Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pigment Pandemonium! Part 2


Painting a realistic finish isn't for the faint of heart. it takes a lot of observation, study, determination, and practice to get things right. It's a meticulous task that requires a lot of patience. But if we apply ourselves, all that has a huge pay-off in a paint job that can suspend disbelief. It's definitely worth it.

In Part 1, we touched on a lot of subjects from color use, technique, and some effects. In this Part 2, we'll continue our exploration, so let's get to it!...

Painting Hooves 

Don’t forget to pay attention to hooves, with shading and details. It’s a shame that so my paint jobs give hooves a cursory treatment when they have so many interesting things about them.

Hooves are best painted “with the grain," or with the growth rings encircling the hoof capsule because this mimics the structure of the horn. But detailing against the grain can augment the illusion of living horn, too, since there are up-and-down striations as well. Study hooves to note their particulars, especially when they’re show-polished and when they’re natural. And look for smudges, patches, staining and other discolorations. Also, being horn, colors in hooves have an embedded quality, like a bruise. So we need to paint them in back-and-forth layers to achieve this effect rather than simply painting such things on top; otherwise the hoof won't look as convincing. We also need to pay close attention to tone, value, and tint to create this impression. A handy way to test our perception is to put our hoof reference photos in a photo editing program and taking color samples of different areas. It's surprising what the colors actually are rather than what we habitually assume!

Anyway, pale hooves can be shaded two ways. First, as a show hoof with a spotless, clear, and bright quality, being scrubbed and sanded clean then polished. Here, light tones appear around the coronet because cleaning has exposed the new horn growing down from the coronet with darker tones towards the ground where the old horn has been stained. In contrast, an unscrubbed pasture hoof has dirt, grass, manure, and other discolorations of the horn, often in a splotchy or patchy manner. But a splotchy quality can also be a result of genetics, diet, and various causes as well. Also, the pasture hoof often has a dark coronet, discolored by dirt and dust, and sometimes a paler horn towards the ground. Of course, pale hooves can manifest in variations between these type as well.

(Note: An airbrush is particularly useful for hooves by giving us a quick option to tint and layer colors as needed.)

To paint a pale show hoof, think about this:
  • Paint the entire hoof a mixture of Titanium White and Burnt Sienna, creating a pale “shell” color. You can add Raw Sienna, Taupe, or Burnt Umber for variation, too. Put on two to three coats, painting it in the direction of the grain (encircling the hoof, rather than going up and down) and let dry.
  • Use color pencils of appropriate colors to gently draw in details, going with the grain and then against the grain, i.e. around the hoof and up and down, from toe to ground. Use light pencils up around the coronet, and progressively darker pencils towards the old horn.
  • Then paint the old horn a dark version of the shell color, by adding more Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber. You can also do some blending with the original shell color to soften.
  • Make adjustments and clean up the coronet.
To paint a pale pasture hoof, consider this:
  • Paint the entire hoof in a mixture of Titanium White and Burnt Sienna with a bit of Burnt Umber, creating a “dirtier” shell color. Again, you can add a bit of Raw Sienna or Taupe for variation.
  • Use color pencils to draw in details, but use darker colors right up to the coronet, and using them to shade in dirt smudges. Also use some greens to mimic grass or manure stains too. Then you can add more smudgy details and splotches.
  • If you want, you can use a color pencil to detail the ridges of the periople.
  • Make adjustments then clean up the coronet.
  • Stay open minded to the variations and options.
One thing to avoid: don't paint in dark encircling reddish streaks. This is common on painted hooves, but it actually represents bruising to the foot. Keep these kinds of streaks in the tan, yellow, gold color range.

Like pale hooves, dark hooves have a lot of variation, but tend to be a bit monochromatic in comparison to pale hooves. You can sometimes see the grain, and they do have a chalky, flakey grey coloration around the coronet, the perioplic corium or periople. And dark hooves do have their own show hoof and pasture hoof variations, though they’re a bit subtler. 

So for painting a dark show hoof is, here are some ideas:
  • Dark hooves can exploit quite a few pigments such as blacks, French Grey, Taupe, Burnt Umber, golds, and Titanium White, to name a few. A good basic dark hoof mixture is Mars Black, Taupe, a touch of Burnt Umber, and a touch of Titanium White, but you can add other colors for variations. Paint the entire hoof with this mix in the same manner as a pale hoof.
  • Then use color pencils to draw in details, using dark colors on the old horn and medium grey under the coronet. Then soften the color of the old horn with a light wash of dark color, perhaps the original mix with a bit more black or Burnt Umber added in. Make adjustments until you’re happy with the result.
  • You can use a color pencils to detail in the ridges of the periople.
  • Keep in mind that some dark hooves have lots of browns and golds in them, so pay attention to reference photos.
  • Or you can simply paint a dark show hoof black with Mars Black, but be mindful of grooming practices with certain breeds.
  • Clean up the coronet.
Painting a dark pasture hoof is, as follows:
  • Use the basic dark hoof mixture, perhaps adding a touch of Burn Umber, too. Again, paint the entire hoof with this mix in the same manner. 
  • Then use color pencils to draw in details, using dark colors on the old horn and light grey or white under the coronet. Try to mimic the flakey nature of the periople with the pencils. You can also soften the old horn with a light wash of a dusty dark color. Again, don't ignore the occurrence of browns and golds, so study reference photos.
  • Make adjustments and detail with pencils, then clean up the coronet.
We also may have to paint hoof stripes, which are streaks of pigmentation within the horn tubules on a pale hoof, running lengthwise. Therefore, they have a transparent, imbedded quality, like a bruise. And they can splinter or fade out in the old horn, sometimes caused by rasping during the shoeing process, too. Stripes vary in intensity, even within the same stripe and they vary in width, even on the same hoof. In short, they should never appear regimented. Usually ermine spots produce a stripe, but not all stripes have ermine spots, so carefully study reference photos specific to the color and effect you're targeting. 

Painting a stripe is, as follows:
  • Paint the hoof as a pale hoof. 
  • Use washes of charcoals, greys, browns, and grayish-chocolates for the stripes, using Ivory Black or Mars Black, with touches of Burnt Umber, Taupe, Titanium White, French Grey, or Soft White as you prefer. Then use a soft round liner brush dipped in and dabbed (to remove the excess), and then draw the pigment lengthwise down the hoof, parallel to the angle of the hoof. Make several passes with the tip of the brush to mimic the varying striations within the stripe. 
  • You can also feather or splinter the bottom of the stripe, to mimick the effect of rasping or natural wear.
  • You can go back and soften areas with washes of the shell color, to add dimension. Do lots of back and forth work so the stripe doesn't look like it's sitting on top, painted on. It has to "sit back" into the hoof like a bruise.
  • Use color pencils of appropriate colors to add further striation detail such as the periople under the coronet or darker colors to continune the griain through the stripe. 
  • Be sure to continue the stripe around the bottom rim of a lifted hoof since pigmentation involves the entire hoof wall.
With stripes, some things to avoid are, as follows:
  • Avoid painting stripes in one heavy pass because this makes the stripe appear painted on rather than part of the hoof itself. However, with some striped pale show hooves some grooms actually use black polish on just the stripe.
  • Making the stripes deviate from a parallel angle to the hoof wall, or each other, because this indicates injury or pathology to the hoof.
  • Stripes that are wavy, sloppy, or deviating away from the hoof tubules.
  • Avoid making striped hooves, or the stripes themselves, looking too solid, grey, or opaque because this makes it look painted on. So try to mimic all the embedded transparency and details in the stripe itself, for a realistic look. 
  • Likewise, stripes that are too "powdery" and opaquely light colored; this makes them look fake.
  • Again, remember we're painting horn and that has a definite textural effect. Details and pigmentation should be "set into" or embedded in the horn, like a bruise, and should never appear painted on. We achieve this by using many layers and adept use of tone, so practice and observe, observe, observe.
  • Avoid sloppiness and keep the stripes neat and tidy, but pay attention to their eccentricities.
  • Stripes inappropriate appearing or not present. Always use reference photos.
We also have to paint the palmar foot, that is the soles, frogs, and bars, and the heels. So don’t ever forget the underside of the foot because this area is loaded with details and effects that are essential for realism. Indeed, too many paint jobs ignore the palmar foot, often simply painting it too simply or even just one color. This is a severe error in realism when we're judging a lifted foot.

