Monday, June 29, 2020

The Three Ps: The Story Of Every Sculpture


Four years ago I wrote The Five Ps, yet I've found myself referring to three of them most often when talking about sculpting. Why mostly these three? Well, they tend to be the practical brass tacks of sculpting realism because, quite literally, if we get them right from the get-go, everything just seems to fall into place all by itself. So when people ask how to start sculpting, these three components are the practically-based keys I offer first. Becausegoshthose initial stages can be overwhelming, can't they? Where do we begin? What do we focus on first? What do we focus on next? How do we make everything come together? These confusions can induce folks to concentrate on things best left for later stages or get so lost in the process, they go way off track and end up frustrated. By the same token, troubleshooting is a critical skillset since systemic errors can propagate so easily, yet, curiously, these are often generated in the Three Ps almost exclusively. Get them right then and we avoid a lot of work later. The Three Ps also tend to synergistically work together to steer the process so reliably as to almost be a surefire route to success. So put it all together, if there ever was a formula for effective sculpting in realism, from beginner to advanced, the alchemy of the Three Ps would probably be it. They just seem to be the answer to a lot of questions. 

And that's nothing to sneeze at! The horse is easily one of the most confounding subjects for artists. Degas admitted he struggled greatly with their structure and movement. Stubbs dissected one in his studio to better understand the complicated structures. Da Vinci did study after study trying to perfect his understanding. Countless other artists have labored mightily to make this animal even halfway convincing in their media, too. Yet no matter how advanced we become, it's still remarkably easy to stumble. Any which way ya tackle it then, there's absolutely nothing about the equine that's easy to recreate.

But here come the Three Ps! These three interdisciplinary ingredients deconstruct the process to take our efforts from Point A to Point Z with the clarity needed to stay on track. Basically, they fold big, complex challenges into a symbiotic sequence, turning what's complicated into something more easily interpreted or troubleshot. And they don't necessary require a super in-depth understanding of anatomy either, but mostly an Eye that can See what's there at face value, giving us room to learn that subject at our own pace. So what are the Three Ps? In sequence, they are:

  • Proportion
  • Placement
  • Planes

And that's pretty much it. In a very real sense though they're all the same thing if we think about it, or at least they entail the same conceptual approach. They're all features of relative spacial orientations, aren't they? About how everything relates to everything else in terms of length. Being so, they form a complete interdependent system together—take just one P out of the equation and it doesn't work. In a way they create coordinates on a 3D map: One deals with the relative distances that define each feature (or the relative size of things), one deals with the relative distances between them, and one deals with their relative distance from a singularity inside the animal. Put them together and we can create any realistic 3D equine we want.

So in essence, the Three Ps are a pure, simple distillation of what we do: Life-accurate proportional relationships. That's it. And that's both good and bad news. It's good because we have plenty of relationships to compare against to stay on target. Yet it's bad since things can go awry pretty quickly if we aren't playing close attention to things. Really, just one thing askew can throw the entire sculpture off. But even so, a good pair of calipers, solid reference materials, a sound proportional system, appropriate sculpting tools, and regular rechecking can really hedge our bets. Happily, too, the more experience we gain, the more our Eye refines to pick out what's off even without confirming with a recheck—it'll just seem wrong. On the flip side, too, it will also refine to identify what's right, helping us to say "done" all the faster.

The Traps Without The Three Ps

We probably already know that equine realism isn't easy, but what we may not know is that problematic habits can easily pop up in consequence. For one, we can perpetually fiddle with a piece so we don't ever finish it, chasing the ever-moving goalpost of perfection. We essentially get lost in a jumbled set of priorities that keep us from moving forwards. But learning to perfect our skills isn't the same as perfecting our piece. We need to finish what we start, and restart a new piece often because only through many pieces do we feed our knowledge base with new coordinates. Said another way, we develop the kind of mental library that greases the gears of our process. Learning how to say "done" then is just as critical as starting in the first place! That being the case, the Three Ps give us a kind of starting gate plus a finish line, encouraging us to chase that carrot, and in a structured way.

Second, we can begin to fixate on one area too early which almost always leads to errors. For example, we may focus on the head so much that it ends up more highly detailed than the body, creating an unevenness in finesse. Or that lopsided focus can quickly cause it or its features to morph out of proportion. Or we can self-sabotage ourselves with hidden systemic errors like asymmetries or misalignments. Yet if we worked the Three Ps from the start to finish, things tend to perfect themselves with less struggle.

