Saturday, January 27, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 17


Hello again! We’re back with this 20–part series about the equine head, dissecting it both anatomically, biologically, and artistically. In the previous installment, we discussed artistic flaws that are often found in equine sculpture, giving us a leg up for our own creative efforts. But our endeavors aren’t just about artistic issues—we also have to factor in real–life concerns. This animal is typically evaluated according to a series of value judgements that determine worth or "suitability." This means that the horse is one of the most objectified animals in domestication, finding judgement in nearly every facet of his experience with us. So we have to also factor in all these value systems into our creative considerations with all the nuance and complexity apparent in life. Yet we also need to know when to ignore them, too! 

And all this is no easy task. For starters, there’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding structure. Misguided convention and rhetoric seasons much of prevailing thought, some of which is being exposed as science peels away obsolete ideas. What’s more, there’s a systemic opinion that equine structure is as much about taste as anything else when in fact the only thing truly relevant is function. Remember that the equine physique is a carefully balanced series of specific systems designed precisely for his biological niche. There's not a lot of fudge–factor for our fancies. Indeed, when we push past these biological parameters, we often end up with “lawn ornaments,” nonviable individuals who may certainly fit our tastes, but are physically compromised. Is this what we want to endorse in our art? Even so, we should also recognize that many concepts of conformation are at best hypothetical. Science is disproving much of conventional thought on this issue, and we certainly can’t ignore the many specimens with “perfect” structure who are chronically lame compared to those with “flawed” structure who remain sound. The quality of horsemanship also plays a tremendous role in how conformation affects performance, a factor often ignored in conformational evaluations.

To manage all this then, we should realize there’s a hierarchy of structure. First and foremost, there’s functional conformation, the build that's consistent to nature's blueprint and purpose. Then next there’s breed type, the structural differences that define a breed or type. And last, our tastes, or those features that form a horse more to our liking aesthetically. This means we shouldn’t only know what’s viable, but also what’s desirable as well as what's variable. That’s a lot to juggle.

Now that we’ve already explored some artistic flaws in Part 16, let’s discuss some functional flaws we may find in life with the equine head…

Functional Flaws

A sound frame of reference—a biological context—places the equine evolutionary blueprint at the base of our value system, helping us avoid unintentionally validating harmful structure. That's because it's two different things to sculpt equines and then to sculpt equines within a biological context. Indeed, it's perilously easy to be lulled into "improving" upon nature rather than remembering its parameters. All too quickly we can lose sight of biology in pursuit of our own ideals, something particularly strong when it comes to art. This isn’t reserved just for artists, however; it’s equally true with horsepeople. Breeding and judging decisions in pursuit of “perfection” can result in deformities that then become validated by kudos. And since people are prone to oneupmanship, these deformities can even become ever more exaggerated. This means we need to regard things with a biological objectivity, especially when expounded by an entrenched industry. That's because, though often well–meaning, many of those involved are simply too immersed in their own dogma—and immersion brings with it bias, fads, knowledge gaps, denials, convention, excuses, conformity, peer pressure, and misinformation. Yet, as artists, we have an opportunity for a more objective view since our knowledge base, by its very nature, needs to be more expansive, technical, and interdisciplinary. We simply have to be "lifted out" of the immersion if we're going to be able to create our most informed work.

That said, however, we also should recognize that we can become immersed, too, particularly when it comes to our tastes that can contradict biology just as easily. Truly, it's easy to fall under the spell of our knowledge gaps, blindspots, and prejudices. Artists also tend to idealize which is fine if the definition of “perfect” is firmly seated within a biological context. But if not, we can end up validating harmful structure. And if aren't especially careful, we can slide into objectification, and that's definitely a slippery slope. For example, we perceive a difference between the Mona Lisa and Barbie because recognizing idealized, objectified caricatures of our own form is easy, being so familiar. Yet this distinction isn’t so forthcoming in equine art. Perhaps it’s because we burden the animal our ideas of perfection, our persistent predilection for “more is better,” or maybe because people are prone to objectification anyway. Then mix in status, profits, and competition and we have a rather problematic brew. Whatever the reason though, all this presents an interesting conundrum to us—realistic art demands faithfulness to life, but where’s the line? 

This question has important implications because history demonstrates that artistic visuals can be a potent force in shaping people's perception. That is to say visuals are informed by life, but they also influence life in a kind of feedback loop. Art also tends to absorb ideals of beauty to then exaggerate and idealize them, and so endorse them. What usually happens then is a symbiosis that produces an ever extreme paradigm of beauty. The HYPP problem in the Quarter Horse and the "extreme headed" Arabians are classic examples. In terms of movement, the Big Lick TWH is another clear illustration of this effect. To clarify it further, it's also alarmingly illustrated in the images of fashion models with the profuse use of Photoshop. 

This begs another question: Do we have a moral responsibility to this animal? We can't ignore the possibility that when we tip towards exaggeration we may run into ethical dilemmas. And the problem isn’t whether art work is “alive” and therefore cannot suffer. The issue is what our art work validates. Whatever we create is an endorsement, a promotion, an immortalization, so in this way, our art speaks not only for us, but for the animal as well. So do our visuals promote his well–being? Or do we promote Barbie ideals? Are we pandering to problematic ideals or are we advocating for this animal we profess to admire?