So for painting the palmar foot, think about this:
  • Paint the entire underside a dark charcoal, using a black mixed with a bit of Taupe. Also paint the heels, up to the coronet. Keep the heel neat and cleanly painted.
  • Using a small, raggedy stencil brush, gently tap in tans, greys, and browns, even greens, in a splotchy, grainy fashion to recreate the texture. 
  • Then use thinned washes of darks and lights, and a small round liner brush to shade and highlight the clefts and protrusions of the sole, bars, and frog. Use dark colors for deep areas (like the clefts of the frog, heels, and bars) and light colors for high areas (like the high points of the frog, heels and bars). 
  • Use color pencils if you wish, to add further detailing.
  • Then use the dark hoof color to clean up the hoof wall rim, encircling the sole, being mindful of the continuation of any stripes. Also pay attention to its width; it should be uneven, too thin, or too thick.
  • Avoid making the heels too narrow, as this would indicate a contracted foot, so study what a normal heel looks like. The heel is often one or two values lighter than the palmar foot.
  • Consider infusing the look of dirt or green grass staining to the underside of the foot.
We might also have to paint the horseshoes and clenches if they're present on the sculpture. Horseshoes can be painted with silver paint, using a detailer round brush. Be sure to paint only the shoe and avoid getting silver pigment up on the hoof or sole itself. If you do, simply clean up with hoof or sole color. Then carefully paint on the clenches, keeping them small and rectangular. A nice detail to add is a speck of dark hoof pigment under the painted clench to mimic the hole of the clench. However, make sure those clenches are oriented towards the toe and not the quarters. This is a severe mistake in farriery since the hoof expands most in the quarters. Yet too many paint jobs have clenches towards or at the quarters, something I fault heavily when judging.

The shoe and clenches are clearly visible on a pale hoof, but if a shod foot is polished black, the clenches, and even the shoe itself, can be completely obscured, or not show as brightly. So you can either paint the whole hoof black, including the clenches and shoes, or after blacking the hoof and painting on the shoe and clenches in silver paint, apply a light wash of the black over the clenches and shoe to tone them down. Often times, the clenches can cause staining to occur under them, often down the remaining length of the hoof, too, so look for that as an added detail.

Sometimes certain sculptures may have “wild” hooves with chips, cracks, and other wear. These are details that deserve thoughtful care, too, so pay special attention to them rather than trying to hide them or ignoring them.

Flesh Tones

Flesh tones are used for any areas with unpigmented skin such as markings, mottling, certain colors, and patterns, which often shows up under thin hair such as on the muzzle and groin. Pink skin can also show under areas that have been clipped short or where blood blow is strong such as around the pasterns and heels of marked legs. But it can pop up in the elbow and flank area, too, as well as other areas like the throat and under the jaw, so pay close attention to reference photos. 

But the color can be tricky to mix from scratch being too red, too orange, or too yellow, or the wrong colors are used which will skew the result. An easy and quick flesh tone can be made with Titanium White with a dab of Burnt Sienna, which can be lightened with more white or deepened with more Burnt Sienna. You can also add other appropriate colors for variation. For blending and detailing, a good medium tone is adequate for the darkest areas with a light pink or nearly white tone useful for highlights, and a variety in between to blend.

Now from scratch, a flesh tone can be made with reds (such as, cadmium red medium), yellows (such as, cadmium yellow light), and whites (such as, Titanium White or Soft White), and then mellowing it with browns (such as, Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna). Variations can be made as well with additions of Cadmium Red Dark, Unbleached Titanium, Taupe or Raw Sienna. 

The point is, avoid mixing flesh tones with simply reds and whites. Also, keep it subtle and soft, avoiding pronounced color or poor blending; you want the area to appear soft and fleshy so be subtle and use highlight to your best advantage to accentuate fleshiness. And keep flesh tones natural looking and not neon-bright or off-tone.

Note: Champagnes have a peculiar shade of skin that's a bit between pink and chocolate. Always use good reference photos when painting this color.

Hair Growth Pattern

Of course, horses have hair, which creates some very interesting effects with patterns and markings. The equine hair growth pattern is consistent though there are some variations with different kinds of hair whorls, especially on the forehead and neck. The Ellenberger book has a good chart detailing the typical hair growth pattern.

So look at the coat closely and notice that the hair shafts have a cumulative influence on a marking or pattern by softening and altering the edges in a distinct way. Even the soft fluffy foal coat creates its own fuzzy and soft appearance. What's more, the hair growth patterns alter the flow, edge, and look of markings and patterns so we have to pay very close attention to that. So rather than painting markings or patterns with a clean, harsh line, softly feather them in the direction of the hair growth pattern, keeping in mind the characteristics of the marking or pattern. This is especially effective for facial, pinto, and appaloosa markings by recreating the lay of the hair, making the effect more realistic.

A common mistake in paintwork is a crisp, clean edge to a marking or pattern that's contrary to the hair growth pattern. Things may look that way from far back, but when we get up close, we see the effect of the hairs and that needs to be taken into account.

Markings and Patterns

Use whites for markings and patterns, but consider not making them stark white. We add mass, volume, and the opportunity to highlight when we soften them a bit with Taupe, Burnt Umber, or golds. Just a dab will do. Or we can use Soft White or Unbleached Titanium with a light dab of Burnt Umber. Yes, some show coats look brilliant, stark white, but on a painted sculpture, we can add a bit more coherence to a paint job by toning down our whites just a bit.

Also consider adding “dirt" such as around the hoof and heel, and especially on feathered feet. Use thinned down Taupe, golds, or Burnt Umber with a bit of white to add this realistic touch, softening it with washes of white to make the coloration “sit back" if needed. You can also use Soft White for markings or add a bit of Taupe to Titantium White to create a softer look. And don’t forget any flesh tones for appropriate areas.

Here are some tips for markings and patterns: 
  • Use a separate clean water source and a separate clean brush for whites.
  • Apply several thin coats rather than one or two thick coats. Use white gesso in the first layers to help boost opacity, then finish with two thin coats of pure paint. (The brand Golden creates a white that's really opaque and great for patterns and markings.)
  • Keep coating until the white is uniform; don’t allow patchiness or bald spots to occur.
  • Keep it neat, don’t get sloppy. Avoid ridges.
  • The final coat can be a layer of Iridescent White for a nice sheen.
  • With markings or patterns, look for pinking in such areas as the heel bulbs, coronet, pectoral area, elbow and flank area, groin (up to the tail and the tail bone), throatlatch, and around the face, etc. 
For patterns, it’s important to paint them in the direction of the hair growth because this creates a far more realistic look than painting against the hair. Also try to recreate a feathered edge too (of varying degrees), rather than a sharp, straight, clean edge. Another common failing are patterns that have blended, puffy edges when they should reflect the hair growth pattern. Study patterns before attempting to paint them and always use good reference photos during the process.

Also, it’s absolutely imperative that patterns be consistent to equine pattern genetics. Merely making a pattern up, particularly without a mental library of genetically correct possibilities, usually means big trouble. In all honesty, an inaccurate pattern is equally faulty as inaccuracies in anatomy because it similarly fails to recreate an authentic equine. Always always always use good reference photos consistent to the breed and type of horse you're painting.