Third, we can easily get lost in the process and find a lot of subsequent confusion, unable to find a way out and forwards. Yet the Three Ps present a kind of system that makes so much sense, we gain the ability to hop over that trap anytime it pops out in front of us. What's more, the separate components of the Three Ps helps us identify which one needs targeted development if we get lost again. Apply the Three Ps then, and we gain a kind of forward momentum that makes sense and supports our every tool stroke.

Four, sculpting different kinds of equines can intimidate us if they're so far outside our comfort zone, we believe they're beyond our ability. Yet the Three Ps provide such a clear methodology that's universally applicable, literally nothing is beyond our inspirations. Heck, the Three Ps can apply to any subject for that matter such as cats, dogs, elephants, orcas—whatever! They're a sculptural system for everything, not just equines.

And fifth, we can unfortunately start believing we're simply not talented enough, that we're inadequately skilled if we begin to struggle too much. But given the right ideas, we can make a far more successful go at things that cultivates our confidence, equips us for boldness, and feeds our curiosity for investigation. And the Three Ps can be exactly the right idea we need.

So wrap it all up and the Three Ps provide a system that lets us focus on the things that matter more at the right times rather than being distracted by the things that don't at the wrong times. But there's one important caveat: Because they're interdisciplinary, if one goes haywire, the others likely will as well. Yet remember that whatever we create, we can recreate—so don't fear. We got this. Don't let the prospect of failure paralyze you—because you will fail. A lot. That's simply the primary way the brain learns and how our skills grow. But the Ps help us troubleshoot so effectively we can instead learn to embrace our mistakes and discover that they're actually our teachers and doors and pathways. So in that spirit, too, let's take a closer look at each one, in sequence...


Our first priority is proportion, how each portion of the body is sized and relates to the sizes of other portions. Break it down then and it's about relationships since the only way to measure it is in relation to other features. That being the case, it also governs the overall shape of our sculpture because all those portions have to fit together like a jigsaw, inevitably creating the overall "outline" accurate to our references.

Now there's this, too: We often hear about "scale" when creating miniature equine sculptures, but scale is really just another way to say "proportion." And as our sculpture shrinks in size, absolute precision with scale becomes increasingly crucial because even a millimeter begins to represent a progressively huge amount. Indeed, 1mm at 1:32 scale is radically bigger proportionally than at 1:5 scale.

Because of its nature then, proportion pretty much entails everything we do. From deciding what size blob needed to sculpt an eye to the length we make the hip to the size we make the tendon, it's all an exercise of relative dimensions. So it's important to remember that, being all encompassing, proportion works locally, regionally, and holistically. By "locally," the dimensions of one feature relate to those of immediately neighboring features. Is the teardrop bone in proper scale to the eye, for example? Are the tendons in proper scale to the cannon? Are the zygomatics in proper scale to the eye? Then by "regionally," we have to account for relative proportions with surrounding areas. Are the ears in proper scale to the head? Are the biceps in proper scale to the hindquarter? Is the pisiform in proper scale to the foreleg? And, finally, a holistic assembly entails everything related as a whole. Is the knee in proper scale to the body? Are the "semis" in proper scale to the body? Is the rhomboideus in proper scale to the body? But in this, proportion also leap frogs to marry everything together. For instance, the hoof has to be proportional to the forearm to the hock to the ear to the biceps to the leg tendons to the eye and so on. Every feature relates to everything else, all fitting inside that "jigsaw" outline.

But here's the thing—it's so easy to be lured by the interest-value of the "fun" structural features like the eyes, ears, nostrils, hooves, muscle grooves, etc. We may even come to believe they're all that really matter and so "gloss over" the spaces between them. But the truth is that the interspatial landscapes are just as important. They aren't empty space or even negative space—they're a kind of feature themselves, chockful with their own information. For instance, the expanse of the barrel is loaded with curiosities, or the expanse of the triceps muscle, the jowl, or between the eye and nostril all have their own characteristics. And though these details may be subtle, they do well with due attention. (And we have to automatically account for placement in all this too, don't we? In fact, placement is really just another manifestation of proportion because those distances in between are also proportional relationships. With experience then, we'll find that we actually attend to both proportion and placement at the same time. Nonetheless, placement is separated out because it simplifies troubleshooting.)

