Saturday, January 27, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 17


Hello again! We’re back with this 20–part series about the equine head, dissecting it both anatomically, biologically, and artistically. In the previous installment, we discussed artistic flaws that are often found in equine sculpture, giving us a leg up for our own creative efforts. But our endeavors aren’t just about artistic issues—we also have to factor in real–life concerns. This animal is typically evaluated according to a series of value judgements that determine worth or "suitability." This means that the horse is one of the most objectified animals in domestication, finding judgement in nearly every facet of his experience with us. So we have to also factor in all these value systems into our creative considerations with all the nuance and complexity apparent in life. Yet we also need to know when to ignore them, too! 

And all this is no easy task. For starters, there’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding structure. Misguided convention and rhetoric seasons much of prevailing thought, some of which is being exposed as science peels away obsolete ideas. What’s more, there’s a systemic opinion that equine structure is as much about taste as anything else when in fact the only thing truly relevant is function. Remember that the equine physique is a carefully balanced series of specific systems designed precisely for his biological niche. There's not a lot of fudge–factor for our fancies. Indeed, when we push past these biological parameters, we often end up with “lawn ornaments,” nonviable individuals who may certainly fit our tastes, but are physically compromised. Is this what we want to endorse in our art? Even so, we should also recognize that many concepts of conformation are at best hypothetical. Science is disproving much of conventional thought on this issue, and we certainly can’t ignore the many specimens with “perfect” structure who are chronically lame compared to those with “flawed” structure who remain sound. The quality of horsemanship also plays a tremendous role in how conformation affects performance, a factor often ignored in conformational evaluations.

To manage all this then, we should realize there’s a hierarchy of structure. First and foremost, there’s functional conformation, the build that's consistent to nature's blueprint and purpose. Then next there’s breed type, the structural differences that define a breed or type. And last, our tastes, or those features that form a horse more to our liking aesthetically. This means we shouldn’t only know what’s viable, but also what’s desirable as well as what's variable. That’s a lot to juggle.

Now that we’ve already explored some artistic flaws in Part 16, let’s discuss some functional flaws we may find in life with the equine head…

Functional Flaws

A sound frame of reference—a biological context—places the equine evolutionary blueprint at the base of our value system, helping us avoid unintentionally validating harmful structure. That's because it's two different things to sculpt equines and then to sculpt equines within a biological context. Indeed, it's perilously easy to be lulled into "improving" upon nature rather than remembering its parameters. All too quickly we can lose sight of biology in pursuit of our own ideals, something particularly strong when it comes to art. This isn’t reserved just for artists, however; it’s equally true with horsepeople. Breeding and judging decisions in pursuit of “perfection” can result in deformities that then become validated by kudos. And since people are prone to oneupmanship, these deformities can even become ever more exaggerated. This means we need to regard things with a biological objectivity, especially when expounded by an entrenched industry. That's because, though often well–meaning, many of those involved are simply too immersed in their own dogma—and immersion brings with it bias, fads, knowledge gaps, denials, convention, excuses, conformity, peer pressure, and misinformation. Yet, as artists, we have an opportunity for a more objective view since our knowledge base, by its very nature, needs to be more expansive, technical, and interdisciplinary. We simply have to be "lifted out" of the immersion if we're going to be able to create our most informed work.

That said, however, we also should recognize that we can become immersed, too, particularly when it comes to our tastes that can contradict biology just as easily. Truly, it's easy to fall under the spell of our knowledge gaps, blindspots, and prejudices. Artists also tend to idealize which is fine if the definition of “perfect” is firmly seated within a biological context. But if not, we can end up validating harmful structure. And if aren't especially careful, we can slide into objectification, and that's definitely a slippery slope. For example, we perceive a difference between the Mona Lisa and Barbie because recognizing idealized, objectified caricatures of our own form is easy, being so familiar. Yet this distinction isn’t so forthcoming in equine art. Perhaps it’s because we burden the animal our ideas of perfection, our persistent predilection for “more is better,” or maybe because people are prone to objectification anyway. Then mix in status, profits, and competition and we have a rather problematic brew. Whatever the reason though, all this presents an interesting conundrum to us—realistic art demands faithfulness to life, but where’s the line? 

This question has important implications because history demonstrates that artistic visuals can be a potent force in shaping people's perception. That is to say visuals are informed by life, but they also influence life in a kind of feedback loop. Art also tends to absorb ideals of beauty to then exaggerate and idealize them, and so endorse them. What usually happens then is a symbiosis that produces an ever extreme paradigm of beauty. The HYPP problem in the Quarter Horse and the "extreme headed" Arabians are classic examples. In terms of movement, the Big Lick TWH is another clear illustration of this effect. To clarify it further, it's also alarmingly illustrated in the images of fashion models with the profuse use of Photoshop. 

This begs another question: Do we have a moral responsibility to this animal? We can't ignore the possibility that when we tip towards exaggeration we may run into ethical dilemmas. And the problem isn’t whether art work is “alive” and therefore cannot suffer. The issue is what our art work validates. Whatever we create is an endorsement, a promotion, an immortalization, so in this way, our art speaks not only for us, but for the animal as well. So do our visuals promote his well–being? Or do we promote Barbie ideals? Are we pandering to problematic ideals or are we advocating for this animal we profess to admire?

