Category Archives: Tips, Tricks, and Tutorials

Creative Spraying

Most models have a good handle- their tail sticks out, or they have a base, or something else easy to hold while priming, fixativing, or painting. But sometimes you have to get creative.

When my main projects are drying or otherwise on hold, I’ve been working on some of Maggie Bennett‘s awesome micro mini resins. They are super fun and I enjoy painting them in acrylics.

My current project is Maggie’s sleeping resin, Kahlua.

Because of her size and her pose, Kahlua doesn’t have a great handle. I needed to spray her initial layers with fixative, so I decided to get creative. The advantage to her pose is that she has a large area that won’t be seen- her belly and bottom.

So I grabbed my trusty dremel, picked just the right bit, and caaaarefully made a hole in her belly.

The drill bit I used was chosen to match the size of a toothpick. And thus…

Micro on a stick!

I made sure she was firmly on there…

…and then took her outside for an all-over spray of Dull Cote. Then I simply planted her stick in a glob of playdoh.

Easy peasy! She’s drying safely on the shelf next to her buddy Hazel, who also got a layer of fixative.

Hurrah! This will make the rest of my work on Kahlua much easier.

Freeing Hazel

Morgan Kilbourns Mini Hazel resin is cast with a base, which I am removing as part of this commission. She now has an acrylic rod in her front hoof to provide stabilization.

Removing a resin from an attached base is a time consuming process. It’s not terribly difficult, although I do recommend that you only attempt something like this if you are also confident doing small repairs and minor resculpting. Unless you have a way steadier hand than I do, you’ll inevitably end up having to resculpt a bit of hoof or fill in a gouge somewhere.

Hazel before- securely attached to her resin base.

Generally something like this would be done in the sculpting and prepping stage, so the resin would be blank. Here I’m doing it with the paint job largely done, so I’ll need to protect the finish. Even on a blank resin, these kinds of precautions can help keep your horse safe while you work on it.

I wrapped Hazel in several layers of cotton and then fleece, leaving only her back hooves exposed. I used rubber bands to loosely hold the fabric on while I worked.

For the next step, I got out my trusty dremel. I wanted to cut through the thick base around the hooves to get the bulk of the resin off before I worked more closely to the hooves. For something like this I often use a large drill bit and use it to gnaw sideways through the resin. A round cutting bit- especially a diamond bit- will also work.

A key thing to keep in mind with something like this is that you want to keep as much stress as possible off the parts you’re keeping- in this case, the legs. I was careful to hold the legs still to minimize the amount of vibrations from the dremel. This prevents weakening the important bits.

After some quality time with the drill bit, I had taken off the front chunk of the base and the middle bit, leaving little stumps under the hooves.

Now I switched to a diamond cutting bit (pictured above) and very carefully cut away the bulk of the stump, leaving a few millimeters of resin under the hoof. Again, be sure to hold the hoof stable and only let the dremel shake the part it’s slicing off.

You can see in the photo above that- like many resins- Hazel was cast with wire in her legs for stability. The wires go all the way into the base. As I cut away the bulk of the resin, I also had to avoid the wires. Once the resin was cut away, I snipped the wires down as far as possible.

Once both hooves were resting on just a bit of resin, I sat down with my carbide scrapers, needles files, sandpaper, and an exacto knife. I used the knife to cut through the thin resin around the hoof. As I got closer to the hooves, I switched to the carbide scrapers and sandpaper to remove excess resin without damaging the sculpted parts. I used the needle files to shave down the rest of the armature wire. Slowly I got the hooves reshaped and flat.

The last step was to add the acrylic rod to the front hoof so Hazel can balance. For this I used a small drill bit about the same size as my acrylic (1/16 inch). I carefully drilled straight up into the hoof, trying to go as far as possible without coming out the top (inevitably I failed, and had to patch the top of the hoof). Then I estimated the length of acrylic needed, cut a generous piece, and inserted it into the hoof. Then you just need to use the needle files and/or sandpaper to adjust the length, and glue the acrylic into it’s final position.

Ready to roll!

All done! Now I just need to give her a bath to get the resin dust off, and I can move on to more painting!

