Whenever I talk about sculpting, I tend to mention one of the best tools for growing as a sculptor- critiquing. Even the best among us is not above it; we all fall into traps set by our own brains*, and critique is one way out of them. Self critique is an important first step in the critiquing process, and I'm working on it more and more, in an effort to push myself as a sculptor. I want to grow more in my own knowledge, in figuring out what is correct and incorrect anatomically (those 'aha' moments!), rather than relying on others to do the 'dirty work' for me. I do feel fresh eyes are good for one's pieces, but I want to get my pieces as far along as I can before I subject them to other eyes! Self critique is also a good technique for those who have limited access to other artists eyes and opinions. Let's move forward with some ways to look at your horse in a different light, all on your own!
Idea One: Mirror, Mirror
In drawing, many know that holding your piece up to a mirror can give you a new perspective, and help you to see flaws that were previously eluding you. The same can be done with a sculpture. In fact, if you'd like a fancier, more helpful way to do this, I highly recommend taking a picture with a digital camera, and flipping it horizontally with a program like Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements (for any serious artist out there, I find having at least Photoshop Elements is invaluable! ). Things begin to pop up, when you can analyze your work backwards!
Idea Two: Photographing for Symmetry
Along the line of mirror imaging, you can easily snap photos of the the two sides of your horse for symmetry comparisons. Say you want to compare the sides of the face- snap & bring them up side-by-side on your computer- presto! Instant comparison fodder. This can also be done with other areas, depending on your horse's pose.
Idea Three: Trace the Face
If you have photo editing software with the layers feature, you may find this idea a help. First off- it is by no means a perfect solution to anatomy problems; there are a lot of factors to consider- angle of the original photo, breed type and position, camera distortion, etc. That said, it is good for general help. What I'm talking about is comparing a photo of your sculpture to a real horse photo. If you don't have fancy software, just bringing up a pic of your sculpt alongside a pic of a real horse in a similar pose can be a big help. If you do have the means, a little bit of tracing can reveal new insights.
I'm currently working on "Adagio" a rearing (Levade) horse of historical Lipizzaner type. In working on his muzzle, I've looked at many different pictures of horses in this pose, focusing on their noses. I've chosen one here (an older, historic photo, that I've tweaked a bit), for my starting point. I'll probably use this technique on a few more photos as I move along, to get different ideas of how my horse's muzzle should be.
It's a fairly simple process. I take the real horse photo, and trace the important features that I see, onto a new (top) layer. That layer gets copied, and placed on top of a picture of my sculpture, in a similar angle.
From there, I can compare Adagio to one version of a real horse. Note- important differences may exist between your real horse photo, and your sculpture. For example, I really liked the nostril on this real horse, but I realize that its mouth is slightly open, due to the bit- something my sculpture won't have! I will take that into account, as I continue sculpting.
All in all, this technique can provide suggestions, but unless a real human mind is constantly analyzing all of the factors, sculpting purely from traced photos would give you a fairly warped horse in the end! The technique is all about having an idea for a new direction, and then going from there.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, we have:
Idea Four: The Real Deal
This step is the one, sadly, I am most guilty of under-utilizing. It is getting out there and spending time with real horses of the breed you are trying to sculpt! Or at least, a similar breed, if you are doing something rarer. Nothing beats the epiphanies you can have when studying horses live. Not just taking reference photos, which is good, but sketching, analyzing different angles; even grooming is a great learning tool, if the situation allows. Yeah, I need to get off my butt and call one or two Lippizan ranches!
Okay! There you have it- some ideas to push yourself, and your art. If you have any self critique ideas of your own that you'd like to share here, please feel free to do so in the comment section! It is always good to try to lift each other up, as artists.
Oh, and by the by, in case you are wondering just how small Adagio is (and how crazy I am!), here you go:
Yeah, I need to trim my nails!
*I sometimes wonder if my brain is trying to be more efficient with its tendency towards generalization, or if its simply lazy...?