Before we can answer this for ourselves, however, we need to develop an ability to weigh things objectively and it's a biological perspective that will provide us with that measure of objective judgement. This not only gives us the tools to make more informed decisions, but also the rock to stand on when we have to defend our work. It's hard to argue with biological reality! For this reason then, some problematic structures are presented here as a means to jump–start this process, as follows: 
  • Malocclusions: A “parrot mouth” or an “undershot jaw” are severe faults because they interfere with eating. A parrot mouth occurs when the upper jaw overshoots the lower jaw whereas a undershot jaw is when the lower jaw undershoots the upper jaw. This shouldn't be confused with a "pooky" lip, however.
  • Big Head: Also called Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (NPH), Big Head is a condition caused when the horse doesn’t get enough calcium. Firm bony swellings appear of the bridge of the nose near the eyes. Other symptoms include thicker jaw bones which sometimes become so thick and misshapen that the tongue hangs out because the incisors can’t meet. The condition also causes unsoundness that periodically switches from leg to leg, sometimes making the horse unwilling to move. And because the bones are weaker, they can fracture easily.
  • Narrow jaws: A large fist should fit between the ridges of the jaws between the ramus to allow for a proper airway. When there isn't, the horse may have problems consuming enough air or swallowing.
  • Buggy eyes: There’s a tendency to select for big, buggy eyes in certain breeds such as the Arabian. However, this feature can indicate hypothyroidism or Anterior Segment Dysgenesis (ASD) in a real horse. 
  • “Dishy head,” “classic head,” or “extreme type”: The distinctly dished, domed head (the “jibbah”) of the Arabian is a prominent feature of the breed. A prevailing misconception believes the jibbah creates a larger brain case (or, alternately, to increase air intake). Predictably then, selection for this structure is strong as enthusiasts seek the deepest dish, the most pronounced jibbah, and the most bent concave axis. The result found in many halter classes today then has become markedly extreme compared to heads past. Simply comparing the Arabian profiles of ancestral desertbred photos to those of today makes the difference patently clear. In natural circumstances, however, the Arabian profile is much more discrete in design because, in reality, the jibbah evolved in a desert environment as a means to cool and add moisture to the hot, dry air to protect the sensitive inner tissues of the respiratory tract. In fact, many desert species have cranial dishes for this reason—from asses to hemonids to antelopes—so it’s not something unique to the breed. This means the jibbah is a function of the sinus, not the brain case or breathing capacity.  Being so, extreme concave profiles are a functional lability by actually contradicting nature’s design. Remember that air passing through the respiratory tract can be as fast as 400 mph, faster than an F5 tornado, and this air flow can move unimpeded in a normal head. Yet an “extreme” head causes air sweeping through the sinus cavity to hit the delicate membranes at abnormal angles, causing painful inflammation. Also the easy flow of air within the head's respiratory system is restricted by causing pinch points at key intersections, often producing wheezing and gruntling. In some cases, such a head structure also forces the roots of the upper molars to puncture the floor of the sinus cavity, resulting in various physical and behavioral problems due to pain. Unfortunately then these animals are reduced to "lawn ornaments," unable to function as as nature intended, or even have to be euthanized, their disfigured skulls often found as cautionary tales in equine dentistry schools. This is why Arabians used for sport tend to have less–extreme heads whereas halter horses tend to have the more extreme heads. Yet because a “classic head” is considered so desirable today, Arabian artwork has idealized and amplified it to brow–raising proportions as a means to seduce sales. Indeed, some art work has swerved so deeply into exaggeration that it’s no longer realistic by any measure. For example, Arabians with dolphin–like deformed heads with extremely domed foreheads and crushed nasal bones with tiny muzzles and enormous eyes are quite common in art work. Or seahorse–like heads due to also gouging–down the jaw bars, giving the head a fluted appearance. Stepping back then, it begs the question of how much should our tastes influence our creative choices regarding a structure that must first be functional? For this reason, perhaps it's better to derive influences from those Arabians used for performance rather than halter showing.   
  • Fine muzzle: A relic from the Victorian era, a small, refined muzzle is thought to constitute good breeding whereas a “coarse,” large muzzle apparently indicated poor breeding. In particular, the Arabian ideal demands a “tea cup muzzle” which has inspired breeders to select for ever–smaller muzzles, some alarmingly so. This creates what can be described as an “ice cream cone” head in which the muzzle almost seems to end in a point, something even exaggerated in art work. Yet a “tea cup” muzzle never meant a muzzle small enough to fit into a teacup, but one sensitive and delicate enough to sip from one. Remember that, biologically, the entirety of his evolutionary history can be found in his head, and nature designed all the necessary means for sustenance in his muzzle: The intake of air, food, and water. Being so, a small muzzle compromises their intake by reducing the net capacity of the muzzle. What’s more, an undersized muzzle can cause interference with the rooting of the teeth while, in large breeds, a small muzzle can compromise the consumption and processing of the copious amounts of food, water, and air needed to sustain their mass. Therefore, the animal requires a muzzle of goodly size and proportion to his mass. Truly, biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as a muzzle that’s “too big."
  • Fine head: Current ideals of animal beauty aren’t necessarily self–evident or timeless. More often, they’re rooted in historical cultural, social, or class prejudices, especially during the Victorian period, which was ripe with ideas about elitism and eugenics. One such example is a comparatively small head which was more a function of class prejudice in the Victorian 1800s rather than intelligent breeding. In the past, the common horse used by the working class had a relatively heavy, large head—and what upper class aristocrat would want to be seen with a “common horse”? This fueled the desire for a smaller, “finer” head which only intensified with the emphasis of showing status from utility. Horse paintings, which were the primary means to glorify prize animals before the camera, idealized horses even more with curiously small heads as an artistic expression of this underlaying preference. The work of George Stubbs is a classic example. Consequently, breeders aimed for this ideal even more, causing a progressive shrinking in the equine head, comparatively speaking. As a result, most horses today have smaller heads than those of yesteryear, or in relation to feral or wild cousins. Indeed, Susan McBane noted this trend in her book, Conformation for the Purpose, The Make, Shape and Performance of the Horse: “Domestic horses, however, nearly all have longer necks and smaller heads than their primitive ancestors because we have selectively bred for this characteristic of beauty…” Indeed, we still hear this sentiment today in the comments made about wild or feral cousins being described as “primitive" or even "ugly." Notwithstanding, evolution designed the equine head for things far more important than our ideas about beauty, and serious complications can arise when a large body mass with high performance demands depends on a head that’s too small to accommodate. We should also remember that the equine head is integral to his balance and coordination, being a weight on the end of his neck, and by extension his entire spine. For these reasons then, his head should be in balance with his mass and more faithful to proportions informed by nature. (Note: It’s also curious that other related structures are present in those old paintings as well such as long, fine necks, giant eyes, small muzzles, light bone, small hooves, and often long cannons, all vestigial ideals born of the Victorian age that still influence breeding today in some breeds. So the lesson here is: While art can be technically realistic, it can still be unfaithful to the subject through a misappropriation of proportion.)
  • Homogenization: There’s been a fashionable trend within some breeds of adopting the features of another breed as a means of “improvement. For example, the Saddlebred influence on the breeding of Morgans, or the “exotic” Arab–like heads on American Iberians or Quarter Horses. But shouldn’t each breed be celebrated for its unique features, which are often rich in history and cultural context? And shouldn’t artists be “keepers of the grail” when short–term breeding fads threaten the distinct phenotype of a breed? Even so, sometimes homogenization can be an artistic blindspot caused by a fixation on a particular physique that seeps into the expression of others. For example, an artist enamored with Arabians may “arabian–ize” the sculptures of other breeds, even drafters and stock horses. Artists can also become so fixated on a certain type within a breed that other variations are excluded within their body of work. This is fine, of course, if this is what we consciously intend, but if it’s unintentional, that’s a systemic blind spot. For all these reasons then, knowing the ancestral types of a breed can help us create within context to better express a breed’s diversity and distinction.
  • Breed type: We need to remember that the concept of breed type—or “points of type”—is a relatively new invention born of the Victorian era. Being so, the thinking of the time turned breed type into a kind of branded market identity, improving a breed's profitability in a market veering away from utility. This resulted in a progressive exaggeration of type in many breeds, to the point today that many specimens, especially from the halter venue, are nonviable. So what’s the most responsible way to regard these points of type? Capriciously according to our tastes? Or skeptically with the equine blueprint firmly in mind? For this, familiarity with a breed’s factual history and historic archetypes, firmly rooted in biology, are good balances for making informed decisions. 
Conclusion To Part 17

