Sunday, March 11, 2012


Money is a big part of the game in our hobby. One must purchase *something* in order to do anything at all, whether it' collecting, crafting, or showing. It's also a bit of a hot topic, being the root of several dramas, from squabbles amongst jealous showers and "overpriced" artists to controversy among the major producing companies. Some feel it's bad form to even speak about. But the truth is, we're all just trying to make a living. The fine line between necessity and greed can be a hazy one, and everyone has their opinion of what it is.

Whenever someone asks me how much my customs are, I can't give a definite answer. My commissions are estimated based off of the work done to them (which includes levels of dificulty, how much was resculpted, time estimated to be spent on the piece etc.) Sales pieces are sold via offers, so they are worth whatever someone is willing to pay, as it is with any piece of art, and are thus a purely indiviual basis.

This can be effected by how much the idea speaks to a prospective buyer (want), how that person or market is doing in general (funds available), and who else is trying to bid on the same piece (competition). One can also argue what's considered correct and considered more likely to win/catch the eye in the ring (popularity) or the popularity of the artist's work is also a factor (name). So you can see it's so hard to guage what something is worth because of this... where do you even start?

For example: I have completed two CM Weather Girls with roughly the same amount of work done to them. One went almost double what the other one brought in. I have no idea why this is. One was repositioned into a dynamic sliding stop, a performance shower's dream that would stand out amongst the stock horses. The other was (in my opinion) a beautifully wild romping horse at liberty that truly captured the spirit of the Arabian.

Can you tell which is the more expensive custom?

Also, I don't normally reveal the final prices of my sold customs because I don't want it to be seen as bragging or use it as an example of "status." So many artists out there have been target of judgement, bitterness, or just plain rude behavior and snarky comments because of what they charge or how the treat this very subject.

I can't even begin to fathom how to make a price list. Some go by saying something like "$50 for moving a leg." Does a leg move mean just a "heat and bend" job? What if you need to resculpt some of it? Usually if you move a leg, it affects more muscles than the average person would think. Some require you resculpt muscles on an entire leg, all the way up the haunch! Is it still $50 then? How much more do you charge?

On the other hand, if you do say you will come up with an estimate, people begin to wonder if you're just asking to be paid whatever you want. How does an artist come up with a number? Too much and they're full of themself. Too little and they aren't getting what they deserve. It goes in such big circles and back n' forths, it makes one's head hurt! This is why, for sales pieces, I prefer to start with a price I wouldn't let it go for any less, and let the buyers themselves decide the price. Sometimes I get lucky, others not as much.

This guy went WAY higher than I ever dreamed!

People also often ask me how much a model has sold for. In my opinion, I find it rude for me to tout what someone paid for one of my pieces. It's their money and their business. It's for that reason I never reveal who bought or now owns my pieces. The new owner is welcome to disclose all of that information, I just find it in poor taste to do so myself, lest they get ridiculed for paying too much, or worse, are the target of sore losers or get bombarded by people asking to buy the piece off of them.

It's for this reason that most in the hobby still has no idea who won the infamous "Victrix" (Ah, you thought I would write a post on pricing in the hobby and not mention HER?). "The Victrix" (I'm sure she has a real show name by now) was a Carol Williams Victrix resin ( a Thoroughbred-type mare) painted the most dazzling and painstakeningly detailed Appaloosa by talented Australian artist Liz Shaw ( She spent nearly over a year creating her. From her hair-by-hair coat to her liquid eyes, she almost breathes.

She also brought in over $17,000 in her auction. No, that is not a typo.

Within a week, she became the most expensive model horse ever purchased in hobby history. Understandingly, her owner remained anonymous. Although the auction also donated half of it's proceeds to cancer charity, even if you cut her price in half she's still the most expensive model ever sold (ok, probably in the top 10). Many people have given the general opinion that it is an insane price, even though it is truly an amazing model with very few equals. It's not uncommon for someone to have spent a lot of money be given a lot of flak for it. A lot of people immediately went to the comparison that that kind of money could have been used for something like a real horse or car, for example.

