dovetail into the upper lip and mouth, which can complicate matters if we're already having problems with the muzzle. For this, the ear–eye–nostril alignment is a helpful guide to make sure we don’t misalign our sculpted nostril in an unrealistic way. And even though each horse is different, and even each breed has subtle differences, this alignment is a helpful baseline to use to compare variations. 


However, the most common nostril problems are:

  • Proportion issues: They're either too big or too small in comparison to the head.
  • Pinwheel: When the nostril’s axis is rotated clockwise or counterclockwise on the head.
  • Misplaced Nostrils: Placement often too low (resembling an anteater or tapir) and sometimes too high (resembling a pig).
  • Incorrect planes: When seen from the front, the angulations of the two rims are in error, lacking the proper medial slant. In one way, they're too perpendicular to the head, when seen from the front, making them appear flat. Or angled outward at the upper "v" rather than inward. Artists often plane nostrils improperly, so be sure to study from life and from good reference photos.
  • Inconsistent flare: The dilation of the nostril should be consistent to both the movement depicted and the emotion conveyed. It’s not realistic to have a relaxed nostril on a galloping sculpture, or a flared nostril on a sleeping horse, for example.
  • Incorrect flare: When the false nostril and the true nostril are flared in a way that's inconsistent to life. Often we see this manifest as a solid tube of flare rather than the complex depressions characteristic of the false and true nostril when flared.
  • Rims too thin: The anterior rims of the nostrils are formed by thick cartilage and therefore aren’t paper thin or sharp. Even the most delicate nostrils have a nice rounded edge to them due to the underlying cartilage or fleshy nature of that area.
  • Crooked: While nostrils are rather flexible and mobile, they should still appear symmetrical at rest. Notice how they're somewhat “fixed” at the upper “v” where they meet? This can be used as a somewhat flexible “anchor” point from which to judge their motion, both on our sculpture and while deciphering photos.
  • Overdone: Keep the nostrils in artistic balance with the sculpting of the entire head. So try to avoid drawing the visual to the nostril because it’s been sculpturally overplayed.
  • Lack of Detail: Nostrils have a lot of detail! All those wrinkles, moles, crevices, protrusions, flares, and subtle contortions are essential elements.
  • Timidity: Nostrils are an important component of expression, so we shouldn't be bashful using them on our sculpture to portray emotion. Study how real horses use their nostrils while expressing and seek to communicate that in clay.
Ears

The ears are a complex series of curves and angles with lots of tiny complex details, making them a truly tricky feature to sculpt. Indeed we cam tell a lot about a sculptor's skills simply by studying the ears (and the legs) they sculpt. Being so difficult, there are many errors to be found, but some specific things to avoid are:
  • Cat Ears: A common fault distinguished by a cat–like or triangular ear shape. 
  • Spoon Ears or Llama Ears: A fault found on some mule, ass, or donkey sculptures where the enlarged ears fail to resemble equine ears, but appear as strange elongations on the top of the sculpture’s head.
  • Displaced Ears: Ears set too far forwards, backwards, upwards or too low on the skull; ear(s) out of alignment with their anatomical position.
  • Distortions: Often seen when the artist doesn’t understand the subtle nature of the equine pinea, creating ears shaped like radar dishes or flat hollows, for example. 
  • Asymmetrically Placed Ears: When ears aren’t matched in their placement or alignment. Repeated checking helps to mediate this common mistake.
  • Asymmetrical Ears: When the ears are different shapes or sizes. 
  • Oversized or Undersized Ears: When ears aren’t consistent to proportion, age, type or gender. 
  • Lack of detail: The lower "v" where the rims meet has a complex and detailed series of folds which need to be expressed in sculpture. The rims just don't come together to simplistically form the "v.