Anyway, for further clarity, lets break proportion down into four facets:
  1. The size of the clay blobs squished onto the sculpture that block in the structures
  2. The proportions of all those clay blobs together as a whole
  3. The symmetry in size of those clay blobs
  4. The projected structural balance of all those clay blobs

Point #1: It’s useful to size the initial clay blobs close to the proportions of our target structure. Having to add or remove too much material can create distortions we can avoid by using only what we really need. Now some artists pop on an appropriately sized blob and shape it to the necessary form while others make little "snakes" and dollops to immediately block things in. It's up to you which one—or applying bothworks best. And if we sculpt enough finished pieces, this ability to best gauge blob size becomes more natural over time. But the point is this: Start thinking about proportion the first moment you apply clay since it should govern every smooshed-on bit and every tool stroke.

Point #2: This refers to the overall harmony and reference-accurate measurements of the whole piece (here's a method for measuring them). It's really what most people would think of as "proportion." For instance then, we make sure the head isn’t too big, the back too short, the gaskins too long, the muzzle too small, the eyes too big, etc., in relation to each other and the whole. We also pay attention to the proportions characteristic of a breed, type, gender, age, or species. We check that details are proportional themselves while also proportionally expressed over the entire piece and not oddly clustered in one area. In short, we ensure that our piece has all parts harmoniously married together as accurately to our references as possible. Yet it's this facet of proportion that often goes off-track quickly if we get caught up in sculpting, so recheck it often. Calipers are instrumental here so get good ones that can measure on the fly (this is what I use). 

Please note that what measurements are taken, how they're taken, and where they're taken is the system here, not the actual lengths (diagrams above and below). Those lengths vary with each individual, species, breed, type, gender or age, and so are specific to this particular depicted Thoroughbred mare.

Now I've included this young horse with a slight head turn to demonstrate a few things. Firstly, don't be shy about doubling up on some measurements for clarity. This youngster is going to present some proportional challenges with all his "in between" lengths since he's still growing. I could even add more if I wanted, and I probably would. But this illustrates that age can factor into our measurements (which means this, too: What phase of color we put on our sculpture should ballpark the sculpted proportions that depict the imagined age). Secondly, note how this system works even with a slightly turned head? I've done enough proportional comparison studies to know what the length it would tend to be anyway as compared to the rest of the body so I can go forwards nonetheless. Third, I'm not accounting for conformation here, only measuring what's in front of me. So if we want to do that, we have to create more of an amalgam to pick and choose which lengths we want—and the only way to do that well is to have done lots of proportional comparisons. Study, study, study!

Point #3: This entails bilateral symmetry of every paired aspect of the body which should be of equal size and align pretty closely (sharing a job with placement again). This is another facet that's easily hiccuped since nearly every artist has a "good side" and a "bad side" with sculpting, perhaps having to do with handedness. Plus it can also be difficult to flip things in our minds to mirror the other side. So here too, recheck often with our tools and even with photo editing programs that can overlay transparencies of each side for direct comparison on our computer. Also think about flipping references in a photo editing program then print those out, too. For example, I've done this with the popular Ellenberger illustrations and often do so with the head references I've chosen to use. But symmetry also shares a job with planing in that it entails how "pooched out" from the median any given feature is compared to its pair. An eye orbit set further outwards than the other is an error in symmetry just as much if it were set askew. All that being said, however, remember that horses—like us—have a natural degree of some asymmetry, especially on the face. As long as it's within what would be acceptable in life, it's not something to worry about.

Point #4: Balance is about the consistency of the proportions despite motion. Are the moving proportions of our sculpture consistent to our references if it were standing square—are they the same? The bones don't change in proportion when the skeleton moves so if our moving sculpture doesn't match the proportions of our standing references, we've made an error. In this way, the body must "follow the hooves to the ground" since the leg bones don't compact or lengthen. Instead, it's their articulations paired with the motions of the spine that do so. So if we were to straighten out our flexed neck, for example, would it be too long or too short as compared to our references? Or if were to straighten out the hind leg, would it cause the hindquarter to tower over the forequarter? Things like that. We have to fix the pose to fit the proportions rather than fixing the proportions to fit the pose.