That’s a lot to factor into our knowledge base, isn’t it? Most definitely, sculpting the equine realistically involves a lot more than simply sculpting what’s there! There’s so much to weigh with each decision. No wonder artistically expressing the equine has challenged artists so profoundly through the ages!

However, we can stay on a steadier compass heading if our navigation points are thoughtfully chosen. In this, if our path homes in on functionality as our destination, the more likely we’ll be able to avoid flawed detours. Boiled down then, it’s all a matter of what we want to say about our values through out work. For this reason, such things are up to our own individual decisions. But what’s a more sincere celebration of this animal? Portrayals that advocate for his wellbeing or those that pander to human capriciousness?

So to continue our explorations, we’ll progress to troubleshooting our sculpture in Part 18. Knowing we’ll make errors from the onset is helpful since we can then preemptively arm ourselves with preventative countermeasures. So until next time…favor function over fashion to fast–track progress!

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” 
~ Abigail Adams


Monday, January 8, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 16


Hello again and welcome back to this 20part series exploring the equine head from an anatomical, evolutionary, and artistic perspective. Finding resources that make this combination are hard to come by, and only illustrate just how interdisciplinary our task actually is in equine realism. To create an effective sculpture then we first have to be an informed sculptor, and we do this with research and field study. There's so much more to all this than simply sculpting what we see! We have to See first. And it's this Sight that will guide us towards stronger compositions and deeper narratives.

Now specifically regarding his head, portraying it in clay is no easy task simply because so much about his noggin is a study of nuance and balance—nothing is extreme. Yet while this austerity of form makes the functions of the equine head more efficient and foolproof, it also makes our task that much more difficult. Indeed, the equine head is arguably one of the hardest things to capture artistically due to its technical complexity and rich source of expression. In particular, it’s so easy to do too little and especially to do too much, spinning off sideways at any given point. Plus we have to render our subject's noggin both technically accurate yet also organically “messy,” and that’s a tenuous juggling act. Truly, we have to walk a tightrope of framework and measure, and know it or not, it’s something that’s constantly challenging us even in those pieces that seem to come together easily. 

What’s more, our art is the creation of our fallible human hands and so errors are bound to pop up—but not all errors are alike! In fact, we have to contend with a whole slew of them. Specifically, we have technical errors, or those that indicate errors in anatomical information for the species or genus. For instance, we may place the structures of the zygomatic arches in a wrong way. But we also have to factor in those errors that can only happen in art. For example, we may inadvertently sculpt in an extra zygomatic arch. (And we're not even factoring in conformation, breed type, age and gender type yet!) Being so, the ability to See possible errors in our work is dependent on our interpretation of what we observe with the least possible unconscious skews—of having a more objective Eye. In this sense, our improvement can be amplified when we approach our efforts in a way that minimizes what can go wrong rather than what can go right because we'll always be creating contrary to life unless we attend to our blindspots along the way. In other words, our blindspots are a more powerful force in our work than our strong points. In this way then, awareness of this difference between reallife errors and artistic errors helps us to pinpoint problems better since one is a functional flaw whereas the other is an artistic fiction. 