Here are some tips for painting patterns:
  • If a pattern is more than 10% white, basecoat the entire sculpture white, then lay in a colored basecoat only where the solid color occurs and then paint those solid areas as usual. When done, clean up the white pattern, adding detailing and shading. This is much better than painting the sculpture a solid color to then put layer after layer of white to create a pinto pattern. 
  • For appaloosa patterns, the white can be painted around the spots, or the spots on top of the white. With practice, you’ll find which works best in which situation. Often, doing both simultaneously really is the better option by helping the spots to "sit back" into the coat.
  • Depending on your finish techniques, consider the use of masking fluid or techniques to block out the dark areas.
  • Mix the white paint with 50% white gesso, improving the coverage and flow, then finish with two coats of thin white paint and perhaps a final coat of Iridescent White.
  • Use thin washes, not thick layers. A soft brush and a milk consistency works well, but practice to find the consistency that works for you. 
  • You can use white paint in your airbrush to clean up large areas or soften strategic regions of the pattern, such as on foals or fuzzy horses.
  • Working from reference photos is always a good idea.
  • Keep white areas clean!
  • White areas must be evenly opaque, devoid of bald spots, and free of ridges, bumps, ripples, fingerprints, drips, debris, or other such flaws. Pay particular attention to the edges to make sure they're as smooth as the body color.
Beauty Marks

Beauty Marks are spots of dark pigment on a pink muzzle and often occur on pintos, belton spotting, and some appaloosas, but they can also happen on regular muzzle markings, too. However, without a good technique, they can appear harsh, literal, and abrupt, lacking the necessary soft, fleshy, embedded look they need. To be honest, beauty marks can be difficult to reproduce because of the muzzle's velvety texture and soft look. Consequently, many model beauty marks look painted on or too harsh, completely ignoring the soft, velvet look of the real thing.

So to paint beauty marks, here are some ideas: 
  • Soften the appropriate dark pigment (a black for a dark skinned horse or a dark brown for a champagne) with taupes, warm greys, or flesh colors to create a softer tone. 
  • Then separate this dollop into three other portions, creating three batches of paint. Leave one untouched, but in one, dab in some white (or other similar light color for variation) for a lighter version and thin it to a fat-free milk consistency. Then in the other dollop, dab in some dark color for a darker version and thin that to a 2% milk consistency. 
  • With a soft dry liner brush, dip in the light version and dab out the excess and then lightly apply on. Don't blob on. When dry, repeat the process with the dark version, but just inside the light version, and making sure the dark pigment is opaque, with no bald patches (if it is, then apply more pigment there when the previous layer is dry), but don't blob on. Keep it smooth. You’ll now have a beauty mark with mapping. 
  • Then do some back and forth work to make it “sit back” more, perhaps softening the edges and adding some shading and highlight, using all three portions of pigment while also making transition pigments as you blend. 
  • Often times, a final light wash of some light pinking color can help the beauty mark sit back into the pinked area.
Tips for painting beauty marks:
  • Working from reference photos is always a good idea.
  • Try to shade and highlight beauty marks so they don’t look just dabbed on. They should appear as fleshy and intricate as the detailed pinked areas.
  • Beauty marks on a typical muzzle look velvety, but on a shaved muzzle and especially an oiled muzzle, they are a bit more "sharp" and blatant in color.
  • Keep beauty marks clear and unconfused. They should also be neat and not sloppy or carelessly done.
  • Take great care to avoid runs, brushstrokes, lumps, or elevations in the paint. The beauty mark must be flat with the pinked area and not have a rim from paint that was too thickly applied.
  • This technique can be used in the groin, inside the ears, under the tail, and other areas that require the same look such as on many appaloosa patterns. 
  • Avoid having the paint too thick as to be harsh, look painted on, or produce an elevated spot on the muzzle, yet not too thin as to be transparent and non-velvety.
  • Avoid making beauty marks the same size, shape, and spacing on the muzzle because they're random that may bleed into one another or stand alone.
  • Practice to get the effect right; using paint that’s too opaque will look painted on where as paint that’s too transparent won’t duplicate the velvety look. 
  • Like spots and patterns, beauty marks should have a genetically random appearance, so avoid making them the same size, shape, and spacing. Avoid regimentation and regularity.
Ermine Spots

These are spots of dark leg color hugging the coronet. They can be painted similar to a beauty mark or pinto marking, only use dark pigment rather than white. It's important they're neatly done and precise, not bleeding onto the hoof.

Belton Spotting

Lesli Kathman has written some great blog posts and has a Pinterest board about this kind of spotting. Check them out!

This effect can be achieved much like a tiny pinto pattern or beauty mark when they're on the muzzle. But keep them clean, precise, and neatly done.


Mapping is the interface between the body color and white on a marking or pattern, blending into a mid-color. It can occur around pinto markings, beauty marks, belton spots, any facial or leg markings, or Appaloosa spots. It's important then to remember that mapping is a combination of the body color and white, not a third color inconsistent to either. What's more, mapping is grainy, it being the composite blending of white hairs and colored hairs: it's not one tone. So use techniques, such as tiny liner brushes or small stencil brushes, to mimic this grainy look. Smooth, even-toned mapping is a common flaw in paintwork.

Once the paint job is complete, use a wash of white (in roughly a fat-free milk consistency with either Titanium White or Soft White) and a small soft liner brush to tap the rim of the pattern, overlapping onto the solid color just a bit, mimicking the feathered edge and going in the direction of the hair growth. Create a speckled effect by ticking along the edge. Don’t use thick washes or too much pigment in the brush. Mapping should also vary a bit in width and intensity over different parts of the body and studying good reference photos is a smart move. 

You can also add mapping into your paint job early on, painting it along with your color and white colors. It's up to you. Just keep in mind that mapping is grainy, not a smooth tone. You can mimic this by ticking your brush and tapping it gently in the direction of the hair growth.

Tips for painting mapping:
  • Mapping appears more realistic if consistent to the lay of the hair, mirroring any feathering, jaggedness, spotting, or peculiarities of the pattern.
  • Mapping needs a steady hand to keep it clear and wiggle-free. Don’t get sloppy! 
  • Avoid a fake or plastic look by applying mapping too thickly or smoothly, or all the same width and intensity around the rim of the pattern. 
  • Don't draw mapping around the pattern, but at an angle to it, mimicking the hair growth pattern.
  • Color pencils can add extra detail.  
  • With pinked areas, keep mapping in the color areas only, otherwise you’ll end up with pinked areas that have a white “halo” around the solid color. Or you can use a thin wash of the pinking color to do the mapping in these delicate areas. 
  • On appaloosa spots in pinked areas such as the groin, elbow, or flank, the beauty mark method can work in certain situations, too, using either the body color or other dark tones to mimic the skin in those areas. 
  • Vary the width and intensity over different areas of the body. Use reference photos.
  • Maintain the speckled effect of the intermixing hairs. Pencils and liner brushes are useful for this.

For an in-depth discussion and examples of dapples, refer to Painting Conventions, Part 3. And refer to Dazed By Dapples: Tips for Painting a Dapple GreyAs such, this will be just a very basic discussion on dappling. So...

Dapples are best approached softly, in irregular shapes, and accurately patterned. Dapples shouldn’t be harsh or look painted-on, but appear as part of the coat. Be careful then of the technique used to apply them. Dapples aren't afterthoughts, but must be planned and painted integrated into your process.