Wrap all this up and it means that proportion is literally everything we do, right down to the smallest blob of clay that makes all the difference in a correction. Going further then, placement and planing are just manifestations of proportion as well. So whether sculpting an ear, placing a pectoralis minor, shaping the topline, forming the hindquarter's surface contours, or inputting every muscle groove, it's all about proportional relationships. That means we can't let one thing slip past us which is why it can be so painstaking—recheck, recheck, recheck. The fundamental nature of proportion means, too, that there's no compensating for an error, big or small. We cannot make the muzzle bigger to balance out an eye that's too big, or make the hindquarter smaller to balance out a head that's too long, or make a gluteus maximus bigger because our biceps group is too small. But it all also means this—if something just seems off, check proportion first since it's often the source of hiccups, especially those that scoot by under our radar. Yet if we get proportions right, not only is most of our job is actually done for us, but we'll automatically create a pretty darned good sculpture outright. This is also why knowing how to make a good armature can help us along quite a bit by blocking in the correct proportions right from the start. For all these reasons then, proportion comes in at #1.


While placement can be folded into proportion in practice, for simplicity's sake it's separate in the Three Ps and refers specifically to "equine topography," the anatomical landmarks we use to map out our sculpture. In other words, the equine blueprint has anchor points, or landmarks that indicate the skeleton beneath the skin that need proper orientation on the sculpture. Being so, those anchor points give rise to the fleshy features, and so it goes. As such, these anchor points can become our literal connect the dots, and it's placement that deals with the proportional distances between them, locally, regionally, and holistically. Like with proportion then, without proper placement there's just no realism in the first place because it's not enough to just squish those proportioned clay blobs onto our sculpture, they have to be positioned in the right places, too. So, for example, we can't just pop on zygomatic arches willy nilly—we have to place them in a very specific, anatomically correct way. Or we can't just plop a trapezius muscle wherever we'd like—it has an exact anatomical position. Or we can't orient a femoral joint on the fly—it has to go in the right place on the pelvis. In this way then, placement has much to do with symmetry, too, since the placements of bilateral features have to match pretty well. Along with all this, we'll find that certain features can serve as anchor points for others, even cascade in a sequence. For instance, the ears have to be properly and symmetrically placed so the eyes can be so the tear drop bones can be so the nostrils can be, etc. So put it all together and, like with proportion, there's no compensating for an error in placement. One ear set lower than the other, or one Atlas wing set farther back than another, or uneven points of buttock simply have to be fixed.

Here are some basic anatomical landmarks we can apply, adding more as our knowledge base grows and as our sculpture develops since muscle grooves, tendon lines, cartilage edges, nostril rims, etc. become new landmarks. Towards the end, even smaller details like veins, moles, ergots, and chestnuts, etc. become more new landmarks. Think of it as progressively adding more dots to the connect-the-dots.

In this way, placement can be tricky because an incorrectly placed blob can displace other landmarks or create asymmetries, especially in the early stages when we're blocking in the piece to then entrench as a systemic error. So, for example, if a point of shoulder is placed too low (i.e., our scapula is too long) that can throw off the anchor points of the foreleg, torso, and neck. Or if the jaw joint is set too far back, that affects the head's other placements. Or if the patella is too high (i.e., if the femur too short), that will alter the proportions of the hindquarter and hindleg. Or if the eyes are placed asymmetrically, then the teardrop bones on either side will be asymmetrically placed as well, potentially throwing off the measurements on either side of the head. One point affects others. When such errors occur, our piece tends to look wrong yet we often can't put our finger on the problem—it bugs us but we don't know why. We'll also usually fight the piece since things just don't seem to fall into place as they should. It's important then to always be on the mark as closely as possible by understanding landmarks and rechecking their placements often. Understanding skeletal alignments well enough to predict where those landmarks would be is another handy approach. And the good news is this: When our landmarks are correct, everything locks into place naturally and the piece literally sculpts itself. So if we have persistent problems, go back to basics: Check proportion first then check placements because it's often one of those two. Because here's the thing: Those anchor points want to be in the right place so if we're careful, we can help them help us. (This is often why it's easier to paint pieces with correct placements since the color and pattern characteristics simply fall into the correct places, letting the piece "paint itself.")

