Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Five Ps: The Foundation Of Realistic Equine Sculpture


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. 

[ 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 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.


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 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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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