Monday, January 31, 2011

Designing and Sculpting a Tail: Part 2

Part 1 is here.


2 oz Apoxie Sculpt
12 inches of wire
1 model horse (tail removed)
1 bottle of super glue
2 tablespoons of baking soda
1 sharpie marker
1 paint brush (used)
2 oz of water or rubbing alcohol

By now, your horse’s butt should look something like this:

Okay, I faked this photo. But you get the idea, right?

And you have an idea of what you’d like your tail to look like:

Alborozo at Auction

Not my auction, but "Claudio" is for sale again.

Apoxie and Rubbing Alcohol

This is genius and I wish I'd thought of it first.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Designing and Sculpting a Tail: Part 1

For those of you who are familiar with my Showing 101 blog, you may remember that I have a tendency to get underestimate how much I have to say on a topic and end up breaking them down into something akin to a Dickens novel.

I think I promised this post would cover manes and tails. I've broken tails down into two parts, one for this week and one for next. Manes will be covered sooner rather than later.

Required Reading

Super Glue and Baking Soda: A Love Story
Best Laid Plans
Brands I Prefer: Everything Else
Brands I Prefer: Clay
Building a Frame & Armature

Hair--hands down--is my favorite thing to sculpt. Most of model horse sculpting is very clinical. It’s about precision and recreation rather than expression. As an artist with a strong creative impulse, the technical bits can drag down my enthusiasm for work without some sort of release. Manes and tails are that release. They’re kinda a Zen thing for me.

A sculptor cannot exactly recreate (in clay) the mass of a swishing tail, flying foot feathers, or a windblown mane. And by and large, I don’t think hobbyists want 100% accuracy. If they did, everyone would be hairing their model horses.* The objective of mohair is to recreate while sculpted hair is meant to represent.

How an artist goes about representing hair is unique as a fingerprint. In this tutorial, I’m going to talk about my approach, but I would encourage you to explore different tools and tricks in the hunt for your own style. In my opinion, the more comfortable you are in your own style, the more naturally sculpting will come to you.


12 inches of wire
1 model horse
1 bottle of super glue
2 tablespoons of baking soda
1 writing utensil
1 photo reference
1 sheet of tracing paper

Designing the Tail

The easiest way to design a tail is to start with a photo of the real thing. I try to find a photo matching the position of the model I’m starting with. The closer the better--even two horses going the speed at the same gait will have a different shape to their tail at different phases of the gait.

Print out your photo. I try to print the photo as close to the actual size of my model as possible. Don’t worry about making it perfect, you just want it in generally the same size.

Next, bring out your tracing paper and tack it in place over your photo reference. Trace the outline of the tail, being as detailed as possible.

Fold your tracing paper. This time, trace your tracing and try to simplify the shape.

I try to vary the size of each clump of hair (or “spike.”) Little spikes, big spikes, short spikes, long spikes, wide spikes, thin spikes. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The goal here is to avoid looking too regular:

Looks a little like a squid.

When you are happy with your shape, feel free to move onto the next step. Don’t be afraid to sketch out more than one idea, reference multiple photos, and work out problems on paper. I could drawn ten of these before I'd be totally happy with the shape (I've done five already tonight. I'd keep going but I have to be up early tomorrow.) It’s much, much easier to make changes on paper than to go back and fix it after you’ve built the tail.

Removing the Tail

There is more than one way to skin a cat. When you are removing the tail from a plastic horse, you have a wide variety of methods to choose from. If you have one that works for you, I won’t be heartbroken if you don’t use mine.

This is my preferred method:

If you have a models with a tail that hangs away from the body (such as Salinero, Roxy, the Half-Passing Warmblood, Flash, Cigar, etc.) you can just snap the thing off. Hold the body securing in one hand, grip the tail with the other and pull up. It’s a strangely satisfying sound. For extra enjoyment, try doing this at a model horse show. Your fellow collectors will collectively, instinctively wince when they hear the sound of snapping plastic. Seriously, this never gets old for me.

Snapping the tail will leave a small stub, which you can remove with a dremel.

Use the tools that look like teeny sanding belts.

If your model’s tail is attached to the body, you’ll need to take a different approach. You’ll need a cutting tool such as:


With my dremel, I cut around the edge of the existing tail. Start at the top and work your way down the sides.

Can’t reach under the tail? Don’t sweat it for now. Just cut what you can reach without nicking the butt.

Same as we did with detached tails, now snap off the tail by pushing against the bottom end of the tail.

If it doesn’t want to move with a reasonable amount of pressure (please don’t hurt yourselves,) it’s time to dive into some different tools. Honestly, I’ll just grab whatever I have on hand and try to be patient while I whittle away the tail.

Meh, worth a shot.

Your tail should be off by now. If not, return to the previous paragraph.

It will look messy at this point. Go back to your grinding tool.

Clean up the excess plastic and try to reclaim as much of the butt as you can. Now you should have a clean--but gaping--hole.

If possible, I’ll stick a little piece of masking tape in the hole and cover it in baking soda/super glue. If I know my new tail will cover the hole, I won’t worry about getting his rear end as presentable as possible. However, if I know this area won’t be covered, it’s time to bring out the Apoxie and start patching.

