Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fresh Prints in Mud

Every so often, what I am working on in my pottery will find its way to this blog. I have such an interesting little fellow in progress right now, that I should share while the sculpting process is active.

This classic size fellow is a commission, meant to be reproduced in both ceramic and resin in the near future. The nuts and bolts of him is steel wire armature, Super Sculpey, and Aves epoxy. I had to sculpt him in hardened media due to the need for two different versions of him. He has to encompass several technical and artistic points. For the client, it is meant to resonate that limber, unrestricted Mustang, and still do double-duty as a familiar, spunky, old-timey Appaloosa (when his rat tail and thin mane option is done). He must balance on a toe tip and two hind hooves, no base. He has to look wild without looking neglected, wild without viciousness, and wild without overstepping the possible.

Beyond his pose, his mane and tail must have enough movement to draw the eye around the composition. The client wanted a very thick mane and tail for the Mustang version. Well, what happens to thick manes and tails out in the pasture? They spiral together, and make visually interesting dreadlocks. I used to have pasture Fjord horses who grew rapturous, full forelocks and dreadlocks in their tails. I loved the contrast in shapes between their trimmed, arched manes and the abundance of the rest of their hair! The client and I spent days just in discussing, sketching drafts, and in-person direction while sculpting... just the hair! I am in the "less is more" camp when it comes to hair in horse sculpture. I feel that the hairdo can completely change or distract from the message of the animal. To push me outside of what I'd normally do, it took intensive, albeit good-natured, art directing. On top of that, I had to keep double-checking that my horse's body still had integrity, independent of his 'do.

Looking at the outline and negative space around his mane, it reminds me of Van Gogh sunflowers.

Once the hair was done, I went back and improved the horse. I started this sculpt earlier this year. He spent a short summer vacation with the client for hands-on review. This was a great rest for my eye. When he came home, I saw so much to alter. His face, which I had earlier felt was ideal for his message, needed work in gender characteristics, Spanish stock traits, and overall tightening of the flesh. He was too "lippy" before, as if he had more draft in his background than Spanish. Cute gave way to realism.

I am now battling my perception of pose versus camera angles. Because his head is coming towards the camera, it looks too large in this photo. However, it is measured exactly in proportion with his bones. He is also in a very athletic pose, sliding to a halt, rolling back, maybe even a flying lead change. Every muscle he has is tensed and his sacro-lumbar joint is flexed, tummy tucked. This compression of form, this mass of flesh changing and lobbing through space, had me second-guessing his back length. Any longer, and he'll have foal-bearing back length, considering how his spine is engaged. Cameras are both a curse and an indispensable tool.

I really enjoyed making his bare feet. I pulled up files from memory to make them. My Fjord's vet also trimmed their feet, as they were a barefoot breed and he liked working with them. The first time, he explained the bare foot technique, taken from observing feral Mustang hooves. The client wanted good solid hooves, no cracks, rings, or disease, so I put my Fjords' hooves on this sculpt.

I dug up some Mustang action photo references for each quarter of his body. What I really love about crunchy poses like this are the flesh wrinkles and rolls. Those stifles are buried in his sides! Even the fleshy stretchmarks on his lower rear say, "Action!"

Here is his unfinished side. The major head reworks made his throat crack under the pressure. I have to redo that whole area of this side, anyways. It looks smooth like my finished sculpts, true. This is considered a bad habit among commercial sculptors. I used to get hassled a lot in my apprenticeships for always "working clean" in the midst of sculpting. I can't bear smears and pills while I'm evaluating and actively working surfaces. I use a shorthand on my hard-media sculpts to remind myself of what to fix. It is very easy to get wrapped up in one area and forget things that bothered my eye earlier. My notation on his gaskin means, "cut here and shorten" (hatches mean, "remove media"). It looks like a lot to take away, but re-attachment of a leg means more bonding material between, so it won't actually be terribly short on completion.

One thing I like about both sides of his body is how his muscles ripple together; it's all low-relief, no gouges.

I have been battling with horse chest shapes for years. It's one of those conformation features that are highly subjective among horse people, and also varies dramatically by breed, age, and body condition. Photo references alone for this area can be perfectly useless, depending on lighting and how the animal is swinging its elbows. This time, I went back to a favorite anatomy book with unshaded line drawings and paired those with Mustang photos. There was much reworking, cutting, and sanding, but eventually, the synthesis occurred.

Getting back on the subject of mud... I am a collector of ceramics, and my collection works for its keep. I regularly pull vintage Maureen Love pieces out of the cabinet for reference while sculpting my own work. There is so much to learn about drafting sculpts for molding, just in looking at castings of her work. For this sculpt, I referred to Daisy, Maverick, and Sun Cortez. These pieces also give me a preview of how surfaces shrink and rise under the glaze. I consider the ceramics that have gone before to be a launchpad to the next level. We artists must keep pushing beyond what we previously thought possible.

Studying vintage ceramics has also taught me how to cope with the changes my sculptures go through when interpreted to slipcast forms. The hollow and solid parts of the castings shrink at different rates, which very subtly alters the look from the original. I can't wait to see how this sculpt will look in its ceramic version, with a detailed glaze finish. The colors are dazzling in my mind's eye!