Before we can answer this for ourselves, however, we need to develop an ability to weigh things objectively and it's a biological perspective that will provide us with that measure of objective judgement. This not only gives us the tools to make more informed decisions, but also the rock to stand on when we have to defend our work. It's hard to argue with biological reality! For this reason then, some problematic structures are presented here as a means to jump–start this process, as follows: 
  • Malocclusions: A “parrot mouth” or an “undershot jaw” are severe faults because they interfere with eating. A parrot mouth occurs when the upper jaw overshoots the lower jaw whereas a undershot jaw is when the lower jaw undershoots the upper jaw. This shouldn't be confused with a "pooky" lip, however.
  • Big Head: Also called Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (NPH), Big Head is a condition caused when the horse doesn’t get enough calcium. Firm bony swellings appear of the bridge of the nose near the eyes. Other symptoms include thicker jaw bones which sometimes become so thick and misshapen that the tongue hangs out because the incisors can’t meet. The condition also causes unsoundness that periodically switches from leg to leg, sometimes making the horse unwilling to move. And because the bones are weaker, they can fracture easily.
  • Narrow jaws: A large fist should fit between the ridges of the jaws between the ramus to allow for a proper airway. When there isn't, the horse may have problems consuming enough air or swallowing.
  • Buggy eyes: There’s a tendency to select for big, buggy eyes in certain breeds such as the Arabian. However, this feature can indicate hypothyroidism or Anterior Segment Dysgenesis (ASD) in a real horse. 
  • “Dishy head,” “classic head,” or “extreme type”: The distinctly dished, domed head (the “jibbah”) of the Arabian is a prominent feature of the breed. A prevailing misconception believes the jibbah creates a larger brain case (or, alternately, to increase air intake). Predictably then, selection for this structure is strong as enthusiasts seek the deepest dish, the most pronounced jibbah, and the most bent concave axis. The result found in many halter classes today then has become markedly extreme compared to heads past. Simply comparing the Arabian profiles of ancestral desertbred photos to those of today makes the difference patently clear. In natural circumstances, however, the Arabian profile is much more discrete in design because, in reality, the jibbah evolved in a desert environment as a means to cool and add moisture to the hot, dry air to protect the sensitive inner tissues of the respiratory tract. In fact, many desert species have cranial dishes for this reason—from asses to hemonids to antelopes—so it’s not something unique to the breed. This means the jibbah is a function of the sinus, not the brain case or breathing capacity.  Being so, extreme concave profiles are a functional lability by actually contradicting nature’s design. Remember that air passing through the respiratory tract can be as fast as 400 mph, faster than an F5 tornado, and this air flow can move unimpeded in a normal head. Yet an “extreme” head causes air sweeping through the sinus cavity to hit the delicate membranes at abnormal angles, causing painful inflammation. Also the easy flow of air within the head's respiratory system is restricted by causing pinch points at key intersections, often producing wheezing and gruntling. In some cases, such a head structure also forces the roots of the upper molars to puncture the floor of the sinus cavity, resulting in various physical and behavioral problems due to pain. Unfortunately then these animals are reduced to "lawn ornaments," unable to function as as nature intended, or even have to be euthanized, their disfigured skulls often found as cautionary tales in equine dentistry schools. This is why Arabians used for sport tend to have less–extreme heads whereas halter horses tend to have the more extreme heads. Yet because a “classic head” is considered so desirable today, Arabian artwork has idealized and amplified it to brow–raising proportions as a means to seduce sales. Indeed, some art work has swerved so deeply into exaggeration that it’s no longer realistic by any measure. For example, Arabians with dolphin–like deformed heads with extremely domed foreheads and crushed nasal bones with tiny muzzles and enormous eyes are quite common in art work. Or seahorse–like heads due to also gouging–down the jaw bars, giving the head a fluted appearance. Stepping back then, it begs the question of how much should our tastes influence our creative choices regarding a structure that must first be functional? For this reason, perhaps it's better to derive influences from those Arabians used for performance rather than halter showing.   
  • Fine muzzle: A relic from the Victorian era, a small, refined muzzle is thought to constitute good breeding whereas a “coarse,” large muzzle apparently indicated poor breeding. In particular, the Arabian ideal demands a “tea cup muzzle” which has inspired breeders to select for ever–smaller muzzles, some alarmingly so. This creates what can be described as an “ice cream cone” head in which the muzzle almost seems to end in a point, something even exaggerated in art work. Yet a “tea cup” muzzle never meant a muzzle small enough to fit into a teacup, but one sensitive and delicate enough to sip from one. Remember that, biologically, the entirety of his evolutionary history can be found in his head, and nature designed all the necessary means for sustenance in his muzzle: The intake of air, food, and water. Being so, a small muzzle compromises their intake by reducing the net capacity of the muzzle. What’s more, an undersized muzzle can cause interference with the rooting of the teeth while, in large breeds, a small muzzle can compromise the consumption and processing of the copious amounts of food, water, and air needed to sustain their mass. Therefore, the animal requires a muzzle of goodly size and proportion to his mass. Truly, biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as a muzzle that’s “too big."
  • Fine head: Current ideals of animal beauty aren’t necessarily self–evident or timeless. More often, they’re rooted in historical cultural, social, or class prejudices, especially during the Victorian period, which was ripe with ideas about elitism and eugenics. One such example is a comparatively small head which was more a function of class prejudice in the Victorian 1800s rather than intelligent breeding. In the past, the common horse used by the working class had a relatively heavy, large head—and what upper class aristocrat would want to be seen with a “common horse”? This fueled the desire for a smaller, “finer” head which only intensified with the emphasis of showing status from utility. Horse paintings, which were the primary means to glorify prize animals before the camera, idealized horses even more with curiously small heads as an artistic expression of this underlaying preference. The work of George Stubbs is a classic example. Consequently, breeders aimed for this ideal even more, causing a progressive shrinking in the equine head, comparatively speaking. As a result, most horses today have smaller heads than those of yesteryear, or in relation to feral or wild cousins. Indeed, Susan McBane noted this trend in her book, Conformation for the Purpose, The Make, Shape and Performance of the Horse: “Domestic horses, however, nearly all have longer necks and smaller heads than their primitive ancestors because we have selectively bred for this characteristic of beauty…” Indeed, we still hear this sentiment today in the comments made about wild or feral cousins being described as “primitive" or even "ugly." Notwithstanding, evolution designed the equine head for things far more important than our ideas about beauty, and serious complications can arise when a large body mass with high performance demands depends on a head that’s too small to accommodate. We should also remember that the equine head is integral to his balance and coordination, being a weight on the end of his neck, and by extension his entire spine. For these reasons then, his head should be in balance with his mass and more faithful to proportions informed by nature. (Note: It’s also curious that other related structures are present in those old paintings as well such as long, fine necks, giant eyes, small muzzles, light bone, small hooves, and often long cannons, all vestigial ideals born of the Victorian age that still influence breeding today in some breeds. So the lesson here is: While art can be technically realistic, it can still be unfaithful to the subject through a misappropriation of proportion.)
  • Homogenization: There’s been a fashionable trend within some breeds of adopting the features of another breed as a means of “improvement. For example, the Saddlebred influence on the breeding of Morgans, or the “exotic” Arab–like heads on American Iberians or Quarter Horses. But shouldn’t each breed be celebrated for its unique features, which are often rich in history and cultural context? And shouldn’t artists be “keepers of the grail” when short–term breeding fads threaten the distinct phenotype of a breed? Even so, sometimes homogenization can be an artistic blindspot caused by a fixation on a particular physique that seeps into the expression of others. For example, an artist enamored with Arabians may “arabian–ize” the sculptures of other breeds, even drafters and stock horses. Artists can also become so fixated on a certain type within a breed that other variations are excluded within their body of work. This is fine, of course, if this is what we consciously intend, but if it’s unintentional, that’s a systemic blind spot. For all these reasons then, knowing the ancestral types of a breed can help us create within context to better express a breed’s diversity and distinction.
  • Breed type: We need to remember that the concept of breed type—or “points of type”—is a relatively new invention born of the Victorian era. Being so, the thinking of the time turned breed type into a kind of branded market identity, improving a breed's profitability in a market veering away from utility. This resulted in a progressive exaggeration of type in many breeds, to the point today that many specimens, especially from the halter venue, are nonviable. So what’s the most responsible way to regard these points of type? Capriciously according to our tastes? Or skeptically with the equine blueprint firmly in mind? For this, familiarity with a breed’s factual history and historic archetypes, firmly rooted in biology, are good balances for making informed decisions. 
Conclusion To Part 17

That’s a lot to factor into our knowledge base, isn’t it? Most definitely, sculpting the equine realistically involves a lot more than simply sculpting what’s there! There’s so much to weigh with each decision. No wonder artistically expressing the equine has challenged artists so profoundly through the ages!

However, we can stay on a steadier compass heading if our navigation points are thoughtfully chosen. In this, if our path homes in on functionality as our destination, the more likely we’ll be able to avoid flawed detours. Boiled down then, it’s all a matter of what we want to say about our values through out work. For this reason, such things are up to our own individual decisions. But what’s a more sincere celebration of this animal? Portrayals that advocate for his wellbeing or those that pander to human capriciousness?

So to continue our explorations, we’ll progress to troubleshooting our sculpture in Part 18. Knowing we’ll make errors from the onset is helpful since we can then preemptively arm ourselves with preventative countermeasures. So until next time…favor function over fashion to fast–track progress!

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” 
~ Abigail Adams


Monday, January 8, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 16


Hello again and welcome back to this 20part series exploring the equine head from an anatomical, evolutionary, and artistic perspective. Finding resources that make this combination are hard to come by, and only illustrate just how interdisciplinary our task actually is in equine realism. To create an effective sculpture then we first have to be an informed sculptor, and we do this with research and field study. There's so much more to all this than simply sculpting what we see! We have to See first. And it's this Sight that will guide us towards stronger compositions and deeper narratives.

Now specifically regarding his head, portraying it in clay is no easy task simply because so much about his noggin is a study of nuance and balance—nothing is extreme. Yet while this austerity of form makes the functions of the equine head more efficient and foolproof, it also makes our task that much more difficult. Indeed, the equine head is arguably one of the hardest things to capture artistically due to its technical complexity and rich source of expression. In particular, it’s so easy to do too little and especially to do too much, spinning off sideways at any given point. Plus we have to render our subject's noggin both technically accurate yet also organically “messy,” and that’s a tenuous juggling act. Truly, we have to walk a tightrope of framework and measure, and know it or not, it’s something that’s constantly challenging us even in those pieces that seem to come together easily. 

What’s more, our art is the creation of our fallible human hands and so errors are bound to pop up—but not all errors are alike! In fact, we have to contend with a whole slew of them. Specifically, we have technical errors, or those that indicate errors in anatomical information for the species or genus. For instance, we may place the structures of the zygomatic arches in a wrong way. But we also have to factor in those errors that can only happen in art. For example, we may inadvertently sculpt in an extra zygomatic arch. (And we're not even factoring in conformation, breed type, age and gender type yet!) Being so, the ability to See possible errors in our work is dependent on our interpretation of what we observe with the least possible unconscious skews—of having a more objective Eye. In this sense, our improvement can be amplified when we approach our efforts in a way that minimizes what can go wrong rather than what can go right because we'll always be creating contrary to life unless we attend to our blindspots along the way. In other words, our blindspots are a more powerful force in our work than our strong points. In this way then, awareness of this difference between reallife errors and artistic errors helps us to pinpoint problems better since one is a functional flaw whereas the other is an artistic fiction. 