Also keep in mind that each color has its own particular dappling pattern! For example, don't apply a dapple grey pattern to a silver, or a sooty pattern to a seasonal dapple. Dapple characteristics are color-specific, so always use an ample supply of reference photos of the specific color you're intending. Never interchange dapple patterns! For this, we can think of dapples as having six basic types, as follows:
  • Sooty
  • "Bloom"
  • Silver
  • Pangare
  • Dapple grey
  • Seasonal
  • Reverse dapples
Always remember that dapples do follow a color-specific characteristic patternthere really is an order to the chaos. So remember to always interpret dapples as a pattern, like you were painting a pinto or appaloosa. Look for the flow, specific characteristics and relationships among the dapples and where they’re located and how they line up, flow, or cluster. Study their shapes, sizes, tones, intensities, and also their eccentricities because those are important details, too. These qualities are often associated with specific areas of the body, so pay attention to regional differences. So also note where and how they occur, and even more importantly, where and how they don't occur. One of the most common mistakes is the application of dapples all over the body with no consideration for their true-to-life characteristics or color-specific pattern so we end up with a polka-dotted or regimented effect. We typically see this mistake with dapple grey, "bloom," sooty, seasonal, and pangare dapples. What's more, no two dapples are alike, and no two dappling patterns are alike. Never take any dappled coat for granted! 

But in regards to the pattern, it's equally important to avoid a regimented result. Dapples have an organic, luck-of-the-genetic-draw quality to them that's also essential to mimic, and if we don't, our final result will appear contrived, fake, and artificial. Truly, the keener our observation and more attentive our Eye, the more convincing our dapple paint job will be. 

For this, consider these ideas about dapples (and be sure to read Part 3 of Painting Conventions):
  • Any color can dapple to some degree. Some can even have a slight textural difference such as on black horses. 
  • Dapples are different shapes, often influenced by hair growth patterns. Ignoring this produces an artificial, regimented, or formulaic effect. Sometimes it produces a polka-dot effect where each dapple is the same round or oval shape, as though they were applied with a Q-Tip or stencil. 
  • Dapples are different sizes which often coincide with their location on the body or how dapples are clustered together. Ignoring this will produce a regimented or polka-dot effect.
  • Dapples are often unevenly spaced, either in tight clusters, wide diffusion, and everything in between, often linked to the location on the body. For instance, note how dapples are spaced on the barrel in comparison to the neck and shoulder. Ignoring spacing can also produce the regimented or polka-dot effect.
  • However, dapples can also form in rows, as often seen on the barrel, especially with dapple greys.
  • Dapples are different tones so make sure you pay attention to that quality, and note where this occurs over different areas of the body. Furthermore, many dapples are typically multi-colored exhibiting a spectrum of colors from their middle radiating out to their edges as they blend with the dark color. Dismissing tonal variation within a dapple creates a flat, artificial appearance that looks harsh and painted-on.
  • Dapples should appear “lit up” from inside.
  • Dapples are different intensities, depending on their individual quality or where they occur on the body. Pay attention to this quality as you work over your sculpture.
  • All dapples should appear to be "set into" the coat and not look as though they're "floating" on top, or were painted on top, like an afterthought. The best results come when they’re painted at the same time, treated as part of the coat. Simultaneously interpreting dapples as light patches on dark and as dark honeycombs around light patches can help project that idea into the paint job.
  • Dapples should be free from brushstrokes or elevated texture, indicating they were dabbed on with a brush. 
  • Dapples are different colors, particularly with “bloom," sooties, pangare, and rosegrey, so pay attention to this feature.
  • While dapples do have a tendency to occur in the same places for each coat type, they also can surprise you, particularly on dapple grey, sooties, and silvers. So study the various places they crop up with care and use good reference photos.
  • Dapples have diffused borders, often with frost-like edges (such as on dapple greys), and disregarding this creates a fake, "floating," harsh effect. For example, hand-painted star dapples are eye-catching, but their harsh, clean edges aren’t accurate. So use techniques that diffuse the borders so they diffuse into the coat. 
  • Dapples need careful treatment, particularly with an airbrush. In particular, the unskilled use of the airbrush can create “lifesaver” and “spider" dapples. "Lifesavers" have a middle that’s blown out with a ring of more intense pigment encircling the bald spot. "Spiders" are streaking effects, similar to blowing on wet paint with a straw. Neither are satisfactory depictions of correct dapples and usually occur when the pressure is too high and the paint is too thin. 
  • Pay attention to "ordered chaos"; the pattern is often abrupt and, at times, pronounced, particularly on greys, pangares, silvers, and sooties. Ignoring this produces patterns that are over-blended, regimented, formulaic, and contrived, lacking the organic spontaneity of life. 
  • Each dapple pattern is like a fingerprint, no two are alike. Likewise, each dappled coat is like a fingerprint, no two are alike. So always approach each dappled paint job without any preconceived notions or pre-determined aesthetics. Never fall into a habitual or formulaic interpretation. Apply a fresh approach each time.
  • Some dappled coats are soft and subtle, like "bloom" or seasonal dappling. On the other hand, some are "explosive" and pronounced, like dapple grey, silver, or sooty. It's important to capture this overall look when we paint these respective dappling patterns.
  • Some dappled coats have a grainy appearance to them, lacking a smooth, over-blended effect. Dapple grey is a great example. Mimicking this grainy effect is just as crucial for achieving a realistic effect as paying attention to the dappling pattern so be mindful of method and approach.
  • A dappled coat shouldn't appear over-blended, "powder-puff," or over-worked. It should demonstrate a clear understanding of its characteristics and texture with confidence.
  • As a pattern progresses, such as on a dapple grey, you’ll find that simply toning down the intensities or amounts of the darks will do much for recreating the lighter varieties.
  • Avoid using the "Figure 8" method for dappling in which an airbrush applies the dark networks around spots of dapples in a "Figure 8" pattern. This creates a regimented, artificial look to all forms of dappling.
  • "Bloom" dappling is subtle and has a "now you see them, now you don't" quality, definitely not as blatant and overdone as we mistakenly see on many sculptures.
  • Likewise, know when dapples are appropriate. Dapples are a popular effect because they add eye appeal. But a chronic syndrome is “dapplemania” whereby non-dappled coats, no matter how skillfully done, are dismissed in favor of heavily dappled coats, no matter how unskillfully done. Really, dapples seem to have an intoxicating effect that can distract too many people from poor workmanship or problematic interpretation. All too often, too, the dapples are poorly done or their blatant use disguises what’s really a cursory and unskilled paint job. Remember, dapples do not a great piece make! Really, most “normal” coats simply aren’t heavily dappled, if at all. And, indeed, most dapples on solid coats tend to be subtle, not seen as oodles of glaring dots over every inch of the body that unfortunately is far too common with paint jobs today. Don't be duped by dapples!
Since dappling patterns are so difficult, they're often ripe with mistakes. Some common ones to avoid are:
  • Dapples uniform in shape, size, spacing, intensity, tone, and color, particularly over the entire body.
  • On "explosive" dappling patterns like dapple greys and sooties and some silvers, a common mistake are gradual, even transitions from the dark to light areas, ignoring the chaotic and abrupt conversion of these areas typical of the pattern. Instead the dark networks should resemble a jagged, broken honeycomb effect.
  • A lack of graininess when needed, producing an over-blended, over-worked, and "powder-puff" effect. 
  • Evenly blended or uniform shadings on the legs, ignoring patchy and mottled coloration typically produced by a dappling pattern in these areas.
  • Excessive body shading and highlighting which confuses the pattern and diminishes realism. Instead, minimize body shading to keep the pattern clear and distinguishable; focus primarily on the pattern.
  • Timid use of darks and lights, often creating a "powder-puff" effect. Rather, we need to know when to be aggressive with the darks and lights.  
  • Misinterpreting the pattern and juxtaposing the characteristic light and dark areas. To be sure, don’t misinterpret the pattern by laying lights and darks in the wrong places. However, show-clipped, sweating horses can have their dark skin show through such as at the elbow, but this shouldn’t be confused with the actual pattern. 
  • Applying pink shadings to the body of a dapple grey, as if dapple grey had unpigmented skin. For example, some artists inaccurately pink-in the elbow and flank area, which is incorrect because greys have dark skin. Don’t use flesh tones on the body where white markings aren’t present. 
  • A polka dot effect, usually a product of an excessive use of the “Figure 8” method with an airbrush, which creates neat, even, similarly spaced dots all over the body. In life, dapples don't resemble this effect at all.
  • The pattern is approached with a routine interpretation, either making an artist’s dapple paint jobs all look alike, or all alike in kind. Definitely, always refrain from a contrived or formulaic approach. Avoid habits and preconceived notions. Each dappled paint job in our portfolio should be distinctly different.
  • Airbrush relics like "lifesavers" and "spiders," a very common problem with airbrushed dapples. 
  • A simplistic two-color approach to the pattern. For example, base coating the piece white and then applying the black honeycombs to form the dapples (usually with an airbrush in the Figure 8 method). Avoid approaching the pattern too simplistically, using only two colors of equal intensity and application. The truth is that the pattern is a very complex blend of many tones and intensities that need to be mimicked carefully.
  • Harsh, crisp-edged dapples that appear painted on such as hand-painted “star dapples." So avoid painting dapples too harshly, with clean edges and harsh delinations. In life, dapples have blurred edges and subtle intracacies because hair growth fuzzes the border between light and dark. Some patterns even have a "frost-like" effect to their edges such as dapple greys. So dapples should have slightly soft, blended edges, no matter how pronounced they are. Study dapples up close in field study and reference photos for a better idea.
  • Dapples all of one color. Instead, study how they're multi-colored with rings of color like a jaw-breaker as they progressively blend with the body color. This is particularly evident on dapple greys and sooties. Also notice how their tone and tint changes over different regions of the body.
  • Lack of detail in the pattern. Really, don’t forget to add in those necessary details! For instance on dapple greys, pay attention to the sunbursts, ghost-tracking, the mottling and patchiness on the legs, noting that darks tend to be most concentrated on the hocks, knees, and fetlocks and the same on the face such as the jaw, nasal bone, zygomatic arches and forehead, and the bracelets on the coronets...among all the other things. Details count, absolutely!
Other Effects
  • Chubari: These pale spots sometimes occur on greys, and range from sparse or rather profuse. Chubari can be duplicated with brushwork, scrubby methods, color pencils, pastel pencils, or carefully with the airbrush. But make sure their tones and edges are soft and mimic the hair growth to avoid a harsh, "floating" appearance. 
  • Birdcatcher Spots: These are odd white spots that look like reverse applaoosa effects to the untrained eye. They can also be painted with a dapple method, using brushwork, drybrushing, color pencils, pastel pencils, and the airbrush similarly.
  • Bend Or Spots: These are darker spots on a solid coat. Occuring most often on chestnuts, they can also appear on any color, usually being dark brown, black, or chestnut in color. They can number only a few or many, and can range in size from very small to rather large (which can cause some to mistake them for appaloosa spots). They can be easily produced with brushwork, scrubby methods, color pencils, pastel pencils, or a skillful use of the airbrush. Make sure their edges are softly diffused, mimicking the hair growth, otherwise they’ll look artificial and garish.
Dun Factors

