Sunday, December 17, 2017

More finished commissions headed home

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and while I haven't finished clearing out my commission backlog as I had hoped, I am much closer to being done than I was when I first resolved to close my books and admit that I was in way over my head. I will be out of town briefly for the holidays, but I have a few more nearly completed horses that I plan to mail out in the last week of December once I return. Then if all goes according to plan, I hope to have the last of my commissions headed home in January and February. In the meantime, here are a few more ponies that have shipped out. Huzzah!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Squirrels at a Rave

A funny meme came through my Facebook feed last week that said something along the lines of, "I don't have ducks in a row. I have squirrels. And they're at a rave." Given my last studio update, I thought it only fitting to recreate this title with Hagen-Renakers, too, because cosclay is apparently what my sister and I do now.

Seriously though, while my life is hectic right now with turnover at my real nine-to-five job and some large projects in the offing, it thankfully hasn't been all squirrels and glow sticks all the time, and I have been making steady progress completing commissions this spring and summer. Just since BreyerFest, I have mailed out 9 completed pieces, and boy does that ever feel good!

I have about two dozen commissions left to complete---they're all in some state of being partially painted, several nearly finished---and my goal is to have them all done and mailed by the end of the year. If I continue working at the rate I have been, I should be able to meet that goal. I am so much looking forward to having all of these models back in their owners' hands and feeling guilt-free about working on non-painting projects like writing, sewing, updating my sadly neglected website, cataloging my collection, decluttering, and even cleaning! (You know you've gone 'round the twist when you're actually looking forward to chores...)

Once I'm done with my current slate of commissions, I do not plan to take on more any time in the near future. It's much too stressful and I am simply too slow. I will be offering sales pieces periodically though. I'm looking forward to having a chance to try some colors and patterns I don't often get asked to paint like champagne, double dilute cream, and splashed white. I'm also itching to experiment with appaloosa patterns and brindling.

I will post more photos here of completed models as I send them out. It's a good morale booster to me to see progress even if my shelves of commissions still seem crowded (especially as the weather turns colder). I'm getting there, slowly, but steadily. Thank you all again for your patience! I am eternally grateful. <3 br="">

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Man O' War's 100th birthday

"He was as near to a living flame as horses ever get, and horses get closer
to this than anything else." - Joe Palmer

One hundred years ago today, a true legend was born. Even now, after a century has passed, he remains the benchmark against which all great horses are measured. Few have come close and none have been his equal. The simple notation below in the Nursery Stud foaling ledger gives no hint of what was to come. And how could it? Who would dare dream up such a horse, such a career, such a legacy? Who would believe it if it hadn't really happened? And yet it did, and the echoes of his greatness still ring down the years despite a world very much changed since 1917.

"March 29th, 1917 - Mahubah foaled ch colt by Fair Play. Star, narrow broken
stripe from right of star down center of nose. Height 42 Girth 33"
(Nursery Stud foaling ledger, collection of the Int'l Museum of the Horse, Kentucky Horse Park)
Mahubah's chestnut colt by Fair Play was of course Man O' War, the greatest Thoroughbred to ever grace the track. I have blogged about him and the models made in his likeness on my collectibility blog in the past, but as today is his 100th birthday, and as he is the source of my lifelong passion for horse racing, I thought I would write a bit about him here, too.

My earliest recollections of horse racing are of my dad reading C. W. Anderson's horse stories to me. Anderson wrote about Man O' War with the greatest reverence, and when I was old enough to read myself, I devoured every horse book I could find to learn more.

My love of horse racing was thus formed early on, and I have collected a number of books, art, figurines, locks of mane and tail, win tickets, race programs, and other bits of racing memorabilia over the years. My Man O' War memorabilia collection is small (if you don't count the books), but here are some of my favorite pieces.

My George Ford Morris print of Man O' War
A pretty and decorative Man O' War coaster (?)
My Hagen-Renaker DW Man O' War
Carol Williams' Valor resin that I painted as a portrait of Man O' War
I have made a few pilgrimages over the years to places where the great horse once stood at stud, like Faraway Farm where his sire and dam are buried. (Apologies for the poor film quality.)