Muzzle

The muzzle is another complex feature, full of nuance, texture, and detail. Again, we can learn a lot about a sculptor's skills by how they render the muzzle. To that end, here are some typical flaws to avoid:
  • Misalignments: When the line of the lips is incorrect, which tends to throw off the other alignments.This can also happen when the line of the mouth is placed too high or too low, or angled too high or too low.
  • Camel: When the boxy upper lip or perky lower lips and chin are missing, giving the muzzle a collapsed camel–like appearance. 
  • Human: Again, when the boxy upper lip or fleshy lower lips and chin are missing because the sculpture has lips more like human lips.
  • Distorted: When the structure of the muzzle isn’t consistent to the underlying skeletal structure of the maxilla or mandible.
  • Asymmetry: When at rest, the paired features of the muzzle aren't consistent in placement, size, or shape.
  • Meaty: When the muzzle lacks delicacy but is bulky and lacking in detail. Even the "coarsest" heads have nuanced muzzles.
  • Mis–sized: Muzzles that are too small.
Head

The equine head is a marvel of bioengineering, being absolutely streamlined and super efficient to do what it must do: provide the means of life to an animal built for running on the open plain. But that doesn't mean it's easy to sculpt! Oh, heck no! In fact, it's easily one of the hardest features to sculpt well. Yet again, we can learn a lot about a sculptor's skills simply by studying their heads. So to improve our work, avoid these common flaws:


  • Trapdoor Mouth: An open mouth articulated at the chin rather than behind the jaw.
  • Aligator Mouth: When an open mouth is open too profoundly, making the head resemble an alligator rather than an equine.
  • Misplaced Teardrop Bone: A facial crest titled clockwise or counterclockwise, or placed too far forwards or too far backwards, or too far down or too high on the head.
  • Displaced Jaw: When the mandible has been placed too far forwards or too far backwards on the head, making it misaligned to the back of the zygomatic and ear.
  • Displaced Mouth: A mouth line placed or tilted either too high or too low.
  • Asymmetry: Bilaterally mismatched facial features, either being mismatched in size, shape, or placement.
  • Hammerhead: When the eyes, brow, and zygomatic arches are too large and broad, when seen from the front.
  • Ghoulish: When the brows, zygomatic arches, cheekbones, and jaw are too broad and massive.
  • Puffy: When the bony planes of the skull, especially between the eye and nostril and down the nasal bone, are puffed up and swollen and planed incorrectly. 
  • Harsh Nasal Bone: When the nasal bone lacks the subtle hourglass curves and curves of its edges, but appears as a harsh bar with sharp edges.

Tail


The chain of tailbones is a delicate thing. Flexible and expressive, it plays a vital part in equine motion, too. We should remember that it represents an extension of the spine itself, so it should be suitably robust at the root to taper down to the end. Yet many tailbones are thick all the way down, being the same diameter down to the tip. Or they're too thin at the top, indicating a spine that's alarmingly tiny! 