Dun factors (also called zebra marks or primitive markings) are determined by the darkest color for that area. For example, an apricot dun may have orangey brown factors, a zebra dun may have charcoal or black factors, or a creme dun may have pale tan factors. In other words, dun factors aren’t inherently black.

Factors are expressed in a spectrum from sparsely to profusely. While it’s rare for a single animal to exhibit more than five factors, a dorsal stripe is very common, followed by leg barring and ear-tipping. Also, each particular factor can be present in many variations, so working from reference photos is a good idea. For example, a dorsal stripe and barring can vary from thin to broad, or be soft or pronounced. Basically, dun factors are, as follows:
  • Dorsal stripe: A ine of dark color running from the withers to the dock, often interspersing into the tail. Sometimes it can have bars intersecting its length or echoing shadows along its length.
  • Belly dorsal: The belly version of the dorsal stripe, but usually terminating on the sternum.
  • Barring: Barring can occur on the neck, shoulder, hip, barrel, ears, nasal bone, or along the dorsal or belly stipes.
  • Shoulder barring: A streak of dark color emanating from the withers down to the ground. Sometimes there's more than one, and sometimes they can climb up the neck or flow onto the back. Sometimes they occur around the lumbosacral joint and sometimes they even run the length of the dorsal.
  • Neck shadows: Patches of dark color emanating from the crest.
  • Zebra marks (also called leg barring): Zebra-like in nature (hence the name) and occurring on the lower legs, knee/hock, gaskins, and forearms. On rare occasions, they may extend up rear and up the front of the chest and neck becoming more bar-like rather than zebra-like. Ear barring can also appear more zebra-like as well.
  • Ear-tipping: The rims of the ears are lined with dark pigment, inlucding the tips, which can be so strongly marked as to have the entire upper half of the ear capped in dark color.
  • Face mask: The hair around the muzzle, eyes, zygomatics, and nasal bone are a dark color, often in sharp contrast to the body color around it.
  • Cobwebbing: Sooty smudgey honey-combs of dark color often seen on the jowl, neck, chest, shoulder, stifle, rear, and gaskin. When it occurs on the forehead, it tends to take on a jagged zebra-like sun-ray effect, consistent to the hair whorl(s).  
  • Mottling: Subtle pea-sized spots typically on the shoulder, triceps area, gaskin, and stifle. 
  • Guard hairs: These are lighter hairs along the crest of the mane or the dock of the tail.
  • Reverse dapples: Sometimes seen on duns and grullas with the sooty effect.
  • Smudge marks: Sootiness can also create smudges of dark color around the elbow, stifle, rear, and gaskin, or also at the base of the ear, around the protrusion of the atlas wing, and the point of hip.
Dun factors have to be painted convincingly, so using good reference photos is recommended. A careful use of brushwork, washes, dry-brushing, and color and pastel pencils often have better results than an airbrush by allowing more precision. But if you have a micro-airbrush and a lot of control, they can be done successfully. Avoid an over-blended look so they stay distinct, but don't paint them in too harshly...they should appear as part of the coat rather than "floating" on top of it. The use of tone is a useful ally in "setting them back" into the coat, too.

Roan, Brindle, and Speckle Effects

Grainy or speckle effects are easily created with the toothbrush method (or a turned down airbrush), color pencils, sponges, stencil brushes, and liner brushes. The trick is knowing how to use these techniques to achieve the effect you desire. 
  • Toothbrush: Use the same technique as for fleabites, only with different colors. This is a very useful way to create speckles on roans, greys, and certain kinds of appaloosas. But use this as an intermittent layer with varying tones and colors to create a more complex look.
  • Airbrush: Thin the paint and turn down the pressure to mimic the toothbrush method in the airbrush. The benefit of using this tool is that it provides greater control over the placement of speckles. Again, use layers of different tones and tints to create a complex look.
  • Color pencil: These offer the greatest precision and are terrific for adding detail to roans, greys, and patterns. Some artists even paint roans or greys entirely with color pencils, with spectacular results. And though it can be tedious, it’s well worth the time. Be sure to utilize layers of different tones and color to avoid an overly simple result.
  • Sponges: Experiment with different sponges, from make-up sponges to kitchen sponges. They can also be cut into different shapes or edges for different effects. Just be sure the paint is a thin consistency, otherwise, lumping will occur.
  • Stencil Brushes: These are terrific for all sorts of uses. Have different sizes and beat them up a bit; the bests ones are well-worn and ragged. The paint should be thinned, to avoid creating ridges, and be careful to pick out any stencil hairs that break off. But they can be used for drybrusing for roans, greys and certain other composite colors, burnished directly in or applied with a wrist-flicking short motion in the direction of the hairgrowth (avoid the streaky effect though). They can be dabbed into thinned paint, blotted then tapped onto the surface to mimic the random nature of certain lacy effects, like on certain pintos or appaloosas (and you can go over these edges again with brushwork or color pencil to define and detail such as laying in the hair growth patterns or clumping effects). Or they can lightly drawn over areas to create random striations for manes/tails and certain brindle effects. A stencil fanbrush is also very useful for creating brindle patterns, which can be defined and detailed later with brushwork and color pencils.
  • Liner brushes: Use a tiny liner round brush to paint in each individual white hair, being mindful of the hair growth pattern and avoiding regimentation. 
Using liner brushes, color pencils, and pastel pencils over the splattered speckled techniques to define and detail hair growth patterns and peculiar eccentricities is a particularly useful approach. That's to say, allow the speckle approach to create the necessary chaos then use the more controlled media to define and detail. Use good reference photos and closely study them.