It's often useful to visualize placement before smooshinig on the clay—to know where we're going before we get there. Where is our sculpting going? What's our next step with placement? Heck, draw on the clay with a pencil if need be! A handy trick with oil clay is to poke in a shortened toothpick on an anchor point to connect the dots better or make corrections clearer. For instance, the point of shoulder, point of hip, femoral joint, humeral joint, base of the neck, and many others can be noted with snipped toothpicks. Or think about drawing on the bones and muscles for clarity. And if we want, we can block in the bones in the early stages if that helps us visualize where to orient things. The trick is to work systematically to place those landmarks correctly rather than willy-nilly. Really, who wants to fight their sculpture?

All this together then, think about starting each sculpture in the same way, creating a methodical system with a consistent starting point. Whatever beginning point works for you is the right way, but for me, the wither and shoulder are my starting points. The benefit though with a method is that it creates a "chain of effect" that can pinpoint errors quickly when troubleshooting. For instance, if I feel something is off that I can't recognize outright, I go back to the withers and shoulders and remeasure everything from there in the sequence I sculpted, and that always seems to tease out where I went wrong. If we're doing everything all over the map though, tracking down the skew is that much harder. What's more, using a consistent sculpting sequence also makes the whole process faster—the more of a system we have, the more efficient we become.

What does all this mean? It means that placement is precise and technical. It's not fudge-able. It's not arbitrary. It's not open to artistic interpretation. So if we go about things carelessly, we'll either be fighting our sculpture or creating systemic errors unknowingly. It also means there's no compensation for incorrect placements—it's simply a fundamental error in realism. A displaced eye is a displaced eye—there's just no way around it. A displaced cervical serratus has got to be fixed. A displaced point of hip just has to be moved. But, on the other hand, it also means that placement errors can be easily fixed once pinpointed. In this, non-drying clays are very forgiving and simply entail moving anchor points around. Unfortunately though, epoxy clays aren't, and so fixing placements can be a real bear. In this case, working harder to ensure correct placements from the get-go is especially important and where having a system can be a particular boon. Any which way though, it also means that the more pieces we finish, the more accurately topography gets programmed into our heads, allowing us to more naturally place them quicker. So make a friend out of placement and we'll find our job so much easier.


Planes are all about the way the different body portions are angled, sloped, dipped, and curved. In short, it's about the body's surface contours. But these contours coincide with the underlying anatomy and, that being the case, planes are like proportion and placement, only they're comprised of points that poke out from a singularity inside the animal. Think of one of those pin toys. Going further, each gender, breed, type, age, species, and individual has its own planar tendencies as well, establishing the look of each very early on. And planes are a powerful thing because if they're correct, our piece will read "horse" even if there's no muscle definition or detail whatsoever. Indeed, many abstract or impressionist sculptures rely almost entirely on planes to get their point across as do lot of "spartan" realistic works—the sculptures by Herbert Haseltine come to mind, for example.

Very basic planes just to get an idea. The green portion represents the "shoulder bed," or "cliff" created by that strong plane. Note the tendency to form a "T" due to the hindquarter's general high points, too.

But planing doesn't just pertain to the contours, but also the angles features are set. Such things as the eyes, for example, are angled rather specifically onto the head so we can't just pop them on there haphazardly. Specifically, the eye's canthi are set, or "swiveled" at a slight angle forwards at the front canthi, and a slight inwards angle at the bottom rim—it's not flat on the head like a dolphin, whale, or fish. Or, for another example, the "shoulder bed" of the scapula and its muscles forms a "shelf," an outwards angle that catches light rather obviously.

Like proportion and placement, duplicating planes is essential and benefits from targeted study and practice. The best way is getting up close and personal with horses to run our hands over their bodies, programming those planes directly into our noggins. Daily grooming is a practical way to learn this, too. (And people wondered why I'd spend hours grooming horses rather than riding them! It's also something I love doing anyway.) In lieu of that, another handy study technique is to analyze how light bounces on the horse's body in a photo or videos. Where are the highlights and shadows? How are they flowing over his body? And just as importantly, where are the "grey areas" and what do they reveal about the surface contours? Then imagine blocking in those areas, our hands actually shaping the clay to duplicate the play of light with directional lighting mimicking the sun's location. Another handy way is to create some study maquettes using only planes. How little can we do and have it still read "horse"? How much can we do before getting into the nitty gritty of sculpting? In between there is realm of planing. Or think about distilling a horse down into a series of flat planes. How angled and big would these "tiles" need to be to get the point across? The flatter the angle or bigger the tile, the more basic the point. Then how would we curve, distort, or stretch those tiles to form the contours?

