Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cooking with gas

Okay, it's actually cooking with electricity, but it's progress all the same. These are all pieces ready for the final hand detailing stage. The two horses are long-standing commitments, while the circular medallions are the Clinky Classic awards. The smaller dark grey medallion in the front is a prototype for some Christmas ornaments. There's another load much like this one that is cooling, and those horses are at the same stage as these.

My hope was to spend the week doing the hand work, which I find especially relaxing, and then start pulling finished horses out of the kiln by week's end. Nothing is uplifting as shiny new ceramic pieces! With all that is going on in the world right now, and with our home town in particular, uplifting is good!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More 'wrong' colors

I forgot I had another camera stick full of pictures! So here is another horse that Mother Nature painted all wrong.

This might look like a very white tobiano, which would explain why the bottom of her tail is so dark. Tobianos, even very white ones, tend to do that. But that's not a tobiano tail, because her pattern doesn't include her tail.

She's a grey tobiano, and her hindquarters are colored - not white. So that's technically a grey tail, and grey tails are not supposed to do that. Grey tails typically lighten from the bottom up, rather than from the tailhead down.

You can see her tobiano pattern a little better here. She's also a little unusual for having greyed out so quickly; her owner said she had just turned five. She also said that she was born roan, which might explain why her body greyed out while her tail remained dark. It certainly was striking, and I noticed a number of onlookers comment that they had not seen a grey horse with such a dark tail before.

Tomorrow I'll post a few more pictures from the show.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Coloring outside the lines

"I know they are popular, but it's not like you can put kissy-spots all over his face like that. It's unrealistic!"

My oldest son, Brandon, likes rules. He’s not the kind of kid that is tempted to test the limits or stray from what he is told. In fact, he tends to view mere suggestions and loose guidelines as rules. Most adults, when they encounter children like this, think of them as “easy”. It certainly does mean fewer parent-teacher conferences!

But if you haven’t lived with it, it’s easy to overlook the downside. Because rules are comforting to kids like Brandon, they are always looking for them, and they often assume rules based on too few data points. (“If I have not seen someone do this thing, then this thing must be prohibited!”) They also tend to apply hard rules to areas where looser guidelines are more appropriate. As a parent I spend a lot of time encouraging my son to examine what he suspects are rules, and to look for exceptions. I don’t want his world to be narrower, more constrained, than necessary. There are a lot of non-traditional solutions out there, and sometimes taking advantage of them requires just a bit of uncomfortable rule-bending.

Pointing this out on a frequent basis has made me more sensitive to my own devotion to rules. (I know all too well just where he got this trait.) My desire to impose a structure on things, and my tendency to look for clues that might reveal hidden rules, helped me to understand coat color patterns. But like all lovers of rules, I have to recognize that the world is a lot messier than simple rules allow. Painting horses – particularly patterned horses - without any thought for the rules would obviously result in some unrealistic pieces. What isn’t so obvious is that painting horses strictly by the rules, without any bending, results in overly stereotyped patterns. Knowing pattern rules, I am not at much risk of producing an unrealistic pattern. What I have to guard against is producing patterns stripped of the little idiosyncrasies that give the impression that I am painting a specific horse, somebody’s horse, rather than an artist’s rendering of a given color.

That’s why I like attending horse shows, particularly those where I will see a lot of colorful horses. Nothing reminds me to be flexible when painting like standing next to a living, breathing horse that just should not look the way he does. And my visit to the Carolina Paint Horse Club “Fall Fling” this past weekend didn’t disappoint in that regard. (Paint Horse shows never do!)

So here are some painting errors, courtesy of some of the unrealistic horses I met.

"Some tobianos have random roan patches, but it's not like they form a ruler-straight line that bisects the neck in half."

"White on sabinos concentrates under the jaw, not on the top of the neck. And it certainly doesn't create a ring around the neck."

"The edges of sabino markings are often ticked and indistinct - but just the edges. The whole stocking isn't like that."

