Thursday, February 23, 2017

Seeing Is Believing: Improving Visual Impact Through Composition and Design


The "flow" embodied in a piece is a rather significant factor in the creation of a finessed work. What's "flow"? Well, it's how the eye travels around the piece. For that, we want to to keep the eye flowing within the composition, going from point to point to point in a smooth, continual, looping way. This helps to harmonize the composition while also increasing its "eye appeal." A piece with good flow is simply more visually appealing and interesting.

So how do we do this? Welp, we use a clever manipulation of shape, line, curve, detail, color, focus points, intersections, complements, and negative space to pull the eye around the piece in an active manner. In doing so, we improve the attraction of the composition while tying it all together into one cohesive whole. At the same time, we also direct attention to the unique features of the piece by inviting the eye to them. Truly, once we learn to engage the eye, we help to showcase our piece better while also lending more visual and emotional impact.  

On the other hand, an unskilled use of flow typically makes a piece look awkward, disjointed, de-energized, and not as effective in expressing intent or impression. In other words, the different portions of the piece visually interfere and conflict with each other, causing the eye to bounce around the piece unpleasantly and haphazardly, or causing it to bounce right out of the composition altogether...and that's a real turn-off. Pieces like this tend to lose the eye rather quickly and people move on with indifference, and we definitely don't want that!

So let's explore some handy ideas for improving the visual flow of our compositions. Mind you, these are just basic, simple concepts to give a general idea. In reality, flow and composition can become rather complex and layered, depending on how well we learn to implement them. Study the works of the masters, as well as art deco and art nouveau pieces (they both rely heavily on flow), and we'll learn how these artists took full advantage of the "traveling eye" to produce wondrous, enchanting results.

Sweet on Shapes

Different shapes evoke different emotional reactions. So envisioning a shape and designing the piece based on its emotional impact is a handy way to implement flow. Such shapes could be a circle, square, triangle, trapezoid, or even an amorphous shape. There really are no limitations and the options are totally open to our own preferences and motivations for our sculpture.

In terms of emotional response, for instance, a triangle is a very dramatic shape and would work well for increasing the drama of a composition whereas a circle shape tends to instill the piece with a more intimate, coiled, romantic, and introspective look. Likewise, square shapes tend to look proud, noble and steadfast whereas an amorphous shape can look energized, unconventional, powerful, and dynamic. Similarly, trapezoid shapes can look chaotic, wild, and unpredictable.

So for example, when we design on a circular shape, all the forms curve inwards and to each other in circular curls which gives a romantic, coiled, and dreamy appeal. On the other hand, when we design based on a trapezoid, body portions shoot out at disorganized angles. And to amplify reactions even more, we can work in more abrupt and dramatic contrasts of line and form to highlight drama. And don't be afraid to layer shapeswe can use more than one to add complexity and nuance.

Anchor Points

Certain features of our piece tend to have an anchoring effect for the eye. For instance, the eye is a particularly powerful anchor point. However, the ears, muzzle, mane, tail, hooves, and certain points of interest in a sculpture or paint job act as anchor points as well—for example, particularly detailed areas. Even more viscera things like expression can serve as an anchor point. So how we design where these anchor points exist in our composition can manipulate the eye to travel around it better.

For example, placing the eye and a flagged tail about even with each other will cause the eye to bounce between them as it's attracted to each focal point alternately. Similarly, a hind hoof articulated in a "snappy" fashion can be counter-balanced with twitchy ears to bounce the eye between them.

When we learn to use anchor points to "catch" and "bounce" the eye like a ping-pong ball, we learn to "play pong" to our advantage, and it can do much to enliven our composition.

Gotta Have A Hook!

Every sculpture and paint job needs a "hook," that something that immediately grabs the eye. And it should be something that sticks with us as a defining quality. A hook could be a narrative, an emotion, an impression, "wow-factor," a lively position, an unconventional treatment of the mane and tail, or some sort of an eccentricity. Whatever it is, it needs to attract attention and keep it, even mesmerize and lure us in. In essence, we should see the piece from across the room, be hooked, and then reeled in as our interest is piqued. Whatever captures the eye causes the body to follow and enraptures the heart. 

But creating hooks is a learned skill. As we start, we don't give such things much thought as we're more focused on getting things right. Concepts about composition, design, and the "traveling eye" tend to go over our heads in our early stages. It's natural and normal. In many ways then, we can identify those works created by beginners or intermediates by their tendency to ignore such things. But that's OK! It's all learnable! Indeed, as we become more skilled, we inherently adopt more effective hooks, especially if we stretch our skills and seek to learn and explore with each new piece. We come to understand the additional layers of our job, and seek to explore them with more deliberation and eagerness. This is one of the reasons why the work of seasoned artists tends to appear more sophisticated and interesting—it's not just because the quality is better, but the hook is more effective. Even so, a piece can have more than one hook, too! Multiple ones can be layered in the sculpture and the paintwork, creating a whole slew of ways to catch the eye. This makes designing a composition more fun as we put more thought into just creating a position, breed, color, pattern, or posture.

But we shouldn't rely on innate quality alone to serve as our hook. We need to be creating quality work already, so falling back on that to grab the eye will only lose its effectiveness in tough competition. In other words, the hooks we fabricate need to operate beyond inherent quality, being something intrinsic to the piece's composition and design. A hook needs to be that "something more," that "it" factor beyond the conventional or expected.

Love those Lines

The use of line and curve is effective for activating the eye in a way similar to shape. Line and curve also help us to pull the composition together in a variety of ways. For instance, we can pair line and curve with shapes to move the eye around inside the composition, or to even layer design and emotional impact. 

More still, different kinds of lines and curves inspire different emotional responses. For example, vertical and horizontal lines tend to emphasize stability, balance, and steadfastness. In contrast, diagonals enhance the sense of drama, movement, tension, and energy. 

Now as for curves, they can be wide, gradual turns, or tight curls or spirals, and everything in between. Whatever their expression, curves tend to inspire a sense of coiled power, nobility, playfulness, gracefulness, elegance, and control, and they're highly effective for pulling the eye around the piece. Indeed, curves paired with anchor points can be a powerful tool to move the eye around. Or think about pairing the curve of an arched neck with the curve of an arched tail—the two complement each other beautifully.

So put all these lines and curves together in a sculpture, then add in all our other compositional options, and we have a piece that activates the eye like nobody's business! And the more the eye bounces around the piece, the more inspiring and appealing the piece becomes. The eye doesn't become boredit becomes engaged! 

And that's not even counting the paint job. Because—yesthe use of line and curve can be implemented in both the sculptural aspects and finish elements, so we need to think beyond simple terms when we design either. In particular, however, paint jobs shouldn't "fight" the sculpture's composition, but enhance it, even accentuate it. Truly, a skilled painter can zero in on the design concepts infused into a sculpture and work to complement them. For example, placing rather up and down tobiano markings on a moving piece will root it and almost "stop" the motion, amplifying its mass and steadiness. Conversely, applying a curvaceous pinto pattern on that same piece will change it completely by implying a pulsating, motion-rich, coiled feeling. Now in terms of diagonals, we take that same sculpture and apply a roany effect to the pinto markings at the flank contrasted by belton spotting on the face to pull the eye back and forth between the two, creating a dramatic effect that can "speed up" the implied motion. So even how we design a pinto pattern needs more thought than simply, "I like it." All this means we can't simply sculpt or paint how ever we want—we have to always keep "traveling eye" composition in mind. 

Positive on Negative Space

As we design our piece we obviously fixate on those areas we can see and touch. But whether we know it or not, we're also designing the empty spaces around those shapes at the same time, and they're just as important as those we can see. In other words, the holes and open spaces around our sculpture are equally important. Honestly, there exists, in negative space, a whole ‘nuther sculpture around our piece that can also be cajoled into visual partnership.

For example, the elongated triangles between mane tendrils "point down to" the sculpture, helping to pull the eye back to it. The same can also be achieved by placing the legs on a standing piece slightly spread from each other to form negative space "points" that direct the eye back to the body. Or consider an arched tail lifted away from the body but with a tip curving towards it...that negative space between the tail and the haunches is a big block that can balance a highly detailed face or wild mane.

The effect of negative space is very subtle, but extremely powerful and effective. And because it works on the unconscious level, it can subtly impact the eye without being jarring or too obvious. So don't forget to factor in this "second sculpture" for best results.