Some basic cranial alignments to get some baselines. However, keep in mind the blue line will vary a bit with breeds, individuals, and species. For example, some Arabians can have a slightly more concave axis whereas others, especially some Iberians, can have a more convex axis. (This Thoroughbred has a straight axis.) Notice how the line of the zygomatic tends to run under the set of the ear (pink line)? Also note where the “button” of the zygomatics are? It sits right next to the jaw joint at the back of the jaw. And notice how the back of the jaw runs up in front of the ear, to curve towards the high point? Regarding that, on some horses that highpoint can be more pointy while with others it can be flatter. Regardless, the ear placement is pretty much consistently set on the skull, that cranial depression being its seat. It's more of an anatomical position rather than a variable one. For this reason, the ear can serve as a pretty good landmark to build the rest of the head. Anyway...forgive his missing teeth!

It's not enough to just change the profile, we have to account for the axis of the entire head as well. This is where understanding anchor points with placement can be really important. (Anyway, we'll get more into all this in the future head sculpting series I'm working on.)

Looking for basic alignments can be helpful here too, to get planes spot on. For instance, the head has a series of baseline alignments we can use as springboards for the necessary adjustments to fit each individual, breed, gender, or species (also above). Breaking things down into basic shapes can also help visualize planes more easily (below). For instance, the planes of the hindquarter form a kind of "T" from the high points made by the point of hip to point of buttock and the femoral joint to the stifle. Or the cannon bone is a bit like a tube with a plank edgewise down the back. Or the triceps is kinda like a triangle. Oddly enough then, in this way, recreating our subject in abstract actually helps us achieve more realism. And here's the thing—our brain already keys in on correct planing, or patterns of light play, and so it plays a big part in a sculpture "looking right." For these reasons then, planes are part of the sculpting process from the very beginning and what we progressively refine or increase in number to add complexity, texture, and detail. So if we have proportion and placement right, our planes have a better chance at being right as well, helping the sculpture to "sculpt itself."  

Try to distill things down into basic conceptual shapes as we block in the features, thinking about each of them in terms of proportion, placement, and planes as we go. Here are some simple ones to get you started, keeping in mind we can distort them as needed and some can change with motion. They'll get smaller the more detailed or further along we go, too. The point is though, everything can be deconstructed into simple shapes to visualize what we're doing better. 

So what does all this mean? Getting the planes correctly blocked in is crucial in the early stages so that those patterns of light play will read correctly and help anchor points stay on target. Indeed, trying to get proportion and placement right on an incorrect plane is darn near impossible, requiring artistic manipulations that can veer from accuracy. All this makes planing so powerful, even one off kilter will make an otherwise great sculpture look odd. Complicating matters, its errors tend to hide the most as it's easy to be distracted by details, muscles, and features. As such, planing mistakes are usually the most likely to fly under our radar and entrench in our blindspots deepest, often making them enormously difficult to tease out. Really, if we have a problem seeing the "big ideas" of an equid, we'll probably have a problem getting everything else right, too. But the upside is this: Get planing right and our sculpture will read "horse" so strongly, we've gained a big leg up to a successful sculpture. We also gain tremendous artistic freedom in style. Indeed, we can input as little detail as we want based on our own aesthetic or we can create as abstractly as we wish, opening up whole new facets of work for us or of understanding structure. It also means correct planes will help us keep anchor points in place since that play of light gives us "reverse information," coming at the issue from "both sides."

In Sequence

But how do we apply all this? How are proportion, placement, and planing used to create an accurate sculpture? It's all about teamwork, about how they work together to actually do the work for us. Because here's the thing—just with these three, if we get them right, we can pretty much create a good realistic equine sculpture from start to finish. Our ability to troubleshoot will also improve since we'll gain a better idea where to start looking and what the solutions could be.