"Nope, that's painted all wrong. That's a German Shorthaired Pointer leg, not a horse leg."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Arrrrgh! I missed it!

International Talk Like A Pirate Day has come and gone, and I missed it. I had a lot of fun with it last year, and had planned to do something again for this year but time (and inspiration!) ran out. Instead I did an inventory of the bisques here in the studio. These are the "unstarted" horses. There's another set almost as big that are in some way started, with bases colored, hooves done or patterns drawn on. Most of these guys are mine, either for future sales or my own collection, but a few are outstanding obligations from past trades or show donations. I wanted to make sure I had a handle on just how far I was from resolving those, since that was my year-end goal.

So alas, no piratey treasure this year. Too busy dispatching the Hoards of Greenware (gone, every last one of them!) and beating off the Backlog Beast.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tennessee Clay Ball

My entry for the Clinky Classic 2006 Gingerbread Cookie contest, showing both my (previously unknown) talent with squeezable icing tubes and (already suspected) lack of good taste

The third Clinky Classic, also known as the Tennessee Clay Ball (as opposed to Tennessee ball clay) is a go! With so many of the large all-china shows (BOYC, MudFest, Breakables) no longer being held, it's nice to see one come back. What is even better is that this time around there is more space for entrants. And Maggie has set up what has to be one of the most fun show websites around, so check it out!

I am excited about the show because I will get to judge the Custom Glaze division. Like a lot of artists, I don't usually get to judge what I actually know best because it would mean no one could show work I had done. This time, however, there is a separate division for Blackberry Lane horses so there are no conflicts and all the custom glazes can show. I am really looking forward to it. I'm also planning some cool awards for the horses in the Blackberry Lane division.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


These are my favorite mugs. Now that the mornings are getting a little cooler, they are getting a bit more use. I brought them home from my trip to Idaho - the light green one for me and the taller iron gray one for Alan. They each have matching bowls, which I thought would make nice ice cream bowls. I'm not sure why I thought we'd ever be eating ice cream and drinking hot tea at the same time, but then again I'm not always the most logical person.

I like the mugs because they remind me of the friends who were with me at the art festival when I bought them. What I have always liked about the model horse community is that it seems to be filled with bright, creative people. (Well, that and those people never say, "Uhhh, can we talk about something other than horses for a little while?") The exchange of ideas and techniques really gets me excited about my own work. That's why I am a big advocate of artist retreats. Sarah makes a better case for them here than I ever could. (Even if her tea brewing methods remain barbaric.)

The downside is that travel is time consuming, and in this day and age increasingly expensive. So I was excited to hear that the Realistic Equine Sculpture Society had set up an online forum. RESS has always maintained a mailing list, and it often contains really good discussion. But what we do is so inherently visual, and much of that is lost in email messages. Forums are wonderful for making a conversations more visual and more interactive. There is even talk of creating online learning forums that tie in with Boat articles, which would take us yet another step closer to recreating the artist retreat experience. All in all, not a bad deal for the membership fee ($25).

Thursday, September 11, 2008


My friend Karen had an interesting blog post today showing the sizes of same sculpture cast in resin, earthenware and bone china. Each of those materials has a different shrinkage, from next to nothing (resins) to quite dramatic (bone china).

What I found interesting was the level of shrinkage in her earthenware casting. It's quite a bit smaller than the original. My own experience has been that the size reduction on earthenware varies, but the range hasn't been quite that great.

Here are some pictures of a bisque Finn next to the resin original (with the mold lines drawn on). This represents the high end of the shrinkage I have gotten.

It would be interesting to compare slip recipes to see what makes the difference. In the past I've used shrink ratios to create smaller versions of an original. The only problem was that it took a lot of intermediate steps (an expensive rubber molds) to reach a significant change in size. I also found that you could get a "Xerox Effect"; slight changes in proportion early in the process could get compounded with each subsequent shrink, until the piece was visibly "off" in some way.

