Saturday, February 11, 2017

Commission and NaMoPaiMo progress

I shipped out three horses last week. Hooray! Progress feels so very good. I have a long way to go, but chipping away at small tasks like prepping and priming is helpful. I work 40+ hours a week, and by the time I get home in the evenings and make and eat dinner, there isn't much time for working on horses. Most of my painting time comes on the weekends, so I do my best to get as much done as possible on my days off.

Painting fuel and an in progress pony
I use an Iwata Eclipse airbrush, and paint primarily with Jo Sonja acrylic guache. I thin it to the consistency of whole milk to run though my airbrush, building up color from light to dark.

I do sometimes use other brands like Liquitex and Ceramcoat if I don't have certain colors on hand. Jo Sonja is carried by Dick Blick, but there isn't a store near me, so I usually order that paint online. Happily, I can get to a Michaels easily to pick up the other brands when I can't wait for an order to arrive.

In between working on commissions last weekend, I painted a few layers on my NaMoPaiMo Hermosa who will eventually be a grulla frame overo. I usually mask off pinto patterns with little pieces of blue painters tape, but I decided to try overpainting the pattern with thin layers of white instead. We'll see how that works out. These cell phone pix are not great, but here are the first few layers of color.

Pale iridescent cream
An overlay of pale grey with a hint of silver
A slightly darker wash of grey
Two layers of darker grey
Today, I began adding layers of color with pastels. I apply them with old brushes that have gotten worn and fluffy and are no longer of any use for painting fine details. I have specific brushes for various colors to keep the colors I apply from getting mixed and muddy. You don't want to use a brush caked with black for pink skin tones, for instance.

First I added a layer of dark brown.

And then some black.

I seal all layers of paint and pastels with Krylon Matte fixative. It dries quickly and has a nice, smooth finish.

I'm quite pleased with how this grulla color is shaping up. I rarely mix colors from recipes---I just wing it most of the time---but I do at least make notes for myself when I come up with something I like. I have been experimenting with subtle metallics lately, and it's made all the difference, especially with this color.

Tomorrow, I plan to block in the basic pattern. I'll probably do some more pastel work as well. Having looked at my reference photos, I need to darken up the legs a bit as well as add dun factors. Because I use the tail as a handle, that and the mane will be just about the last parts of the horse I work on. Stay tuned for more pictures!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Safety Dance and other prepping musical numbers

Living in an apartment presents a variety of challenges as an artist. Lack of space in general is the primary one, but lack of appropriate space is also problematic. Regarding lack of space, most of my models live in boxes at the moment because that's the most efficient way to store them. My shelf space is limited, so I have a tendency to rotate models on and off display. Plastic bodies and resins also stay boxed until I'm ready to work on them. And as you can see, my work space is tiny.

Where I prep, airbrush, and hand detail models. Cat for scale, ha ha.
Lack of appropriate space means I have to primer horses in my bath tub rather than in a better setting such as a garage or a deck (like so many turn-of-the-century buildings in Chicago, mine has neither).

I spread newspaper or butcher paper under the models so as not to get
primer all over my tub.
The first step in getting a model ready to paint is selecting appropriate entertainment. No really, prepping is tedious and boring, so having something to listen to while I work helps keep me focused. I occasionally play something from Netflix or Youtube on my tablet while I work, but the vast majority of the time, I listen to my trusty iPod. Audiobooks, especially mysteries or histories, are my usual preference, and my musical tastes  run to to punk, ska, goth, new wave, and '90s alternative, with a very healthy dose of Celtic music thrown into the mix. Sometimes you need a good bagpipe jam to keep you going late at night. :)

The second step is prepping. This means removing all seams, the company logo, filling divots and pinholes, as well as restoring any details compromised by the prepping process, like wrinkles crossed by a seam. When I need to remove company logos and heinous seams, I prefer to us a Dremel. You can buy a practically endless array of sanding, cutting, and drilling bits for Dremels which make them incredibly useful tools.

Dremeling is a messy business---fine plastic or resin dust will coat your clothes, so wear something you don't care about. (Speaking from experience, you may also accidentally catch your Dremel in your shirt and tear a hole in it, so again, wear something expendable.) Dremels will also fire larger chunks of hot plastic or resin right into your face (it stings!), so a respirator and safety goggles are a must. I use these (pictured below) which can be found at any home improvement store, but as I wear glasses, I find that bits of plastic and resin can still nail me pretty close to the eye. I recently saw Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) using this face shield with glasses, so I plan to acquire one soon. It looks perfect for what I do.