Detail

"The devil is in the details" is certainly true, especially in our case! They can make or break a piece so we want to get them as factual as possible. Yet errors in detailing are common, either being absent or improperly done. In particular, detailing exhibits problems in these areas: 
  • Carved feet that are overlooked, being painted only the color of the hoof or simply flat brown rather than having detailed attention.
  • Chestnuts often go unpainted, or are sometimes absent or misplaced.
  • Chestnuts that lack their proper texture and odd shape, being too smooth or round.
  • The face lacks detail, painted or sculpted only in generalized terms. 
  • Wrinkles and veins are ignored in pigment when they do better with a bit of soft highlighting. 
  • Hooves that lack the necessary detail and discolorations. For example, hooves that lack the discoloration typically found around the clenches.
  • Heads that lack the necessary fleshy details and nuanced musculature.
  • Moles that are too big or regimented.
  • Wrinkles that don't resemble soft, folded flesh, more are either harsh, being cut in, or those that resemble an accordion, being too regimented.
  • Patterns that go straight across wrinkles rather than indicating folded flesh.
  • Eyes given cursory treatment rather than having details such as a shaded sclera (if present), shaded iris, correct pupil, a lacrimal caruncle, and a third eyelid (optional). 
  • Hide details and subtleties are missing.
  • "Bits" that are clumsily done, being inaccurate or too big.
  • Veins inaccurately rendered, sometimes being randomized rather than bilaterally symmetrical, or structured incorrectly for the area in which they exist.
  • Mapping that appears “plastic” because it’s a third color, either flat grey or a separate mixture of the body color with white. A better result is produced with thinned white and ticking and feathering the mapping in the direction of the hair growth. A white color pencil or white pastel pencil can add extra detail, if needed. 
  • Essential details in tight places are overlooked such as inside an open–mouth, inside the ears, or on mane and tail tendrils. 
  • Bases painted with a cursory hand, or with inadequate shading, highlight, and detailing to match the respective attention to the horse it supports. The base should match the piece in terms of quality and finesse to make it cohesive and consistent.
  • Muzzle markings that go unpinked, or lack shadings and highlights that reproduce the fleshy, squishy quality of the muzzle. 
  • Areas of the body with a white marking or pattern that aren't shaded with flesh tones such as the elbow, flank, groin, throatlatch, and heel bulbs. The flesh color should be the proper tone, too, being neither too yellow, too red nor too orange. It should be used in a subtle manner and not neon bright as well. Likewise, a common error is to apply grey shadings to white, unpigmented areas rather than the necessary flesh tones (not to be confused with the light elbow of a dapple grey).
  • White markings that are stark white. These areas do better with a bit of toning down for a more realistic effect and a sense "mass." Furthermore, brown tones could be used to simulate dirt around the hooves, particularly on feathered legs (though, of course, white feathers do occur when meticulously show groomed). The same can be said for white manes and tails, which can often do better with tan, brown, grey, and yellow tones to indicate staining and "life." 
  • A lack of precision when precision is paramount. For example, sloppy eyes, coronets, painting of braids, or ears. Details should be absolutely precise.
Conclusion

These common anatomical blindspots typify a lot of realistic equine art. It's easily happens though since the equine can be so complex and subtle in structure and motion. But all it takes are keener observation skills and a deeper, more expansive knowledge base paired with increased finesse with our artistic translations. And these issues can be improved through practice, training, and research. And this is good news
—it's not an impossible proposition! That means turning our blindspots into exciting challenges can help us reframe our efforts that aid our improvement and enjoyment in our studio.


Plus, by avoiding these common technical mistakes, we can heighten the realism in our work beyond that of many others. As such, we'll increase our potential for success in the ring and improve in our sales. We'll find more satisfaction in our work which inspires us to reach even more and that, in turn, compels us to dive into more field study and research. This positive feedback loop therefore inspires proactive education and exploration, a win win! 


This is how uprooting our blindspots can actually be a tremendous form of education for us that reveals our potential more clearly. And that's exciting prospect! To begin to See what was previously invisible is a thrilling "lightbulb moment" that can become addictive. In many ways then, we improve by filtering out more and more of our blindspots, to the point where our artistic style more objectively blends with technical realism in a way that doesn't compromise either one. So the problem isn't necessarily our blindspots per se, but is found in our inability to reveal and mediate them. Change this, and we fundamentally change our work for the better.


It can't be denied that creating a quality realistic piece is a painstaking, disciplined, and dedicated process. The equine has a very specific type of structure and biomechanical parameters that oblige us to duplicate them as closely as we can. And with more technical accuracy we gain more freedom to express the equine more diversely. Every creative step we take then becomes more educational, confident, precise, deliberate, and executed to the best of our abilities as our blindspots begin to fade away. We can even pinpoint new blindspots as they form, which keeps our work on track. And we can choose those that typify our Voice to preserve that distinctiveness of our work without sacrificing technical accuracy. In the end, we have more fun and even more fascination for this quirky animal we so love. And how can we misstep with that attitude? 


So until next time…bust through those blindspots and explore your true potential!


"When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. All the rest is humbug."
~ Edouard Manet

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