So recognizing some common artistic errors can get us one step closer to the realism we desire. Yet that’s another tricky two-step because—know it or not—we're always immersed in our blindspots. That's what makes them blindspots! And each of us has a unique array of them, as characteristic of our work as our artistic style. Actually, in this way, our blindspots are part of our artistic style by helping to define our work just as much as anything else. Nonetheless, this means that our blindspots are often hard to identify in order to purge. Because they exist under our radar, how do we discover something we can't even See? What we need is objectivity—a basis of clinical comparison between our efforts and our resources. This is where lots of field study, accurate measurement systems, and artistic exercises that retrain our eyes to more correctly interpret both our subject, references photos, and our work.

But on that note, we should also understand that doing so entails three separate skills sets which are then amalgamated together into a fourth. What does that mean? Well, interpreting life study, photos, and our own sculpture requires three different perspectives, or keenness of Sight. For example, being able to interpret technical accuracy in our sculpture is entirely different than doing so in life study only because we can take much more granted with the living animal. That is to say each perspective entails different abilities since the features we need to duplicate accurately are a given in the real thing, open to debate in reference photos, and wholly questionable in our own work. Each one simply represents a different degree of uncertainty. Yet once we've developed these three perspectives, we also have to develop a fourth: their combination so we can effectively transition between our study, resources, and clay as we go back and forth between them as we work. This is one of the reasons why equine realism is so difficult—it demands an unusual degree of discipline and fixation to get it right. Equine realism isn't something we just do—it's something we become dedicated to doing.

For these reasons then, let’s discuss some common artistic, or fictional errors seen in sculpture with the equine head. So often knowing how we can go wrong can help us get things right. So here we go!…

