Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dazed By Dapples: Tips for Painting a Dapple Grey


Dapple grey is quite striking, making it a popular color with many people. It definitely grabs the eye! Being so, artists like to tackle this color, working evermore diligently to capture its unique features. However, those things that make it appealing can also make it frustrating to create! Its variability, quirks, and complexity blend together into a complex mixture of color, effect, pattern, and eccentricity. Nonetheless, with some simple ideas and observations we can decipher the color in a way that's not so daunting.

So let's explore some of these ideas, those that apply to all media. For a much more detailed discussion on dapple grey, and dapples in general, please refer to the article, Painting Conventions: Fact or Fantasy, Part 3. To complete the three-part series, refer to Part 1 and Part 2 as well.

So let's get to it!

Things to Remember 
  • Dapple grey isn't really a color, but a composite pattern entailing the body color with the gradual infusion of white hairs in characteristic configurations and intensities. 
  • As such, dapple grey is a progressive effect; it develops as the horse ages. Foals are born a normal foal color and the pattern progresses from dark to medium to light, as the youngster ages. A foal destined to “grey out” will sometimes (but not always) have white hairs around the eyes ("goggles"), muzzle, dock, and inside the ears. In other words, foals aren’t born dapple grey and, on the other end of the spectrum, senior horses aren’t dark dapple grey.
  • Dapple grey can occur on any color or pattern, and in conjunction with any markings.
  • The pattern can result in a pure “white” horse at maturity, but this color is really grey because the animal will have dark skin under those white hairs (except under markings, which will have pink skin). Also grey “white” isn’t cremello (also erroneously referred to as “albino”) because cremellos have pink unpigmented skin under the pale hairs.
  • The “classic” or "porcelain" blue-tone dapple grey occurs on a black horse whereas a rosegrey is merely the pattern on a bay, chestnut, or other solid coat. Steel grey is the graying pattern without dapples and which also tends to have less pronounced greyed-out areas.
  • Fleabitten grey (in which tiny flecks of the basecoat remain during the greying process; the fleabitten effect can be minimal or very heavy) can also develop in conjunction with dapples. In other words, a horse can have both fleabites and dapples at the same time. However, as the horse ages, the horse will lighten and the dapples will fade while the fleabites remain.
  • Dapple grey isn’t roan, though the two colors are sometimes confused. Rosegreys and steel greys, in particular, are usually confused with roans. However, roan has a very different pattern of white hairs that make it distinct to the trained eye. 
  • Not all aged horses grey out pure white, but sometimes retain some pigment, especially on the points (in particular, the joints) or in the mane and tail. On the other hand, some youngsters can grey out rather quickly. The rapidity of the greying progression can be hereditary or due to condition. Some breeds, such as the Lippizzan, have been bred to grey out white relatively quickly, for example. Therefore, while the pattern’s progression is linked to the horse’s age, it’s not necessarily an accurate indicator. Fleabites aren’t an accurate indicator of age either because they can pop up rather early in the greying process, too. It's a general correlation.
  • Although dapple grey has some rules, within those parameters the pattern is diverse. No two dapple greys are ever alike, making the individual qualities as unique as a fingerprint. This  means we need to approach each of our dapple grey paint jobs with a totally fresh, new outlook to ensure that individuality.
  • To start interpreting the pattern, first identify the “hot spots” on the horse. These are the areas that will first develop white hairs since it’s believed the heat from the blood close to the skin’s surface triggers the white hairs to first sprout there. In some instances, even the mane laid against the neck can create a hot spot, causing accelerated greying beneath it. Then, with age, the white hairs radiate out, creating dapples and eventually turning the horse “white,” or a light version of the pattern. Specifically, look for the pattern to first start at the crown, the ears, on the face, at the throat and jugular, between the jaw bars, in the elbow and flank area, on the inner forearms and gaskins, around the groin, between each haunch, and in the groove between the Semitendinosus and Biceps femoris muscles on the hindquarter. Even though there are exceptions, the first dapples tend to emanate from these starter hot spots. 