Faraway Farm before restoration
Man O' War Farm just down the road from Faraway was also the site of MOW's original burial.

And his stall at MOW Farm where mares are still foaled out in hopes of a bit of extra talent and good luck.

Fortunately, my family settled within relatively easy driving distance of Lexington, KY, so I've been able to make the trek to BreyerFest every year since it began in 1990. A visit to Man O' War's current burial place at the Kentucky Horse Park to pay my respects is a yearly tradition. He rests under a larger than life bronze by Herbert Haseltine near the entrance of the park. A shady avenue leads to the monument from the visitors' center.

Historical marker near MOW's grave

Several of Man O' War's offspring are buried there as well, including his two most influential sons, War Admiral and War Relic. Man O' War's sire line has become a bit rare these days, surviving primarily through his great-great-great-great-grandson Tiznow. Interestingly, Man O' War's sire line is also just about the last of the Godolphin Arabian's tail male line. I worry that it may fizzle as the Byerley Turk's line seems to be doing, but the tail male line is really only part of the picture. Man O' War's daughters were phenomenal broodmares, as were the daughters of some of his best sons. The blood of War Admiral, War Relic, Intent, In Reality, Salaminia, American Flag, Wavy Navy, and others flows in the veins of many modern champions like American Pharoah, Arrogate, California Chrome, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Ghostzapper, Point Given, and so many others.

We have been blessed in the last few years with some incredibly talented horses---a Triple Crown winner at last!---and with every new crop of foals, hope springs eternal. It always puts me in mind of the last few stanzas of J. A. Estes' poem "Big Red."

"A foal is born at midnight
And in the frosty morn
The horseman eyes him fondly,
And a secret hope is born.
“But breathe it not, nor whisper,
For fear of a neighbor's scorn;
He's a chestnut colt, and he's got a star;
He may be another Man O' War.
Nay, say it aloud; be shameless.
Dream and hope and yearn,
For there's never a man among you
But waits for his return."

Happy birthday, Big Red.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NaMoPaiMo success!

She's done! And with a couple of hours to spare, ha ha! This color and pattern were a significant challenge to execute and complete because I have often felt a lack of confidence in my dun dilutions, but I'm really rather pleased this gal turned out so nicely. I am still struggling with my workload mentally (and temporally) and a big dose of seasonal affective disorder, but NaMoPaiMo has been a very much needed artistic mojo boost. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for organizing this wonderful hobby event! I have thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and enthusiasm it engendered. 

Hermosa is on ebay now. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

NaMoPaiMo: Down to the wire

Getting my ducks in a row is a slow process, but I have been busily chipping away at commissions all month. I've also managed to squeeze in some time to work on my NaMoPaiMo model. I think I'll be able to have her done by Tuesday (the last day of the month, eep!), but it's going to be down to the wire. Unfortunately, working right down to the last minute of a deadline is usually what I do. I always seem to underestimate how long painting will take, especially white layers on pintos. Which brings me to the subject of today's post.

I usually map the spots on my pintos with carefully shaped tiny pieces of blue painters tape or some form of liquid mask, but this time around, I decided not to. Because frame overo feels less intuitive to me than tobiano (my favorite pinto pattern if you haven't already guessed), I opted to draw the pattern on my fully painted model using references to have better control of the pattern. I used a white Prisma pencil to sketch that pattern and fill it in.

Then I began the slow process of adding thin layers of white paint to the pattern.

By the end of Sunday evening, the pinto markings have much better coverage than when I started, but they still have more layers to go. I often find that taking a break from the monotonous white layers is useful, so I decided to block in the basic color on the hooves and eyes. It helps give me a better sense of the finished piece, and it also seems to make finishing the piece less daunting.

Getting there!
So, with two evenings left to me to work on her, I need to finish the white layering, add pinking where appropriate, finish the hooves and eyes, and finish the mane and tail. I'm pretty sure I can accomplish this. Wheee!

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)