So recognizing some common artistic errors can get us one step closer to the realism we desire. Yet that’s another tricky two-step because—know it or not—we're always immersed in our blindspots. That's what makes them blindspots! And each of us has a unique array of them, as characteristic of our work as our artistic style. Actually, in this way, our blindspots are part of our artistic style by helping to define our work just as much as anything else. Nonetheless, this means that our blindspots are often hard to identify in order to purge. Because they exist under our radar, how do we discover something we can't even See? What we need is objectivity—a basis of clinical comparison between our efforts and our resources. This is where lots of field study, accurate measurement systems, and artistic exercises that retrain our eyes to more correctly interpret both our subject, references photos, and our work.

But on that note, we should also understand that doing so entails three separate skills sets which are then amalgamated together into a fourth. What does that mean? Well, interpreting life study, photos, and our own sculpture requires three different perspectives, or keenness of Sight. For example, being able to interpret technical accuracy in our sculpture is entirely different than doing so in life study only because we can take much more granted with the living animal. That is to say each perspective entails different abilities since the features we need to duplicate accurately are a given in the real thing, open to debate in reference photos, and wholly questionable in our own work. Each one simply represents a different degree of uncertainty. Yet once we've developed these three perspectives, we also have to develop a fourth: their combination so we can effectively transition between our study, resources, and clay as we go back and forth between them as we work. This is one of the reasons why equine realism is so difficult—it demands an unusual degree of discipline and fixation to get it right. Equine realism isn't something we just do—it's something we become dedicated to doing.

For these reasons then, let’s discuss some common artistic, or fictional errors seen in sculpture with the equine head. So often knowing how we can go wrong can help us get things right. So here we go!…