  • Dapple grey also has some specific effects. For starters, hot spots can cause “sunbursts," or white hairs forming streaks radiating outward in a burst or in a branch-like fashion on the forearms, gaskins, and sometimes the lower haunch and Triceps area. Sunbursts are actually the white hairs following the superficial veins and capillaries. We can also see "ghost tracking," or squiggles or branches that connect dapples together, often seen on the neck and shoulder. In addition, the tendons have light patchy areas and often the tendon grooves are light in color. What's more, the coronets are often rimmed with light hairs, or "bracelets." Actually, streaking and patchiness is typically of the lower leg, especially in the medium phase of the pattern. Regardless, note that dark color tends to stick to the joint or boney areas on the legs unless the animal greys to “white." 
  • Every dapple is unique. No two are alike. They can range from bursts to smudges, to jigsaw puzzle piece-like shapes to blockish shapes to star shapes to random shapes to pointy shapes to round shapes, and just about everything in between. Some also even have a spikey or “frosted window,” branching effect. Look for where these different shapes tend to occur over different parts of the body. And they aren't haphazardly splattered on the body, either, but fall into patterns themselves. There's a messy order to them, what we can refer to as "ordered chaos." They can also group together in nestled clusters, forming a pattern within a pattern. Furthermore, they can also line up, forming rows flowing down the body. These effects often most clearly happen on the barrel, for example. Each dapple also has a characteristic coloring: lightest in the middle and darker on its borders, where it blends with the body coat. Yet each dapple also varies in intensity and can also vary in tint and tone.
  • Being a composite coat, dapple grey isn't "smoothly" formed. It's not highly blended, in painting terms. Instead, it has a grainy look to it, a speckled appearance, as the white hairs intermingle with the colored hairs. This is an important feature to mimic; otherwise our dapple grey won't appear as convincing as it could have been.
Simple Tips 
  • Use good reference photos to guide us and alert us to unique features and details that add realism. Learn to compare and contrast dapple greys to build a mental library of options, too. And to help us further, it's also a good idea to use a photo editing program to turn our reference photos into black and white and inverse versions to help our eye gauge what's happening better. Often a straight reference photo just isn't enough for us to really discern all that's going on. 
  • Think of dapple grey as a pattern, not a color. This approach really helps to interpret photos or life study by forcing the eye to perceive structure amidst the chaos. For example, the layout of the light dapples and the dark networks has a pattern in size, shape, placement, orientation, and intensity. Actually, using the skills we've learned for translating appaloosas and pintos comes in very handy with dapple grey. For instance, on appaloosas, we learn to interpret them as dark spots on a light background whereas we learn to interpret pintos as white areas laid onto a dark background. But with dapple grey, we need to apply both perceptions simultaneously. In other words, don’t just see white dots on dark areas or dark networking on light areas…see both, and paint both, concurrently. It takes practice and keen observation, but we can do it!
  • Think of the various shades of dapple grey as different levels of intensity of light areas. And “intensity” doesn’t just refer to brightness either, but also the prevalence of these light areas as well. In other words, a dark dapple grey has a low intensity and occurrence of light areas and a light dapple grey has a high intensity and occurrence of light areas. On the other hand, a medium dapple grey is the most diverse, having various intensities of light and dark on the same horse. 
  • Note that dapples are different shapes, sizes, spacings, intensities, orientation, and tones. Also note they often fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, in clumped groupings, rows, or various other discreet clusters. Also notice that dapples follow the pattern of the hairgrowth, especially around the flank area. 
  • Markings and patterns become more diffuse and blotchy as the pattern develops, most notably on the legs and face, with the exception of muzzle markings. 