Now I've thoroughly rambled on about several aspects on the subject, all of it in an effort to explain my price policies (and alternatively, why I don't reveal my prices.) What it comes down to is: A piece is only worth as much as a person is willing to pay for it. It's folly to try and guess what someone will pay and set a price. You're either going to sit on it for a long time or it gets snapped up so quick you begin to wonder if you set the bar too low. And when one's entire income and ability to pay rent next month is based on the next sale, they deserve to get what they can out of it in a timely manner. There are several options to do this, and this is what works best for me.

Friday, March 09, 2012

"How Do You DO This?!"

People have asked me quite often how I do certain things to achieve the results that I do. I figured it was a good opportunity to do a post about my process to shed some light on those who both are interested in my skills or who wish to try their own projects.

Now, this isn't going to be a complete how-to on how I do everything it is what I do (tutorials may come later for specific techniques) but this is just a general and semi-quick overview on how *I* work. Every artist has their own styles, tools, materiels, and motivations they use. And as they should! Not everyone's way is perfect for everyone. One must learn and discover what they feel most comfortable with. I've never trusted myself with an airbrush and I just plain don't like oils. And yet others in the hobby are positively *goddesses* with them. It just depends on what is best for the individual and their own trial and errors as they learn to master it.
For this post, I'll use an example piece to follow. In this case, I'll be using the Breyer Bluegrass Bandit mold (BGB, more specifically, Elvis's Bear).
Usually my process starts with looking at a model and trying to figure out what I *could* do with it. Some artists say the "horse speaks to them." I study it, holding it while watching TV, sitting it on my computer desk, looking over the muscles and lines, seeing what it could be (relatively) easy to turn into. Other times, I have an idea and I try to find a model that best suits to the idea. It all just depends on each situation.
Once I have my idea, it's time to look for a reference picture. Even if you have a specific idea in mind and can see clearly what you want, it's best to have a reference photo to help "back up" your idea in case anyone questions the model later (and usually, there will be).
In my case, I saw BGB as a Standarbred Pacer. Keep in mind this was NOT my intention when I first picked him up. Actually, I was staring at him to determine if I could use him to make into a trail mule for a commission. But like most ideas I get, something totally random just popped out at me! Thankfully, I had LOTS of photos from my trip to The Red Mile, a well known racetrack in downtown Lexington that hosts mostly harness racing meets.
Now that I have my reference photo for the pose, I got to work. I usually start by heating, bending and cutting with the help of a heat gun. In my case, I like the temperature and precision of my embossing tool, something you usually see in the scrapboook section at Arts & Crafts stores. I have, in the past, use a paint stripper found in most hardware stores (with 500 degrees Farenheit and 1000 degrees Farenheit settings) but have since found it heats up the plastic too quickly and causes it to scorch and bubble.
He looks a tad mad, doesn't he?

Sometimes things need to be reshaped and sanded. For that I use my trusty Dremel. I used to use a battery powered one, but even with multiple batteries and switching them out, I lost power often, sometimes as often as within 2 minutes of starting work! So investing in a good, plug-in model is my reccomendation so one can enjoy hours of destruction and fun!
After making all the moves and reshaping, there's nothing left to do but start building back up! For this I use my preferred artists's epoxy, Magic Sculpt. I have used Magic Sculpt for years since I first started back in 2001. I like it for it's nice smooth grain-free texture, clay-like workability. It binds to almost anything, blends like a dream, and smooths with just water.