I then go back over the seams and logo with sandpaper, using coarser grit (100-200) to begin with and progressing to finer grit (500-600) to smooth the surface nicely. I use a carbide scraper from Rio Rondo to get at seams in hard to reach places or in areas with lots of fine details (wrinkles, hairs, etc). The scraper comes with 6 different tips of varying shapes and purposes.

I'm not picky about sandpaper. I'll buy anything that looks useful.
Once all prep work is done, I go back over the whole model with medium-to-fine grit sandpaper to give the surface just a bit of tooth to grab the primer. Resins generally get a quick scrub with soap and water to remove any lingering mold release and then some general sanding.

For primer, I use Rustoleum Clean Metal Primer in white. Because I use acrylics, I build up color from light to dark (otherwise, the colors end up looking muddy and dull), and a white base layer is the best option for me. I know some artists use red or grey primer with acrylics, but I feel white makes my paint jobs more luminous and clear.

As I mentioned above, I primer models in my bathtub. Happily, my bathroom has a window that opens to the outside, so I can just open the window wide, spray the models, and turn on a fan for air circulation. I keep the door closed so the smell won't permeate my apartment. And, of course, I always wear a respirator when spraying primer.

I spray models one side at a time and let each side dry for at least 24 hours before spraying the other side. (In humid or hot weather, I usually let models dry for 48-72 hours before adding more primer.) I then spray the top of the model and then the bottom, sometimes in one go depending on the size of the model. If I'm holding the model while spraying primer, I wear gloves to keep it off my skin. (Potential toxicity aside, it's very hard to scrub off, and going to work with primer on my hands would not be acceptable.) After the first rounds of spraying have dried completely, I sand the model lightly to remove any drips or gunk that may have stuck to the primer in the drying process. Very often, I'll have to give the model a couple of extra quick passes with primer just to make sure everything is adequately covered.

"Two by two. Hands of blue."
So all told, prepping and priming a traditional scale model usually takes me about a week depending on the weather and how bad the seams are. I'm sure I'm slower than other artists at the process, but I want to best possible canvas for my paint. Next time, painting tools!

And the obligatory earworm:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Many of you are probably familiar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, an online event in November in which people from all over the world attempt to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words, in the space of 30 days. The only prize is a sense of accomplishment and hopefully a bunch of words that might eventually be publishable.

Jennifer Buxton of Braymere Custom Saddlery fame was thus inspired to create NaMoPaiMo in hopes of some camaraderie when she decided she would like to paint more this year. The idea is to paint and finish one model during the month of February. Any model and any media (acrylics, pastels, oils, even eye shadow and fingernail polish) can be used. To say the idea took off is an understatement---Jen has more than 250 entrants from 16 different countries at last count!

NaMoPaiMo struck me as a lifeline to drag me out of this artistic rut I've been in and to help keep me motivated. I'm going to try to make a couple of posts a week about my artistic process as well as on progress I'm making on commissions. Momentum is key. So that said, my NaMoPaiMo victim will be this Breyer Hermosa model---I'm thinking grulla frame overo. Both color and pattern are particularly challenging to me, so I hope they'll make for interesting blog fodder. Step 1 today though will be cleaning up my work space. As you can see from the photo below, I need to change out the filter at the back of my spray booth and lay down some fresh newspaper to start with. I also desperately need to reorganize my body hoard to make my work space more efficient.

In the meantime, I've dug through my saved reference photos for some inspiration. Grulla is one of those colors that comes out a little different every time I try it, but this shade is what I'll be aiming for.
Berry Sweet Whizard, a handsome QH stallion owned by
Cedar Ridge Quarter Horses
And as for the pattern, I think I'll opt for something with a moderate amount of white like this.

(Photo source)

Getting my ducks in a row

Literally and figuratively

This is hard to admit and even harder to write. I dislike having to confess that I can't handle something, that I got in over my head. But I did. As is evidenced by my lack of posts for almost a year here (and hardly any better on my collectibility blog), I've been in a blogging funk. Worse than that, and directly responsible for it, I've been in a pretty severe artistic funk, too. Depression definitely has played a large part in this. I am unhappy with a variety of life situations---location, vocation, finances (one step forward, two steps back) to name just a few---all first world problems, and problems I got myself into, but they weigh heavily on a person after a while.