  • The color of the mane and tail (and feathers, if present) are also subject to great variation and are important to note. Rosegreys tend to have the most arresting variations in this regard, often having flaxen, brown, or chestnut in the manes and tails. Also, the tip of the tailbone tends to be the first to grey out.
  • Study lots of photos and living horses to mentally absorb more information about the pattern. After several pieces, painting it will become easier as we develop a mental library of characteristics, variations, and details. And use new references to stay fresh to avoid a formulaic approach. Remember, each dapple grey is unique.
Artistic Hints
  • Learn to interpret dapple grey as “ordered chaos," which is the best way to describe the pattern. The paintjob should give a clear impression of a pattern (order) yet be infused with a living, organic, non-static, and individualistic treatment (chaos).
  • There are two ways to initially paint a dapple grey: Dark on light or light on dark. But the truth is we should avoid creating the pattern with both simultaneously. Indeed, a lot of “back n’ forth” adjustments are required to achieve a convincing result. When we paint light dapples on a dark background, they appear to artificially  "float" on top rather than seem part of the coat. Yet when we paint dark networks around light dapples, we can produce a regimented, honey-combed, heavy-handed appearance
  • Our primary goal when painting a dapple grey is to avoid artificial regimentation. The pattern recognition response of our brains makes it unconsciously easy for our hands to fall into contrived patterns when we lay in the dapples or dark networks. Yet if anything can be said about dapple grey, we can say it isn't contrived. This is why also using black and white and inverse versions of our references can help us by "shocking" our eye out of the expected interpretation. Also, take breaks between sessions and come back to the paint job fresh. Dapple grey does have general patterns, so we should be sure we're painting those and not what our brain arbitrarily contrives. Never assume and never fall into habit, preconceptions, or formula when painting this pattern.
  • A "classic," "porcelain" dapple grey is comprised of black and white hairs. We can use Ivory Black (for a cool blue variety) or Mars Black (for a warmer variety), and Titanium White. We can also add some browns and tans to tint it as desired.
  • Rosegrey should be approached exactly the same way, but rather than just black, use tones appropriate for the basecoat.
  • Keep the pattern distinct. We should be clear with our painting and not muddy the idea by becoming too complicated, over-worked, or over-blended. There’s a fine line between ordered chaos and a confusing mess, both technically and artistically. For this reason, it’s often better to just focus on the pattern itself and refrain from too much muscle highlighting and shading, which will quickly muddle the pattern into an unconvincing confusion. And we should never get messy with our media. The pattern may certainly look chaotic, but our approach to it certainly shouldn't be.
  • Fleabites are a fun detail to add. We can draw them on with a color pencil (keep it sharp) or paint them on with a size 00 paintbrush. We can even splatter them on with thinned down paint (the consistency of ink) and a stiff toothbrush (flicked with our thumb; do some practice before attempting this technique). And to add hair direction and detail, use pencils or liner brushes to refine them. The handy trick with this is that the flicked effect automatically creates variability for us so we can avoid that ever-present threat of regimentation. Fleabites can occur all over the body or be concentrated in certain areas. Fleabites are the color of the basecoat and can vary in color over the body consistent with the bloom of the coat. For example, they can be more like the body color on the body to become more charcoal around the eye and muzzle. Sometimes, a fleabitten grey will have a “bloody shoulder” marking in which a lacey, speckled patch of the basecoat remains on the body, which can be small or quite large.
  • Rub marks, from lying down, often occur on the knee, outside of the point of hock and fetlock. They show up as white patches about the size of a dime or quarter.
  • To recreate the impression of a thin-skinned or clipped horse, pinking the skin under markings is a nice touch. But keep it subtle. Also, dark skin can show through the white “hot spots” when the animal sweats, often appearing at the pectorals, elbow, point of shoulder, throatlatch, around the base of the ear, flank, and stifle. These dark areas shouldn’t be confused with the grey pattern because they’re the dark skin showing underneath the wet hot spots. It makes for a nice realistic touch.