A Detailed Strategy

Using areas of detail to pull the eye around the piece is also effective, and can lend cohesion and interest to a piece. Truly, a dollop of detail here and there really work wonders to tease the eye around the piece.

For example, pair highly detailed eyes with highly detailed hooves to draw the eye back and forth between them. Another smart move is to detail the ears, eyes, and muzzle with the same intensity to lend balance and interest to the face. Or we can use areas of wrinkles and hide texture to keep the eye flowing around the piece. Indeed, hinder wrinkles can help direct the eye back to the head with the way they're oriented. 

So if we plan our details and think about how they can forward the composition, rather than simply designing them on a whim, we can deliberately tickle the eye to travel around the piece, enhancing the interest and cohesion of our work.

Colorful Tactics

We can also apply the same idea to pigment! Using an area's painted details or color can move the eye around the piece into intricate tracks of flow. A splash of color or a dollop of painted detail there or a clump of spots right here can truly work magic. And pigments gives us more opportunity to create these dynamics since many coat effects are intrinsically highly detailed and intricate.

For example, dapples and coat patterns can be engineered with this in mind as can markings. Dapples placed in strategic areas about the body can move the eye around and make an otherwise ordinary piece really visually interesting. Likewise, a star and hind sock will pull the eye diagonally across the piece. Pinto or appaloosa spots can be strategically placed to keep the eye moving while still remaining realistic. Or add some streaks in the mane and tail to inspire the eye to travel in a point to point loop, between these painted visual stimuli. 

Similarly, markings can be placed on feet in clever ways to keep the eye moving over the body so don't place them haphazardly. For example, say we have a wildly positioned sculpture that has elements that would easily have the eye shoot out from the composition. But we can use pigment to keep pulling the eye back in! For instance, we can place a sock on that hind foot most under the body, "planting" the eye there to radiate up to the body while also providing a nice contrast between the chaos of the sculpted position and the centrality of the sock, adding tension and energy to the overall effect. Or we can put stockings on all four feet paired with a wide blaze to "frame" the piece in dollops of white.

Once we start to see the design components of our paint job, we gain the upper hand in effective design. Truly, strategic placement of pigment is a powerful tool for effective work that lets both our paint job and the sculpture shine to their best potential.

All Haired Out

Hair is an highly effective means to pull the eye around because it can be blown in any number of ways and directions, giving us almost infinite options. Wisps, tufts, waves, chunks, and tendrils can be engineered to move the eye around all over the piece, almost in an infinite loop. 

So don't just sculpt hair any which way—think about how it'll forward the effectiveness of the overall design. Honestly, many eyes have been "stopped" or "shot out of" the design by the clumsy design of hair. So take care. Use negative space, too. A handy trick is to hold the sculpture in front of a light source to create a silhouette and squint our eyes. If the shadowed outline of our hair doesn't cause our eye to travel around the piece, we have some design changes to make.

Yay or Nay

But we have to be very careful. We can't just place things randomly—we should have a strategic plan when we sculpt or paint. That's because a single angulation, detail, or use of color can either add the perfect touch or end up diminishing the whole piece entirely. Truly, it doesn't take much to make a compositional misstep, and we don't want to lose someone's interest!

For example, let’s say we’ve created a lovely sculpture of a galloping mare in the extended phase of the gallop, designing her to accentuate a sense of speed and energy. When done, we paint her a lovely, shaded deep bay. Yet we didn't tone down that orange undercolor on the hip and so the eye is continually drawn to it, away the rest of her wonderful elements. The eye just can’t ignore it because this one neglected bit is a visual nuisance and disruptive aspect to the whole piece. This is a common oversight in paint jobs that's easily avoided with some vigilance.

Or perhaps our decision to create a slacken hind foot articulation with the extended hind leg was wrong because it causes the eye to shoot right out of the composition there when a snappier articulation would have brought the eye back up to the tail and back into the piece. For another example, we create a composition based on a flowing circle that's designed to exude passion and gracefulness. However, that forelimb is positioned a bit too straightened, causing the eye to shoot out of the circle and creating a visual distraction. The error can be subtle, but the effect strong so we need to pay close attention to what we're engineering.

Our piece should work fluidly as a whole and not get "stuck" or compromised because we weren't mindful of every aspect, no matter how small. A finished piece is the sum of its parts, and the truly great work deliberately uses all those parts to make the sum have even more impact and appeal. Nothing is done without purpose, and nothing is considered too small towards the impact of the overall design. Every little bit counts!


We can also use complementary angles to add interest and compel the eye to move over our piece. In other words, we can create opposing angles with our composition that cause the eye to intersect them to be redirected. This technique is particularly useful with manes, tails, and feathers by "catching" the eye and redirecting it to a new complementary angle. So, again, don't just sculpt hair randomlysculpt it with a plan.

We can also apply this idea with the articulation of the feet. For example, "snappy" foot action, or a more acute angle of the foot, helps to redirect the eye whereas "floppy" slack foot action has a tendency to shoot the eye out of the composition if we aren't very careful. We can use the angles of the legs thusly, too, as their orientations and articulations can do much move the eye around the composition. Really, those legs are excellent opportunities to create complex complimentary angles that redirect the eye all over the place!

The angle of body parts—such as the shoulder, hip, femur, forearms, gaskins, cannons, neck, and head—can also serve as complementary angles, in part because the equine skeleton is built thuslybut also because we can manipulate some of these angles to best suit the composition. For instance, a raised head with a nose pointed up creates a complementary angle to a sloping shoulder. Now echo that head angle with an articulated foot and mirror the shoulder angle with a bent femur, and we start to mesh together a web that redirects the eye over the piece effectively.

So when we combine all these elements, we knit the piece together. Nothing about our sculpture should be done arbitrarily—everything should be chosen very carefully to forward the composition. This is what makes work complex, intriguing, and timeless because it keeps the eye engaged, curious, and interested. In fact, this is one of those factors that causes us to see new things every time we look at a piece.


The thing is, the eye wants to stop or fall out of the composition. It wants to be bored and move onto something else. This is due to our instinctive, hard-wired "orienting response," something that can even become addictive. For instance, music videos have a barrage of fast edits to continually stimulate this orienting response to keep the viewer engaged and watching. It's also one of the reasons why video games are so popular. 

Well, we need to tap into the same effect, too! We do this by keeping the eye looping back into the composition to pick up on something new to loop back over and over again. Learn to do this deliberately and we have an eye that eagerly gobbles up our composition. It stays interested in, almost addicted to our piece, and that's when people really begin to emotionally connect with our work. Ultimately then, our art will have that elusive "it" quality that intrigues people and captures their imagination, and keeps them coming back for more.

Tracking About

But we shouldn't stop there! There's more! For instance, we can layer "eye-tracks" over each other to increase the complexity, intensity, and sophistication of our whole design. What's an "eye-track"? Well, it's the natural pathway of the eye between interest points in the sculpture or paint job that entails all our strategies put together. Now probably the first point that will get attention is the face—we're a visual species and we naturally gravitate there, especially the eye. Now where will the eye go from there? Well, perhaps there's an elaborately sculpted mane or tail, maybe there's an intricate pinto pattern with cat-tracking, or maybe the ears point the eye to another part of the body. Where the eye goes next...and then next...and then next is what we can refer to as "eye-tracking." And when we get really good at our job, we can manipulate eye-tracking to keep the eye continually activated.

Because the general rule is this: the more the eye is drawn from point to point—the more eye-tracking there isthe more of our piece is absorbed by the viewer. And that's always a good thing! Often times people don’t know quite what appeals to them about a sculpture or paint job, but more often that not, it’s a subtle manipulation of their eye with sophisticated eye-tracking that entices them. When the eye is engaged in a piece so are the emotions, and that draws a person into a piece in welcome ways.

Looking Good All Over

How ever we apply flow, we shouldn't forget that it applies to all angles. That means we have to consider flow from every view. In other words, flow has to be activated and consistent from every possible angle of our sculpture or paint job, integrated as one cohesive design. So it shouldn't "stop" or "shoot out" simply because we changed our viewing angle—it should flow continuously regardless.

It's a common mistake to forget about this aspect of flow, which is why on some pieces certain angles look more interesting and appealing than other angles. We may not be consciously aware of it, but flow definitely influences how we interpret a piece from any angle.