Common Errors In Sculpture

Despite all our different styles and prerogatives, a series of artistic faults often pop up in realistic equine sculpture. They’re understandable though, since so much can go haywire so quickly when it comes to this difficult aspect of our subject. For some insights then, here are the most common artistic errors:
  • Trapdoor mouth: When the mouth is opened at the chin like a trapdoor rather than at the joint behind the eye. 
  • Bent jaw: With an open mouth, when the jaw bar underline doesn't continue through to the lower incisors in an unbroken curve.
  • Alligator mouth: A mouth opened too profoundly, beyond the fleshy limits of an equine, making the head resemble that of an alligator.
  • Displaced jaw: A jawbone placed either too far forwards or too far backwards in relation to the ear and its “button” with the zygomatic arches.
  • Displaced zygomatic arches: When these formations are not aligned with the back of the mandible, its condyloid process, or the ear.
  • Shrunken zygomatic arches: When these arches are sculpted to small or too short, causing displacement with the back of the jaw or the placement of the ear.
  • Swollen zygomatic arches: When these arches are sculpted too big and bulky.
  • Ridged zygomatic arches: When these arches aren’t rounded but have abrupt, ridged, or squared edges.
  • Tilted zygomatics: From the front: when these arches are misaligned to be on the same plane, making the forehead too broad. Or they're too up and down in relation to each other, spun clockwise or counterclockwise away from their correct orientation. In reality, the upper “U” angles inward with the forehead whereas the lower “Y” protrudes from that, forming a planed angle when seen from the front.
  • Island zygomatic arches: When these arches don’t properly blend with the rest of the cranium, but end abruptly as though they’re “floating” on top.
  • Incomplete zygomatics: When these portions are missing necessary cranial features.
  • Asymmetry: Bilaterally mismatched skull features when seen from above, below, from the back, or from the front. The head should be as bilaterally symmetrical as possible. 
  • Mis–planed head: Errors in planing that lack the characteristic angles and curves specific to the species, breed, or individual.
  • Twisted head: When the median line is spun to one side, causing the muzzle to be spun on the axis of the skull, when seen from the front. Not to be confused with asymmetrically moved nostrils.
  • Crooked head: When the median line is crooked, causing the internal axis of the sculpted head to be crooked as well. This also throws off bilateral symmetry of the matched cranial features.
  • Mis–aged head: When the head structure doesn’t match the intended age of the sculpture; the skull’s shape and features don’t exhibit accurate age characteristics. For example, absent tooth bumps on a sculpture of a 3–year–old or a 25–year–old with the head structure of an 8–year–old. Also common on foal sculptures when they have heads with adult–like development. It also happens on sculptures of older horses as they lack the cranial features produced by old age. 
  • Hammerhead: Overly protruding frog–like eyes, especially when viewed from the front. Often the entire brow ridge and zygomatic arches are enormous as well, like a Neanderthal version of Equus. 
  • Ghoulish head: Overdone and protruding bony development of the skeletal features of the head, especially through the brows, zygomatic arches, and teardrop bones. This often happens when we get carried away with sculpting.
  • Block head: The skull lacks the elegant rectangular, slender cranial structure of Equus (when seen from the front) to adopt a chunky, bulky, thickset structure more like a bull’s head.  
  • Oversized head: A head that’s proportionally too big, beyond some of the natural variation we can see in life. This often happens when we become too distracted by sculpting to check our proportions constantly. As a general rule, the head, from the tip of the muzzle to behind the ears should be about as long as from the point of the withers to the point of the croup, or the point of the withers to the point of shoulder.
  • Fluted head: When seen from above, when the back of the head is too broad and the width of the muzzle is too narrow. Or, likewise, when then depth of the jaw is too big and the depth of the muzzle is too short, often with a concave nasal bone and convex jaw bars as often seen in "extreme headed" Arabian sculptures.
  • Tiny head: Less often a sculpted head will be too small in proportion to the body, often seen on Arabian sculptures. In life, this will make it difficult for the animal to process enough food, water, and air for his mass, or present dentistry problems. It also throws off biomechanics which depends on the head's weight at the end of the spine. 
  • Fudged head: When the skeletal or cartilagenous structures aren’t portrayed accurately, most often seen with the zygomatic arches, the eyes, ears, and the muzzle. 
  • Mis–fleshed head: Made up cranial musculature. The head has some pretty distinct fleshy structures we need to keep in mind even though their manifestation does vary between individuals or breeds a bit.
  • Meaty head: When the planes of the head are incorrect, most often in the area of the mid–cheek, creating a blocky, chunky head. The equine head is actually quite slender flowing from the nasal bones when seen from the front, and elegantly constructed.
  • Puffy Head: When the musculature is sculpted too thickly and bulbous, creating a bloated effect. Head musculature is a series of thin straps that lay flat on the skull, with only the orbit muscles, muzzle muscles, Buccinators and the Massaters being more robust. There’s nothing about the equine head that’s so bloated and puffy. Also, the equine head is very 3D in that there are many hollow areas that depress inwards towards the median plane.
  • Incorrect axis: When a convex or sub–convex head lacks the internal convex axis of the skull, merely having a roman nose added to the nasal bone. Likewise, the same for a convex internal axis.
  • Incorrect nasal bone: A nasal bone that’s blocky, straight, or ridged with harsh edges, or with a sharp groove down the front, or perched on the profile rather than being seated into the skull, or continues down between the nostrils. Instead, the nasal bone has a delicate hourglass shape with rounded edges, and the median groove is a subtle indentation. It also ends well before the comma cartilages.
  • Fleshy bone: Inadequate sculpting technique that makes what should appear hard and bony appear fleshy, squishy, and soft. This flaw is often seen with the teardrop bone along with the nasal bone and zygomatic arches. Much of the equine head is subcutaneous bone, so we need to pay attention to what’s bony and what’s fleshy. 
  • Ice cream cone head: A head that’s unnaturally too broad through the forehead and jaws, paired with a muzzle that’s too small, creating too strongly wedge-shaped head. 
  • Plank head: A head that’s too thin, as seen from the front, beyond the thinness sometimes seen naturally with certain individuals, Iberians, or drafter heads. 
  • Slashed head: A sculpting technique that’s clumsy or too extreme, exhibiting slashes and gouges where fleshy softness and subtlety is necessary. 
  • Ignored head axis: When a sculpted head doesn’t account for the internal axis thereby creating a misshapen, inaccurate head. For instance, simply adding an arched nasal bone to make a head more convex, but ignoring the convex axis of the head itself that would bend the lower face downwards. As a result the EENA is straight, but with an arching nasal bone, which is incorrect. Likewise, making a head more dished—or convex—by gouging down the nasal bone and adding a dome to the forehead, creating a dolphin–like head. Sometimes the jaw bars are also trimmed down, creating a fluted, seahorse–like head. However, in reality the dished head usually has a convex head axis that lifts the lower face upwards. Always remember that the shape of the skull is created by its internal axis, not by the nasal bone alone.
  • Knife bars: Jaw bars that are too narrow, knife-thin and sharp rather than rounded.
  • Parallel bars: Jaw bars that are too parallel to each other. Instead, they form a long triangle, wide at the ramus and narrow behind the chin.
  • Expanded bars: Jaw bars that are too wide apart, causing the head to be disfigured as seen from the front, usually making it boxy and bloated. 
  • Tilted jaw bars: When the bottom of the jaw bars angle outwards, giving the bottom of the head a fluted look when seen from the front.
  • Off–type head: The head is often an important point of breed type so we have to pay special attention here. Yet head type is also highly vulnerable to fads and fashion, things that can steer a breed to become off–type such as Arabian–like heads on Iberians, Quarter Horse heads on “classic” Appaloosas, Saddlebred–like heads on Morgans, or Arabian–like heads on Quarter Horses. Likewise, “dry” features on a draft horse, Quarter Horse muscling on an Arabian, or Teke “snake–eyes” on a Welsh Cob. So we have many issues to weigh here. The choice is ours, but that choice is best informed by equine biology than simply our aesthetics.
  • Type exaggeration: We run into ethical problems with breed rhetoric and artistic stylization, too, most notably with convex heads such as with the Arabian. A head that’s too extreme—too deeply dished—will have problems with breathing and dentistry that will compromise the well-being and performance of the animal. The same can be said of tiny muzzles and giant eyes, again often seen on the Arabian. Yet we routinely see extreme dishes, enormous eyes, and tiny muzzles on sculptures, even absurdly so as a function of artistic exaggeration. We need to be careful despite our tastes because what we recreate, we validate. 
  • Bony flesh: Likewise, making what should appear fleshy look like hard bone. Often found in the Masseter, Buccinators, nostrils, and the muzzle. Always pay attention to fleshy details and texture. 
  • Tilted teardrop bone: When the teardrop bone is spun clockwise or counterclockwise away from its correct orientation, away from the EENA. Now granted, some horses have a masseteric ridge that bends slightly upwards to the zygomatic arches, this being an individualized feature, but if the entire ridge is rotated, that’s a problem.
  • Displaced teardrop bone: A tear drop bone that’s placed too high towards the ear or forehead, or too low towards the nostril or jaw. 
  • Meaty teardrop bone: When it's too robust or blocky. Instead, this is a delicate ridge, not a robust, meaty, bulky, or bulbous protrusion. It also blends with the surrounding facial areas and the bottom of the zygomatics and “button” of the ramus, and doesn’t end abruptly with sharp lines.
  • Atrophied teardrop bone: When this is too frail and small.
  • Misaligned mouth: When the slit of the mouth, or the line of the lips, doesn’t mirror the EENA enough. Nonetheless, keep individuality in mind since sometimes there may be a some variation. 
  • Dropped mouth: A mouth placed too low, towards the chin.
  • Distorted muzzle: When the structure of the muzzle isn’t consistent to the underlaying skeletal structure of the maxilla or mandible. 
  • Shrunken muzzle: When the muzzle is sculpted unnaturally too small, when seen from the side or front, often as an exaggeration of breed type or flawed proportional measurement. In the case of draft horses, in particular, this is a serious fault since, in life, the animal wouldn’t be able to adequately process the air, food, and water needed for his mass. Drafters should always have sizable muzzles to accommodate their biological requirements.
  • Lip–like muzzle: When the boxy upper lip is misshapen into something rounded and protruding, like the upper lip of a person or camel. Often the lower lip is malformed, too, to accommodate, further giving the muzzle a lip–like appearance.
  • Misplaced nostrils: Placement of the nostrils too low towards the chin, or sliding forwards on the nostril away from the eye (resembling an anteater), or sometimes too high towards the nasal bone, or backwards towards the eye (resembling a pig).
  • Meaty nostrils: Nostril rims that are too thick, hefty, and meaty rather than more delicate.
  • Ridged nostrils: Nostrils that have a squared–off edge rather than rounded and smooth, and so don't look soft and fleshy.
  • Pebbled nostrils: When the rims of the nostrils are “pilled,” "chattered," ragged, or bumpy rather than being smooth and even.
  • Knife nostrils: When the rims of the nostrils are too sharp. Instead, the front rim, the comma cartilage, is rounded and broader while the back rim is softly rounded and thinner, but neither are knife sharp.
  • Pulled nostrils: When the bottom of the nostril, where the two rims meet at the bottom, is stretched downwards too far down on the upper lip, often blending with the upper lip rather than having that distinctive terminal rim.
  • Frilled nostrils: When the rims of the nostril are frilly and ruffled when they should be smooth and even.
  • Flat nostrils: When seen from the front, the “V” at the top is angled too far away from the nasal bone and the lower rim isn’t protruding enough, creating a flatter plane, distorting the proper shape of the muzzle from the front.
  • Inverted nostrils: When the upper “V” is angled more outwards while the bottom rim is angled inwards, creating an inverse plane of what we see in life. 
