Monday, February 13, 2017

Successful Sniffers: Tips for Sculpting the Equine Nostril


Planing, or the angles, dips, curves, and orientations of the equine body, are critical to duplicate authentically for a realistic result. In many ways, planing paired with proportion and placement, give us the tools for recreating an accurate equine. Indeed, using just these three aspects we can produce a convincing sculpture.

Nonetheless, some of the trickiest things to sculpt are often the simplest aspects of the body. Not surprisingly, these things are often highly dependent on planing to get right. Nostrils, for example, are simply two fleshy rims, but duplicating them in sculpture can be quite challenging! Truly, planes play a large role in getting them right. But it's also because they contort in response to mood and exertion, making many hours of observation and good reference photos smart policy to develop a mental library and realistic results. But not only do they vary moment by moment, they also vary with each breed and individual. Indeed, they're as individual as the horse we sculpt! To get started then, let’s look at some simple steps for a basic idea of “nostril” in equine sculpture. 

Things to Think About

The nasal cavity has cartilage called the nasal septum, which projects forward from the end of the nasal bone to attach to the premaxillary above the incisors, creating their initial framework. Anatomically then, the nostrils fill in the large cavity at the end of either side of the nasal bone, channeling air directly into the sinuses through the length of the head and into the lungs.

The nostril is comprised of two rims encircling the cavity that leads into the sinus and each is clearly distinct. The anterior piece is cartilage (Alar cartilage, sometimes called the "comma cartilage") and is comma-shaped with a thick rounded upper head (Lamina) and a thinner, swooping lower portion (Cornu), ending in a tail bulb. 

When viewed from the front, the Alar cartilage is an “X” shape that attaches to the nasal septum and the lateral cartilage of the nasal bone, articulating with both. Its rim by the nasal bone, at the top, is thicker and broader, but as it flows down, it becomes more tube-like. It's easily palpated, and its bulbous tail head can often be seen and felt as a subtle bulge immediately behind the lower portion of the posterior rim, with which it connects. In contrast, the posterior rim is comprised of gooshy flesh and is therefore more swooping and elastic. It connects at the top with the Lamina, forming an upper fold or “V." At the bottom, it connects with the Cornu, forming a noticeable depression between the two rims. However, the nostril may be so flared during exertion that this depression flattens and widens. Regardless, in short, the equine nostril has no bones or boney connection to the skull being only cartilage and flesh joined loosely by mushy connections. 

The nostril (or nare) has two compartments, the true nostril and the false nostril (or nasal diverticulum), a fleshy feature unique to equines. The true nostril leads directly into the nasal cavity of the sinus whereas the false nostril is a pouch above it, running from the lateral, dorsal aspect of the posterior rim and forming a dead-end at the junction between the premaxillary and the nasal bone. We can often see the false nostril dilated above the nasal bone when the horse's nostrils are dilated or "snorty"; it’s the pouch that jiggles during a snort, blow, or whinny.  Several muscles activate the nostril, such as the dorsal and ventral Levator nasi, the Dilator naris lateralis, the Transverses nasi, and the Levator nasolabialis, so it can capture air, contort, or bulge in interesting ways during certain airflow conditions, communications, or emotions. 

Because of their flexibility and the network of muscles and fascia activating them, the nostrils can be contorted together or independently. Being so and being so fleshy, the nostrils are highly mobile, malleable, and expressive. The activating muscles also distort and dilate the nostrils into many configurations while also shaping the nostril flare (both the true and false nostrils) with bulges and depressions whether at rest or activated, so we should pay attention to match the nostril shape on our sculpture to the expression or type of exertion we're depicting. 

For instance, they can expand (or flare) into a rather large circular or oval shape during physical exertion or quiver and delicately flare for emotional communication or can be pinched or “billowed” to snort and blow. They can also be almost shut such as when a horse is swimming. The flare of the true nostril and false nostril can also "lift" the flesh between the  nostrils to change the horse's muzzle profile beyond effect of the contorted Alar cartilages. They can also "lift" the area between the "Vs" to create a bulge or ridge between them. Plus, when a horse contorts his mouth or muzzle, the nostrils are influenced in their shape and orientation. But while they can do all this, they're more or less loosely fixed where the two rims meet at the “V," where the Alar cartilage connects with the end of the nasal septum and lateral cartilages. 

However, always keep in mind that nostrils serve an essential function: getting air to the lungs. And this is no small feat! At rest, the typical horse breaths about 1.25 gallons (about five liters) of air with each breath, taking about twelve breaths per minute. All told then, at rest, the average horse will breath approximately 16 gallons (about 60 liters) of air per minute. What's more, at a full gallop the air flowing through the horse's nostrils can be as fast as 400 mph (about 644 kph), the fastest air speed on Earth thus recorded. For comparison, an F5 tornado has a wind speed averaging 318 mph (about 512 kph). For this reason, nostrils should never be too small on any equine, but large enough to accommodate such a rapid and large intake of air whether at rest or moving.