As a two-part epoxy, it begins to cure chemically as soon as the two parts meet. Thankfully, it has a nice work time, getting progressively firmer with every hour. I can usually work with it well for up to 2-3 hours, taking advantage of it's firmness to add in some detail that would normally cut through it too harshly when it was more wet. It gets to be hard enough to handle within about 6 hours, hard enough to start some carving and sanding in 12 hours, and ready for anything in 18-24 (I like to give it a full 24 hours before I do anything major because before that point, it is still is fairly "soft" even though it's hard).
After sculpting muscles and reshaping and sanding with the Dremel and 340 grit sandpaper, I may do a few more stages of "epoxy runs" or whatever else I may catch. Then I primer and prep for paint.
I am not known for my painting skills, but I do try my best to do my models justice. My usual plan of attack is to do think, watered down layers of Liquitex Acrylic paint. Acrylic is great to use as it has little or no odor, thins with straight water, and drys quickly. I try to gently rub/paint each layer on and I seal with Testor's Dullcote between wach layer so as to not accidently scrape away the previous layer, and to also give the next layer some tooth. My base layer is much, much lighter than my goal color for the model, and I do this for a reason...
Once I am done with the base layer, I then use Earth Pigments and/or chalk pastels to do all my shading. Jaime Baker ( is a great teacher for this medium and I heartily encourage anyone who wants to know more to seek out her books, DVDs and tutorial CDs. Essentially, I put on the color like one would apply make-up: dusting and rubbing in the color .
This is also a layer stage, sealing with Testor's Dullcote between every layer so that the color can keep on gripping and building up. You will need another set of brushes, several in the same size, so that you don't mix colors. Also, it's impossible to clean Earth Pigments and pastels from brushes, and they will be destroyed fairly often, so feel free to use cheaper brushes.
For detailing, it's back to handpainted acrylics. Eyes, hooves and on occasion mane detail (especially for chestnuts). Seal with Testor's Dullcote and gloss the eyes and hooves with normal clear gloss nailpolish (you may need a smaller liner brush for small eyes) and boom, done!

Whew! It's a long process from start to end, it can take anywhere from a month to a year. But the results can be very rewarding.

The only thing left is selling your creation. Being able to distance yourself from your work is the first step, and it can be hard at times. There are several ways to sell. One can use eBay, Model Horse Sales Pages, Model Horse Exchange, Yahoo Groups, or create lotteries, offers, silent auctions, etc. from your Facebook Page or Website. My preferred method is to use Model Horse Sales Pages and do an auction-style Offers system, setting an end date for offers. I find this is most fair, reaches a wide audience, avoid eBay (which some buyers and sellers alike hate), and makes it easier for me to offer time payment plans.

Thank you for reading and I hope this was helpful to anyone curious about customizing!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Destruction is a Part of Creation

WARNING: the following images be be disturbing to some viewers... even though there is no actual flesh and bone gore, blood, or other icky things. Alternatively, the following may be greatly amusing for others. I have tried hard to refrain myself from using too much dark humor in an effort to not frighten my audience for fear that they'll stop talking *to* me and instead talk *about* me behind my back in hushed whispers and darting eyes.

I have come to realize that some may look at what I do and be slightly disturbed. The artistic process is not always pretty no matter what your medium, but non more-so than those who customize pre-existing models. The erie images of a seemingly alert and vital beloved animals with missing parts or dislocated appendages (such as heads) evokes feelings that horror movies spend millions of dollars to achieve.

One has to tread a fine line of imagining where muscles and bones would be so as to achieve understanding and correctness, while distancing themselves so that they don't take it so seriously when they're cutting heads, legs, backs and private parts. It's just part of the job to reshape and replace so that a piece can reach it's full potential. The path to get there however takes some curiouser and curiouser turns.
As one of my friends said... "SHOOT IT!"
I am mostly immune to everything I do by now. Yes it's fun to "pretend" you're a mad scientist and the supply of jokes never end as one plays with disembodied parts. The reality of it is: well, it *is* funny! But it is *PLASTIC.* Cellulos Acetate or Polyurethane Resin. They don't have feelings or genders or even species. Just shape. But in it's own twisted way, it's fun to assign these things to inanimate objects (it helps us connect with them later when they are finished and beautiful) just because humans are hardwired to take things a part to figure out what makes them tick. It also is a great outlet for frustrations. No greater therapy than that!

However, every time a head is whacked off, someone inevitably makes a joke about it being used as a homage to The Godfather. And you look at this picture and you tell me that it doesn't make you giggle just a little bit and remind you of someone doing the funky chicken.
Don't worry, I fixed her and she became something quite beautiful:
Granted, not all models get to become the glory of what they once were or could have been. But those pieces do serve a greater purpose: they teach. Each piece I start is just like it was my first. I have to plan and figure out how to do each step for what will help that model. I will say when I first started, I thought this business was positively easy! I could whip up a custom in an afternoon, how fun! But as I began to take on knowledge, my models started looking worse and worse. Take this Proud Arabian Mare as an example:
Oh yes. This was a model I did. The neck is atrociously long! And if you can believe it, I have done even far worse before, I just don't have pictures on my computer anymore. You can tell it's old by the bad image quality, back when digital cameras were just starting to be a "really big thing." I sold her unfinished I think, and the only reason I have a picture of it is because I found it on some random "let's make fun of these fugly models" site. Considering when I *did* post this online the first time I was looking for critiques, I do feel slightly hurt that someone would steal it to make fun of it secretly instead of constructively criticizing for my benefit. Looking at her now, I do cringe, but take comfort in the fact I do better now.