  • Inconsistent nostrils: When they aren’t functioning consistently to what the sculpture is depicting such as a galloping horse with relaxed nostrils or a sleepy horse with flared nostrils. We have to keep appropriate respiration, exertion, and expression in mind.
  • Flute nostril: When a flared nostril is sculpted with an evenly billowed and expanded triangular flute. In reality, the overlying musculature shapes a flared flute into a series of complex curves, depressions, and bulges.
  • Human teeth: The equine incisor isn’t shaped or textured like a person’s tooth that’s short, straight, and square. Instead, sculpted incisors need the characteristic shapes and specific eccentricities to be convincing, being more rectangular and curved. 
  • Inaccurately–shaped teeth: Teeth not shaped properly according to what type they are. For example, rectangular incisors and round grinders.
  • Mis–aged Teeth: When teeth don’t match the sculpture’s intended age. For example, foals having adult teeth or adults having foal–like teeth, or similarly, having a dark dapple grey color on a sculpture when its tooth formation is of a 20–year–old horse. Teeth are an important detail with an open mouth so we need to pick an age for such a sculpture when we do so. We also need to think about appropriate details such as shape and slant along with accompanying features such as dental stars, marks, hooks, or Galvayne’s groove.
  • Equine teeth also have coloration detail on their crowns which needs attention. 
  • Movie star teeth: When equine teeth are painted gleaming white. In life, however, they’re often tinted yellow, orange, grey, ivory, and brown, streaked with browns, golds, rusts, greys, and other discolorations. They can also be greenish–yellow due to feed, and have other distinctive coloration, smudges, shadows, streaks, and staining. The exception are “milk teeth” yet they still shouldn’t be gleaming, bright white regardless—tone them down for realism.
  • Pathological teeth: Teeth that have improper alignments and features like “waves” and “smiles,” elements that a good dentist would correct. 
  • Skewed teeth: When seen from the front, the set of the incisors isn’t centered on the skull's median line but skewed off to either side. The line where the two front incisors meet should be placed exactly on the median of the skull. 
  • Crooked teeth: Teeth that are leaning off to one side when seen from the front, or slanted inwards or outwards, creating crooked bilaterally asymmetrical teeth. Instead, teeth should be angled upwards properly and meet its pair straight on and symmetrically. Only the tushes are staggered, and being so, should be properly aligned to the maxilla and mandible respectively.
  • Missing teeth: Sculpted teeth that are lacking the proper number of incisors, often being only four or even seven rather than the correct six above and six below.
  • Missing tushes: Stallion sculptures that lack tushes. 
  • Cat ears: When equine ears appear triangular or cat–like, lacking the characteristic equine fluted and rimmed features. 
  • Teardrop ears: Sculpted ears that are shaped like teardrops rather than exhibiting the complex formations of the pinæ. 
  • Tube ears: Ears that lack not only the characteristic flute of the pinæ but also the bulb on the bottom, making the ears look like even tubes from base to tip.
  • Banana ears or llama ears: Ears lacking equine characteristics to instead be shaped like curved tubes, often with thick rims. A flaw often seen with mule, hemonid, zebra, and donkey sculptures.
  • Horse ears on other equine species: When we ignore the particular structure and characteristics of a species’ ear shape to instead sculpt them like horse ears. For example, horse ears on zebras. Each species has a specific ear shape that needs our attention for accuracy.
  • Spoon ears: When ears are shaped like spoons or scoops and lack the peculiar shape of the equine pinæ. A flaw often found on mule, hemoid, zebra, or donkey sculptures. Spoon ears are often blended with tube ears or banana ears, too. 
  • Misshapen ears: When ears lack the peculiar curvature of the equine pinae and the distinctive curves of the rims, typically with rims of similar shape and curvature.
  • Radar ears: When the ears are shaped like radar dishes or flat hollows, more like the ears of a Grevy’s Zebra than a horse. 
  • Pinched ears: When a sculpted ear is simply created by pinching a tipped flute at the bottom to form the “V” and then popped onto the head—this is a flawed technique. The equine ear is characterized by nuanced curves to the flute and the rims, especially where it connects on the head and meets its partner rim at the “V.” At that meeting they have a rather specific structure, details, folds, twists, shape, bulbs, and curves there that need special attention. Also these features change depending on ear position. 
  • Mis–muscled ears: When the complex musculature connecting the ears is in error or outright ignored, creating improper fleshy masses and configurations, or the ear appears perched on top of the head rather than inset with muscle attachment. 
  • Mis–seated ears: When ears aren’t seated into the skull properly to either be perched too high or placed too low on the sides of the crown, or placed too far forwards towards the eye or too far backwards towards the neck. The ears have a very specific anatomical seat with the cranium which we have to duplicate accurately. Indeed, misplaced ears can really throw our alignments off pretty quickly. 
  • Oversized or undersized ears: When ears aren’t consistent to proportion, age, or type. 
  • Non–gendered ears: When the sculpted ears don’t correlate with secondary sex characteristics.
  • Off–type ears: When ears aren’t consistent to a breed standard’s points of type, or to the type of horse the sculpture depicts. For example, drafters with Arabian–like ears, Marwaris with straight ears, or Arabians with Warmblood ears.
  • Asymmetrically placed ears: When ears aren’t matched in their skeletal placement or alignment. Repeated checking helps to guard against this common mistake.
  • Thick rims: When the ears lack the delicate, thin rims characteristic of the equine ear.
  • Pinched crown: When the crown is too pointy and narrow for an equine, also causing the ears to be pinched together at the base. Another flaw often see on mule, hemonid, and donkey sculptures. 
  • Expanded crown: The opposite effect wherein the crown is too broad, making the entire head unnaturally too broad for an equine.
  • Distorted occipital bone: When the occipital crest is too short or too long when seen from the side, giving the head an unnaturally blunted end or an unnaturally elongated one, like a Xenomorph.  
  • Inconsistent cranial structure: When the structure of the cranium doesn’t match the equine species or type. The truth is that the skulls of horses, ponies, mules, asses, hemonids, zebras, and hybrids have important differences on both structure and musculature that need our attention. For example, if we upend a horse’s skull, it’ll fall over whereas if we upend an ass’ skull, it’ll remain upright owning to its longer occipital crest.
  • Dead eyes: When the eyes lack intelligence, expression, “soul,” animus, or character. The horse is very expressive and lively with his eyes so they should be given due attention when sculpting. 
  • Peaked orbits: When the flesh and cranial structure above the eye have a pointed lid formation; when the brow is too pointy, often obvious in a 3/4 view. This often happens when we get carried away with sculpting expression and forget about overall structure. It’s important we inspect our sculpted areas from multiple angles as we work. Remember that brows are pulled upwards and inwards towards the middle of the crown, not forwards, away from the skull.
  • Neanderthal brows: When the brows are treated with a heavy–hand, creating blocky or bulbous protrusions.
  • Coarse eye brows: When the furrows of the eye brows, or the brows themselves, are sculpted too wide, too big, or too coarsely (sometimes with “pilling”) rather than being the delicate, small folds of expressive flesh they are in life. 
  • Big eyes: Eyes that are far too large to be accurate or viable, usually a product of artistic license or flawed proportional measurement. This could also be caused by our human interpretation of infant characteristics as adorable, docile, “doe-eyed,” or pretty (referred to as “pedomorphosis”). People are also a visual species, making eye contact a natural component in our responsive behavior, often causing artists to inadvertently enlarge what’s innately attractive. In reality, however, when it comes to conformation, a “large eye” doesn’t mean larger than normal, just not smaller than normal.   
  • Incomplete eyes: An eye missing the indention of the lower eye rim or the upper eye lid. 
  • Ping-pong eyes: When the orb itself is round like a ping-pong ball. However, in life, the orb is oblong and egg-shaped, creating more acute curves than a perfect sphere.
  • Mismatched eyes: When the eyes aren’t bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Crooked eyes: When the eyes aren’t aligned symmetrically.
  • Displaced eyes: When the orbit is misplaced too low towards the nostrils, too high towards the ears, too high towards the forehead, or too low towards the mandible. Keep in mind, however, that certain individuals and breeds can have what’s termed as an “ox head” in which the orbits are placed a snidge more towards the forehead. The Quarter Horse is a good example. Also, those heads with a concave axis can seem to place the eye a snidge lower on the EENA.
  • Frog Eyes: When the orb and surrounding flesh are too pronounced, causing the entire eye area to protrude too much from the head like the bulbous eyes of a frog.
  • Off–type eyes: When the eye contradicts the desired breed type. For example, small eyes on an Arabian, “snake eyes” on a drafter, or round eyes on an Iberian or Teke. 
  • Buggy Eyes: A globe that bulges out too much, or unnaturally, often indicative of hypothyroidism or other disorders.
  • Swollen lids: When the upper and lower lids are sculpted too big and bulky as to appear swollen, bulky, and bloated. The lids should always be in scale.
  • Cat eyes: When the eyes are angled on a forward–facing axis more like a cat or person, at an angle well past 33˚. Oddly enough, however, some lineages of horses, especially Pasos, are developing more forward–facing eyes as people select for this humanized trait. Yet nature designed equine eyes to sit on the sides of the head to produce the necessary field of vision, bringing this aesthetic into question.
  • Grooved eyes: When an inappropriately–sized sculpting tool outlines the orb, causing a deep, wide groove between the orbit itself and the lids. The lids on horses aren’t loose like those of a Basset Hound, but flushly hug the orb. 
  • Dog eyes: When the equine eye has a round pupil rather than an oval one. 
  • Flat eyes: Eyes lacking a rounded globe being flattened, usually a failure in sculpting technique. 
  • Squid eyes or Fish eyes: When seen from the front, the eyes are oriented flatly on the sides of the skull with an lower rim and upper rim aligned more up and down on the same plane rather than outwards at the top and inwards at the bottom.  
  • Inverted eyes: When the lower rim of the eye protrudes out farther than the upper rim, tipping the eye upwards like a flounder.
  • Tilted eye: When the canthi of the eye are misaligned with the skull and the EENA, away from the 42˚– 44˚angle.
  • Tilted pupil: When the pupil is misaligned with the canthi, or inconsistent with head position and ground level. 
  • Cataracts: When the pupil is painted a murky color rather than a clear dark tone indicative of a healthy eye. Not to be confused with metallic blue “eye shine” often painted inside the pupil. However, cataracts may be appropriate for the depiction of senior citizens.
  • Possessed eyes: Irises painted a homogenous color, lacking the gem–like quality and color depth so typical to the equine eye, creating an unpleasant staring, possessed look.
  • Blank face: Every second some part of the horse's face is being tweaked in some fashion, even with the slightest tensions, depending on mood or situation. So when we sculpt a horse's face as completely flaccid, we've effectively sculpted an unconscious horse. This means we need to infuse some form of expression on his face no matter what our sculpture portrays.
  • Open throat: When a sculpture with an open mouth allows us to look down the throat, like with our own throat. But remember the Palantal Drape at the back of the horse’s throat! For this reason then, we shouldn’t be able to see down his “gullet” if we sculpt an open mouth, but instead only see the sheet of the Drape.
  • Smooth hard palate: When the roof of the horse’s mouth has erroneously been sculpted smooth. In life, however, the hard palate of the equine is characterized by specific, pronounced ridges.  
  • Formulaic heads: When sculpting technique or artistic aesthetic is inflexible and habitual, creating a body of work that doesn’t account for the natural variation of head structures found in life.
  • Out of scale: When aspects of the sculpted head are out of scale, right down to the smallest vein or mole.
  • Ignoring biology: We should pay heed to equine biology when we choose which heads to use as references for our work. Many of today’s tastes contradict equine evolutionary biology, causing pain and impeded performance. So do we really want to endorse a head structure that compromises the animal’s function and well–being?
Conclusion To Part 16