Nostrils are not just a function of airflow, but also of communication (through puffs, snorts, blows, etc.), scenting the air (watch how they delicately quiver and dilate doing so), clearing the nasal passages (with that all-too-familiar snot splatter), and emotion (note how they move in sympathy to what the horse is feeling). And when a horse gets nervous or afterwards "lets out the butterflies," he expresses this with his breath. So it’s important to pay attention to them when sculpting and use good reference photos. Field study helps us discover all the motions the nostrils can make either together or singly, or for expression for fun sculptural options.

The shape and orientation of the nostrils can also be a function of type. For example, oriental breeds tend to have a more horizontally placed nostril whereas stock breeds may have a more vertically oriented one, creating that typical boxy muzzle profile. Similarly, certain Iberians and Draft breeds have nostrils that lie slightly below the ear-eye-nostril alignment because the shape of their skulls is more convex.

As a guide, the ear-eye-nostril alignment is useful to gauge the placement of our nostrils. With this we can determine where the nostril should be oriented depending on the breed or individual we're depicting in relation to the standard general alignment.

Sculpting Sequence

Note: The process described below refers to a “traditional” size or 1:9 scale sculpture. Adjustments in amounts should be made for larger or smaller size sculptures.
  • Plan Ahead: Since nostrils are so pliable, they offer several manifestations for our sculpture, making observation useful for exploring options. But translating nostrils sculpturally entails  additional concerns beyond accuracy since they also need to be interesting, expressive, and complementary to the design of the head. So before ever laying down sculpting material, first think about where the nostrils will be placed, how they’ll be structured, how they’ll be consistent to the sculpture’s exertion, and how they’ll convey mood. Also be mindful about how consistent they should be to the breed, type, or individuality of the horse we're sculpting. 
Note: For customizing, the removal of the entire original nostril before sculpting a new one is recommended to create a clean slate. Create a smooth, flat surface, sand it smooth with coarse sandpaper to remove pronounced ridges then wash down the area with rubbing alcohol to remove residues. 

  • Blocking: Smoosh on a blob of sculpting material where we wish to place it; a blob the size of a pea is usually sufficient for a “traditional” size nostril. Then flatten it into an oblong bulge, with the mass of the nostril in front and the nostril flare in back, being sure the planes are correct. Then blend the edges into the rest of the face. Again, shape and plane the big ideas and orientations.
  • Secondary blocking: Block in the basic structures such as the two rims and the nostril flare. Make adjustments if there’s too much or too little material and just keep the big ideas in mind at this point. Then smooth with rubbing alcohol and a brush, paying particular attention to smoothing it into the surrounding areas, and let the material rest a bit. 
  • Tip: When starting to block in the structures, use a spoon-like tool to poke into the middle of the nostril block and form the nostril crater in a sweeping motion, starting from the top corner, down the back rim and to the front rim and then back to the top corner. Then indent the “v” where the rims meet at the top using a blade tool. While not perfect, it does give us a place to start. Then we can use our various tools to push, pinch, smoosh, and roll the material into the configurations we desire based off this basic idea. Be sure to use reference photos and use measurements to stay on track. Also, roll off extra unneeded material by “pinch rolling” it off to the sides for easier removal. It's also suggested to maintain a hollow in the front, between the anterior walls of the two nostrils, between the rims of the Alar cartilages, which can be filled in later with wrinkles after both nostrils are done. 
  • Detailing: Now we can add texture and delicate wrinkles for detail, and subtle contortions or variations that would indicate mood, or even depressions and bulges that would imply airflow or exertion on the flute of the nostril. Also, refine the blocked-in shapes and soften them visually to produce a soft, squishy, fleshy look. For example, now we can thin the bottom rim and define the Alar cartilages. If we’re working with epoxy, we can use the cure time to clean up details and ideas, too. Then smooth with rubbing alcohol and a soft brush (just be sure not to use so much solvent as to soak and degrade the surface of the material; only use enough solvent to create lubrication to smooth).
  • Don't forget to check nostrils not just from the side, but also from the bottom, front, and top!
  • Remember that the shape of the nostrils can change the profile of the muzzle from both the side and from the front and top.
  • When we’re done with one, do the other side and allow both to cure until a bit stiffer. Refine and define, adding little details like wrinkles, indentions, more texture, and bulges. Then fill the front hollow with wrinkles appropriate for the motion of both nostrils.
  • Dremeling (if using epoxy): After the nostrils have cured completely, hollow them out with a Dremel fitted with appropriate bits. Then sand the inside of the nostril with rolled-up fine wetted wet-dry sandpaper and voila! 
  • Tip: Try not to use a Dremel to add further detail or sculptural aspects to the nostril once the epoxy has hardened since this approach won’t convincingly duplicate the look of soft, mushy flesh. If we’re unsatisfied with a specific area then, simply Dremel it off and resculpt it with fresh epoxy. Maintaining a fleshy appearance is of paramount importance.
Things to Avoid