Common Errors In Sculpture

Despite all our different styles and prerogatives, a series of artistic faults often pop up in realistic equine sculpture. They’re understandable though, since so much can go haywire so quickly when it comes to this difficult aspect of our subject. For some insights then, here are the most common artistic errors:
  • Trapdoor mouth: When the mouth is opened at the chin like a trapdoor rather than at the joint behind the eye. 
  • Bent jaw: With an open mouth, when the jaw bar underline doesn't continue through to the lower incisors in an unbroken curve.
  • Alligator mouth: A mouth opened too profoundly, beyond the fleshy limits of an equine, making the head resemble that of an alligator.
  • Displaced jaw: A jawbone placed either too far forwards or too far backwards in relation to the ear and its “button” with the zygomatic arches.
  • Displaced zygomatic arches: When these formations are not aligned with the back of the mandible, its condyloid process, or the ear.
  • Shrunken zygomatic arches: When these arches are sculpted to small or too short, causing displacement with the back of the jaw or the placement of the ear.
  • Swollen zygomatic arches: When these arches are sculpted too big and bulky.
  • Ridged zygomatic arches: When these arches aren’t rounded but have abrupt, ridged, or squared edges.
  • Tilted zygomatics: From the front: when these arches are misaligned to be on the same plane, making the forehead too broad. Or they're too up and down in relation to each other, spun clockwise or counterclockwise away from their correct orientation. In reality, the upper “U” angles inward with the forehead whereas the lower “Y” protrudes from that, forming a planed angle when seen from the front.
  • Island zygomatic arches: When these arches don’t properly blend with the rest of the cranium, but end abruptly as though they’re “floating” on top.
  • Incomplete zygomatics: When these portions are missing necessary cranial features.
  • Asymmetry: Bilaterally mismatched skull features when seen from above, below, from the back, or from the front. The head should be as bilaterally symmetrical as possible. 
  • Mis–planed head: Errors in planing that lack the characteristic angles and curves specific to the species, breed, or individual.
  • Twisted head: When the median line is spun to one side, causing the muzzle to be spun on the axis of the skull, when seen from the front. Not to be confused with asymmetrically moved nostrils.
  • Crooked head: When the median line is crooked, causing the internal axis of the sculpted head to be crooked as well. This also throws off bilateral symmetry of the matched cranial features.
  • Mis–aged head: When the head structure doesn’t match the intended age of the sculpture; the skull’s shape and features don’t exhibit accurate age characteristics. For example, absent tooth bumps on a sculpture of a 3–year–old or a 25–year–old with the head structure of an 8–year–old. Also common on foal sculptures when they have heads with adult–like development. It also happens on sculptures of older horses as they lack the cranial features produced by old age. 
  • Hammerhead: Overly protruding frog–like eyes, especially when viewed from the front. Often the entire brow ridge and zygomatic arches are enormous as well, like a Neanderthal version of Equus. 
  • Ghoulish head: Overdone and protruding bony development of the skeletal features of the head, especially through the brows, zygomatic arches, and teardrop bones. This often happens when we get carried away with sculpting.
  • Block head: The skull lacks the elegant rectangular, slender cranial structure of Equus (when seen from the front) to adopt a chunky, bulky, thickset structure more like a bull’s head.  
  • Oversized head: A head that’s proportionally too big, beyond some of the natural variation we can see in life. This often happens when we become too distracted by sculpting to check our proportions constantly. As a general rule, the head, from the tip of the muzzle to behind the ears should be about as long as from the point of the withers to the point of the croup, or the point of the withers to the point of shoulder.
  • Fluted head: When seen from above, when the back of the head is too broad and the width of the muzzle is too narrow. Or, likewise, when then depth of the jaw is too big and the depth of the muzzle is too short, often with a concave nasal bone and convex jaw bars as often seen in "extreme headed" Arabian sculptures.
  • Tiny head: Less often a sculpted head will be too small in proportion to the body, often seen on Arabian sculptures. In life, this will make it difficult for the animal to process enough food, water, and air for his mass, or present dentistry problems. It also throws off biomechanics which depends on the head's weight at the end of the spine. 
  • Fudged head: When the skeletal or cartilagenous structures aren’t portrayed accurately, most often seen with the zygomatic arches, the eyes, ears, and the muzzle. 
  • Mis–fleshed head: Made up cranial musculature. The head has some pretty distinct fleshy structures we need to keep in mind even though their manifestation does vary between individuals or breeds a bit.
  • Meaty head: When the planes of the head are incorrect, most often in the area of the mid–cheek, creating a blocky, chunky head. The equine head is actually quite slender flowing from the nasal bones when seen from the front, and elegantly constructed.
  • Puffy Head: When the musculature is sculpted too thickly and bulbous, creating a bloated effect. Head musculature is a series of thin straps that lay flat on the skull, with only the orbit muscles, muzzle muscles, Buccinators and the Massaters being more robust. There’s nothing about the equine head that’s so bloated and puffy. Also, the equine head is very 3D in that there are many hollow areas that depress inwards towards the median plane.
  • Incorrect axis: When a convex or sub–convex head lacks the internal convex axis of the skull, merely having a roman nose added to the nasal bone. Likewise, the same for a convex internal axis.
  • Incorrect nasal bone: A nasal bone that’s blocky, straight, or ridged with harsh edges, or with a sharp groove down the front, or perched on the profile rather than being seated into the skull, or continues down between the nostrils. Instead, the nasal bone has a delicate hourglass shape with rounded edges, and the median groove is a subtle indentation. It also ends well before the comma cartilages.
  • Fleshy bone: Inadequate sculpting technique that makes what should appear hard and bony appear fleshy, squishy, and soft. This flaw is often seen with the teardrop bone along with the nasal bone and zygomatic arches. Much of the equine head is subcutaneous bone, so we need to pay attention to what’s bony and what’s fleshy. 
  • Ice cream cone head: A head that’s unnaturally too broad through the forehead and jaws, paired with a muzzle that’s too small, creating too strongly wedge-shaped head. 
  • Plank head: A head that’s too thin, as seen from the front, beyond the thinness sometimes seen naturally with certain individuals, Iberians, or drafter heads. 
  • Slashed head: A sculpting technique that’s clumsy or too extreme, exhibiting slashes and gouges where fleshy softness and subtlety is necessary. 
  • Ignored head axis: When a sculpted head doesn’t account for the internal axis thereby creating a misshapen, inaccurate head. For instance, simply adding an arched nasal bone to make a head more convex, but ignoring the convex axis of the head itself that would bend the lower face downwards. As a result the EENA is straight, but with an arching nasal bone, which is incorrect. Likewise, making a head more dished—or convex—by gouging down the nasal bone and adding a dome to the forehead, creating a dolphin–like head. Sometimes the jaw bars are also trimmed down, creating a fluted, seahorse–like head. However, in reality the dished head usually has a convex head axis that lifts the lower face upwards. Always remember that the shape of the skull is created by its internal axis, not by the nasal bone alone.
  • Knife bars: Jaw bars that are too narrow, knife-thin and sharp rather than rounded.
  • Parallel bars: Jaw bars that are too parallel to each other. Instead, they form a long triangle, wide at the ramus and narrow behind the chin.
  • Expanded bars: Jaw bars that are too wide apart, causing the head to be disfigured as seen from the front, usually making it boxy and bloated. 
  • Tilted jaw bars: When the bottom of the jaw bars angle outwards, giving the bottom of the head a fluted look when seen from the front.
  • Off–type head: The head is often an important point of breed type so we have to pay special attention here. Yet head type is also highly vulnerable to fads and fashion, things that can steer a breed to become off–type such as Arabian–like heads on Iberians, Quarter Horse heads on “classic” Appaloosas, Saddlebred–like heads on Morgans, or Arabian–like heads on Quarter Horses. Likewise, “dry” features on a draft horse, Quarter Horse muscling on an Arabian, or Teke “snake–eyes” on a Welsh Cob. So we have many issues to weigh here. The choice is ours, but that choice is best informed by equine biology than simply our aesthetics.