Clearly it’s easy to veer off course as we recreate the equine head, isn’t it? Our misinterpretations, exaggerations, stylizations, and blindspots can all work together to cause us to jump the track, and right under our noses. Plus, what we don’t observe in life we cannot infuse into our work. In other words, what we don't See we don't sculpt. In this way then, our work is more about what isn't there than about what is, adding another layer of complication to our already heady task (pun intended ). 

Also complicating matters, only nature can create a factual horse. The very act of artistic creation automatically imbues a level of error no matter how hard we try. We all have our blindspots and it’s here where our errors originate. In this sense then, “improvement” is more about casting new light on our blindspots, to become better able at objectively perceiving what wasn’t Seen before in order to progressively eliminate them. This means that our ability to pinpoint our errors is more important than being able to identify our strong points. 

Yet making mistakes is also how we learn. If we did everything perfectly from the get go, what would we have earned and learned? Each piece is an exploration, and being so, makes us liable to skitter into unknown territory, inviting error. So the whole trick isn’t to be afraid of errors, but to be able to identify them when they happen. Accepting that we will make mistakes and committing ourselves to resolving them is often the more beneficial path.

For this then, being constantly vigilant about artistic errors takes work and dedication. It also asks of us a level of humility since we must first accept that we’ll be making errors in the first place. Nothing we do will be perfect and will always require adjustment and periodic tweaking to get right. But the good news is that the more pieces we finish, the more honed our observant skills become. Everything is a process. If we just keep making at least one forward step with each new piece, we’re improving. So until next time…keep pushing forward!

“Some things cannot be spoken or discovered until we have been stuck, incapacitated, or blown off course for awhile. Plain sailing is pleasant, but you are not going to explore many unknown realms that way.” ~ David Whyte


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 15


Here we are again, back with more artistic considerations. There's a tremendous amount to weigh when we sculpt an equine head. It's not simply a matter of duplicating what we see! Nope! In reality, there's a whole slew of things we have to juggle if we hope to recreate both an accurate and accountable version. But accountable to what? To the equine, of course! This animal is so routinely objectified, we may no longer be aware of it anymore. What's more, these objectified ideals aren't always informed by his evolutionary biology. This suggests that we cannot shape his head any which way we like because there may be ethical obligations we need to consider. We need to remember that the equine head is the product of pure function with no consideration for our fickle ideas about beauty and perfection—yet look how perfectly beautiful function turned out to be!

But in relation to that, we have to regard the head from an artistic point of view, too—in equine realism, illusion informs fact and fact informs illusion. That's to say we use facts to create a convincing illusion of a real horse, and to do so we need the knowledge to shape our clay plus the practical skill to actually do it accurately. Our sculpting tool is only as effective as the knowledge that guides it—but just the same—our knowledge is only as useful as the tool that expresses it! Knowledge and technique—they may be different ways of looking at our subject but, nevertheless, both are needed for a convincing "breathing" illusion. This is why paying special attention to improve each independently and symbiotically really helps us grow artistically. So let's continue our artistic exploration, starting with the eyes!…

Other Artistic Considerations: Part 2

The eyes are often difficult to sculpt owing to their distinctive angles and orientation on the skull plus their fleshy features and potential for expression make a complicated feature even more so. The upper lid and brows are highly expressive by being drawn up to the forehead. While the lower lid is less mobile it can, nevertheless, still deepen its curve to appear more “doe–eyed,” "big–eyed," alert, “wide–eyed,” or gentle. Together then, the lids can open large and round with happy interest or be squinty with distaste or anger, or to shade the eye from the sun or wind. In turn, the bony zygomatics can be quite pronounced or more rounded and generalized, depending on individual variation or age. The brows can also be similarly more pronounced or less so often depending on individual variation. Sometimes the nature of the brows can be breed–specific, too. For example, the "toad eyes" on Exmoor ponies or the "snake eyes" on Tekes. What's more, the muscles of the forehead can become more defined or "pooch" based on his expression and mood, sometimes becoming more chiseled with concern or excitement. Those muscles may even be meatier by nature such as on stallions or many muscular stock breeds. However, keep in mind that the nature of the eye can vary a bit among individuals or breeds, so use good reference photos and do field study. 

As for the nostrils, they can be a bit fiddly to sculpt, too, owing to their mobility and fleshy nature. Honestly, what makes them so appealing is also what makes them so tricky! For instance, their high flexibility, of being able to expand greatly or change shape, or even orientation in relation to each other, can be a delicate balance of form, size, and angle. Yet we need to get them right since they add a lovely visual line to the end of the muzzle and instill a sense of living vitality. As for the front rim, which is cartilage, it’s rounded, strongly shaped, and bulbous, especially at the top where it meets the posterior rim at the “V.” When seen from the front, also note the network of wrinkles between the paired comma cartilages, wrinkles which often crisscross in a checkerboard pattern when relaxed or deeper upright ones when the nostrils are flared. And notice the delicate wrinkles often found around the lateral, back rim. When flared, these comma cartilages are pulled together more (seen from the front), narrowing the space between them and causing more pronounced wrinkling, crinkling, pock marking, and buckling. When pulled together this way, they can even lift up, causing a subtle ridge on the top of the muzzle, above about where they curve downward. More still, the outer rim, which is fleshy, can be rather thin and fine (often on hot bloods) or thicker and fleshier (often on warm or cold bloods). When flared, the false nostril can also billow upwards, creating an elevated flute with the top of the nasal bone and lifting the “V” upwards, above the surface of the muzzle. The true nostril also doesn’t always billow as an even puffed–up triangular flute, but also can as a series of complex curves, bulges, and depressions consistent with the overlaying fleshy connections. For this reason, it’s a mistake to sculpt a flared nostril as a solid, evenly–expanded triangular flute every time. Being highly pliable, too, nostrils can also markedly change shape and size, even able to be slightly twisted or lifted up on the end of the muzzle. Indeed, when we compare the nostrils between rest, expression, mobility, and dilation, we can see pronounced changes. Being so, nostril activity can be rather subtle and delicate or outright explosive and intense. Like when a horse “snorts and blows,” we can see how the nostril’s shape changes quite distinctively, or how a mere twitch, quiver, or dilation can make a big difference. That’s because horses don’t use their nostrils just to breath, but to communicate as well, or scent the air, clear the nasal passages, shut off the airway, or express their mood. And like the eyes, whiskers adorn the nostrils, and when shaved, leave their correlating fleshy whisker bumps that add essential details for sculpture. For all these reasons then, field study is very helpful since nostrils are so textured and variable.  

The muzzle can also be a complicated area to sculpt owing to its subtle curves, flexibility, and individual or breed variation. The nostrils form its anterior dorsal aspect, shaping the profile depending on their nature while the boxy upper lip adds a distinct blunted bulb at the end of the muzzle with the lower lip usually adding a rounded rim below it, and finally ending at the chin which can be of varying shapes and sizes depending on breed, individual variation, or age. For example, foal faces may have nearly nonexistent chins, having instead a larger, pouty lower lip. What’s more, since the muzzle is so flexible, mobile, and expressive, it's very quirky and changeable with circumstance or mood. For example, it might twitch or the lower lip might bob up and down, or might even become pendulous and droopy if he’s relaxed or dozing off. On the other hand, the muzzle can become tense, stiff, and pooched (often with a “pooky” upper lip) when he’s angry, anxious, excited, pugnacious, or stressed, and often with a pinched chin that can pooch and distort in nearly any direction. His muzzle might even be tweaky with mobile lips if he’s feeling goofy and silly. Muzzles also vary with breed such as the neat, dainty, "dry" muzzle of the Arabian compared to the boxier, blunter, meatier muzzle of the Quarter Horse to the larger, less defined fleshy muzzle of the Clydesdale. Muzzles also vary with each individual, lending plenty of options for our clay. Yet the one thing we should notice is its texture from its fleshy, elastic, warm–velvety–soft nature to the wrinkled, crinkled, folded, bumpy, buckled, pock marked, and whisker bump fleshy surface. The chin can even become crinkled and pock marked as it's tensed and pinched. Indeed, muzzles are irresistibly tempting to touch so we need to capture that in our clay to really set off our sculpture. Indeed, a common misstep is to sculpt the muzzle with little consideration for its texture, fleshiness, and variability.