For quite some time now, I've been feeling overwhelmed by my commission obligations and lacking confidence in my artistic abilities. I reached a point where I was finishing horses but couldn't bring myself to send out photos because I was sure they just weren't good enough. Naturally, this spiraled into a guilt black hole as delays turned into weeks and then months.

So I am now working very hard to claw myself out of this hole I've dug. It's not easy, and I feel awful for being so very slow and wretched at communication, but every finished horse will be just a little less anxiety and guilt weighing me down. I will not be accepting any new commissions for the foreseeable future, and I have set a goal to finish all of my existing commissions by no later than the end of May.

I am also planning to try to post more updates here to keep me motivated and hopefully more positive, starting with some blogging about Jen Buxton's wonderful NaMoPaiMo idea. The event spans the month of February, and while I do plan to finish one specific non-commission model for NaMoPaiMo, I definitely also intend to finish as many commissions as I can. More on that starting later today. Thank you all for your kindness and patience!

Monday, March 7, 2016

The best laid plans...

An apt title for all of my endeavors lately. Model horse-wise, I have meant to update this blog far more often than I have, and yet somehow it's already March, and I haven't posted since November. Guess I can delete that New Years post I never finished. Uffda. But though the blog has been dark, I have at least been hard at work in the studio.

I have mailed out two dozen horses since the New Year, and more are nearing completion. In fact, I was busy working through my backlog this weekend when I tripped, dropped my airbrush, and this happened...

I would never have guessed an airbrush could break quite like that! Needless to say, this disaster put a halt to the day's productivity. I have had this airbrush and used it heavily for more than 10 years, so it's paid for itself many times over, but I'm sorry to see it meet an untimely end. It has been a (mostly) faithful friend for a long time. The damage alas is irreparable. I'll keep it around for spare parts (and as a lesson to myself to be more careful).

Iwata no longer sells this particular model, so I ordered their current equivalent. The new airbrush should function pretty identically; it just has some slightly smarter engineering of the tiny pieces I always worried I'd lose when I disassembled everything for cleaning. It should arrive tomorrow, and hopefully I'll be able to give it a test drive after work. Onward!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Doh! A deer! A broken deer!

As an artist, by necessity, I've learned to do some basic restorations---fixing broken eartips, touching up scratches and rubs, filling cracked legs, etc. In particular, I specialize in restoring Breyer woodgrains. Generally speaking, I try to buy mint pieces for my collection, but sometimes you find things you can't help but want to rescue. This poor Hagen-Renaker DW Patience had a bit of an accident (prior to my acquiring her). And as an avid collector of HRs, especially the wildlife, I had to try my hand at restoring her.

Happily, the breaks were pretty clean, and with a little gentle sanding of the edges (to make them fit back together again) and some water soluble glue, she was easy to restore to one piece.

With a little touch up of the edges, she's good as new.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fairytale ending

The racing gods are often a cruel and capricious lot, and while I've cursed them often in the past, in hindsight, perhaps, just maybe, all of the anguish and frustration of the last 37 years has been for the best. Most of the 13 horses who tried and failed to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 went on to have decent if not especially noteworthy careers (Spectacular Bid being the wildly talented exception). In light of what American Pharoah has done this year, would any of them really have been worthy to wear the crown? Maybe, maybe not. The racing gods dole out tastes of greatness stingily to give us perspective, to keep us from becoming jaded and blasé, to keep the Triple Crown something that is rare and extraordinary---to be sure we recognize true greatness when it glides past us, ears pricked, vanquished foes left dazed and far behind.
American Pharoah winning the Breeders Cup Classic with ease
(Photo by Taylor Pence,
Fairytale endings are rare in this sport, but a week ago before a crowd of more than 50,000 people, we got one. American Pharoah, making the last start of his career, raced once more into the history books with a dazzling romp in the Breeders Cup Classic. He led from wire to wire, ears pricked, and was never seriously challenged. At the top of the stretch, jockey Victor Espinoza turned him loose, and Pharoah coasted to an easy 6.5 length lead, passing the wire in a sharp 2:00.07, and shaving five seconds off Keeneland's previous track record for 10 furlongs on any surface. He will be forever remembered as the horse who ended the 37-year Triple Crown drought and the immortal who claimed what is now being called horse racing's "Grand Slam," the Triple Crown plus the Classic.