Now, people have asked me if any of this stuff DOES distrub me. Well, there is one...
This was to be a pissed off mare going to bite a heardmate while she kicked another. This model scared me for two reasons: 1.) I slipped while trying to carve off her forlock and sliced my finger open DEEP, a distinct scar I still bear to this day. 2.) Her open mouth. I don't care how correct it is to do this (as the hinge of the jaw is far up on a horse's head) but that gaping crocodile mouth gives me the willies. It ALWAYS looks wrong and even after you patch it up, it doesn't look normal again until you get primer on it and hide the lines of the cut. I eventually sold her as is. I magine this is how other non-model, non-artist types view any chopping up I do.
All in all though, I wouldn't give this up for the world and I feel so blessed I was granted a sight that I can vizualize what a piece will become and not what it is. Not everyone can look at something so mutilated and know that it will be all right in the end, one just has to be patient.

Monday, March 05, 2012

How It All Began

Not every artist or horse lover remembers when they first started down the path of their passion. That's because it's such a natural and deep love, that it usually occured or grew from the moment they could comprehend such things. For this reason, I myself cannot recall that moment, all I know is I liked the horses in my books and movies. I do remember I tried to draw them (usually *in* my books) in bulbous baseball-bat-heads.

The author's recreation of her former artistic style.
I will say, my mother tolerated the blatant vandalism of my books whether I doodled just inside the covers or just added horses into the story (did you know Peter Pan rode a horse into battle with Captain Hook? ;) Though I'm sure she wished I hadn't. I don't remember being scolded very badly about it at any rate. I think she finally just accepted that whatever I got in my hands was going to be given my own particular flair.

I *DO* remember however, the first time I wanted to learn how to draw better. I was maybe 5 years old, doodling on a pad of paper like a good girl in the back seat of the car while Mom was driving around doing errands. We stopped at the drugstore (where I usually begged for the cheap-o toys silly toys like wind-up animals and toy phones that beeped) so Mom decided I should wait in the car while she ran in to do her business.

"Draw a horse for me," she said. "But mom, I don't know how! Can you show me?"

So Mom took the notebook and took the time to draw a pretty darn good horse (I thought at the time) for me to copy. It was perhaps little better than a stick horse, but she use to be artistic and love horses like Roy Roger's Trigger. I sat quietly and did my best to follow her example.

My mother was also very instrumental in pushing me to do better. Whereas some parents would grit their teeth and smile and say how absolutely wonderful the nonsense scribbles on their child was, Mom was brutal! I remember drawing a picture of her and proudly presented it, a token of my love and affection for my momma.
"You gave me a pig nose!!! I do not have a pig nose!"

Ok, I'll admit it, I felt slighty crushed (and let's be fair here, I'm a short little kid at this time, when I looked up at adults, all I saw was something round and two nostrils!) But I went back and tried again. Not perfect of course, but Mom liked it much better. She kept up with the attitude however, not allowing me to get away with something I traced as being my own work. She always knew I could do better. Without her, I surely wouldn't be the artist I would be today.
One of my favorite drawings I did in High School.
Obviously needed to learn more about muscling...

I eventually got a little better with drawing. I did it often, sketching in class (to the frustration of every Math teacher I've ever had) as I would try to create dream horses, both thinking it was the best I had ever drawn and yet not thinking it was good enough. I wowed fellow students, and yet probably drove every art teacher I had to drink. I wanted to do my own thing and not always the asignment given. When I did do the work, it always involved a horse or it just did not get done. All this potential and I just puttered around.