It’s the eye that perceives visual art and it's the heart that interprets it. Both like to be teased, seduced, played with, and invited to participate. When we offer this then, we have a happy marriage of visual stimulation and emotional response that celebrates the experience, and that not only brings us closer together, but also closer to our beloved subject. This is why art isn't a spectator sport—it's something we participate in with our emotions, senses, expectations, inspirations, dreams, reactions, and sensibilities.

It's through the use of flow that we can amplify this effect, heightening the pleasure of the experience. We also intensify the communication pathway our art offers, giving the experience more meaning, depth, impact, and appeal. Truly, when we inspire the eye to engage our composition, we improve the inspiration generated by it, and that leads to deeper emotions that lend greater substance and meaning. 

And we don't have to be choosy—flow applies to all of our work regardless of media. We can "wake up" any sculpture or paint job with its application, and it's fun to engineer a piece that will thus engage and beguile. That said, however, it's also true that the use of flow is particularly important for sculpture that has to stand on its own, such as bronze work, stone work, or bare ceramic. Here's the thing—truly great sculpture stands on its own merits, unpainted, unglazed, or unpatina-ed; great sculpture is great all by itself. And one of the ways we accomplish this is through the adept application of flow in our composition and design. 

For that, applying the ideas discussed here will go far in adding interest and energy to our work while at the same time keeping the eye engrossed in our efforts. Give it a try—and have fun! It's a new level of design with many curious options so we should approach it with a lively attitude. When we become as absorbed in our piece as we intend another eye to be, we not only learn more about composition and structure, but we reaffirm our dedication to our craft and our beautiful subject. As a result, our inspiration flows through us more freely, and we become more energized in what we're doing. By and by, applying the use of flow becomes second nature as our eye becomes more practiced in its application, and that opens up new possibilities in composition and design, expanding our creative options and goals. All of this culminates together to give us more satisfaction in our studio and opportunities for new ideas to develop, and so creativity flows through us not only with greater ease, but with renewed dedication and gratification—and that's always a good thing! Enjoy!

"Developing a composition is a continuous flow of ideas, where the artist combines, adds, reduces, adapts and discards the various elements in an unending discovery of new possibilities."
~ Alessandra Bitelli


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Biology Boo-Boos: The Most Common Anatomical Errors In Realistic Equine Sculpture


Sculpting equine realism isn't for the faint of heart. It's an ambitious task that asks a lot of our moxy, patience, and dedication. We need to have a mad passion for it to thrive and excel. But because it's so daunting, with so many ways to go totally wrong, we can become overwhelmed and intimidated, and when that happens, we run into big trouble with our motivations and confidence.

Because we can't ignore the truth: we have every opportunity to get things wrong, and even one error can ruin our intended illusion. That's a lot to swallow. So this discussion will explore the most common anatomical errors we encounter in equine realism in order to give us a leg-up on advancement. Truly, simply by-passing these errors gives our efforts a significant advantage in both competition and the market. Plus, being able to perceive these typical errors puts us in the position of becoming a teacher to others, and that advances the entire art form for the betterment for us all.

Yet first it's necessary to read Bio-logic: Anatomy 101Equine Anatomy and Biomechanics: A Primer of Equine Engineering (a 17-part series), Anatomy and Conformation (a 4-part series), and The Goo Factor first before starting on this discussion. These four blog series contain detailed information that will allow this post make sense; otherwise you'll miss the meat of the matter entirely.

So assuming you've read those prior blog posts, in the spirit of exploration, let's get to it!...


The head is a common site for anatomical errors owning to its complex, nuanced design. Not only is its structure convoluted, but too much or too little in any one direction will result in errorsthe balance is excruciating, made even more complicated when we factor in breed, gender, and age type. Yet despite this, the most common errors we find with the head are:
  • Asymmetries.
  • Incorrect cranial alignments, topography, and landmarks.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion or expression; muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • Fudged or clumsy cranial musculature.
  • Overly bulbous or pointed brows.
  • Misaligned or displaced zygomatic arches.
  • Crooked nasal bones, misaligning the muzzle to the eyes.
  • Straight nasal bones, lacking the necessary hourglass shape.
  • Nasal bones with harsh, abrupt edges rather than rounded edges.
  • Lacking nasal bone definition and protrusion altogether, often caused by sanding down the nasal bone to create a deeper dish on an Arabian sculpture.
  • Eyes set too low towards the nose or too low towards the jaw.
  • Eyes facing forwards too much like a person or dog.
  • Eyes too flat on the sides of the head like a fish.
  • Eyes that protrude too much like a frog. 
  • Orbs that are too flat rather than rounded and bulbous.
  • Eye sculpting that has wide furrows to delineate features because the sculpting tool was too wide; eye features hug each other tightly such as the rims of the eye on the orb, or are more tightly furrowed like eyebrow wrinkles.
  • Incorrect number and structure of teeth, in particular the incisors.
  • Teeth that aren't age consistent.
  • Canthi deviating away from their proper alignment, tipping the eye too far clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Jawbones set too far back, out of alignment with the "button" of the jaw condyle.
  • Ears set either too far forward or too far back on the crown.
  • Ears incorrectly perched on top of the skull rather than set into their sockets.
  • Ears lacking the unique folds on the inside rims at the "V" at the bases.
  • Ears lacking the characteristic curves and delicate rims.
  • A teardrop bone tilted out of proper alignment.
  • A tear drop bone that's too protruding and extreme.
  • Overly done and protruding bony development of the skeletal features of the head, especially through the brows, zygomatic arches, and teardrop bones, giving the piece a ghoulish, Neanderthal-like appearance.
  • Bone that appears fleshy and flesh that appears bony. Fleshy bone is often found with the nasal bone and zygomatic arches while bony flesh is often seen with the Master, Buccinators, eyebrows, and muzzle.
  • Nostrils set too low on the head like an anteater.
  • Nostrils set too high on the head like a pig.
  • Eyes angled incorrectly on the head when seen from above.
  • A lack of secondary sex characteristics.
  • Exaggerated eyebrows.
  • A nostril rotated on its axis away from its alignment on the nasal lateral cartilages.
  • A lack of wrinkles, ripples, moles, and other fleshy details.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Inadequate age morphology. For example, foals with adult-like skulls.
  • Physics being ignored or not adequately factored in enough.
  • An upper lip lacking its characteristic boxy structure.
  • Open mouths that lack the folded-in lip structure towards the mouth corners.
  • Nostrils misaligned and mis-angled on the head, when seen from the front or top.
  • A mouth tipped too far up or too far down, out of proper alignment.
  • Forgetting "moment," or the changing cause and effect when it comes to flesh, articulations, and expression on the face.
  • Formulaic fascial musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with "moment" and manifests differently between individuals. Facial musculature should be expressed differently on each of our sculptures.
  • Mouths opening at the chin like a trap door when, in life, the jaw joint lies behind the eye, causing the entire mandible to drop from that point.
  • An opened mouth opened too much, beyond the fleshy limits of the head, making the head resemble that of an alligator.
  • Heads that don't account for the convex, concave, or straight axis when recreating breed type.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.

The equine neck is a complex chain of specific, unique articulations, all of which work together to create all those wonderful twists, turns, stretches, and arches we so love. For this reason, understanding its anatomical structure is essential for deciphering references to create an accurate portrayal in clay. However, without this necessary understanding, we can end up creating some of these common errors:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed, most typically contrary to the mechanisms of the Atlas and Axis cervical bones. For example, a neck bent laterally at the Atlas joint, or poll. However, the “wings” of the Atlas must always be parallel to the skull (use the back of the ears, jaw, and eye orbits as reference points). However, when the head is tucked, a small amount of "side slippage" can happen; otherwise called "head twirling" in horsemanship lingo. For this reason, too, not until the junction of the Axis and third vertebrae does true lateral flexion occur. The equine also cannot extend or flex his neck at the Atlas-Axis joint, creating that lovely "mitbah" or "turnover" at the throat. 
  • Missing Atlas wings.
  • Necks articulating as though the cervical column lays beneath the crest (“rainbow neck”) rather than replicating the motions of the S-shaped structure.
  • Necks lacking the necessary amoebic nature in articulation due to the S-shaped cervical column. In reality, the neck "lengthens" and "shortens," depending how the S-shaped curve is stretched or compressed.
  • Lacking the "shortest distance between two points" when the neck is turned, as evident on the crest or neck underline, creating a "ribbon neck."
  • Muscle formations inconsistent to the action or movement. For example, muscles that follow the inside curve of a bent neck when, in reality, they also take the "shortest distance between two points." 
  • A neck that bends in a gradual curve when, in fact, it bends as a series of kinks.
  • A neck bent most towards the head or mid-neck when, in reality, most lateral bend occurs at the base of the neck.
  • A tucked head that's set on the neck too high up or too low.
  • A tucked head that lacks the impression of a compressed, shortened neck.
  • A stretched neck that lacks the characteristic muscle hollows and the impression of an elongated neck.
  • Lacking texture and detail.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • A lack of secondary sex characteristics.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Too thin when viewed from above, with the Atlas bone being too narrow.
  • Too thick when viewed from above, with the Atlas bone being too wide. It should be almost as wide as the brows.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulations, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • Necks attached to the chest too low or too high, away from the proper alignment at the sternum.
  • Having a crooked or undulating crest.
  • A crest not properly following the articulations of the cervical column.
  • Physics being ignored or not adequately factored in enough.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.