Over the last week, I've struggled to find the right words to sum up Pharoah's incredible performance and career for this blog, and I have been struck all over again by how different this horse has been from others who have gone before him in the quest for racing immortality. In the years leading up to Pharoah's Triple Crown victory, as the wait grew longer and longer, I opined on more than one occasion that it wouldn't necessarily take a great horse to win the Triple Crown, just a lucky one. All we needed was one horse who was a stand-out in a crop of mediocre three year-olds, one who had just enough extra talent to get the job done. But I was wrong. It does take a great horse to win the Triple Crown, and American Pharoah has driven home this point emphatically all year long. It takes luck, yes, but it also takes soundness of body and mind, stamina, incredible fitness, great heart, a willing spirit, and that little something extra that sets a great horse apart from his contemporaries.

American Pharoah possesses all of these qualities. Looking back now on his exploits of the last fifteen months, it is awe-inspiring to see how he seemed to thrive despite his grueling schedule. He improved with nearly every start, winning regularly by daylight even though Espinoza usually wrapped up on him in the last sixteenth of a mile. His times got faster with every race, culminating in his scintillating Breeders Cup performance. He also displayed remarkable physical resilience all year long. He crossed the country 14 times, traveled more than 28,000 miles, raced at 7 different tracks, and never once put a foot wrong. He has a beautiful, fluid, ground-eating stride that allows him to effortlessly glide over the ground and that supposedly measures two feet longer than Secretariat's. It may be the secret of his ability to run on any surface at any track, from dirt to polytrack to a sea of mud.

(Photo by
Pharoah's contemporaries by comparison have not fared nearly as well. Brilliant speed-horse Dortmund was laid up most of the summer with an injury after the Preakness; Firing Line was put on the shelf for the rest of the year after failing to fire in the mud at Pimlico; perpetual bridesmaid Frosted eked out a win in the Pennsylvania Derby after challenging Pharoah in the Travers and wilting before that colt's gritty determination (and was never even a factor in the Classic); Keen Ice, who managed to pull the upset in the Travers and whose trainer boasted that he would do the same in the Classic, finished some 13 lengths behind a fresh Pharoah despite also having been rested since the Travers. 

One of Pharoah's greatest strengths I think is his good mind, easy-going demeanor, and kindness of spirit. Pharoah by all accounts is a smart, friendly horse who thrives on attention. He has been utterly unfazed by the throngs of press and fans who have come to visit him, something few racehorses have the temperament to handle. Baffert has allowed unprecedented access to the horse because of his good nature, and Pharoah has taken it all in stride as if it were his due. Which it is.

(Photo by
Traditionally, the final test of a great three year-old has been the ability to defeat older horses. Of the three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, only Secretariat was able to do so. And though the Classic field this year was small, it was one of the deepest in a number of years. Six of the seven horses who faced Pharoah were G1 winners: Honor Code (Whitney and Metropolitan Handicaps), Tonalist (2014 Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup twice), Hard Aces (Santa Anita (formerly Hollywood) Gold Cup), Keen Ice (Travers), Frosted (Wood Memorial), and Gleneagles (2000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas, St. James Palace, National Stakes, and Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere). American Pharoah made this quality group of horses look like claimers as he bounded away to an easy victory, ears pricked all the way.

He won 6 G1 races all told as a three year-old, including 5 races with purses of a million dollars or more consecutively, something no other horse his age has done. Of the four Triple Crown winners since races became graded in the early 1970s, he is the only one to win more than one G1 race after the Belmont. He retired as the fourth richest American horse in history with earnings of $8,650,300. Had Visa not cancelled their $5 million Triple Crown bonus several years ago, he would have retired as the richest American racehorse of all time.

But all numbers aside, even as impressive as the statistics are, there are more ephemeral qualities that some great horses possess. Like so many Thoroughbreds, Pharoah ran for the sheer exhilaration of running. In nearly every race, his ears were pricked observantly, listening to the roar of the crowd and the rush of the wind as he sliced through it. I have never seen anything quite like it in my 30+ years following the sport. As I've mentioned in the past, I learned to read from C. W. Anderson's horse stories, and I think he would agree that American Pharoah has the "look of eagles," that quality in great horses of heightened awareness and of seeing something in the distance just beyond the sight of mere mortals.

As Bob Baffert so aptly put it in the latest issue of the Blood-Horse, Pharoah is a throwback to the hickory-tough horses of bygone ages. He proved himself to be fast, determined, versatile, sound, and above all, worthy of that elite company he joined at Belmont Park. He is the horse of a lifetime.