Learning how to sculpt nostrils takes time so be prepared for a learning curve. We might actually consider learning on “junker” models, using a non-hardening clay to work out problem quirks before attempting a serious sculpture. That said, some of the common mistakes to avoid are, as follows:
  • Proportion issues: We can often make nostrils too small or unnaturally too big in proportion to the head or the level of exertion so it’s important to work from good photos and a good mental library to ensure an authentic result. Use calipers if necessary.
  • Muzzle distortion: We can easily get off-track sculpting nostrils since they're so pliable. As such, we can end up creating unrealistic distortions of our muzzle, making it way too big, too small, camel-nosed, or any number of other unrealistic oddities. Always pay attention to anatomical accuracy.
  • Misalignments: It’s important to use the ear-eye-nostril alignment as a guide to make sure we don’t misalign our nostrils in an unrealistic way. Each horse is different, and even each breed has subtle differences, but this alignment can be a useful compass to use for comparison. We should also be mindful how the nostril is aligned on the head to make sure we don’t create one incorrectly rotated on its axis or mis-angled or mis-planed. 
  • Drooping: Try to avoid the “anteater” look by creating nostrils that seem to slide off the end of the head. This is why it’s important to understand the underlying anatomical structures to “See” things clearly while sculpting.
  • Piggish: Similarly, try to avoid placing the nostrils angled too upright, creating a piggish look.
  • High Nostrils: Likewise, avoid placing the nostrils too high on the profile of the muzzle profile. Again, refer to the ear-eye-nostril alignment for guidance.
  • Incorrect planes: We can also plane nostrils improperly, usually creating flat or reversed planes, so be sure to work from life study and good photos depicting many different angles. Pay particular attention to the planes as they look from the front and the top to stay on track. For example, from the front, notice how the nostrils are more medially situated at the “V," but are broader at the lower portion of the posterior rim. 
  • Inconsistent flare: The dilation of the nostril must be consistent to both the movement depicted and the emotion conveyed. For instance, it’s not realistic to have a relaxed nostril on a galloping sculpture.
  • Rims too thin: The rims of the nostrils are formed of flesh or cartilage so they aren’t paper-thin or razor sharp. Even the most delicate nostrils on a real horse have a nice rounded, fleshy edge to them. So be mindful of the fleshy quality and anatomy of the nostrils to convincingly duplicate them in sculpture.
  • Crooked: While nostrils are rather flexible and mobile, they should still appear reasonably symmetrical. Anatomically, they're fixed somewhat at the upper “V” which can be used as a reference point to evaluate nostril motion. However these fixed points can still float a bit, and can be distorted or amplified by extreme muzzle contortions. Nonetheless, movement at these “V” points shouldn’t be too extreme as to convey nostrils broken off the nasal septum and lateral cartilages. 
  • Overdone: We should keep our nostrils in artistic balance with the sculpting of the entire head. So try to avoid chronically drawing the onlooker’s eye to the nostril because it’s been sculpturally overplayed.
  • Lack of detail: Nostrils have a lot of detail! All that texture and those wrinkles, moles, crevices, protrusions, flares, bulges, and subtle contortions are essential elements to infuse into our sculpture work, so actively refrain from sculpting a boring or simplified nostril.
  • Plane flares: Avoid creating a triangular, solid, tube-like flare to denote a flared nostril. The muscles and construction of the true and false nostril cause depressions, bulges and delineations depending on the type of distortion. Use good reference photos for an authentic result.
  • Timidity: Nostrils are a very important component of expression so we shouldn't be so bashful when using them on our sculpture to portray emotion. It's smart to study how real horses use their nostrils while expressing and seek to infuse that into our work.
Sculpting Tips
  • If using epoxy, soft artificial brushes dipped in rubbing alcohol can be used to smooth sculpted details. If using most clays, Goo Gone works the same way.
  • Nostrils are best sculpted with the proper tools that fit the shapes needed (see recommended tools at the end of this tutorial). Particularly handy tools are a blade-shape for the "V" and small wrinkles, a spoon-shape for the Alar cartilages, posterior rim and nasal flare and larger wrinkles, and ball-tipped tools for further shaping and textures.
  • A pair of calipers can help to keep things in proportion and are of particular usefulness with sculpting the other nostril to ensure symmetry. And don't forget to check symmetry not just from the front, but from the top and bottom, too!
  • A ruler can be used to gauge the ear-eye-nostril alignment while sculpting to stay on track. 
  • Try to visualize the nostril in a simple shape for preliminary blocking. For example, think of a comma or a reversed “6” (for the left nostril) or "6" (for the right nostril) when creating that initial shape of the rims. Also think of how the two Alar cartilages, from the front, form gentle inwards curves like the neck of an hourglass.

It's a good idea to amass a large library of different nostrils in many different angles between contortions, breeds, and individuals. Compare and contrast. They have tremendous variability and learning how to express that helps to make our sculpture not only accurate but more individualistic and expressive.

And practice makes perfect! We will make mistakes and that's part of the learning process. But the only way nostrils become easier to sculpt is repeatedly doing them and learning from both our triumphs and missteps. And, of course, life study and working from photos is essential too. So just keep at it and it will get easier! It just takes practice, practice, practice!

"Often it is tiny fragments which either make a picture convincing or totally incidental."
~ Simone Bingemer

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