Above all, stay in scale with all ticking and splatter. When these details are out of scale, it quickly destroys our illusion. A handy trick is to scale up or scale down our reference photos to the size of the sculpture we're painting. That way we have a clear illustration of what our target effect.


This unusual color can be produced with stencil fan brushes then detailed and defined with brushwork and color pencils. It’s usually best to paint the brindle effects along with the rest of the coat, rather than laying them on afterwards. Remember the brindle pattern is part of the coat and shouldn’t appear to sit on top of it. And be mindful of the hair growth pattern. Use good reference photos and study them carefully. Plus, avoid ridges, lumps, blobs and other such flaws to create a result that's as smooth as the rest of the surface.


Certain coat effects require a speckled look such as some pintos, appaloosas, roans, greys, etc. This is easily achieved with any of the methods discussed, and usually looks best when all the methods are combined, rather than relying on just one or two techniques.


Some colors and patterns have pink mottling on the muzzle, around the eyes, inside the ears, in the girth area and pectoral area, in the groin area on up to the tail bone. For example, champagnes, appaloosas, and some greys often have mottling. Some of these techniques discussed can also be useful for pink mottling. Use brushwork and pencils to create the intricate effects, but just be mindful of tone and keep the mottling fleshy looking. The use of tone and shade and highlight can go far for this to keep them "set back" into the coat. Again, avoid bumps, blobs, and raised ridges.

Muzzle Staining

Often times, particularly on pasture horses, the lips will have greenish stains from grass that can add a nice naturalistic touch. Also the blocky upper lip bulb will have buff colors on the front from the hair, another nice detail to add. Sometimes this buff color will line the lower lips as well.

Foal Color

The color of a foal is often quite different that his adult coat, having unique qualities that make it distinct from adult coats. Generally speaking, foal coats are paler than adult versions, the exceptions being champagnes (who are born dark, with blue eyes, and lighten with age, their eyes turning hazel, often with a green-cast intermittent stage) and greys, who are born dark then grey-out. White foals can be born for various reasons, but dapple grey foals don’t exist because this pattern is progressive with age. A foal destined to grey-out will sometimes have white or grey hairs around the eyes, muzzle, within the ears, and at the dock of the tail, or even grey hairs ticked throughout the coat. Roan is also a progressive coat, so a roan foal will be darker and less roan-ish, often not at all. Some appaloosa patterns that involve varnish roan are also progressive. So use good reference photos to create an accurate result. Make no assumptions!

However a consistency between foal coats is a strong pangare pattern, especially with bays and chestnuts, and a pastel-like, smokey look, often with washed out point color and soft tonal variations. Now some foals have the bright, clear coat of an adult, but adding a dab of Titanium White, French Grey, Unbleached Titanium, Venetian Rose or similar pastel-izing agents can “fuzz” up the look nicely. Also, blurring the edges of markings and patterns can accentuate a fuzzy, soft look and pencil work can add some nice subtle detail, too. That said, there are some foals with crisper edges, so again, reference photos are a must.

And foal coats do vary, depending on the individual. For example, a foal may have a lot of contrast such as pangare bay foal or a monotone color such as a cremello foal. Working from reference photos is certainly a good idea. Dappling on foal coats is rare, but older foals and yearlings may have a bit of dapple, even reverse dappling, depending on the individual, color, and condition.

And as the foal ages, his coat progressively blooms in clarity and tone into his adult coat, so keep in mind his age when deciding how to paint a foal sculpture.


Sculptural details should be given careful attention, treated realistic and neatly, to heighten realism. But the trick to painting details well is to know when to use stronger tones and when to ease back, using softer tones, so practice to become familiar with certain effects. 

In the case of fleshy details, these tips are important to bear in mind:
  • Stay subtle; you just want to hint at them. So don’t make any liner aspects harsh, garish, or blatant. Effects should often be softer than a harsh line. Use various tones and intensities to maximize the look.
  • The terminal tips of liner work should blend into the body color and not end abruptly.
  • Be sure the highlight color makes sense to the area to avoid an odd effect.
  • The fleshy details should appear gooshy and soft, not hard and firm. A good way to achieve this is a subtle layering of tones, so certain aspects sit back or pop out. Dry-brushing is also very useful for this.

Use a fine liner brush and use a highlight color for that area, thin it down and then delicately brush on highlights on top of the wrinkles, being careful that the ends of your line fade gradually into the surrounding flesh; avoid a harsh streak of color with abrupt terminal ends. Wrinkles are best treated softly, so use subtle highlights and different tones to reinforce a fleshy look. 

Another trick is to "bubble" the pattern edges over wrinkles to mimic the look of folded flesh rather than simply painting the pattern flat over wrinkles. Dry brushing and pencils are also great for wrinkles; just keep that soft looking with blending and different tones. Above all, keep those highlights on top of the wrinkle and those shade colors in the folds; color shouldn't slop onto the wrong place.


Eyelids can add a lot to expression and so should be given careful treatment. They can be highlighted and shaded just like wrinkles, but the crevices also do well with some darker shade color to make them pop more. Just make sure everything is blended nicely so it doesn’t appear as lines streaked across the brow, and use different tones to accentuate a fleshy look. Pay very careful attention to keeping that highlight on the top of the eye wrinkle and the shade color in the folds. A careless hand will ruin the effect.

Veins, Capillaries, and Nerves

These delicate features can be highlighted like wrinkles, but be sure you don’t get sloppy; the highlight should be absolutely on top of the vein or capillary and not side off onto the body. It’s also important to keep the highlights on these details subtle, otherwise, the effect can be unrealistic and distracting. Just hint at them, especially capillaries and nerves.


Chestnuts are easily painted as one of the final details. They’re often a grayish-tan on dark legs and a pink or grayish-pink on white legs, but not always. A useful mix is Taupe, Mars Black, and Titanium White, or Burnt Sienna, Mars Black and Titanium White, respectively.

Be sure the pigment is exactly on the chestnut, and not blobbed onto the surrounding area. Another nice detail is to speckle the chestnut a bit with some shading and highlight with a fine liner brush to add dimension and a calloused texture. Chestnuts shouldn't be painted a flat color but show the same care and detail as the rest of the paint job. For that, keep in mind smooth, peeled chestnuts have a smoother texture than natural chestnuts, so pay attention and use reference photos.

Also, some show grooms oil peeled chestnuts, making their color significantly darker.


Ergots can sometimes be seen on clipped legs. With dark legs, they're similar in color to dark-leg chestnuts, and with markings they're a slightly darker pink point. So a nice touch is to dab on the appropriate color onto the ergot, keeping it subtle.


Scarring is part of horse-life and can add a nice touch of reality to a piece, especially on a feral or wild horse. Actually, any horse will sustain a minimal amount of “life wear” that’s both a realistic and evocative detail to add. (Scars can often have the hair on the edges "kicked up" as a result of the injury, which may be an important detail for sculpture.) Scars can occur anywhere, but often occur on the lower legs, fight or play contact points, and sometimes areas where tack is placed. Scars can also narrate a past injury or experience. 