Breakneck Steed

Changing the headset or head position of an OF horse is a great way to make something fun and new. But that means resculpting the neck, which I find very difficult. Inevitably I end up sculpting, destroying, and resculpting a neck at least once before I get something I’m happy with. My latest project was no different.

My first attempt at this neck sculpt was marred by several silly failures that I should have avoided from the get-go. I was so excited to have studio time (and inspiration!) that I didn’t take the time I should have to get organized for success.

You know how when you are first learning to canter and your school horse won’t canter, you keep kicking and get that crazy super-speed trot and then if you can finally get the canter, it’s bumpy and wacky and barely lasts a quarter of the arena? It’s kind of like that. How many times have I heard my trainer telling the kids at the barn to get an organized trot before asking for the canter? It’s sound advice, and I wish I’d applied it to this project.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 4.56.04 PM

I don’t have a before picture of the first neck, but I did sort of document my corrections and the renaissance.

The first silly mistake was not taking the time to get just the right reference picture. Since my horse is a draft cross, it was important to find a reference horse with similar heavy-ish features. This mare is my next performance horse, so I wanted her to be on the bit, but not with the vertical profile you see in some dressage horses. Finally, my model is standing, so I should have a reference with a standing horse.

This was my first reference, a lazy find:

josie_1_large

After the initial failure, I took the time to find a better reference:

SIDE_HALT

Much better! This is a much better picture to work from for my project.

The second problem with my first try is that I had been lazy with my initial dremeling. Sure, I’d removed the head from the neck and the neck from the body, but I’d left residual plastic on both pieces that didn’t jive with my vision. Bits of the jaw, forelock, and chest remained which were both distracting and difficult to work around. With something as finicky as a neck, you want things as neat as possible so you can better judge the shapes.

Extra crud

Extra crud

As a note, I do like to leave the ears on an OF when I’m resculpting the neck, even if I plan to replace the ears (as I do here). They provide a good visual reference while you get the head where you want it. You can always hack the ears off later.

After finding my better reference photo, removing the extra plastic, and re-psyching myself up for the neck, I set about building the basic shape using wire and foil, secured with super glue and baking soda. As I worked, I continually compared my model to the reference picture.

2015-12-28 17.58.50

You can see above how much easier the neck shape is to visualize now that the excess plastic on the throatlatch, chest, etc. has been removed. I also made sure that the armature is only that, an armature- I want to leave plenty of space in which to add epoxy- I don’t want to be sculpting away and suddenly hit my solid armature.

When I was finally happy with the armature shape, I wrapped the horse in paper towel and blue tape (sometimes I use foil and blue tape, it just depends on what I have close at hand). I tend to get epoxy goo everywhere when I sculpt something, so I cover up the smooth bits of the horse to prevent a bunch of extra sanding and prepwork later.

2015-12-28 19.22.21

And finally, with the proper groundwork laid down, it was time to sculpt. I follow Laura Skillern’s recommend method of laying down blobs for each major muscle, and then blending. It’s a handy way to get a headstart on the shapes you want. From there it’s all blending and smooshing and blending and smoothing. I looooove my clay shapers for this step.

Happily, my preparation paid off. My horse has a neck, and she gets to keep it this time.

current state

 

Repairin’ for Erin: reattaching broken parts

I wrote this post this summer and forgot about it… oops!

Another victim from Erin’s shelf is a cute, floppy earred BHR slider who was destined to be a performance horse. Unfortunately, he suffered a couple breaks and has been wrapped up for several years. Handily I am pretty confident fixing basic breaks like this, so I snagged him and brought him home to fix.

BHR slider - before

Thank goodness the broken pieces were still with him!

To repair the broken leg and tail, I went with my usual technique– just adjusted a bit for the specifics of a BHR resin. Black Horse Ranch horses are traditional sized and made of solid resin- they are heavy. The tail and foot repairs needed to be strong enough to support his body.

The first thing I did is mark where I want to drill holes to thread my connecting wire. I mostly eyeballed it on the foot, but I did measure a bit on the tail to make sure the bottom would be level.