That's one reason why I have limited my shrinking experiments to medallions. Their mass is pretty evenly distributed, whereas full body horses have more variation (not to mention both solid and hollow areas). I feared I would get a lot more distortion. I wonder, though, if a clay with the kind of shrinkage Karen saw with her Optime might not alleviate that problem, since there aren't as many shrinks involved.

Hmmm... things to ponder while I paint! (I am telling myself NO experiments until I see a lot of colored horses on my workbench.) Oh, and I guess this post is also a sneak peek, since the Finn illustrating the shrinkage is for the lottery. I am hoping to get a color a bit like this Collier I did a few years ago, though greys often go in surprising directions before they are finished.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back to school and work

We finally have everyone settled into their new school routines, and my Boat articles are finished, so I am back in the studio. Woo hoo!

Back to school is always chaotic, so it usually means that my work time is very limited. This time around, what time I had was spent writing the color column. That meant I was working at the computer, which lives in the kitchen. (I've learned the hard way that computers and dusty ceramic studios don't mix.) So I literally had not been inside my studio in weeks. Now I am busy making up for lost time!

What's always striking to me about a ceramic work area is the smell. During an open house at my oldest son's new school, he remarked that the art room "smelled like home". Sure enough, off to the side was a pottery room. I remember thinking something like that when I switched my studio over to ceramics. For the longest time I thought my work area smelled like my friend Joan's house! I took me a long time to identify just what the smell was, but now I realize that much of it is the talc. The slip formula we use - first developed by the Hagen-Renaker family - has an unusually high talc ratio. So the scent is something like an earthy version of baby powder. It's distinctive, and whenever I return to it after an absence it renews my creative energy.

Hopefully that will mean that I have some lottery sneak peeks here in the next few days!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Serving as a bad example

When Sarah took over editing The Boat for the Realistic Equine Sculpture Society, she asked if I would be interested in writing a regular column on horse color. I thought it would be a neat venue. I've written countless articles on horse color over the years, both for publications in the model horse community and for real world breed journals, but for the most part the focus was pretty general. In the case of the The Boat, I'd be speaking directly to other equine artists. Sarah also gave me the green light to assume the audience had a basic grasp of horse color, and delve into the more arcane aspects of the topic. So I could cover some new ground!

What I had in mind was something of a Question and Answer format, thinking that it would reinforce the idea that understanding how colors and patterns work had a direct impact on realism in equine art. My quandary was that often the best questions come in the form of a sample model and the simple questions, "Is this correct?" and "Does this color/pattern really do this?"

To do that, I would need to make examples of someone's incorrect artwork. I'd have no problem if the work was mine, but fortunately for me - and unfortunately for my current project - my worst period of horse color ignorance happened to coincide with my worst period for productivity. (Thankfully at least the color ignorance improved with time. Some might argue my productivity levels haven't changed much over the years.) But using someone else's work to illustrate problems wasn't somewhere I wanted to go, not even if I had willing volunteers. I needed to be my own bad example.

My solution was to go back to the "beady-eyed pony" illustrations I used back when I did horse color seminars at BreyerFest.

I wanted to find the slide with the "lethal white" pony, but it seems to have vanished. Though perhaps I am better off not broadcasting my odd sense of humor!

When I did those presentations, I used drawings because it was so difficult to find good pictures of the rarer colors. The added benefit was that I could create an image that emphasized exactly what I needed people to see. The more I thought about how I wanted to present information for my column, the more I thought this same idea might work well. This way even if someone came to me with questions about a specific model, I could simply transfer the issue in question to a drawing. (Some silhouettes have been changed to protect the innocent!)

The big difference this time around was that I have much better tools! The drawings for those original slides were done with magic markers. (That was why there were no champagnes - I couldn't find good taupe colors.) For this project, I've been developing templates for digital images. This will allow me to fill in the colors and patterns that I need, without having to redraw and recolor each one. And I can get cool effects, too.

Two overlaid patterns, showing that the interaction between patterns is more complex than just adding one on top of the other. That's the subject for the upcoming column!

So that's my excuse why there are still so many unfinished horses sitting on my desk right now. I'm busy coloring in horses all wrong!