Like the neck, the equine spine has both a specialized structure and articulations specific to the genus. Contrary to belief, however, the equine back isn't a pliable rod; it cannot flex freely in any direction, and it cannot flex evenly, like a curve (as we so often mistakenly see in books). In reality, the torso is quite rigid due to evolutionary requirements tailored to a large herbivore dependent on running in a straight line for extended periods for escape. It's an evolutionary thing. [Note: The spine should really be interpreted as a whole unit, to include the neck and tail as well as the torso since it acts as a whole, interconnected system.]

Curiously, the torso is typically treated as an afterthought as though it was an inert means to connect the forequarter to the hindquarter. However, the torso is dynamic and full of articulating expression and reactive and pro-active movements despite its relative rigidity. How the torso manifests is also a function of emotion as an anxious mind will stiffen the torso while a relaxed mind will make the torso more supple. So we need to pay close attention to its bends, twists, stretches, tilting, compressions, hollowing, dips, tension and relaxation, and rounding when interpreting motion, posture, balance, and expression. 

We should know, too, that all motion starts in the spine, and is dictated by the spine. That's to say its the oscillations of the spine that determine the gaits and leg movements, making the torso as important as the legs for expressing movement in our clay. Subsequently (and grossly oversimplified), an equine back...
  • Is capable of approximately 2 1/4 inches of dorsiflexion.
  • Has the greatest potential for lateral bend between T9 and T16. 
  • Has a lumbar region largely inflexible for lateral bending and limited rotational movement being designed instead for “coiling." However, there's a tiny snidge of lateral flexion possible between L1 and L5.
  • Has a fused sacrum capable only of coiling at the lumbo-sacral joint (LS-joint). 
  • Is capable of a relatively goodly degree of cumulative rotation; transversal rotation occurs mostly between T9 and T14.
  • Can stretch to elongate the body.
  • Can compress to shorten the body.
  • The ribcage can be shoved outside a curve to "bank a turn."
  • Has ribs that articulate in and out, and fore and aft when breathing.
  • The spine is built on a soft arch to support the viscera not on a straight line, as so often misrepresented in anatomy books.
So, in shorthand, this means that...
  • The horse cannot bend laterally in a gradual curve but more as a series of specific kinks. That's because most bend occurs between T9 and T16 while he "banks a turn" by pushing his ribcage outside of the bend to bring his hindfeet under himself more. Then add in the curve of the neck and the tail. Kink-kink-kink-kink.
  • The torso makes countless adjustments to accommodate balance, motion, emotion, and posture.
  • The greatest degree of articulation occurs at the LS-joint.
  • The barrel swings over the supporting hindleg in reaction to the physics of motion.
  • All movement begins in the spine, not the legs.
  • The torso can rotate the forequarter in relation to the hindquarter quite a bit, as often seen in cutting horses.
  • The torso elongates or compresses depending on motion, balance, emotion, and posture.
  • The torso expresses anxiety or relaxation depending on the store tension or suppleness.
  • When the neck is raised high this tends to hollow the back just a bit. Conversely, when the head is lowered, the back rises.
Being so complicated then, and so typically overlooked, the equine spine is a common place for anatomical errors, most often being:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed.
  • Muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement. 
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • A lack of secondary sex characteristics.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • A lack of texture and detail.
  • Withers that ride up onto the neck, sometimes even in front of the scapular cartilage.
  • Narrow or flat ribcages.
  • Ribcages not of the correct shape, often being tube-like. Instead, the equine ribcage is shaped like a canoe with a keel between the forelimbs and a wide, flat bottom towards the groin. However, each horse and even breed has a slightly different shape to their ribcage so we shouldn't sculpt it with a formula or habitual approach.
  • Static ribcages that aren't manipulated to accommodate motion, posture, or balance.
  • Static torsos that don't reflect motion, posture, or balance, or spinal movement that's misinterpreted or inconsistent to the depicted motion, posture, or balance.
  • Static torsos that don't reflect emotion.
  • Forgetting that all motion begins in the spine and not the legs, so neglecting to factor in torso qualities when design a composition. 
  • Forgetting how the spine moves. For instance, it often bends when turning, rounds in collection, hollows in a halter stretch, and rotates in certain motions like cutting, as well as making myriad continual adjustments. It's definitely not a static component of the body!
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulations, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • Physics being ignored or not adequately factored in enough.
  • Spines bending and moving in too flexible a fashion, like a cat or dog.
  • The spine of a halter stretch sculpture not hollowed out, but in the standing orientation.
  • A coiled position of the body without a rounded spine.
  • Collection of the neck, head, and legs without bascule through the spine.
  • Crooked spines.
  • Spines that don't bisect the body.
  • A spine that kinks at the loins.
  • Crooked sternums.
  • Inconsistently placed ribs.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Incorrectly sculpted genitalia, or genitalia that's out of scale, or lacks the necessary fleshy texture.
  • Genitalia that don't synch with motion.
  • No barrel swing out over the supporting hind leg, in synch with the spine and the momentum of motion, often referred to as “schwung” in German. 
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.

The pelvis is a fused girdle of bone lashed onto the spine at the sacroiliac joint by a tight network of ligaments. Functioning as a solid unit, the pelvis moves in sympathy with the spine; whatever the spine does, so must the pelvic girdle. The reference points of the pelvis are the ichium (point of buttock), tuber sacrale (point of croup) and the tuber coxae (point of hip). Neither can the pelvis internally articulate nor articulate with the spine. It can only articulate with the LS-joint, or sacrum. Consequently, these reference points are always parallel and aligned to each other as a perfect box and always bisected by the spine, regardless of movement, posture, balance, or emotion. Yet many artists seem to forget these anatomical parameters, and so commonly sculpt errors such as:
  • Structural asymmetries, which means the pelvic girdle itself is broken, or broken off the spine. The points of buttock, points of croup, and points of hip should always form a perfect box centered on the spine, regardless of motion. 
  • Asymmetrical placement of the femoral joints.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect action or topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion. 
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • A lack of secondary sex characteristics.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • Pelvic girdles askew on the spine, not bisected by the spine.
  • An ichium out of alignment with the tuber sacrale, tuber coxae, and the femoral joint.
  • Tuber coxae that are collapsed, making the points of hip too narrow in comparison to the tuber sacrale and the ichium.
  • "Pinched" ichium.
  • Misplaced femoral joint.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulations, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • Forgetting pelvic motion in movement, treating it like a static, inert block.
  • A pelvic girdle that doesn't "follow the legs to the ground." For example, if one hindlimb is cocked in a resting state, the pelvis should tip down on that side; otherwise that hindlimb ends up being longer than its pair.
  • Ignoring the LS-joint in motion, posture, balance, and emotion.
  • A narrow pelvic girdle. It should be the same or slightly greater width as the shoulders.
  • Out of scale features.
  • A lack of texture and detail.
  • A pelvic girdle inconsistent to the articulations of the spine.
  • Physics being ignored or not adequately factored in enough.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.

The forelimb includes the scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, carpals, metacarpal, the pastern bones, the sesamoids, the navicular, and foot. The entire thing operates as a symbiotic whole through a pulley-system of tendons and ligaments, tensionally balanced like a drafting lamp. Nothing operates independently. So that means all foreleg movement is dictated by the scapula and activated through the tendinous and ligamentary pulley-system. In fact, no muscle exists at or distal to the knee since they morph into tendons that act on the lower leg. Therefore, lower leg motion is governed by the muscles of the forearm through the humerus and down from the scapula. So whatever the hoof is doing is a reflection of what the knee, elbow, and shoulder are doing. Only if weighted, fatigued, uncommonly stressed, or injured do variations occur.

