Here we are again, back with more artistic considerations. There's a tremendous amount to weigh when we sculpt an equine head. It's not simply a matter of duplicating what we see! Nope! In reality, there's a whole slew of things we have to juggle if we hope to recreate both an accurate and accountable version. But accountable to what? To the equine, of course! This animal is so routinely objectified, we may no longer be aware of it anymore. What's more, these objectified ideals aren't always informed by his evolutionary biology. This suggests that we cannot shape his head any which way we like because there may be ethical obligations we need to consider. We need to remember that the equine head is the product of pure function with no consideration for our fickle ideas about beauty and perfection—yet look how perfectly beautiful function turned out to be!
But in relation to that, we have to regard the head from an artistic point of view, too—in equine realism, illusion informs fact and fact informs illusion. That's to say we use facts to create a convincing illusion of a real horse, and to do so we need the knowledge to shape our clay plus the practical skill to actually do it accurately. Our sculpting tool is only as effective as the knowledge that guides it—but just the same—our knowledge is only as useful as the tool that expresses it! Knowledge and technique—they may be different ways of looking at our subject but, nevertheless, both are needed for a convincing "breathing" illusion. This is why paying special attention to improve each independently and symbiotically really helps us grow artistically. So let's continue our artistic exploration, starting with the eyes!…
Other Artistic Considerations: Part 2
The eyes are often difficult to sculpt owing to their distinctive angles and orientation on the skull plus their fleshy features and potential for expression make a complicated feature even more so. The upper lid and brows are highly expressive by being drawn up to the forehead. While the lower lid is less mobile it can, nevertheless, still deepen its curve to appear more “doe–eyed,” "big–eyed," alert, “wide–eyed,” or gentle. Together then, the lids can open large and round with happy interest or be squinty with distaste or anger, or to shade the eye from the sun or wind. In turn, the bony zygomatics can be quite pronounced or more rounded and generalized, depending on individual variation or age. The brows can also be similarly more pronounced or less so often depending on individual variation. Sometimes the nature of the brows can be breed–specific, too. For example, the "toad eyes" on Exmoor ponies or the "snake eyes" on Tekes. What's more, the muscles of the forehead can become more defined or "pooch" based on his expression and mood, sometimes becoming more chiseled with concern or excitement. Those muscles may even be meatier by nature such as on stallions or many muscular stock breeds. However, keep in mind that the nature of the eye can vary a bit among individuals or breeds, so use good reference photos and do field study.
- Anatomy (to include Biomechanics)
- The Five Ps: Proportion, Placement, Planes, Precision, and Presence
When it comes to the Five Ps, Proportional errors are also common. For instance, we often see heads that are either too big or too small for the body (most commonly too big). Biomechanically, the head is at the end of the spine—a counterbalancing weight at the end of a long "noodle." Therefore, a head not in proper proportion to the rest of the body can be a functional liability, and if the sculpted disparity is large enough—which can easily happen—it may even be unrealistic. This error is often a product of an artistic blindspot exacerbated by a flawed proportional measurement system, or neglecting to use calipers regularly. Jaw bars that are too thick can happen, too, or they can be set too close or too far apart from each other, creating a head that's too narrow or two wide altogether, or too wide on the bottom aspect, distorting the rest of the head. Often a forgotten feature of the head, the jaw bars definitely have a delicate balance to each other and to the rest of the head, and getting them right helps to form the proper scaffolding for a correct head. As for ears, we'll find some that are too small, but more often those that are too big in relation to the depicted species, gender, age, or breed type. For these reasons, it's smart to record our proportional measurements such as the head length and the "thirds" sections with our proportional calipers. That way we can quickly and accurately recheck our work as we go with a fixed measurement. Errors in Placement and Planes are common as well since it's easy to skew them, too, if we aren't checking them regularly. Precision is also an often–forgotten aspect of sculpting the head which always needs careful attention. The anatomical aspects, surfaces, topography, textures, features, and expressions all depend on the precision of our hands and tools—the better the Precision, the better the result. Absolutely, a sloppy, careless, cursory, or imprecise hand will cause our illusion to collapse just as quickly as an anatomical flaw. For example, eye lids that are clumsily, imprecisely, or messily sculpted with "pills," tears, distortions, unevenness, and other oversights simply won't be convincing despite the accuracy of everything else, will they? A lack of Precision doesn't only cause anatomical errors in this way, but also artistic distractions that compromise the overall impact of our piece. Because of this Precision is often a defining factor of masterful work.