  • We can use color pencils to define, intensify, and detail the dapples and sunbursts if we like. Derwents are recommended since they have a high pigment ratio to wax. And keep them sharp! Color pencils are also great for detailing the mane and tail as well with subtle striations of hair.
Things to Avoid
  • Fight regimentation. We shouldn't allow our hand to be dictated by our brain's pattern recognition response.
  • Likewise, avoid uniformity with dapples including uniformity in their shapes, sizes, orientations, clustering, intensities, spacings, and shadings. 
  • Avoid uniform, smooth transitions from dark to light areas. In other words, the dark "honeycombs" around the dapples typically exhibit transitions into the grey areas that are abrupt, jagged, chaotic, and in a jagged “broken honeycomb” manner. A touch that's too even-handed creates a unrealistic look by compromising that "ordered chaos" so essential for dapple grey's believability.
  • Avoid blended, uniform shadings on the legs since the greying pattern usually creates rather patchy and abrupt transitions between dark and light in these areas.
  • Avoid excessive body shading and highlighting; focus primarily on the pattern. This will keep the pattern clear and distinguishable and prevent a confusing result.
  • Be aggressive with the dark and light areas on a dark or medium dapple grey. These phases of the pattern are bold! And as the pattern progresses, toning down the contrasts between the darks and lights can help to duplicate the look of a dapple grey that’s lightening.
  • Refrain from creating the pattern by applying colors in a flat, simple manner such as just laying down black or brown networks on a white background and calling it a day. For example, a common mistake here is the "Figure-8" method with an airbrush. Truly, a dapple grey paintjob requires many “back and forth” layers to be convincing.
  • Pay attention to where dapples occur, intensify, are shaped, cluster, line up, and disperse on the different parts of the body. They shouldn't be evenly spaced or of the same nature over the entire body.
  • Try not to misinterpret the color by laying white and dark portions in the wrong patterns. Really, many dapple grey paint jobs are unconvincing because the artist mistakenly juxtaposed the light and dark areas.
  • Avoid pink shading where white markings aren’t present. Sometimes, artists inaccurately “pink” the elbow and flank areas, thinking that unpigmented skin lies underneath. But a dapple grey has dark skin underneath unmarked areas.
  • Avoid painting a bloody shoulder marking in a flat color. In reality, blood marks are speckled and patchy with lots of interesting things going on in them.
  • Pay close attention to the hair growth pattern when laying in fleabites. Hair growth also influences dapple shape and flow, so we need to be observant here, too.
  • Harmonize the dapples and the dark networks. In other words, the dapples shouldn't look like they're "floating on top" of the dark color, but are set into it, part of it. This means we can't add dapples after the fact but have to paint them simultaneously with our dark networks and areas.
  • Avoid a "powder-puff" look by blending the pattern too much. Remember, maintain that distinctive graininess characteristic of the coat.

Painting a dapple grey is no cake walk. It's easily one of the toughest patterns to capture realistically. It may take years to truly come to understand how to paint it! The trick is keen observation, using, comparing, and contrasting a plethora of reference photos, and practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Over time then, painting a dapple grey becomes less difficult. Especially when we come to See and understand certain aspects about the pattern and refine our tricks for duplicating them. And though these ideas discussed here may be time-consuming, they're well worth the effort!

Even so, many of these ideas discussed in this tutorial can be applied to any dappled coat such as “bloom," pangare, reverse, seasonal, sooties, and silvers. However, remember that every type of dapple coat has a different dappling pattern and set of characteristics. That means we can't apply the pattern lifted from a dapple grey and apply it to a silver. That means we need to use dapple grey references to paint a convincing dapple grey. Don't switch and substitute!

Keep working at it and practicing. Try different techniques and ideas, and we shouldn't be afraid to experiment. The dapple grey pattern offers us an infinite number of exciting variations, so stretch a little bit and enjoy!

"I made a promise to keep a watch over myself, to remain master of myself, so that I might become a sure observer."
~Paul Gauguin

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