The scapula (shoulder blade) is not attached to the torso by bone, but by a sling of muscles and flesh referred to as the "Shoulder Sling." As a result, its motion is a sliding one and is remarkably supple, fluid, and dynamic. It also acts as a shock absorber and so forelegs can "jam into" the shoulder under the forces of impact. The scapula can also rotate and pooch just a bit though, as seen when the horse lays down.

The scapulo-humeral joint (between the scapula and the humerus) has a tremendous potential range of movement. However, a tight network of ligaments and muscles restrict the full potential of this joint. Nevertheless, it has a significant influence on foreleg motion. For example, it can flex and extend as well as cause foreleg abduction, adduction, and rotation.  

The humeral-radial joint (between the humerus and radius), or elbow, is a strict hinge joint capable only of flexion and extension along the sagittal plane. It cannot laterally or medially bend, or rotate. Acting like a lever, the ulna (elbow) is fused to the radius (forearm) and therefore acts as an extension of it.

The carpus (knee) is a hinge joint. However, it's capable of some shifting and twisting in flexion, clearly seen on reclining, high-stepping, or jumping horses, or when the hoof wings out. The carpus is also a dual-hinge joint, having a 2-tier construction. That said, the carpus can only articulate at the joints between the radius and the 1st layer, and between the 1st and the 2nd layer. The 2nd layer is so tightly lashed with ligaments onto the metacarpal (cannon) that it cannot articulate whatsoever, making it an extension of the metacarpal.

The three points of articulation in the foot are the fetlock, pastern, and the coffin joint (or pedal joint). All three are hinge joints, but the pastern and especially the coffin joint can produce some shift, lateral bend, and rotation. This can be easily seen on reclining horses, hoof "wobbling" during extreme movement, or laterally or medially angled pastern bones when the hoof is planted on the ground. The sesamoids, though firmly attached by ligaments to the 1st phalanx, articulate slightly with the cannon during flexion. There's also the navicular bone that articulates with the coffin bone and 2nd phalanx. 

The forelimb is a complex structure with equally complex movement parameters. It's no surprise then that these common errors occur:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Bones and joints lacking their characteristic boney, tendinous, and ligamentary landmarks, topography, tuberosities, and details. Puffy, indistinct, rounded joints are a common error.
  • Joints the wrong shape.
  • Muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed, or with joints oddly distorted.
  • Legs with warps, twists, and distortions, such as “spaghetti legs."
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of muscles, landmarks, and ligamentous or tendinous groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • Bent or undulating long bones.
  • Points of shoulder too extreme or displaced as to distort the shape of the shoulders.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulations, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • Forelimb motion that doesn't originate with the scapula.
  • A missing or displaced Pisiform. 
  • Not factoring in emotion when designing leg articulation. Relaxed or lazy horses often have plodding, dragging motion whereas excited or anxious horses usually have snappy, quick motion.
  • Forelimbs not articulating as integrated systems, like drafting lamps, having a ruptured pulley-system. For instance, standing shoulders with articulated forelegs, or articulated knees with extended elbows. However, also included are articulations that are inconsistent with each other such as a forelimb with a moderately bent scapula, extremely bent elbow, and slightly bent fetlock.
  • Knees articulating in the wrong location, at the joint between the second layer of metacarpals and the cannon when, in life, a tight network of ligaments binds this intersection into an immovable joint. This is why the top of a bent knee is pointy and the bottom bend is rounded.
  • Lacking splint bones, or splint bones of the wrong construction or location.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.
  • Static shoulders that lack their characteristic fluid motion. Always remember that there exists no bony attachment between the shoulders and the torso, but only the fleshy, stretchable "Shoulder Sling."
  • A lack of texture and detail.
  • The "button" of the point of shoulder in the wrong location.
  • Lateral, medial, or rotation motion at the elbow.
  • Bent ulnas, or broken elbows.

The equine chest is a changeable thing, thanks to the Shoulder Sling of the forelimb. Poor condition can make the chest narrow and emaciated while weighted forefeet can build up the chest musculature to become broad and bull-doggy. This makes the chest a tricky thing to measure proportionally, and so building a solid mental library of options is necessary to adequately gauge its width. Also complicating matters are the scapulae which move independently of each other and so distort the chest as a result. For these reasons, some common errors include:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Forelimb articulations incorrectly moving or constructed as to negative impact the chest's construction.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to flesh, articulations, balance, posture, emotion, and physics.
  • Physics being ignored or not adequately factored in enough.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls. And, in particular, chest musculature is prone to some pretty serious morphing; the options are almost limitless! For example, a lack of hollowing, bulging, distortion, stretching, pooching, striations, and other eccentricities so characteristic of the chest in motion, posture, or balance.
  • Sculpting chests the same way on each piece, regardless of individuality, motion, condition, balance, or posture. Chests vary a lot! 
  • Sculpting a chest too square in shape; chests are either rounded, oval, or diamond-shaped.
  • A chest not narrowing and compressing when the forelimbs are adducted, or not widened and stretched when the forelimbs are abducted.
  • The "buttons" of the Panniculus moving independently of each other.
  • The "buttons" of the Panniculus separated from the top of the sternum.
  • A crooked sternum.
  • Out of scale features.
  • A neck tying into the chest too high or too low; it should be right above the "buttons" of the Panniculus which lay between the points of shoulder.
  • An emaciated chest inconsistent to the condition of the rest of the body, or conversely, a built-up chest inconsistent to the poor condition of the rest of the body.
  • Muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • A lack of texture and detail.

The hindlimb includes the femur, tibia, fibula, tarsus, metatarsus, pastern bones, sesamoids, the navicular, and foot. It's also governed by its own pulley-system subject to the same mechanical concepts as discussed for the forelimb. For this reason, the hindlimb also acts as a symbiotic, tensionally-balanced system, connected together and behaving like a drafting lamp. Again, no portion articulates independently. That means that hindlimb action starts with the femur then down through the leg to the toe. Now sometimes we can include the pelvis with the hindlimb, and in many ways this can be a better interpretation by allowing us to see the connection to the LS-joint and spine. But for simplicity, we've regarded the pelvis as its own "thing" in this discussion.

Anyway, the pelvic-femoral joint (between the femur and pelvis) is a ball and socket joint capable of a wide degree of motion. All hindlimb motion originates at this joint, making it essentially the shoulder equivalent of the hindquarter. 

The stifle is actually comprised of two hinge joints, the femorotibial joint (between the femur and the tibia) and the femoropatellar joint (between femur and patella). And again, mirroring the foreleg (in this case the humeral-radial joint), both are hinge joints, incapable of lateral or medial articulation. However, a small degree of rotational motion can happen, especially when the hindlimb is extended backwards, rotating the toe slightly towards the median. The patella, a locking mechanism in the Stay Apparatus, articulates with the femur by sliding in sympathy with the tibia. In short then, the patella slides down when the hindlimb is flexed and up when the hindlimb is extended, maintaining approximately the same distance with the tuberosity of the tibia. Another important motion to notice is that the stifle must pop out around the wide ribcage in flexion, causing the entire leg to rotate outwards and slant inwards towards the median. Study the relationship of the stifle with the gaskin during motion, best observed from the front or rear, for clarification.

The tarsus (hock) shares two similarities with the carpus (knee). First, it consists of a 2-tier arrangement. And, second, the 2nd layer is tightly bound to the metatarsal (hindcannon), making this layer a mechanical extension of the metatarsal, an immoveable joint. But unlike the carpus, the rest of the bones of the tarsus are so lashed together by ligaments they are essentially fused together. As a result, the only point of articulation is between the astragalus and the tibia, the tibio-tarsal joint. Three important details to note here are:
  • The point of articulation is on top of the hock.
  • The calcaneum (the point of hock) leverages with the metatarsal like the ulna with the radius. 
  • The hock joint has a spiral construction due to the spiral articular surface of the astragalus. 
This means the hock articulates at the top, and the calcaneum always remains in line with the metatarsal. Furthermore, the spiral construction of the hock joint causes the metatarsal to rotate inwards, counterclockwise for the left hock and clockwise for the right hock (when seen from the front), and on a straighter forwards orientation in preparation for impact. This causes those curious orientations of the hindlimb parts when it's tightly flexed such as we see on racehorses, Hackneys, Saddlebreds, and jumping horses.