As for the mouth, we should pay special attention to the structural relationships between the lips. The anterior portion of the top lip is blunt with a boxy, nearly prehensile portion, sometimes with a depression in the middle. It’s also often narrower in front than at the corners of the mouth where it’s often wider, in contrast to the lower lip which tends to be broader and squared at the front, rounded and bulbous, becoming narrower at the corners of the mouth, almost like being an inverse of the upper lip. However, this contrast is less pronounced or nonexistent in many horses, forming lips of more or less equal protrusion, so it all depends on the individual. Even so, the lower lip can lay below the end of the upper lip, or even protrude beyond it in a pout, something often found with foals, relaxed horses, or horses with particularly fleshy muzzles. As for those mouth corners, notice how the upper lip curves around and can slightly overlap the corner of the lower lip just a snidge at times? Also note that when the mouth is opened, the lower and upper lips aren’t abrupt sheets of flesh inside the mouth (like our mouths), but are folded inwards, particularly at the corners, creating inward flaps. Being so stretchy, the lips are also often wrinkled to varying degrees depending on the individual. Also notice the texture between the upper lip rim and the nostrils, on the sides of the head. That area can have all sorts of fun things to sculpt! Adding to it all, his lips are also very expressive, indicating his mood and emotional state, able to be loosened, slack, twitched, tensed, pinched, pooched, twisted, undulating, or stretched. The lips also serve as his “hand” to explore and investigate, often seen when he “mouths” objects, or when he grasps and gathers food into his mouth with great precision.

When considering his head, we also have to account for age since as the years go by, his head changes, too. For example, foal heads are distinctly different because they lack the cranial and muscular development of an adult. Remember, these are the heads of infants and equines definitely have neotenous characteristics. That means foal heads aren’t smaller or bonier versions of adult heads, but distinctly different due to these infant characteristics. As a result, their structures are rounder, softer, more generalized and less pronounced. And because they lack the distinct bony development of an adult, teardrop bones, nasal bones, zygomatics, and orbital development are less pronounced, appearing flatter, rounder, less distinct, more delicate, and softer. Think of less distinct angles and protrusions, and generalized “filled in” cranial structure. Indeed, few features on a foal head are abrupt, pronounced or harsh. The actual shape of the cranium is markedly different from an adult as well, often with foreheads that are softly broad, domed, and sometimes bulging, and are more rectangular from the side, with immature, underdeveloped mandibles (jaws and bars) and undeveloped jaw musculature. Remember they’re still drinking their mother’s milk and don’t need to do all that chewing just yet. From the front then, foal heads are more softly diamond–shaped than an adult’s more rectangular shape owing to the foals underdeveloped mandible and lower maxilla. And remember that foals don’t have adult teeth, but “milk teeth,” a detail necessary for a foal sculpture with an open mouth. On certain breeds, too, the convex or concave nature of the head axis will be present even at infancy, sometimes markedly so. Their cranial muscles also tend to be more generalized and less obvious, though there are always exceptions, most notably with Arabian or Teke foals who can have relatively “dry” heads even at a young age. Nonetheless, foal eyes tend to be proportionally larger, and located more towards the muzzle than in the adult, or rather, foal heads tend to be shorter between the eye and the nostril. The brows are also softer and less distinct. Similarly, when compared to the rest of the head, the ears are often proportionally bigger as well. Muzzles tend to be smaller, more dainty, and neater in comparison, too, owing to the immature milk teeth, with much less pronounced upper lips, and with delicate, little nostrils. Their lower lips also tend to be bigger, bulbous, and pouty in relation to their tiny pinched chins (sometimes chins can even be almost nonexistent). Foal muzzles often aren’t developed enough to produce those “inverted lips,” too. 

On the other hand, a senior citizen also has a distinct head. Specifically, all those big, deep–rooted teeth have been worn down to nubs, actually changing the shape of his head, so what was once a more wedge–shaped head has become somewhat more rectangular because there no longer exist those long tooth roots. What’s more, his incisors lengthen and angle outwards much more, becoming “long in the tooth,” changing the look of his muzzle as well. Collagen also begins to break down, causing his lower lip and chin to droop and his muzzle to appear softer and slacker, often becoming droopy. His lower lip will often hang loose as a result, a charming effect. Muscles can slacken, too, sometimes causing the musculature of his entire head to soften and become more generalized with bony aspects becoming more pronounced. For instance, the zygomatics often become more pronounced as does the Salt Cellar. However, sometimes his head will become “drier” as fat is lost, so it really depends on the individual and circumstance. Nonetheless, the post–orbital fat behind the eyes also usually atrophies, causing the eyes to sink in a bit (some people confuse this with a “pig eye”). In turn, this can cause his brows to become more pronounced as the eye sinks into the socket. His head overall, therefore, often appears more frail and weathered. He may also develop cataracts though they rarely cause complete blindness. However, they do cause an opaqueness in the eye, a detail for painters. White hairs will also proliferate around his temples, eyes, teardrop bone, and nostrils. In life, keeping weight on a senior citizen can be a real challenge for various reasons, but mostly because of his spent teeth. Those that do keep a good weight still basically have the changed head characteristics though perhaps not so extreme. However, those who don't often appear more bony and gaunt as the aging effects become amplified because, sadly, he’s essentially starving to death. We see this with seniors who aren’t properly managed with tooth care or feed, or with feral or wild horses left to their own devices. Nonetheless, all these changing features combine to give the senior citizen a distinct look, one important to capture for the authenticity of our sculpture.

Head structure can also vary with gender as secondary sex characteristics are present in the horse. For instance, a stallion's head appears “meatier” with a deeper jowl and more powerful jaw and temporal muscles plus usually smaller ears. On the other hand, a mare’s head is usually more feminine, being more rectangular in profile with softer, “drier” cranial musculature and shallower, less–muscled jowls and temporal area. Their ears are typically longer than that of a stallion, too. As for geldings, they’re a mixed bag since they usually sport a physical eccentricity that disqualified them from breeding. That means their heads represent a lack of testosterone that would soften a stallion’s head, and sometimes with some idiosyncrasy that helped to cull them from breeding.

Above all we should remember that each horse’s head is different just like our own so pay attention to field study and reference photos—a set of calipers and a protractor are useful tools here. A firm grasp of cranial anatomy is critical here as well to use as a template so we can spot the breed–based or individualistic variations. Now this isn’t to say that the structures are different—they’re all anatomically the same since they’re equines—but the uniqueness of each head can have some differences in how the cranial features and musculature manifest. So if we recreate the head the same way on every piece, we risk a formulaic trap. Instead, it's better to express each of our sculpted heads with fresh Eyes to avoid habitual interpretation that would diminish our ability to capture individuality.  


But it doesn't end there! Nope—we have another fundamental issue to consider: scale. Whatever size we're sculpting, scale is a fundamental component to our efforts—it's part and parcel to the very basis of our job in equine realism. Indeed, its influence is so strong that even one portion that's too big or too small will destroy our illusion instantly—it takes just one slip. For this reason, we need to attend to scale throughout every facet of our process and techniques from our visualization tricks to our sculpting techniques and even our actual tools. Truly, using a tool that's inherently out of scale will skew our work just as surely as anything else. Likewise, we need to religiously use our scaling techniques, scaled tools, and a good set of calipers regularly to stay on track because the very act of sculpting can cause scale to skew very quickly.

In addition, we can think of Proportion as a part of scale even though it's also its own topic. That's because Proportion must intrinsically be in scale to the size of the overall piece. Likewise, Placement is connected to scale as well, in that it entails how we shrink or expand the distance between each feature. In similar fashion, even Texture and Expression are connected to scale since we have to gauge how they reduce or increase in size dependent on the scale of our piece. For example, creating eye lids out of scale to the eye area will produced an unrealistic, sometimes caricatured look, especially if expression is pronounced.

In a very real sense then, we can deduce the observational skills and artistic abilities of an artist based almost entirely on their reproduction of proper scale throughout their piece. It's alarmingly easy to get off track, and often quickly and right under our noses. Being so, scale also demonstrates an artist's diligence and commitment since it requires constant vigilance.

As for errors, a common one is to sculpt eyes that are too big, sometimes to the point of "Jackie O sunglasses." In similar fashion, many times the orbs are too bulgy out of their sockets, creating a bubble–like effect. In response then, the brows and lids can be unnaturally enlarged or extreme to compensate, or the grooves between them are too broad, producing an overall eye area that's obviously out of scale. At times, nostrils can be far too big or too small, particularly when flared. Furthermore, chins are often too big, and mouths too short or too long. At times we'll also see the zygomatic arches sculpted too small or too big, typically with the "button" of the mandible out of alignment with them as a result. Similarly, we'll often find tear drop bones that are too big or too small which can throw off the look of the head immediately. Commonly, too, we'll find veining, moles, chestnuts, and other details like wrinkles, far out of scale, typically being too big. Texture can also be out of scale as we might see with inappropriately enlarged rippling, pock marks, or squiggles.