I’ll give y’all the week to finish up repairing your model’s back end and let the clay dry. Your homework is to add a small (1/8 inch) hole, once you’re happy with your resculpted horse’s behind. I use a drill bit that fits in my dremel:

To be continued…

*It’s worth noting that at one point in time, everyone did hair their models. My second custom was haired. It was also awful and the last I tried my hand at mohair. This tutorial is from one of the best in the business, Carol Williams. It’s a great read and almost enough to encourage me to give it a second chance. Almost.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cowboy Casanova

I spent most of my weekend wrapping up a few commissions--and in between I fussed with this guy. You'll see a lot more of Casanova as I photographed the bejeezus out of him, documenting every step. He will be the main illustration for a few future tutorials. Here's a preview:


Friday, January 21, 2011

Don’t Eat the Paint and Other Safety Tips

It occurred to me that I skipped over a very important topic: safety. Hopefully, all your digits have survived to this point, and this post will save you from future suffering.

First, don’t eat the paint. It’s not good for you.

Don’t use the back of your hand as a palate. I’ve been told it will give me hand-cancer.

Don’t push on a stubborn breyer body with a heat gun. Especially don’t use it force a limb towards yourself…when it’s still hot…and hit yourself in the face. (Notice in “Brands I Prefer: Part 2” that my heat gun has a plastic cover over the tip. This tip is removable. Don't.)

Don’t paint in poorly ventilated areas like bathrooms, windowless rooms, or the back of your garage.

Don’t dremel anything without safety glasses and a mask. Don’t buy the “cool looking” glasses when the high school chemistry class model will better protect your eyes. Don’t let your goggles collect dust in the garage while you merrily dremel on the floor of your bedroom.

Don’t run rubbing alcohol through your airbrush without a mask. Really, don’t paint without a mask. Or take your mask off…ever.

Don’t glue your fingers together.

After gluing your fingers together, don’t go back and put more glue on your fingers, dip them in baking soda, scream from the burning pain of this combination only so you can easily peel the glue off your finger tips.

Wear gloves. Always. Except when using Apoxie. Buy those latex ones in bulk.

I’ve been asked a few times why this blog is called “Don’t Eat the Paint.” In a nutshell, it’s all due to a certain model horse artist. I won’t post her name as to avoid any embarrassment for the parties involved.

The long version is I attended one of [NAME REDACTED]’s painting clinics when I was a young aspiring artist. That was where I learned you can stick a brush in your mouth when you’re desperate enough for liquid to thin out your paint. It’s shockingly common behavior among painters. So the title really means “do as I say, not as I do,” which I find applies frequently.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Building a Frame & Armature

First off, thank you all for being tolerant of my not posting during the tumultuous holidays and colic-ing horse. The horse is all better and even back in training.

Required Reading

Super Glue and Baking Soda: A Love Story
Best Laid Plans
Brands I Prefer: Everything Else

Some of you may already be familiar with building a frame for an original sculpture. I believe JAH has covered the topic a couple times, but it’s also a straight forward process:

Twist together three pieces of sculpture wire.

From the strands, form four legs, a neck, a head, and a tail.

This took roughly 4 seconds. The proportions are probably off.

Measure the proportions or overlay your armature on a reference photo (or a couple to be safe, but never use a photo that is of a horse at an angle). Remember to mimic the shape of a horse’s skeleton.

The armature is represented here in red.

Tweak the wire to fit, cut the excess and ta da! Instant armature.

Alas, building an armature for a custom model is not nearly so cut and dry.

On a custom, especially a drastic, you have two major problems to contend with. First, the parts you save from the original body won’t imitate a skeleton yet you’ll have to figure out how to attach a wire skeleton to them.

Second, securing wire to plastic is just hard.

Unless you are working with a solid cast resin or a stablemate, you have a third issue in that the model is hollow and you want to avoid filling the entire body with clay. For one, it’s a waste of clay. Clay is kinda spendy and I’m (as has been previously discussed) extremely cheap. And the finished product will weigh a ton.

I work around these problems using masking tape. Yup, Scotch blue painters tape.

Think of this as the origami phase of sculpting. An origami crane, hat, or jumping frog won’t hold up to a lot of abuse, but it is rigid enough to hold a basic shape.

You spent kindergarten learning to color inside the lines. I learned this.

With the scotch tape, you just want to create a basic shape. This shape should form more of the silhouette of the portion you intend to sculpt without interfering or poking out of the surface of the final clay layer. To be safe, I try to keep the frame at least ½ cm (1/4 of an inch) below the surface. You still want to create the shape of the portion you are replacing (the neck, tail, butt, etc.) but just a tiny bit smaller.

Before and after on one custom? It was a happy accident that I thought to photograph it.

When possible, I try to include at least a little wire secured to the original plastic parts. Like I said, this is hard and my best advice for this step is patience. I attach the wire to the inside of body and secure it in place with several layers of baking soda/super glue.

Baking soda/super glue often is not enough to hold the wire permanently in place. I delicately build a few pieces of masking on and around the wire. Then, on top of the masking tape, I stabilize the whole contraption with a few layers of baking soda/super glue.

In progress frame (it's not a horse.)

Detail of the base of the neck secured in place.

The tail secured, before building the shape of the tail with tape.

I use multiple layers of masking tape--one layer of tape will not sufficiently hold its shape. Two to four layers are generally ideal. Two to three layers of baking soda/super glue is usually enough to create a sturdy surface to sculpt on without getting too bulky.

This is two layers of tape. It could use one or two more.

Depending on what part of the anatomy I’m replacing, I can either cut the tape into the right shape and then stick it on my model or I can stick on overly large strips of tape and then cut the tape down to size. I prefer the latter technique except when I need to squeeze tape into a small spot where my scissors won't fit.

In two weeks, we’ll apply this technique to manes and tails.