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