It's no surprise then that errors are common with the hindlimb owning to its complexity. Some of the most common mistakes are:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Bones and joints lacking their characteristic boney and ligamentary landmarks, topography, tuberosities, and details. Puffy, indistinct, rounded joints are a common error.
  • Muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • Ruptured pulley-system of the Stay Apparatus and Reciprocal Apparatus. Hindlimbs not articulating as integrated systems, like drafting lamps. For instance, a hindlimb with a broken Reciprocal Apparatus or Stay Apparatus. Other examples are standing stifles with articulated hind legs, or articulated hocks with extended stifles. However, also included are articulations that inconsistent with each other such as a hindlimb with a moderately bent stifle, extremely bent hock, and slightly bent fetlock.
  • When articulated, joints are often oddly distorted.
  • Legs with warps, twists, and distortions, such as “spaghetti legs."
  • Bent long bones.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed, or with joints oddly distorted.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • Lacking splint bones, or splint bones of the wrong construction or location.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulations, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • A lack of texture and detail.
  • Joints the wrong shape.
  • Hindlimb motion that doesn't originate at the femoral joint.
  • Hocks articulating in the wrong location, at the joint between the second layer of metatarsals and the cannon when, in life, a tight network of ligaments binds this intersection into an immovable joint.
  • A hock that's too pointy or flat, lacking the rounded, bulbous "cap" at the point of hock.
  • A broken hock with a calcaneum that doesn't function as an extension of the metatarsal.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.
  • Static femurs that lack their characteristic wide range of motion. 
  • The convergence of muscles groups on the femoral trochanter is misinterpreted.
  • A lack of spiral motion of the hock joint.
  • Hind leg articulation that doesn't factor in the "stifle-popping" effect to instead move on a straightforward plane from stifle to hoof, or worse, an articulated hind leg with a hock angled away from the median. In life, the stifle pops out around the barrel, angling the hock inwards and rotating it outwards while the hock’s spiral joint rotates hind cannon into a more-forwards position, keeping it from pointing out on the same plane as the popped-out stifle. The more extreme the hind leg articulation, the more pronounced these effects. 

Now as for foot motion of either the forelimb or hindlimbspecifically the fetlock, pastern, sesamoids, navicular, and coffin joints—they're governed both by the pulley-systems of the limbs, but they can also be influenced by physics despite the pulley-systems. Their articulation should be consistent to the articulation of rest of the pulley-system since the toes are governed by the scapula and femur, respectively. However, that said, a foot may snap or wobble under the forces of thrust or inertia, often seen in racing or jumping. Or a slacken, floppy foot can be influenced greatly by inertia, thrust, and gravity, as often seen in the forefoot. Fatigue may alter foot motion, too. So we need to study foot movement not only in relation to anatomy, but also as influenced by motion, physics, emotion, and circumstance to gain a better understanding of these peculiarities. And referring to quality reference photos is always a wise practice!

Nevertheless, when it comes to foot motion, there're a few concepts to keep in mind:

  • Most flexion tends to occur at the fetlock joint though the pastern and coffin joints play their role, too. However, coffin joint flexion becomes significant when articulation is extreme. Nevertheless, situations are variable. For example, primary flexion at the pastern and coffin joints may occur in the hindlimb when it's well under the body for support, often seen in haute ecole.
  • In a correct foot, the top of the hoof capsule is oriented at or below the anterior tip of the coffin bone, meaning that the coffin joint isn't encased and inert inside a hoof capsule. This gives the foot a wider range of motion. In contrast, a pathological foot has a hoof capsule oriented above this point, encasing the coffin joint inside the hoof capsule and reducing the foot's range of motion.
  • When a standing leg is extended backwards, such as a forelimb angled under the torso or a hindlimb angled out from under the body, the pulley-system straightens out the foot joints leaving the pedal joint to keep the foot flat on the ground. In other words, the pastern bones don't angle more to place that hoof flat on the ground, a common error in sculpture.
  • The emotions of the horse can influence foot movement. For instance, a lazy or relaxed horse may exhibit floppy, slackened foot articulation whereas an excited animal may produce tight, snappy action. In this way, foot articulation can be an indicator of mood.
Despite how complicated and important the foot system is, it's often treated as an afterthought when it comes to leg articulation in sculpture. For example, common errors include:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the tendons and ligaments, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Pathological foot structure.
  • Articulation inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • Forgetting to infuse physics, posture, balance, inertia, or emotion into foot articulations.
  • Lacking the characteristic boney and ligamentary landmarks and details. 
  • When articulated, joints are oddly distorted.
  • Incorrectly shaped joints.
  • Portions with warps, twists, and distortions.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and ligamentary and tendinous groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology; the foot bones on foals are markedly different from adults.
  • Unsculpted palmar feet.
  • Palmar feet sculpted with anatomical errors.
  • Pasterns that lack a bell-shape when seen from the front.
  • Underdeveloped lateral cartilages.
  • No hollow between the lateral cartilages.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to flesh, articulation, balance, posture, emotion, and physics.
  • A rounded coronet all around the foot. In life, the coronet is slightly rounded in front to flatten towards the heel.
  • An undulating coronet band.
  • Foot bones not articulating as integrated systems with the pulley-systems of the limbs. 
  • Out of scale features.
  • Coffin joints that don't compensate for the angles of the limbs when standing.
  • Lack of texture and detail.

The tail is a continuation of the spine and so should reflect its robust dimensions. The tail is also the most flexible part of the spine, able to assume many different configurations as we see with lively tail movement. Nevertheless, the tail is often treated haphazardly or like an afterthought, usually exhibiting these following errors:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Skeletal alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Lacking the underside groove between the musculature.
  • Lacking the flattish surface on the underside to instead be an incorrect rounded tube.
  • Crooked bony alignment.
  • Articulations incorrectly moving or constructed.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion, often being too thin, too thick, too short, or too long.
  • A tailbone that doesn't taper towards the tip.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to articulation, balance, posture, emotion, and physics.
  • Tail motion not factored into the design of the motion, misinterpreted, or inconsistent to the depicted motion, or forgetting that tail motion is a reflection of spinal motion. 

Muscles form the bulk of the flesh we recreate in our sculpture and help to give the horse his characteristic shape. They also animate the skeleton, but can only contract. As such, muscles are typically laid out in complementary, opposing configurations. Equine muscles are also unique to the genus so we need to pay them careful attention. 

Also included here is muscle quality insofar as "smooth bodied" versus "muscular" build. That is to say that certain breeds are characterized by "smooth muscle," being "smooth bodied." Examples are the Arabian, Saddlebred, Morgan, and many drafters. In contrast, some breeds have a higher degree of definition such as stock horses and racing Thoroughbreds. So we have to account for muscle quality in order to ensure an authentic rendition of a breed or type.

Nonetheless, being so complicated and intricate, they're often sculpted incorrectly such as:
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Muscular alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography of the musculature, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Not accounting for resting tonus. For example, Arabians and Thoroughbreds tend to have high resting tonus whereas drafters and Friesians have a low resting tonus.
  • Muscles lacking their characteristic landmarks, topography, tuberosities, and details.
  • Muscle action inconsistent to the action or movement.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and muscle groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology.
  • A lack of secondary sex characteristics.
  • Out of scale aspects.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to texture, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • A lack of texture and detail.
  • The wrong shape.
  • Muscle quality inconsistent to the breed. For example, an Arabian with highly defined stockhorse-type musculature.
  • Formulaic musculature when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls. 
  • Habitual musculature despite motion, posture, individuality, breed, or balance. Musculature should vary based on the factors.
  • The convergence of muscles groups misinterpreted.

Fascia connects everything together as one integrated system while also encapsulating muscles to help give them their shape. Fascia also helps to give flesh and hide texture with lumps, bumps, rippling, creases, crinkling, stretches, striations and other idiosyncrasies of the surface topography. In essence then, fascia is the connective, supportive, organizational and bracing structure of the entire body, providing a continuous, complex network of binding tissue that maintains order and links every aspect of the body to everything else.

