Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An Unintended Hiatus

I knew I had neglected my studio blog while working on my horse color book, but I was genuinely shocked to realize that it had been more than a year since a post was made here. It is, however, a pretty telling indicator of how that particular project moved in and took over my creative life. As an avid reader who really does read the front matter (introductions, acknowledgements) in books, I was aware that writers almost universally mention the sacrifices of their friends and family while they were absorbed in the work. Now I understand why!

The Equine Tapestry was supposed to be a small project - something to fill my time while recovering from foot surgery. What I had in mind was a quick reference guide that equine artists, model horse showers and judges could use to verify the presence (or absence) of colors or patterns in each of the different breeds. I thought that I could give a quick description of the different colors, then a paragraph for each breed. But the world of horse color is changing. New discoveries are outpacing the normal publishing schedules for books. I could not rely on readers being able to find more information to go with a "quick description", because much of the information could only be found in peer reviewed journals. It is also true that it was just too tempting to begin adding images, which meant a more detailed explanation.

And that was all before I got to the breeds themselves. Keeping the stories to a few paragraphs seemed nearly impossible. What's more, understanding color in the breeds was too closely tied to how the different stud books were structured. Telling someone that there was a buckskin Shire, and even providing pictures showing her unmistakable color, was not enough. Readers needed to understand why she was a perfectly legitimate - if entirely unexpected - entry in the stud book. Paragraphs became chapters, and before I knew it I had close to 900 pages of manuscript in a book that was not even close to finished.

I decided to split the single book into three, and then eventually four, volumes. The project also changed in scope, so that I was not just writing for people within the equine collectibles industry. I was writing the books that I wished existed. It was - and still is - a labor of love. I should have seen the potential for it to crowd out all but the most essential things in my life. (My friends and family might argue that sometimes even those got short-changed!)

But the first volume went to press in July. At 424 pages, it covers all the (as yet!) known colors and patterns, and then begins with the draft and coaching breeds. In addition to hundreds of photos (many historical images of rare colors), the project included creating 81 illustrations for the various pattern charts.

The book has been far more successful than I ever imagined. In the first week, it went up to the #5 best-selling horse book on Amazon, despite the fact that the majority of the copies were sold directly (through my site here) and were not included in the count. It was also the #1 new release in its category that week. Within two months, it has already exceeded the typical press run of a specialty horse book. The companion blog, Equine Tapestry, that was launched a little over a year ago gets thousands of hits from all over the world. What is even more surprising is that the blog reaches people all over the world, and that has resulted in a lot of new information on some unusual colors. (You can read more about the effect I called Belton and reverse dapple roaning by following the links.)

Obviously with three more books to finish, the project is not really finished. But it is time to return to the studio and the many projects I left here. I suspect that taking a break from all-day writing (and illustrating and editing) will give me better perspective for the next volume, which will cover the pony and small horse breeds. 

I do know that focusing on the details of the various colors and patterns has already given me a new perspective that I suspect will benefit the work that will come from the studio. So stay tuned - colorful, shiny things are (once again!) in the works... 

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