  • Type exaggeration: We run into ethical problems with breed rhetoric and artistic stylization, too, most notably with convex heads such as with the Arabian. A head that’s too extreme—too deeply dished—will have problems with breathing and dentistry that will compromise the well-being and performance of the animal. The same can be said of tiny muzzles and giant eyes, again often seen on the Arabian. Yet we routinely see extreme dishes, enormous eyes, and tiny muzzles on sculptures, even absurdly so as a function of artistic exaggeration. We need to be careful despite our tastes because what we recreate, we validate. 
  • Bony flesh: Likewise, making what should appear fleshy look like hard bone. Often found in the Masseter, Buccinators, nostrils, and the muzzle. Always pay attention to fleshy details and texture. 
  • Tilted teardrop bone: When the teardrop bone is spun clockwise or counterclockwise away from its correct orientation, away from the EENA. Now granted, some horses have a masseteric ridge that bends slightly upwards to the zygomatic arches, this being an individualized feature, but if the entire ridge is rotated, that’s a problem.
  • Displaced teardrop bone: A tear drop bone that’s placed too high towards the ear or forehead, or too low towards the nostril or jaw. 
  • Meaty teardrop bone: When it's too robust or blocky. Instead, this is a delicate ridge, not a robust, meaty, bulky, or bulbous protrusion. It also blends with the surrounding facial areas and the bottom of the zygomatics and “button” of the ramus, and doesn’t end abruptly with sharp lines.
  • Atrophied teardrop bone: When this is too frail and small.
  • Misaligned mouth: When the slit of the mouth, or the line of the lips, doesn’t mirror the EENA enough. Nonetheless, keep individuality in mind since sometimes there may be a some variation. 
  • Dropped mouth: A mouth placed too low, towards the chin.
  • Distorted muzzle: When the structure of the muzzle isn’t consistent to the underlaying skeletal structure of the maxilla or mandible. 
  • Shrunken muzzle: When the muzzle is sculpted unnaturally too small, when seen from the side or front, often as an exaggeration of breed type or flawed proportional measurement. In the case of draft horses, in particular, this is a serious fault since, in life, the animal wouldn’t be able to adequately process the air, food, and water needed for his mass. Drafters should always have sizable muzzles to accommodate their biological requirements.
  • Lip–like muzzle: When the boxy upper lip is misshapen into something rounded and protruding, like the upper lip of a person or camel. Often the lower lip is malformed, too, to accommodate, further giving the muzzle a lip–like appearance.
  • Misplaced nostrils: Placement of the nostrils too low towards the chin, or sliding forwards on the nostril away from the eye (resembling an anteater), or sometimes too high towards the nasal bone, or backwards towards the eye (resembling a pig).
  • Meaty nostrils: Nostril rims that are too thick, hefty, and meaty rather than more delicate.
  • Ridged nostrils: Nostrils that have a squared–off edge rather than rounded and smooth, and so don't look soft and fleshy.
  • Pebbled nostrils: When the rims of the nostrils are “pilled,” "chattered," ragged, or bumpy rather than being smooth and even.
  • Knife nostrils: When the rims of the nostrils are too sharp. Instead, the front rim, the comma cartilage, is rounded and broader while the back rim is softly rounded and thinner, but neither are knife sharp.
  • Pulled nostrils: When the bottom of the nostril, where the two rims meet at the bottom, is stretched downwards too far down on the upper lip, often blending with the upper lip rather than having that distinctive terminal rim.
  • Frilled nostrils: When the rims of the nostril are frilly and ruffled when they should be smooth and even.
  • Flat nostrils: When seen from the front, the “V” at the top is angled too far away from the nasal bone and the lower rim isn’t protruding enough, creating a flatter plane, distorting the proper shape of the muzzle from the front.
  • Inverted nostrils: When the upper “V” is angled more outwards while the bottom rim is angled inwards, creating an inverse plane of what we see in life. 
  • Inconsistent nostrils: When they aren’t functioning consistently to what the sculpture is depicting such as a galloping horse with relaxed nostrils or a sleepy horse with flared nostrils. We have to keep appropriate respiration, exertion, and expression in mind.
  • Flute nostril: When a flared nostril is sculpted with an evenly billowed and expanded triangular flute. In reality, the overlying musculature shapes a flared flute into a series of complex curves, depressions, and bulges.
  • Human teeth: The equine incisor isn’t shaped or textured like a person’s tooth that’s short, straight, and square. Instead, sculpted incisors need the characteristic shapes and specific eccentricities to be convincing, being more rectangular and curved. 
  • Inaccurately–shaped teeth: Teeth not shaped properly according to what type they are. For example, rectangular incisors and round grinders.
  • Mis–aged Teeth: When teeth don’t match the sculpture’s intended age. For example, foals having adult teeth or adults having foal–like teeth, or similarly, having a dark dapple grey color on a sculpture when its tooth formation is of a 20–year–old horse. Teeth are an important detail with an open mouth so we need to pick an age for such a sculpture when we do so. We also need to think about appropriate details such as shape and slant along with accompanying features such as dental stars, marks, hooks, or Galvayne’s groove.
  • Equine teeth also have coloration detail on their crowns which needs attention. 
  • Movie star teeth: When equine teeth are painted gleaming white. In life, however, they’re often tinted yellow, orange, grey, ivory, and brown, streaked with browns, golds, rusts, greys, and other discolorations. They can also be greenish–yellow due to feed, and have other distinctive coloration, smudges, shadows, streaks, and staining. The exception are “milk teeth” yet they still shouldn’t be gleaming, bright white regardless—tone them down for realism.
  • Pathological teeth: Teeth that have improper alignments and features like “waves” and “smiles,” elements that a good dentist would correct. 
  • Skewed teeth: When seen from the front, the set of the incisors isn’t centered on the skull's median line but skewed off to either side. The line where the two front incisors meet should be placed exactly on the median of the skull. 
  • Crooked teeth: Teeth that are leaning off to one side when seen from the front, or slanted inwards or outwards, creating crooked bilaterally asymmetrical teeth. Instead, teeth should be angled upwards properly and meet its pair straight on and symmetrically. Only the tushes are staggered, and being so, should be properly aligned to the maxilla and mandible respectively.
  • Missing teeth: Sculpted teeth that are lacking the proper number of incisors, often being only four or even seven rather than the correct six above and six below.
  • Missing tushes: Stallion sculptures that lack tushes. 
  • Cat ears: When equine ears appear triangular or cat–like, lacking the characteristic equine fluted and rimmed features. 
  • Teardrop ears: Sculpted ears that are shaped like teardrops rather than exhibiting the complex formations of the pinæ. 
  • Tube ears: Ears that lack not only the characteristic flute of the pinæ but also the bulb on the bottom, making the ears look like even tubes from base to tip.
  • Banana ears or llama ears: Ears lacking equine characteristics to instead be shaped like curved tubes, often with thick rims. A flaw often seen with mule, hemonid, zebra, and donkey sculptures.
  • Horse ears on other equine species: When we ignore the particular structure and characteristics of a species’ ear shape to instead sculpt them like horse ears. For example, horse ears on zebras. Each species has a specific ear shape that needs our attention for accuracy.
  • Spoon ears: When ears are shaped like spoons or scoops and lack the peculiar shape of the equine pinæ. A flaw often found on mule, hemoid, zebra, or donkey sculptures. Spoon ears are often blended with tube ears or banana ears, too. 
  • Misshapen ears: When ears lack the peculiar curvature of the equine pinae and the distinctive curves of the rims, typically with rims of similar shape and curvature.
  • Radar ears: When the ears are shaped like radar dishes or flat hollows, more like the ears of a Grevy’s Zebra than a horse. 