Fascia (fasciae for plural) comes in many forms and is an extremely important part of the body. Overall, it’s a tough, connective, supportive band, layer, sleeve, or sheet for all aspects of the body from muscles to bones to organs. There are four basic different types of fascia: 
  • “Fiber” fascia: Like a dense web of fibers or strands. It’s often used to lash things together like skin to the body.
  • “Bubble” fascia: This is similar, but it has multitudes of thin membranes formed into little pockets full of oil or other viscous fluids. This kind of fascia is prevalent in areas of friction to reduce it and to also function as heat sinks there such as under the scapula and around the muscles of the hindquarter. Fat is often deposited in this type of fascia, which can lead to cellulite, or that lumpy appearance. 
  • “Sheet” fascia (also called an aponeurosis): A non-stretchy sheet of matted collagen fibers often used to help support structures, such as the gut and legs.
  • “Jello” fascia: A loose mushy tissue often found wrapping nerves and organs. 
The superficial or subcutaneous fascia, typically fiber fascia, glues the skin to the underlying features and contains the voluntary cutaneous (skin) muscles that serve as the “fly shakers." 

The deep fascia, typically aponeurotic fascia, has more functions and is consequently very complex, more dense, and highly developed on the limbs. It sheaths muscles in a close-fitting septa (sleeve), separating and directing muscle function along specific parameters while also attaching to the periosteum and thereby providing routes for vessels, nerves, and the lymphatic system. It also encases joints, blends with ligaments and tendon sheaths, and is tough enough to also serve as direct attachment for some important muscles. It also facilitates definition and shape to muscle masses while also acting as a powerful supportive tissue for viscera (guts). Being well developed in the legs, it provides definition, organization and stabilization of limb features and mechanisms. 

Yet fascia is typically ignored in both anatomical study and sculpture despite it being so critically important. Indeed, fascia is stripped away in dissection to reveal the muscles so we have to regard anatomy diagrams with a grain of salt. So being routinely overlooked, fascia typically suffers these errors:
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to texture.
  • Formulaic or habitual texture when, in reality, texture morphs with motion, physics, and "moment." 
  • Ignoring, misaligning, or incorrectly structuring the Tensor Fascia Lata.
  • A lack of hide or fascia texture, the sculpture having a hyper-smooth surface instead which is a function of artistic style rather than reality.
  • Texture that lacks the proper fleshy, squishy appearance being too harshly sculpted.

"Goo" refers to the organic, fleshy, squishable nature of flesh. It pooches, squishes, stretches, ripples, crinkles, bulges, dips, has striations, dimples, warp, twist, distort, buckles, wrinkles, and assumes all manner of distortions in response to motion, emotion, balance, posture, and physics. It can entail muscles, fascia, fat, the hide, and other fleshy aspects of the body. So unless we capture the nature of Goo in our clay, our sculpture will appear inert and artificial.

Yet Goo is often ignored in sculpture, being largely overlooked in life study and non-existent in anatomy diagrams, which is why so many pieces don't look as believable as they could. To avoid that then, it's smart to avoid these typical errors:
  • Incorrect topography, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Forgetting to infuse physics, posture, balance, inertia, or emotion into Goo.
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features, typically of landmarks and ligamentary and tendinous groups.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Inadequate age morphology; the foot bones on foals are markedly different from adults.
  • When articulated, the limbs lack Goo such as wrinkles, ripples, pooches, or buckled flesh.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to flesh, articulation, balance, posture, emotion, and physics.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Lack of texture and detail. 
  • Formulaic Goo when, in reality, flesh morphs with motion, posture, balance, emotion, physics, and "moment," distorting away from the contrived order of an anatomy chart. Horses don’t move like jointed anatomical paper dolls.
  • Static flesh despite motion, emotion, balance, posture, or physics. 
  • The convergence of Goo not distorting enough, or with enough effects.
  • Too much Goo or too little Goo.
  • Goo that lacks a fleshy, squishable appearance being rendered too rigidly or harshly.
  • Goo that doesn't stretch as needed in strategic places.
Ligaments and Tendons

Tendons are stretchy strap-like extensions of muscles while ligaments attach bone to bone and are unstretchable straps (there are a few exceptions such as the Nuchal ligament, Suspensory ligament, and the neck portion of the Supraspinous ligament). The tendons facilitate energy storage and release, and help to animate the skeleton, and are critical components of the pulley-systems of the legs, the Stay Apparatus, and the Reciprocal Apparatus. Ligaments stabilize, support, and connect joints, but some also function to store and release energy.

Yet like fascia, ligaments and tendons are often ignored or treated like afterthoughts despite their importance to anatomy. Because of this, they often have these errors: 
  • Structural asymmetries.
  • Alignments, topography, and landmarks in error.
  • Incorrect topography, often inconsistent with the depicted motion.
  • Ligamentary and tendinous landmarks, topography, and details are missing, incorrect, or misplaced. 
  • Incorrect planes.
  • Incorrect placement of features.
  • Incorrect proportion.
  • Out of scale features.
  • Forgetting the effects of "moment," and cause and effect when it comes to definition, texture, balance, posture, emotion, flesh, and physics.
  • Leg tendons and ligaments not defined enough such as on the cannon.
  • Cannon tendons and ligaments with "pills," tears, crooked, undulating, or wavy.
  • Seen from the back of the cannon, tendons that are too wide or too narrow.
  • Tendons and ligaments that don't look "strappy" and taut.
  • Joints without crisp tendinous definition which can be important for foals and certain thin-skinned breeds such as the Arabian and Teke.

Equine realism is also dependent on details, all those little touches that add immediacy, authenticity, and life to our depiction. Truly, if the real horse has it, so should our sculpture. For this, details include:
  • Wrinkles
  • Moles
  • Veins
  • Capillaries
  • Nerves
  • Chestnuts and Ergots
  • Coat or hair texture
  • Grooming such as braids, ribbons, bobs, and clips
  • Shoes and clinches
  • Pads and other farrier devices
  • Bridlepaths
That said, however, details are often a feature sculpted in error owing to their delicacy or intricacy. Some common errors include:
  • Out of scale details.
  • Imprecision and sloppiness.
  • Chestnuts not of the correct shape for the forelimb or hindlimb.
  • Chestnuts that lack texture.
  • Ergots that are too large.
  • Wrinkles that are sculpted too harshly or in a slashing manner, lacking a fleshy, folded texture. 
  • Wrinkles that don't follow the nature of the bend.
  • Wrinkles that lack secondary buckling.
  • Wrinkles that don't fade out into the surrounding flesh, but end abruptly.
  • Wrinkles that are too regimented and accordion-like.
  • Veins, capillaries, and nerves incorrectly rendered and laid out.
  • Veins that lack a rounded surface, being caved in.
  • Veins that are regimented.
  • Veins that aren't bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Veins sculpted in a slashing manner or indicated as grooves in the surface. In reality, they're fleshy and raised up.
  • Moles that are caved-in in the middle.
  • Moles that are pointy.
  • Regimented moles.
  • Nerves in the wrong places or wrong structure and configuration.
  • Capillaries that lack the "now you see them, now you don't" quality; they're also often uneven and bulbous in areas.
  • Capillaries that lack a look of chaos, being too regimented.
  • Braids, ribbons, bobs, or other such accoutrements that are out of scale, or improperly or imprecisely done.
  • Long braids that hug the body, flush with the body, when they should hang or flow free, away from the body; remember the "hang effect."
  • Long braids that lack flow and motion insynch with movement.
  • Braided tails that don't taper towards the tip.
  • Braided tails that don't reflect the shape and length of the tailbone properly.
  • Body clips that are imprecise and sloppy.
  • Flat bridlepaths when, in life, they're slightly raised up in a semi-circle.
  • Bridlepaths that lack the shaven, stubble texture of hair.
  • Coat texture that ignores the hair growth patterns.
  • A winter coat rendered in a slashy fashion or it looks like it was sculpted with a fork.
  • Winter coat textures that ignore hair growth patterns.
  • Out of scale hair growth texture or patterns.
  • Clinches incorrectly placed at the quarters, uneven, or located too high on the hoof wall. Clinches must be towards the toe, even, and low on the hoof wall.
  • Ill-fitting or poorly done shoes.
  • Out of scale shoes and clinches.
  • Round clinches when, in reality, they're square or rectangular.
  • Incorrect shoes for the type of performance depicted in the sculpture.