I totally wasn't blind to instruction. For years I drew what was in my head, the images and spirit of horses. But I still needed to learn to draw what I saw. That epiphany was knocked into my head by one of my high school Art teachers Mrs. Eyster. She told me to look at my reference, to truly LOOK at it and try to recreate the lines, shapes, and soul. Of all the copying I ever did that helped me become the artist I was, I forgot to look at the source. Oh sure, I had tried to draw photos before, but I hadn't really looked at them. I have never to this day done a "grid" but somehow I finally connected what was the right way to go about this.

One of my rare colored pieces. Still not amazing but I was so proud at the time.

Drawing has dropped to the wayside for me. Sometimes I'll sketch a mane or particuarly difficult leg muscle group to geta feel of what I need to do in 3-D, but flat art has never been my true passion or talent. It did take a while for sculpture to sink in, and even longer for painting something 3-D to not look flat: just because you have a surface to help with shading doesn't mean it does all the work.

I would like to thank so many people who helped develop my most treasured skill. My art teachers throughout the years (Mrs. Shaffer, Mrs. Eyster, Mr. Griffis) the poor teachers who put up with my doodling in class when I should have been paying attention to isolese triangles or when the British invaded (7th grade science teacher Mr. Wertz actually grabbed my notebook and flung it across the room in the middle of class.... but returned it later with a note and smiley-face stickers, telling me to keep up the good work, just not in his class, lol!)

And of course, the one who influenced, suported, shaped and cheered me on since the begining: my Mother. It's rare to get a parent who understands and does the right balance or letting a kid walk on their own and knows when to bring that kid back to earth.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Some people in the hobby may remember I dropped off the face of the planet for a few years. This post is to bring them up to speed (as well as test doing multiple photos and such to get a hang of this here fandagled blogg stuff!)

I am originally from Indiana and recently moved to Kentucky. I moved to Kentucky for several reasons. First and foremost it was for the horses. After growing up horse crazy (drawing, learning as much as I could, hanging out with horses at any opportunity) I suddenly found myself "in the real world." My plans to go to college for Equine Studies dashed due to poor math grades, I resigned myself to having a "normal" life without horses.

It sucked.

Working at a Wal-Mart as a cashier and produce associate, playing video games, not having many close friends who I had things in common with began to take it's toll. I was unhappy. I had no purpose. It was a fairly dark time for me as I experienced first boyfriends, betraying roomates, and trying to make ends meet.

My art suffered, I neither worked nor desired to work on anything. It had been that way for years. Between trying to figure out what do do with my life, and my fear of not achieving the kind of perfection demanded for quality pieces I would be proud to put my name on, my heart just wasn't in it.

Then I got the most glorious news! A program I had applied for, gotten in to, but was canceled, once again becamke available! The Professional Horseman's Course at the Kentucky Horse Park. I didn't even think twice, I immedately reapplied and started making plans to move.

I have never been happier.

A beautiful misty Kentucky morning outside Fasig-Tipton
A Freisian and his rider warm up for a show at the Kentucky Horse Park

Little John of Sherwood, a Belgian gelding, naps in his cooler.

I found my inspiration, my soul, my life. Horses everywhere, people who knew so much about them, who were willing to share with me. Different types, disciplines, breeds, colors, I was immersed in the amazing beauty and truth that horses can provide a living. And I even have freinds who "understand" my passion! People who I've only known for a year are now my best friends in the whole world and I would trust them with anything.

While I still haven't pinpointed a stable job (no pun intended), I do know that right now, I don't want to live anywhere else. I'm doing what I can to keep the dream alive. And right now, that means customizing model horses. It's a job that truly makes me happy and I wouldn't want to do anything else. Hopefully it can support me enough so I can stay.

I've tried taking on real barn jobs, but my body fails me every time, it's just a matter of when. My back, my feet... loosing weight would help tremendously, but that's a struggle I've tried, won, and lost so many times, even with an active lifestyle and smart eating choices. I accept the fact that I will most likely be large the rest of my life. I will, of course, constantly keep trying, but until then, I will enjoy and be grateful for the life I have now.

Construction Zone (Or, Should I say DE-Construction Zone?)

I have noticed a lot of artists using blogs more and more lately. I use my Facebook page ( for most of my updates and musings, but I thought I would dust off this old blog I made ages ago for an college class and redirect it's purpose. I'm not sure yet how much I plan to actually use it, or if I will make it a resource for how-to details. We'll just see how it progresses...