  • Pinched ears: When a sculpted ear is simply created by pinching a tipped flute at the bottom to form the “V” and then popped onto the head—this is a flawed technique. The equine ear is characterized by nuanced curves to the flute and the rims, especially where it connects on the head and meets its partner rim at the “V.” At that meeting they have a rather specific structure, details, folds, twists, shape, bulbs, and curves there that need special attention. Also these features change depending on ear position. 
  • Mis–muscled ears: When the complex musculature connecting the ears is in error or outright ignored, creating improper fleshy masses and configurations, or the ear appears perched on top of the head rather than inset with muscle attachment. 
  • Mis–seated ears: When ears aren’t seated into the skull properly to either be perched too high or placed too low on the sides of the crown, or placed too far forwards towards the eye or too far backwards towards the neck. The ears have a very specific anatomical seat with the cranium which we have to duplicate accurately. Indeed, misplaced ears can really throw our alignments off pretty quickly. 
  • Oversized or undersized ears: When ears aren’t consistent to proportion, age, or type. 
  • Non–gendered ears: When the sculpted ears don’t correlate with secondary sex characteristics.
  • Off–type ears: When ears aren’t consistent to a breed standard’s points of type, or to the type of horse the sculpture depicts. For example, drafters with Arabian–like ears, Marwaris with straight ears, or Arabians with Warmblood ears.
  • Asymmetrically placed ears: When ears aren’t matched in their skeletal placement or alignment. Repeated checking helps to guard against this common mistake.
  • Thick rims: When the ears lack the delicate, thin rims characteristic of the equine ear.
  • Pinched crown: When the crown is too pointy and narrow for an equine, also causing the ears to be pinched together at the base. Another flaw often see on mule, hemonid, and donkey sculptures. 
  • Expanded crown: The opposite effect wherein the crown is too broad, making the entire head unnaturally too broad for an equine.
  • Distorted occipital bone: When the occipital crest is too short or too long when seen from the side, giving the head an unnaturally blunted end or an unnaturally elongated one, like a Xenomorph.  
  • Inconsistent cranial structure: When the structure of the cranium doesn’t match the equine species or type. The truth is that the skulls of horses, ponies, mules, asses, hemonids, zebras, and hybrids have important differences on both structure and musculature that need our attention. For example, if we upend a horse’s skull, it’ll fall over whereas if we upend an ass’ skull, it’ll remain upright owning to its longer occipital crest.
  • Dead eyes: When the eyes lack intelligence, expression, “soul,” animus, or character. The horse is very expressive and lively with his eyes so they should be given due attention when sculpting. 
  • Peaked orbits: When the flesh and cranial structure above the eye have a pointed lid formation; when the brow is too pointy, often obvious in a 3/4 view. This often happens when we get carried away with sculpting expression and forget about overall structure. It’s important we inspect our sculpted areas from multiple angles as we work. Remember that brows are pulled upwards and inwards towards the middle of the crown, not forwards, away from the skull.
  • Neanderthal brows: When the brows are treated with a heavy–hand, creating blocky or bulbous protrusions.
  • Coarse eye brows: When the furrows of the eye brows, or the brows themselves, are sculpted too wide, too big, or too coarsely (sometimes with “pilling”) rather than being the delicate, small folds of expressive flesh they are in life. 
  • Big eyes: Eyes that are far too large to be accurate or viable, usually a product of artistic license or flawed proportional measurement. This could also be caused by our human interpretation of infant characteristics as adorable, docile, “doe-eyed,” or pretty (referred to as “pedomorphosis”). People are also a visual species, making eye contact a natural component in our responsive behavior, often causing artists to inadvertently enlarge what’s innately attractive. In reality, however, when it comes to conformation, a “large eye” doesn’t mean larger than normal, just not smaller than normal.   
  • Incomplete eyes: An eye missing the indention of the lower eye rim or the upper eye lid. 
  • Ping-pong eyes: When the orb itself is round like a ping-pong ball. However, in life, the orb is oblong and egg-shaped, creating more acute curves than a perfect sphere.
  • Mismatched eyes: When the eyes aren’t bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Crooked eyes: When the eyes aren’t aligned symmetrically.
  • Displaced eyes: When the orbit is misplaced too low towards the nostrils, too high towards the ears, too high towards the forehead, or too low towards the mandible. Keep in mind, however, that certain individuals and breeds can have what’s termed as an “ox head” in which the orbits are placed a snidge more towards the forehead. The Quarter Horse is a good example. Also, those heads with a concave axis can seem to place the eye a snidge lower on the EENA.
  • Frog Eyes: When the orb and surrounding flesh are too pronounced, causing the entire eye area to protrude too much from the head like the bulbous eyes of a frog.
  • Off–type eyes: When the eye contradicts the desired breed type. For example, small eyes on an Arabian, “snake eyes” on a drafter, or round eyes on an Iberian or Teke. 
  • Buggy Eyes: A globe that bulges out too much, or unnaturally, often indicative of hypothyroidism or other disorders.
  • Swollen lids: When the upper and lower lids are sculpted too big and bulky as to appear swollen, bulky, and bloated. The lids should always be in scale.
  • Cat eyes: When the eyes are angled on a forward–facing axis more like a cat or person, at an angle well past 33˚. Oddly enough, however, some lineages of horses, especially Pasos, are developing more forward–facing eyes as people select for this humanized trait. Yet nature designed equine eyes to sit on the sides of the head to produce the necessary field of vision, bringing this aesthetic into question.
  • Grooved eyes: When an inappropriately–sized sculpting tool outlines the orb, causing a deep, wide groove between the orbit itself and the lids. The lids on horses aren’t loose like those of a Basset Hound, but flushly hug the orb. 
  • Dog eyes: When the equine eye has a round pupil rather than an oval one. 
  • Flat eyes: Eyes lacking a rounded globe being flattened, usually a failure in sculpting technique. 
  • Squid eyes or Fish eyes: When seen from the front, the eyes are oriented flatly on the sides of the skull with an lower rim and upper rim aligned more up and down on the same plane rather than outwards at the top and inwards at the bottom.  
  • Inverted eyes: When the lower rim of the eye protrudes out farther than the upper rim, tipping the eye upwards like a flounder.
  • Tilted eye: When the canthi of the eye are misaligned with the skull and the EENA, away from the 42˚– 44˚angle.
  • Tilted pupil: When the pupil is misaligned with the canthi, or inconsistent with head position and ground level. 
  • Cataracts: When the pupil is painted a murky color rather than a clear dark tone indicative of a healthy eye. Not to be confused with metallic blue “eye shine” often painted inside the pupil. However, cataracts may be appropriate for the depiction of senior citizens.
  • Possessed eyes: Irises painted a homogenous color, lacking the gem–like quality and color depth so typical to the equine eye, creating an unpleasant staring, possessed look.
  • Blank face: Every second some part of the horse's face is being tweaked in some fashion, even with the slightest tensions, depending on mood or situation. So when we sculpt a horse's face as completely flaccid, we've effectively sculpted an unconscious horse. This means we need to infuse some form of expression on his face no matter what our sculpture portrays.
  • Open throat: When a sculpture with an open mouth allows us to look down the throat, like with our own throat. But remember the Palantal Drape at the back of the horse’s throat! For this reason then, we shouldn’t be able to see down his “gullet” if we sculpt an open mouth, but instead only see the sheet of the Drape.
  • Smooth hard palate: When the roof of the horse’s mouth has erroneously been sculpted smooth. In life, however, the hard palate of the equine is characterized by specific, pronounced ridges.  
  • Formulaic heads: When sculpting technique or artistic aesthetic is inflexible and habitual, creating a body of work that doesn’t account for the natural variation of head structures found in life.
  • Out of scale: When aspects of the sculpted head are out of scale, right down to the smallest vein or mole.
  • Ignoring biology: We should pay heed to equine biology when we choose which heads to use as references for our work. Many of today’s tastes contradict equine evolutionary biology, causing pain and impeded performance. So do we really want to endorse a head structure that compromises the animal’s function and well–being?
Conclusion To Part 16