The Seven Fundamentals

Related to all this are seven basic qualities that lay the technical foundation for what we do in equine realism. These seven components are integral to everything we do, and if we get any one of them wrong, our work just won't be accurate. Each one is an artistic consideration regarding cranial anatomy (and by extension, anatomy in general), and so each helps us to get things right. These Seven Fundamentals are:
  1. Anatomy (to include Biomechanics)
  2. The Five Ps: Proportion, Placement, Planes, Precision, and Presence
  3. Alignments
  4. Scale
  5. Texture
  6. Detail
  7. Expression
When it comes to these Seven Fundamentals then, sculpted heads can exhibit some typical anatomical (and biomechanical) inaccuracies, especially given just how complicated this feature is to sculpt. Most often anatomical planes are incorrect or landmarks are misplaced or even nonexistent, distorting the head away from reality. Sometimes the head is unnaturally too wide, often on the top half of the head with the bottom half being much more narrow, creating a strange pinched, duck–like effect to the face. This error can often be associated with trying to capture certain points of breed type such as with Arabians or Quarter Horses. More rarely we'll see the opposite though it does happen often on a more subtle level. Often times we'll find the mouth opening at the chin rather than the entire jaw dropping from the joint behind the eye. Or even sometimes if the mouth is opened properly behind the eye, the line of the jaw doesn't match the lay of the bottom incisors, creating a broken jaw. Asymmetries are common as well between both sides of the face. Or the median line down the skull is crooked, bent, or misplaced, causing all the features to be skewed in relation to each other and also away from proper alignment to this disecting line. Ears are also often misplaced being either placed too close to the eye, too far away from it on the neck, or too high on the crown, "perched" on top rather than seated into the skull. 

When it comes to the Five Ps, Proportional errors are also common. For instance, we often see heads that are either too big or too small for the body (most commonly too big). Biomechanically, the head is at the end of the spine—a counterbalancing weight at the end of a long "noodle." Therefore, a head not in proper proportion to the rest of the body can be a functional liability, and if the sculpted disparity is large enoughwhich can easily happenit may even be unrealistic. This error is often a product of an artistic blindspot exacerbated by a flawed proportional measurement system, or neglecting to use calipers regularly. Jaw bars that are too thick can happen, too, or they can be set too close or too far apart from each other, creating a head that's too narrow or two wide altogether, or too wide on the bottom aspect, distorting the rest of the head. Often a forgotten feature of the head, the jaw bars definitely have a delicate balance to each other and to the rest of the head, and getting them right helps to form the proper scaffolding for a correct head. As for ears, we'll find some that are too small, but more often those that are too big in relation to the depicted species, gender, age, or breed type. For these reasons, it's smart to record our proportional measurements such as the head length and the "thirds" sections with our proportional calipers. That way we can quickly and accurately recheck our work as we go with a fixed measurement. Errors in Placement and Planes are common as well since it's easy to skew them, too, if we aren't checking them regularly. Precision is also an oftenforgotten aspect of sculpting the head which always needs careful attention. The anatomical aspects, surfaces, topography, textures, features, and expressions all depend on the precision of our hands and tools—the better the Precision, the better the result. Absolutely, a sloppy, careless, cursory, or imprecise hand will cause our illusion to collapse just as quickly as an anatomical flaw. For example, eye lids that are clumsily, imprecisely, or messily sculpted with "pills," tears, distortions, unevenness, and other oversights simply won't be convincing despite the accuracy of everything else, will they? A lack of Precision doesn't only cause anatomical errors in this way, but also artistic distractions that compromise the overall impact of our piece. Because of this Precision is often a defining factor of masterful work. 

Alignments pertain to the relative relationships facial features have with each other like the EENA and we've already discussed others in Part 14. Nonetheless, some common errors with Alignment are features that are misplaced or distorted. Again, asymmetries are a typical error here. For example, misshapen joints that don't have their topography properly lined up between the two sides or aligned properly on the tops of the bony shafts. And as for Scale, we've already discussed that here.

Now as for Texture, this refers to the nature of the surface topography of the hide insofar as little bumps, squiggles, wrinkles, ripples, pock marks, striations, and other little fleshy details that typify the hide, hair, and skin. Equines don't have a hyperpolished, smooth surface but are rich with all sorts of fleshy little things happening on his body surface, and this is where field study comes in handy by reestablishing what's so often stripped away during dissection. But this issue is often a feature of artistic style as long as we recognize this as a function of style rather than reality, it has some context. That said, errors can be found here as well, most often with being sculpted too harshly so that they lack the delicate fleshiness that so often typifies them. Or we find them to be regimented and so fail to convey the look of organic nature. Sometimes they don't blend into surrounding areas, making the effect look contrived. For instance, wrinkles that have an abrupt ending with the surround flesh rather than blending gradually into it. Scale is a common problem with Texture, too, often being far too big. We have to always remember that fleshy details are characteristically squishy, subtle, varied, and organic so our interpretations should reflect those qualities to maximize the effect.

Now for Detail, that pertains to all the additional minute fleshy tidbits like veins, moles, eyelashes, inner ear ridges, and other little touches that add believability to our piece. Detail is sometimes flawed by not being anatomically accurate, not reflecting the fleshy or bony nature it intends to mimic, being out of scale, or crudely sculpted. For example, veins that aren't bilaterally symmetrical, aren't patterned organically or realistically, are too big, or are carved–grooves rather than protruding squiggles. Another flaw are moles that are popped on rather than blended into the surface. Or moles with a cave in, like a collapsed souffle. Eyelashes are often out of Scale, not being the delicate wisps of hair they are in life. Detail also suffers from similar flaws as Texture does. 

And, lastly, we have Expression which entails gesture, emotion, "soul," and narrative as we discussed already in Part 13. It can be flawed by not matching the narrative of the piece, being expressed too strongly (like with overly extreme moving eye lids), or being inconsistent to both anatomy, coordination, or natural equine behavior. On the other hand, sometimes it's absent altogether, giving the sculpture a vacant, vapid look.

Altogether then, every aspect of our efforts, from the overarching idea to the most minute detail, should mesh together harmoniously so that no one element is a distraction. That's because if our eye is "stopped" in a way we didn't intend, the desired impact of our composition will be weakened. Truly, one wrong note can cause the entire piece to clank rather than sing.

Conclusion To Part 15

Artistically portraying the equine is pretty tough—we have a lot to juggle and our knowledge base needs to be uncommonly interdisciplinary, objective, and expansive. This is one of the reasons why honing keen observational skills is so important. Simply put, the better observers we are, the better our work becomes since we’ll simply perceive more to infuse more into our media. To help with this, simplifying the equine head into simple concepts at first to later refine is a proven technique for getting things right. In other words, start with the big ideas then move onto the little ones. For this, understanding some simple relationships between form and structure can guide us through the initial stages of the creative process, gifting us with greater confidence in our efforts.

Yet we also need to blow past rhetoric and convention to instead regard the subject from a more objective point of view. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot careen so much into technicality that we end up creating soulless, clinical representational art that fails to capture the spirit or narrative of this animal. So much about compelling realism is to also convey the inner experience of our subject. To this end, giving thought to these and other artistic considerations can guide us to a more authentic portrayal of this animal that also expresses his complex nature.

Deeper still, there's a lot of "energy" in the initial moments of building a sculpture, isn't there? Those first few stages where we block in the big ideas really seem to capture the personality and flow of the piece beautifully. So much "elemental spirit"! Now if we can keep that energy contained within our composition to the very finishing touches, we've accomplished a great piece of equine art. And one of the best ways we can preserve this defining "feel" of each piece is to have a firm grasp of the fundamental structure of our subject and how it all fits and works together. Pair this with fluency in EquiSpeak and we've got ourselves an invaluable tool box! Connecting all this together is our ability to abstract our subject's structure to snatch the "elemental life," the "essence of anima" to infuse into our clay. Again, we can do this best by working from the big ideas first then progressing to the little ideas. If we get distracted by minutiae too early, that energy is going to drain out and we'll be left with a piece of depleted "spirit," of a "flatness" that can only happen with overworking and undisciplined focus. So understand the hierarchy of sculptural creation when it comes to equine realism: Big ideas first! Always try to simplify structure into basic shapes first and focus on Proportion, Planes, and Placement. Only after that's been done can we best progress to refining and defining. Keep those Alignments consistent, and always keep Scale in mind with every tool stroke. Once all of this is done, that's when we can start to focus on Texture, Detail, and other fiddly bits, and all without sacrificing the emotional narrative we intend. We can do it when we have an effective approach and process! Anyway then, until next time…careen headfirst into discovery and exploration!

“I obliged myself to explore where I might otherwise not have. And that’s what ‘mind-flexing’ is all about – making those brain-muscles work so that you feel empowered to pursue your own vision.” ~ Tony Smibert

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