Equine Sculpture

an overview for curious minds and burgeoning artists

Maybe you’re a Breyer collector or flatwork artist who has looked at a perfect miniature 3-D horse model and said, ?How do they do that?? Perhaps you’re just curious, or you may even want to have a go at it yourself.

It is a multifaceted, complicated, fun, frustrating, gut-wrenching, tedious and absolutely fascinating process that I hope to illuminate with this series. What exactly happens in the dark depths of time between shapeless clay and your bright white expensive resin sitting smugly on your shelf?

This article is intended to give you the technical know-how to form a solid base upon which to grow your own artistic talents. Everyone’s methods and preferences vary. Don’t feel that you need to copy my suggestions to the letter. Experiment, explore, expand! You’ll soon develop your own techniques and style.

Grab your calipers, clay and dental tools. Here we go…

These foals aren’t dead, they’re just sleeping. Learn more about the United Pegasus Foundation, and how you can help babies like these.

And go see our UPF babies as grownups!

Compile an extensive morgue.

A what?! “Morgue” is an artists’ term for a large and diverse collection of reference photos and images. This can include your own gathered pictures, anatomy books, horse books, art books, etcetera. Nothing is a better reference than a living, breathing horse, but it’s often impossible to obtain a specimen of the exact breed and type you’re going to be making in clay.

Nevertheless, try to get your hands on real horses as often as possible and take in everything you can! Don’t just look; feel all over to determine exactly which areas are squishy, how squishy they are compared to other areas, how the joints work, how the lips stretch and wiggle. You get to play around with all sorts of horses and be able to say you’re a hard-working artist!

See a small example of morgue shots

My reference library

Visualize and plan.

It’s best to have at least a vague plan when you sit down to start your sculpture. Some artists make detailed drawings of the finished model before they even start with clay, and when they’re done it looks just the same as the concept! Wow! I tend to be less meticulous.

Sometimes it helps to work out problems on paper before you start your model. Get a “feel” for your horse, and have a brilliant shining perfect vision in your brain that you can refer to and fantasize about.

Refine your plans.

So you have this drop-dead gorgeous (or maybe not) Przewalski/Friesian/mustang/mule/Mangalarga Marchador stallion you want to sculpt. You’ve made concept sketches and have a good idea of what position he’ll be in, and which scale. Now what?

Find examples of the real thing and get their basic measurements. Maybe it’s impossible to access a real horse of this breeding, but if you have a good reference shot of a horse with similar body type, take down the relationships between his head length and major points. Here’s an example of the system I use.

Make your armature!

This is a fun but tricky stage of the sculpting process. For a traditional scale horse (one-tenth life size) cut three approximately 14 to 18 inch (36 to 46 cm) lengths of copper or aluminum wire. I like to use 8 or 10 gauge (6mm squared or 10mm squared) for traditionals. The advantages of these two metals are that they are easily bendable yet hold their shape well, and can be bent over and over and over and over again without breaking. Don’t use steel unless you want to experience a lot of grief since it won’t bend easily and when it is covered with soft clay, and you want to reposition it, you’ll smash the clay.

I use quarter-inch (6mm) galvanized pipe as a stand, with a T screwed onto the top. Attach this to a substantial base (one that has enough area to not fall over with the weight of a couple pounds of clay and metal on it) via a floor flange. Secure the flange onto the base with screws, then thread your pipe onto it. Lazy susans are cool bases because you can spin them around as you work.

Thread your three wires through the T, with equal lengths emerging from both sides. I attach them to the T with smaller wire (20 gauge, for example) by wrapping around and in and out and over and under until the large wires are secure to the pipe T. Make sure they’re nice and snug because this will eliminate some problems later.

Now comes the fun part. Referring to your measurements, bend the wire at the right places and angles to form a horse! I always spend lots of time on this stage, tweaking the position until it looks really cool. Keep in mind that you want your pipe T to be nicely buried in clay, so don’t make your withers point (a major point for all the proportions of the horse) right on it or you’ll have problems with the metal being too close to the surface. Try to keep each of the armature wires in the middle of the legs, head, neck, etcetera.

A note: don’t screw the pipe into the floor flange too snugly, so if you want to unscrew your horse from the base and work on his belly, there won’t be an epic struggle in which you squash him.

Onto Page 2 of Sculpting — Laying the Clay!

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