Clearly it’s easy to veer off course as we recreate the equine head, isn’t it? Our misinterpretations, exaggerations, stylizations, and blindspots can all work together to cause us to jump the track, and right under our noses. Plus, what we don’t observe in life we cannot infuse into our work. In other words, what we don't See we don't sculpt. In this way then, our work is more about what isn't there than about what is, adding another layer of complication to our already heady task (pun intended ). 

Also complicating matters, only nature can create a factual horse. The very act of artistic creation automatically imbues a level of error no matter how hard we try. We all have our blindspots and it’s here where our errors originate. In this sense then, “improvement” is more about casting new light on our blindspots, to become better able at objectively perceiving what wasn’t Seen before in order to progressively eliminate them. This means that our ability to pinpoint our errors is more important than being able to identify our strong points. 

Yet making mistakes is also how we learn. If we did everything perfectly from the get go, what would we have earned and learned? Each piece is an exploration, and being so, makes us liable to skitter into unknown territory, inviting error. So the whole trick isn’t to be afraid of errors, but to be able to identify them when they happen. Accepting that we will make mistakes and committing ourselves to resolving them is often the more beneficial path.

For this then, being constantly vigilant about artistic errors takes work and dedication. It also asks of us a level of humility since we must first accept that we’ll be making errors in the first place. Nothing we do will be perfect and will always require adjustment and periodic tweaking to get right. But the good news is that the more pieces we finish, the more honed our observant skills become. Everything is a process. If we just keep making at least one forward step with each new piece, we’re improving. So until next time…keep pushing forward!

“Some things cannot be spoken or discovered until we have been stuck, incapacitated, or blown off course for awhile. Plain sailing is pleasant, but you are not going to explore many unknown realms that way.” ~ David Whyte

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