Scars come in two forms, bare skin or re-grown hair. The former is easily added with a small soft round liner brush using the same method for dun factors. On areas with pigmentation, the skin appears charcoal (with champagnes it’s a dusky chocolate), and on unpigmented areas the skin is pink. With depicting bare skin, subtly is the key to keep the effect soft and fleshy. Also add in details from the hair growth which can be done with a brush and color pencils. Also, scars such as these can be flat or slightly raised, but raised too much and it may imply proud flesh. We can add this raised look with gesso then paint over it. For tones, try Mars Black softened with Taupe, French Grey, or Unbleached Titanium for dark skin, Burnt Umber with Taupe and a bit of pink for champagnes, or a medium to light flesh tone for unpigmented skin. Then thin it down to about a 2% milk consistency and paint on a scar, in the direction of the jumbled hair growth (because hair often overhangs the edges and is often messed up from the injury). Then go back with body color to streak in “hairs” on the leading edge to indicate hair growing over it a bit more. Color pencils can add more detail, too, but again, keep it soft and nuanced. We don't want an obvious penciled look. Like all details, the scar should "sit back" into the coat and not garishly catch our eye.

An injury with re-grown hair can sometimes produce a different hair color in the area due to damaged hair-growing cells such as re-grown white hairs on a solid coat or re-grown dark hairs on a grey coat. So with this situation, it’s important to mimic the look and lay of hair. Good reference photos are a must for either kind of scar.

Rub Marks

Horses often have areas that are constantly rubbed either from tack or, more commonly, from laying down. These areas can be the elbow, on the outside of the point of hock, and sometimes on the fetlocks or knees. They’re easily recreated using the same technique for scars. 


There are two basic types of brands, freeze brands (intense cold) and hot brands (intense heat), each producing different effects.

On solid colors, freeze brands changes the hair color permanently to white by damaging the hair follicle, but because white won't show up on a white area, the freeze brand is left on longer, destroying the follicles completely to leave dark skin to show the brand. In other words, solid coats have white freeze brands and grey or white coats have charcoal freeze brands. In contrast, hot brands burn both the hair and skin, permanently making a black scar on every coat, which is often raised and slightly knobby; the skin not the hair denotes the brand.

Use the same technique for scars to create brands, using the appropriate colors. Also mimic the lay of the hair for brands, especially white freeze brands since they're created by the regrowth of white hair.

Also, some breeds are branded in specific ways according to their registry like the Arabian, Iberian, and certain Warmbloods while some stock horses bear brands of a specific ranch or farm. So research and use good reference photos.


The technical finesse we apply to our paint job is our absolute, top priority. No paint job can be considered "awesome" without impeccable workmanship, and that includes both the prepwork and the paint job. 

For starters, there’s no substitute for thorough prepwork. It not only creates the canvas for our paint job, but it ensures the long-term integrity of the piece. Indeed, no matter how beautiful the paintwork, the prepjob should be of equal merit because careless prepping can negate even the best paint job. Quality prepping is invisible. So pay attention to a thorough removal of seams, seals, holes, divots, flashing, or other molding relics over the entire piece, especially in highly detailed or tight areas. Mold irregularities, often exhibited by the mold being askew during casting, should be fixed. Details should also be restored that may have been filled by the casting process such as the groin area, up the buttock, genitalia, heels, ears, nostrils, jaw detail, and hooves. Also, there should be no slashes, depressions, or ridges along the mold lines. Also work to avoid "chattering" or ridges caused by carbide scrapers. Likewise, there shouldn’t be areas that suffered an overzealous treatment with the sandpaper or files as to create depressions, erase detail, or create inconsistencies in the texture or sculpture. Plus areas that have been distorted or damaged by casting need correction such as “spaghetti legs," misshapen ears, faces, hooves, or other asymmetries. 
Remember, if a real horse doesn't have it neither should the sculpture. Absolutely, quality prepwork is so important that it played a pivotal role in how I placed NAN winners in 2016. Take your time. Do as perfect a job as you can.

Also keep in mind that different artists have different styles, some opting for a hyper-smooth surface and others preferring a textured surface, with a gaggle of preferences in between. So whatever the surface quality of the piece, prepwork should maintain its integrity and consistency. What's more, don’t fault a piece that’s textured by nature of the artist’s style. One should develop an eye to discern the difference between “supposed to be there” and “ooops." 

The basecoat is important, too. It should be even and smooth, and not overly textured as to be unrealistic such as a pebbly surface, or thick, as to occlude sculptural details. It should be free of debris, ripples, wrinkles, drips, and sagging, too. And a basecoat should always be present. It provides "tooth" for the paint job to stick to the sculpture to ensure its lasting durability. A paint job should never simply be placed on the raw surface of a sculpture.

As for the paint job, it should be smooth, meticulous, and consistent in quality, attention, and detail. 
It should also be thorough, clear, and done with a skilled, confident hand. No aspect should appear messy, cursory, or untrained. Precision is paramount, too, and becomes more important the smaller the scale. Without a doubt, the paint job should never be sloppy, careless, hurried, or veer away from technical accuracy. That means all methods and media must mimic realism with as much realism as you can muster on the moment. Also, there should be no bald spots (often seen in white markings and white details) because all white areas should have even coverage and opacity. That said, these white areas shouldn't bear a ridge along their edges—they must be as flat and smooth as the rest of the paint job. Paintwork should also have no ridges, lumps, brush strokes, blobs, drips, crackling, fingerprints, hairs, smudges, smears, relics, wrinkling, or sags. Remember, if the real horse doesn't have it neither should the paint job. 

Areas requiring a steady hand should be done neatly and cleanly such as hooves, ears, eyes, markings, veins, chestnuts, and sculpted manes and tails, etc. Coat details should be cleanly painted and methodically executed, with pigment precisely placed.

Paintwork should also be genetically realistic insofar as patterns, markings, effects, and color qualities. Yesthere's room for artistic license, but it needs to be kept in check. We have rules to follow and an inappropriate veer away from realism will destroy our intended illusion. That means we cannot simply make up a color or pattern on a whim. That’s akin to simply making up equine anatomy. Field study and working from photos are a good means to stay on track. Take nothing for granted and always dampen habitual approaches or preconceived notions. There’s a very good reason why certain artists create such realistic pintos and appaloosas…they understand and factor in equine color and pattern genetics as a top priority.

Of special importanceeverything must be in scale. We have to pay keen attention to every facet of our paint job to make sure  every detail and effect is in scale to the size of the sculpture. This means everything from ticking, dapples, hair growth patterns, patterns, and everything else must be precisely sized to the piece. And scale is particularly crucial for the smaller scale sculptures as it's far too easy to create effects with our tools that are out of scale. Indeed, scale was also of such importance that it was a placing determiner in my judging NAN 2016. Even one aspect out of scale will destroy our necessary illusion, so take your time. Again, a handy way to remain in scale is to resize your reference photos to the size of the sculpture you're painting.