BHR slider - marking to drillNext I got out my handy dremel drill bits and selected a good size. I wanted to make large holes to accommodate a large wire- and at this scale that wasn’t difficult. I also made a point to go nice and deep into the pieces so that the wire would have a lot of length on either side to hold things securely.

BHR slider - drilling foot

BHR slider - drilling tail

Once the holes were drilled, I twisted wire together to make an extra strong, extra thick strand. Using the magic of baking soda and super glue, I fixed the wire strand into each of the loose broken pieces.

BHR slider - attaching wire

Then I carefully filled the corresponding hole with super glue, pushed the wire in, and held the piece in until the glue fixed it in place.

BHR slider - pieces reattached

At this point I checked and the fixes were holding well under the full weight of the body. So far so good!

Since the pieces didn’t go together perfectly (something to improve on next time- I think bigger holes to fit the wire into might help…) I needed to fill some gaps with epoxy.

I tend to get epoxy everywhere, so first I covered most of the horse so I’d have a safe place to hold. With stablemates I usually use plastic wrap, but for this big guy I just used a plastic bag.

BHR slider - protection for epoxy

Carefully I pushed epoxy into the gaps in the break, doing my best to smooth it down nicely. On the tail, I followed the lines of the hair texture so the fix wouldn’t be obvious.

BHR slider - foot with epoxy

After the epoxy dried, I did some careful sanding to make sure it was perfectly smooth.

Finally, I painted the epoxy to match the white around it. Like most white areas, this took a lot of layers to get smooth and solid, but it was worth it.

BHR slider - paint layers

Slowly but surely, the repaired areas started to disappear. And voila!

BHR slider - after

Mr. BHR Reiner is back on his feet, literally, and ready to pursue his destiny in the performance ring.

 

 

 

Repairin’ for Erin: Straightening a Bent Leg

My friend Erin is a dedicated and accomplished hobbyist. Among other things, she is a committed and skillful performance shower…

English Performance Champion at Breyerfest 2013

English Performance Champion at Breyerfest 2013

…and makes top quality western tack:

Pleasure saddle made in 2014

Pleasure saddle made in 2014

Erin has been wonderfully generous with her knowledge, helping me learn about working with leather and improve my performance entries. So I was excited to find an opportunity to me to use my skills to help her out in kind.

Although Erin’s short foray into oil painting was pretty successful, she doesn’t do any customizing or repairs herself. Being a clumsy person, I’ve inevitably learned to repair models. Earlier this month I was visiting Erin and found several horses to kidnap and repair. I figured I could do some mini tutorials as I went.

The first horse in need is a OF Stablemate Arabian Mare who was formerly a part of Erin’s mini show string. Alas, Miss Pinto has been staying home since she developed a bent foreleg.

Ouch! That can't be comfortable.

Ouch! That can’t be comfortable.

Bent legs are a relatively common problem in plastic models and can be caused by heat, pressure or a combination of the two. You can prevent bent legs by protecting your horses from extreme temperatures (e.g. never leaving them in a hot car) and packing them carefully for any transport.

Fixing a bent leg on a show quality model follows the same general practice as bending a leg while customizing- only you need to be much more careful about the finish. Overheating an area can cause the plastic to bubble.

To make this repair, you’ll need a heat gun, a wide bowl of cool water (big enough to dunk your horse into), and something to protect your hands while you shift the leg. I use an old pair of thick socks. The plastic will be hot when you touch it, and you will burn yourself without something over your skin. Trust me.

Curious cats are optional but encouraged.

Curious cats are optional but encouraged.

The key to this is to take your time. With your hand protection on, turn on the heat gun and wave it back and forth slowly over the bent leg, keeping the gun about 3/4″-1″ away from the horse to prevent damaging the finish. Move the gun so that every side of the leg gets heat. Bends are generally going to happen between joints. Pinpoint the place you need to manipulate to fix it, and aim to get that whole area warm.

Erins Arab Mare - heating area

The red block shows where I’m aiming the heat for this fix

After a minute or so, gently try to bend the leg back into the correct place. If it doesn’t move easily, heat it a bit more and try again. Once you’ve got the leg in the position you want, dunk it into the bowl of water. That cools the leg and (hopefully) keeps it in the new position.