Nevertheless, the Three Ps work best when approached with a kind of initial sequence when we first start sculpting as beginners. We'll definitely reapply them as needed throughout our process, but when we first dive in, think about loosely working like this so they guide us more easily through the most potentially confusing early phases: 
  • Get the clay onto the armature and sculpt in the proportions first—and try to be as close as possible. The wire armature itself should already be portioned out to help with this so that claying up just fleshes out its ideas. In fact, if you wish, you can sculpt the blocked in bones to further clarify structure. We should then have a horse-shaped "blank canvas" comprised of the correct basic proportions with the head, neck, body, and legs all scaled consistently to our references and each other as a general "jigsaw outline." Incidentally, age, breed type, species, or gender characteristics should be clearly evident even at this stage since proportion plays such big role with them. 
  • Work on placements next, the correct anchor points in the correct locations to map in our sculpture—again, try to get as close as possible with the understanding this will be refined with more precision and detail as we go. Poke in orienting toothpicks or draw on your sculpture, if needed. 
  • Using these anchor points as references, now sculpt in the planes, working from the biggest ideas to progressively more detailed ones. Use either additive or subtractive sculpting techniques, whatever you need or prefer. Our sculpture should then progressively look more realistic as we add in more, smaller planes for refinement and detail. 
  • Start sculpting in earnest, continually rechecking and finessing the Three Ps until completion. 
As we work though, remember to recheck, recheck, recheck! We're smooshing clay, right? Ever so slightly then, smooshing things can push anchor points off their mark, even if they're fixed by a toothpick. Even so, with practice—finish enough pieceswe'll actually come to work the Three Ps simultaneously, more fully and effectively expressing their synergy to speed up our process. What's more, our Eye will refine to recognize the Three Ps more like second nature rather than something we have to work at. 

Now if we're working in polymer, oil, or ceramic clays, we can "work the whole sculpture" at the same time, which is so wonderfully easy. The "open time" of these mediums is very forgiving. However, if we're working in self-hardening epoxy clays, we have to deal with each body section separately since the epoxy cures so quickly. We need even more clarity then to project where we're going with this media, which is all the more reason to really pay attention to the Three Ps at every step. It also means that working the Three Ps simultaneously becomes even more important with epoxy clays since the suggested sequence doesn't work so well with them all the time.  

What does all this mean? Well, for starters, that the Three Ps can be separated for trouble shooting, whether in our piece or our skill set. Doing so helps to reveal our trouble areas and blindspots pretty quickly, too, so we tend to progress rather quickly compared to those who work less organized. And progress not only in our work, but in the understanding of our subject, and that feeds right back into better sculptures. Yet the Three Ps work best when smashed together into one process, attending to all three simultaneously, because the truth is they're all the same thing that just approaches the same issue in three different ways. This is why working all three at the same time is so effective—we're literally working with three check systems and finagling things with a lot more information. 

Yet the Three Ps aren't the only way to work, or maybe the suggested sequence won't work so well for you. Because in all actuality, whatever system that works for you is really the best way, so don't hesitate to create your own or tweak this one. The point though is to consider using a system since it provides a strong advantage that promotes accelerated development. This is exactly why those who complete many pieces using a system—whatever it is—tend to make developmental leaps compared to those who fiddle and work all over the map. 


Let's just face facts: Having a lump of clay in front of us to turn into a sculpture is daunting, isn't it? But by relying on the Three Ps, we have trusty helpers from start to finish. Because they encapsulate the entire process in an organized, understandable way, we really can't help but create a a good sculpture with their careful application. In this way, the Ps actually empower us to just keep forging ahead because they'll never fail us. 

Happily then, relying on the Three Ps unlocks our potential because we'll no longer be fighting everything, especially ourselves. They'll also mediate our self-doubts with their structured process, their plan, their method to the madness. And when it comes to turning an inert lump of clay into a beautiful sculpture, a plan is a welcome thing! Truly, the Three Ps arm us so well, we can take on any equine subject—heck, any subject—with greater confidence and accuracy. Nothing will be unreachable. 

And the initial stages of sculpting, when we're first applying the Three Ps, have so much energy, don't they? It's exciting to block in our piece and see it come to life! And what's particularly fantastic about the Three Ps is that they keep this energy in the piece by dampening the temptation to overwork it. Truly, when we're more confident in what we're doing, we become more confident in saying "done." 

Technically speaking then, the Three Ps are the trifecta of equine realism—they're the first and primary things that establish "realistic horse." Apply them and recheck them often, and their alchemy will make magic happen! Sculpting realistic horses may seem like a really complicated prospect—and it is, make no mistake—but it can all be deconstructed with this handy approach. Proportion, placement, and planes—the reliable tripod that supports all our efforts. Build on them, trust in them, and they'll always form a surefire foundation for success!

"Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small."

~ Sun Tzu

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