Some common mistakes are:

  • Prepping relics.
  • Basecoat flaws.
  • Paint jobs that aren't technically accurate to equine genetics.
  • Out of scale effects and details.
  • An appaloosa spot with uneven opacity, having a bald spot in the pigment because not enough layers of paint were applied to produce uniform opacity.
  • Markings or features with uneven opacity because not enough layers of white were applied. 
  • White markings and patterns with ridges, drips, brushmarks, fingerprints, dirty areas, debris, streaks, ridges, blobs, etc.
  • White areas that ignore the hair growth pattern, having a sharp, crisp line.
  • Intricate areas left unpainted such as tight regions of manes or tails, chestnuts, or areas inside the mouth.
  • Areas painted a flat color such as the palmar foot, chestnuts, or inside the ear.
  • Manes, tails, and feathers lacking shading, highlight, detail, and tonal variations, being painted one flat, monochromatic color. For brownie points, pale or white manes, tails, and feathers can be stained with browns and golds. Or brown tones could be used to simulate dirt and dust around hooves and in feathers, or even dirt or mud splatter on the body.
  • Sloppy line of the mane on the crest and the hair at the dock, or where mane and tail hair meet the body.
  • Fingerprints, pet hair, relics, fingerprints, etc. embedded in the pigment, or blobs, lumps, ridges, wrinkles and other flaws in the pigment. 
  • Detailed areas done with a sloppy, imprecise hand such as eyes, coronet bands, ears, nostrils, wrinkles, veins, chestnuts, hair, and shoes.
  • An over-simplified paint job, including the typical “20 minute airbrush job” that’s flat, uninspired, and hurried.
  • An overzealous use of black for "blacked areas" when these areas should be shaded, highlighted, and exhibit a deft use of tones, values, and colors to make them appear fleshy.
  • Hooves that are conventionally painted, often according to a habitual formula, ignoring all the effects and details seen in life.
  • Hooves exhibiting bruising due to reddish lines encircling the hoof wall.
  • Hooves painted in a sloppy, unconvincing, or vague manner, lacking detail and care.
  • A face painted only in generalized terms, lacking detail or thoughtfulness for structure and flesh. Some highlighting and shading of facial features such as ears, nostrils, eyes, and facial muscle can do much for boosting realism.
  • Wrinkles and veins are often ignored, but do well with some soft highlighting.
  • Eyes given a cursory and careless treatment, producing a possessed or staring effect and lacking essential detailing and shading such as a shaded sclera (if present), shading of the iris, a properly done pupil, a lacrimal caruncle and even a third eyelid (when appropriate). The eyelid wrinkles also do well with some highlight and shade, too.
  • Mapping that’s sloppy and imprecise, appears plastic and fake because it’s a third color (either flat grey or a separate mix of the body color and white), lacking the hair growth pattern, all the same width, or isn't grainy and speckled.
  • Bases that are painted with a hasty hand with little concern or attention to detail and effect. Bases should be treated with the same care as the paint job, and be coherent and harmonious with the finished piece.
  • Muzzle and face markings left unpinked or lack the necessary shadings and highlights to reproduce a fleshy quality. 
  • White markings with grey shadings. Instead, thin-skinned marked areas should be shaded with flesh tones and of the proper coloration, being neither too yellow, too red, or too orange. Flesh tones should be treated with a discriminating hand and not neon-bright, either. Markings should also be shaded and highlighted, especially on the face and genitalia.
  • Composite coats that lack the necessary grainy appearance.
  • Effects that don’t mimic the hair growth pattern.
  • Harsh, slashy ticking, patterns, and other painting effects.
  • Pigments that aren’t consistent to the tone of the real animal, especially obvious on certain colors such as silvers and grullas, blue eyes, hooves, pinked areas, and chestnuts.
It’s said the “devil is in the details," and that’s entirely true; details count! And they should be ubiquitous, precisely executed and accurate, revealing an artist’s keen observational skills and care for minutiae. Because details include anything that exists on the real animal, it involves many possibilities such as wrinkles, delicate capillaries and veins, chestnuts, ergots, tendons or ligaments, fleshy details that convey the moment, dainty ear ridges or ear fuzz, whisker bumps, bug bites, scars, rub marks, hoof characteristics, hair texture and growth, accurate shoes, clenches, eyelashes, teeth and tongue (for open mouths), specialty clips or braids. it also applies to all coat effects, patterning, and fleshy details...basically anything that contributes to the believability of the piece. If it's on a real horse, it should be on the sculpture. Never miss an opportunity to infuse detail.

Even though a realistic paint job should be authentic, it should also be eye-candy. Yet it’s a delicate balance between realism and “pop," so artistic know-how is essential for finding the balance. For example, most colors on horses are rather flat and even-toned, but nevertheless, their coats do have a luminescence that creates a play of sheen, glow, effect, and color as light dances on the hair shafts. But because sculptures aren’t living horses, an artist must mimic these coat effects with pigment and technique, and the more skilled the artist, the more attractive the finish even on “plain” colors. What we want to avoid is a boring finish that's flat, static, and monochromatic, and although it may be skillful in technical workmanship, it fails in eye-candy department because it’s simply not very interesting. In contrast, a “plain” chestnut, bay or black can glow like a jewel with a practiced use of color, technique, shading and highlight, and effect in skilled hands. We also need harmony, or the overall balance and cohesion of the paint job. Nothing should glaringly stick out or dominate the eye. Instead, our eye should flow around the piece since all its colors and effects are harmonized together. Studying horse color and the color strategies other artists employ to recreate them can provide useful insights. 

All this means we must practice, practice, practice and pay close attention to what we're doing. Take the extra time to do it right—the pay-off is worth it. Never rush and never cut corners. Also use techniques and media that best mimics real coat effects. Remember, each of your paint jobs is your ambassador. People will judge all your work on the quality of just the one they see, so make sure each one represents the absolute best you can do at that moment. That means all our work must be consistent in quality, absolutely. This not only speaks well of our convictions and skills, but it's our best form of advertising!

Protective Coating

When the painting is complete, always apply a clear sealant. I recommend Testors DullCote #1260 for acylics. But be sure to use a finishing media compatible with your media.  Oils and pastels may require very different products and applications (since I don't use oils, I don't know of a varnish for that media). Be sure to spray in a well-ventilated area, but also one which is free of wind or an opportunity for particles to get stuck in the finish. For example, I do my finish spraying and basecoat spraying in the garage. Also avoid a situation that could cause the sculpture being knocked down. 

After the sealant has dried, apply clear nail polish to the eyes, inside the nostrils, and the hooves if you want a polished hoof. I recommend using a liner brush for the eyes and nostrils, and the nail polish brush can be used for hooves. However, sometimes nail polish can eat through the sealant and paint, causing wrinkling and puckering. To stop this, I recommend using Liquitex Gel Medium first in these areas, applying it with a soft brush, letting it dry thoroughly and then applying the nail polish over it. Also, I tend to use this gel medium for glossing inside the nostrils and hooves, opting to have the super-gloss finish of nail polish just for the eyes. 

Be very careful to keep this nail polish on the very specific area; don't allow it to slop onto surround features. We want a clean, precise application. Also learn to use just the right amount. Using too much on the eye, for example, will cause big problems with sags and dripping so consider applying two thin coats rather than one thick one.

Then allow the piece to completely dry, cure, and de-gas by letting it dry for a week, then voila! Done! Good job!


Clearly there's a lot more to painting a realistic piece than just haphazardly applying pigment. It takes a lot of thought and work, so spend the time to do it right. I hope some of these ideas were helpful to you. I'm constantly learning, so keep your options open. Study reference photos, do field study to get up and close to these effects, and study the work of other artists to see how they tackled these things. Try different media and new methods to keep stretching yourself. 

And finish lots of pieces. The more pieces you paint, the more opportunity you have to grow. And learn when to decide when a piece is done. That's one of the most important perspectives an artist can cultivate; otherwise we keep fiddling with our work to the point of over-working it and spinning our wheels.

And isn't there a great energy when you first start? Work to keep that enthusiasm through the entire process. Challenge yourself to see just how talented you are! Push through the ugly phases...persevere. Take breaks if you have to. Often times we simply have to grow in order to achieve that effect we're trying to achieve. Give yourself time to catch up to your expectations. Be patient with yourself.

Keep your paint jobs fresh, too. Avoid preconceived ideas and habitual approaches. Really observe and study to stretch beyond convention and the expected. Paint what's really there rather than what you think is there. Your perception is your greatest ally, so hone it to razor sharp precision.

Each of us has the opportunity to really take our painting to the next level so reach for it! You're more capable than you think, and you're more motivated than that little voice tells you. You can do it! It just takes practice, gumption, observation, and refinement of your techniques. All these are learnable.

Most of all—have fun! Painting should be enjoyable and surprising! Enjoy! For that, here's a great resource for tutorials at your disposal! Have fun!

"Do you duty until it becomes your joy."
~ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

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