Alignments pertain to the relative relationships facial features have with each other like the EENA and we've already discussed others in Part 14. Nonetheless, some common errors with Alignment are features that are misplaced or distorted. Again, asymmetries are a typical error here. For example, misshapen joints that don't have their topography properly lined up between the two sides or aligned properly on the tops of the bony shafts. And as for Scale, we've already discussed that here.
Now as for Texture, this refers to the nature of the surface topography of the hide insofar as little bumps, squiggles, wrinkles, ripples, pock marks, striations, and other little fleshy details that typify the hide, hair, and skin. Equines don't have a hyper–polished, smooth surface but are rich with all sorts of fleshy little things happening on his body surface, and this is where field study comes in handy by reestablishing what's so often stripped away during dissection. But this issue is often a feature of artistic style as long as we recognize this as a function of style rather than reality, it has some context. That said, errors can be found here as well, most often with being sculpted too harshly so that they lack the delicate fleshiness that so often typifies them. Or we find them to be regimented and so fail to convey the look of organic nature. Sometimes they don't blend into surrounding areas, making the effect look contrived. For instance, wrinkles that have an abrupt ending with the surround flesh rather than blending gradually into it. Scale is a common problem with Texture, too, often being far too big. We have to always remember that fleshy details are characteristically squishy, subtle, varied, and organic so our interpretations should reflect those qualities to maximize the effect.
Now for Detail, that pertains to all the additional minute fleshy tidbits like veins, moles, eyelashes, inner ear ridges, and other little touches that add believability to our piece. Detail is sometimes flawed by not being anatomically accurate, not reflecting the fleshy or bony nature it intends to mimic, being out of scale, or crudely sculpted. For example, veins that aren't bilaterally symmetrical, aren't patterned organically or realistically, are too big, or are carved–grooves rather than protruding squiggles. Another flaw are moles that are popped on rather than blended into the surface. Or moles with a cave in, like a collapsed souffle. Eyelashes are often out of Scale, not being the delicate wisps of hair they are in life. Detail also suffers from similar flaws as Texture does.
And, lastly, we have Expression which entails gesture, emotion, "soul," and narrative as we discussed already in Part 13. It can be flawed by not matching the narrative of the piece, being expressed too strongly (like with overly extreme moving eye lids), or being inconsistent to both anatomy, coordination, or natural equine behavior. On the other hand, sometimes it's absent altogether, giving the sculpture a vacant, vapid look.
Altogether then, every aspect of our efforts, from the overarching idea to the most minute detail, should mesh together harmoniously so that no one element is a distraction. That's because if our eye is "stopped" in a way we didn't intend, the desired impact of our composition will be weakened. Truly, one wrong note can cause the entire piece to clank rather than sing.
Deeper still, there's a lot of "energy" in the initial moments of building a sculpture, isn't there? Those first few stages where we block in the big ideas really seem to capture the personality and flow of the piece beautifully. So much "elemental spirit"! Now if we can keep that energy contained within our composition to the very finishing touches, we've accomplished a great piece of equine art. And one of the best ways we can preserve this defining "feel" of each piece is to have a firm grasp of the fundamental structure of our subject and how it all fits and works together. Pair this with fluency in EquiSpeak and we've got ourselves an invaluable tool box! Connecting all this together is our ability to abstract our subject's structure to snatch the "elemental life," the "essence of anima" to infuse into our clay. Again, we can do this best by working from the big ideas first then progressing to the little ideas. If we get distracted by minutiae too early, that energy is going to drain out and we'll be left with a piece of depleted "spirit," of a "flatness" that can only happen with overworking and undisciplined focus. So understand the hierarchy of sculptural creation when it comes to equine realism: Big ideas first! Always try to simplify structure into basic shapes first and focus on Proportion, Planes, and Placement. Only after that's been done can we best progress to refining and defining. Keep those Alignments consistent, and always keep Scale in mind with every tool stroke. Once all of this is done, that's when we can start to focus on Texture, Detail, and other fiddly bits, and all without sacrificing the emotional narrative we intend. We can do it when we have an effective approach and process! Anyway then, until next time…careen headfirst into discovery and exploration!