Erins Arab Mare - cooling

Once the leg is moved some, check your horse again. Is further bending needed?

Frances is skeptical

Frances is skeptical

If the leg is being stubborn, heat and move it again. Something you have to do this a couple times to get it right, as the leg naturally wants to move back into the bent position. Be firm, and show the leg who’s boss… but gently and slowly, so as not to damage the finish.

The final result: showable once again!

The final result: showable once again!

With only about ten minutes of fiddling, this mare now has a straightened leg. She’s ready to go back out on the show table!

 

Timely Tack Tutorials

So I’ve had blogging on my to-do list all week and failed to check it off… I shall strive for betterment in that department. Meanwhile, other bloggers are sharing brilliant tips that I am carefully cataloging for future use.

I have been keeping my tutorials page more or less up to date, and trying to organize and list all of the best model horse tutorials out there. Two of my most recent additions are particularly awesome and deserve special notice.

The first is a DIY English stirrup tutorial from Ebb&Flow Studio. This tutorial is both simple and brilliant. The finished products look realistic and lovely, and are made out of simple materials that most hobbyists probably already have on hand.

I both rejoiced and cursed inwardly when I first read this tutorial- it was only a week or so earlier that I finally caved and bought cast stirrups! I am going to NAN this coming year (more on that in future posts!) and I need a new English set for Nightfox. I’ve been making my own stirrups, but I decided to pull out all the stops for my NAN debut. (After re-reading Dreamflite Design’s stirrups review, I went with the Horsing Around ones). But I definitely plan to use the Ebb&Flow tutorial for future projects!

Nightfox in English at NW Congress. Lots of things to improve before NAN!

Nightfox in English at NW Congress. Lots of things to improve before NAN!

The second tutorial that rocked my world this week is from Grace Ledoux (Stage Left Studios) by way of Anna Kirby of Dreamflite Design. Back in 2012, Anna wrote a lovely little tutorial about cutting lace for mini tack. She showed how she used double sided tape and a metal ruler to get very thin, very straight lace pieces. At the time, I was not making much tack and was not that motivated towards this kind of perfection. My loss!

I’ve struggled in past tack projects with getting nice pieces of lace, especially getting consistent widths of narrow lace appropriate for mini tack. When I saw Grace’s lovely thin straps at Sweet Onion, I was re-inspired and she said that Anna’s method was the secret to her lace. Then, last week, she posted a video tutorial showing the method.

I am so looking forward to using this method for my next tack project! Teeny beautiful straps will be mine!

Lovely wee straps on a Stage Left Studios bridle

Lovely wee straps on a Stage Left Studios bridle

 

Planning Pintos

I have a new tool for planning pinto patterns and marking that I wanted to share with you all. Some of you may have caught a peek in my last post.

Consulting my notes while working on details

Consulting my notes while working on details

One of my current commissions is a pinto drafter. I had gathered reference pictures for his pattern, but none of the same horse. As is often the case, I needed to do some sketching to make a pinto pattern that combined two references into one realistically-marked horse.

My reference photos

My reference photos

I decided to look around online to find a horse outline that I could use to sketch the patterns onto. I was stoked to find this image on the UK’s government site.

pinto pattern blank

Click to enlarge

It’s meant to draw detailed pictures of your horse’s identifying marks for a Horse Passport, which makes it perfect for me uses. I modified it slightly, printed it out, and then used a pencil to sketch in the patterns.

NASD pinto planning

Now I can see where I need to adjust the reference horse pattern to fit together nicely. I’ll do my base chestnut coat first, and this drawing will guide me as I map out the pinto markings. I’m excited to have found this so I have a blank to use whenever I’m planning complex markings. And it was great to use for Ducky since I was trying to match a specific horse’s marking exactly.

And speaking of Ducky… he’s all done and wrapped up to go home :)

Ducky - front

I added his pictures to my Bay & Black gallery. I also added some better pictures of recent customs to their respective galleries. I’m looking forward to painting and posting more ponies soon!