Sculpting hair is easily one of the most difficult tasks when sculpting realism. This makes the mane, tail, and feathers often immensely tricky. What's more, there are many ways to sculpt hair and so we see a huge variety of artistic interpretation, all equally effective. That said, however, hair does exhibit some common faults such as:

  • "Ropey" tendrils that look more like tentacles than wisps of hair. This is a typical fault particularly of "wild" manes, tails, and feathers. Instead, a nifty trick is to make the ends as thin as possible, rather than pointed, blunted, or rounded, to make manes, tails, and feathers look wispy.
  • Forgetting that hair moves by passive physics; it cannot move on its own.
  • Inconsistent motion, or chunks of hair that don't follow the physics of the rest of the hair. For example, a forelock with windblown movement but crest mane that's static and inert.
  • Forgetting that hair can move in multiple ways even on the same mane, tail, and feathers.
  • Hair that lacks layers, being all the same length.
  • Hair that lacks "chunking." Hair strands group together in chunks or clumps which move can move in synch with each other or independently based on physics.
  • Ignoring the differences in feather texture between breeds. For example, heavy European drafters tend to have coarser, more Brillo-pad-like texture to their feathers rather than the silky feathers of Clydesdales and Shires.
  • Hair out of synch with motion, posture, or balance.
  • Hair that hugs the body, being flush with the body, when it should hang free or be set away from the body according to physics; remember the "hang effect."
  • "Pedestrian" hair that lacks the physics of motion, being a boring, conventional, "safe" rendition of hair. Hair needs "character" to look convincing.
  • Hair with "pilling," tears, or blobs in the sculpting.
  • A messy, crooked crest.
  • Messy, indistinct hair that overhangs the hoof as feathers.
  • Feathers that are too thick or thin for the breed. For example, Suffolk Punches have sparse feathers while Vanners often have thick, dense feathers.
  • Hair that lacks the proper texture, often looking like it was sculpted with a fork.
  • Hair that's too thick or thin for the breed. For example, Arabians have thinner, silkier manes and tails rather than the profuse manes and tails of a Black Forest Horse.
What Does All This Mean?

We work so hard to create as technically accurately as possible, applying ourselves tirelessly and diligently. We understand that authentic anatomy is the cornerstone of equine realism, and that we fall short of our aim when we start to get lazy or hazy about such things.

But it all comes down not to our knowledge base, our skills, our aesthetics, our goals, or our innate abilities. Nope! Those are merely by-products. As we discovered in a previous blog series, it all comes down to our perception. The more refined and keen our perception then, the more accurate and believable our work. It's what governs our Eye, our hands, and our prerogatives. It's the basis of our Sight. Indeed, certain artists aren't more successful because they're more talented! They're more successful because they have more refined perceptive abilities. But all this means that being able to manipulate our perception at will gives us tremendous power to make huge advances in our work. And that's really important because there's a big difference between what looks equine and what actually is equine. Our blindspots, skewed aesthetics, knowledge gaps, and inadequate Sight can get in the way. So when it comes to equine realism, we're specifically tasked with sculpting what's actually there rather than what we presume to be there. So that means we have to actively mediate our Sight in order to ferret out deficiencies. It also means we're asked to stretch beyond our conventions, habits, routines, formulas, and preconceived notions with every new piece we undertake.

So there we are in our studio, working hard to express anatomy correctly in our sculpture. Yet each of us also works within our unique perception, prescribing how we express anatomy in our clay. On top of that, we're challenged with each different composition, breed, posture, and any number of other variables. For this reason, each new sculpture represents a fresh start in more ways than one. As such, we have to wrestle with our blindspots—every artist has them. We may have persistent ones we must contend with, or some may pop up spontaneously depending on the composition we've chosen. Whatever the reason, our blindspots define our work just as much as what we consciously infuse into our clay. In many ways, really, our progress is dependent on how we tease out and correct our blindspots. In this way, the more we infuse objectivity and insight into our perception, the more our blindspots pop out for us to amend, and this is how we advance.

This is why it takes a special kind of diligence and integrity to ensure non–equine traits and other technical errors don't pepper our work. It's an on-going process though. We've all made mistakes—it's how we learn. It's also how we learn to better discern and decipher "equineness" in the living subject, references, and our clay. Being able to do so with increasing degrees of sophistication is one of our aims for growth, and it's happily rather straightforward: the cure for every error in realism is found in good ol' anatomy. It's our goal, our pathway, and our cure. And anatomy is learnable—it's not an impossible subject to grasp. It just takes an earnest application of our gumption and a willingness to step into unknown territory. Sure—we may be well-versed in conformation, but anatomy is an entirely different subject. And when we're immersed in a subject that gives us authority—such as conformation—it can be a little bit uncomfortable to "start all over" and become a learner again. But this is one of the ways how equine realism asks us to humble ourselves in order to express the "otherness" of another creature. Anatomy doesn't really care about our feelings—it exists whether we chose to implement it or not. So we need to buck up, and just dive in!


Equine structure is a marvel of natural design, and, luckily, its mechanical marvels can be better deciphered with study, practice, and observation. When we analyze the mechanics of the living animal to identify its nuances and properties, we can then internalize the design through artistic exercises, practice, and more advanced education and research. As we do this, our perception refines and our Eye begins to See more and more. With all this, we're finally able to better reveal our blindspots while also conceptualizing the systems and structures with greater ease and accuracy. It's a process. It takes time and application. Just keep at it.

For this, life study is essential to give us the opportunity to keenly observeup close and personalthe living subject. But if access to horses is difficult, there are myriad other sources. Movies and videos can help us See postures and motion just as much, so check out YouTube. Once we learn to See motion in life, we can better extrapolate cause and effect in static photos, our standard reference shots. Also immensely helpful are quality workshops, clinics, and seminars, superb for deepening our understanding and stretching our expectations of ourselves. There are also phone apps for equine anatomy! Also refer to the 2017 Reference Listing for an inventory of helpful anatomical resources. There are reams of information out there at our fingertips! The point is this: studying how a living horse actually moves and behaves is vital—don't rely on booksmarts alone.

And it's important to keep pace. Competition and innovation has sped up improvements in workmanship over the years, to dizzying heights. Yet for all the progress in many areas, the issue of anatomy still suffers fundamental and chronic errors. People speak of straight shoulders, goose rumps, calf-knees, ewe-necks, smooth paintwork, accurate patterns, and artistic detail, etc. but rarely discuss the abduction of the femur, dorsiflexion of the thoracic vertebrae, vastus attachment to the femoral trochanter, contraction of the extensor pedis, extension of the humerus, and internal malleolus of the radius, etc. In reality, these anatomical issues are the more important concepts to discuss because realism is impossible without correct anatomy. So we all have something to gain here, most notably a deeper appreciation for the creature we pay homage to with our endeavors. When we come to understand equine anatomy, we come to also grasp his entire evolutionary story, one that's rich, varied, grounding, fascinating, and inspiring. We also better develop the ability to create sculptures that are believable as living animals, and that improves our satisfaction in the studio. Yet collectors also benefit from this kind of understanding by being able to make more informed purchases that have a better chance of success in competition. Of course then, judges benefit from all of this through the marked improvement of their knowledge base, allowing them to make better choices for their placings. Ultimately then, a better understanding of equine anatomy elevates the entire art form, allowing more pieces to realize the goal and dazzle us with their believabilty.

So ask questions, stay curious, and never take anything about the equine for granted. With practice, patience, and discipline, the mechanical workings of the equine will become more apparent. This will help us recreate natural, living motion while also helping to make muscle structure and function much easier to decipher. Again, it's a process. One insight leads to another. And—sure—it may seem inexplicable at first. But keep at it. Things will start to make more sense the more we apply ourselves. Just remember that unlocking the secrets of equine anatomy means we gain a significant depth of information for making our work much more convincing. They go hand-in-hand. Understanding equine anatomy is the single most essential thing for us to grasp—and that makes our task that much easier. So don't give up! Keep exploring, keep improving, and keep stretching!

"Observe 'what is' with undivided awareness."
~ Bruce Lee

  • Median Plane: The plane intersecting the horse if the animal were sliced down the middle, nose to tail
  • Sagittal Plane: Any plane parallel to the median plane
  • Abduction: Motion away from the median plane
  • Adduction: Motion toward the median plane
  • Dorsiflexion: Flexion upward
  • Lateral: To the side, away from the median plane
  • Medial: To the inside, towards the median plane
  • Internal: To the inside, towards the median plane

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