Friday, December 18, 2015

Beware the Reference Photo: Trusting the Eye of the Digital Age

Reference photos are by the far the most valuable tool we have as artists. They show us how a horse is actually formed, what color they are, and the details of what every muscle fiber is doing at the moment that shutter snaps...

Or does it?

Recently, I found this picture of Windemere Farm's "Bentley" kicking up his heels in the paddock, having a grand time! but something looked off.

A young Percheron stallion showing off his athleticism, wee!

If you see, his one hind leg is FULLY extended, to the extreme of it's ability without going the opposite direction that it was intended (what would be called Hyper-extension, which you *can* find in racehorses on occasion.)

Notice how there's a convex curve on the front of the front, weight-bearing leg. It's hyper-extending to the point
where the forearm's humerus and the canon bone are no longer in line with each other

But the curious thing about the picture of Bently is that while his hind leg is fully extended, his hindquarters (butt) looks to be bunching up, the stifle starting to tuck in closer to the body. Sure, Percherons only have so much range of motion and he has a certain conformation, but this just looks off... as if he was a "bad" custom of someone who didn't take into account the entire mechanics of a horse's leg from pelvis to hoof. That stifle should be further from his body at that point. It's subtle, but still doesn't look "right."

So what's going on?

In short: distortion. In the digital age we live in, cameras are more readily available available; you likely have one in your pocket right now on your cell phone. The thing about cellphones and more compact cameras is that there's not a lot of room for a lot of extra or conventional features. That's why you get the "fish-eye" effect where the edges seem stretched, so that you can fit more in the frame at a short distance (Selfies!) But there's also another problem... (watch this video!)

Also, check out Vsauce on Youtube, AWESOME videos that make you think!

The rolling shutter means that one happened on one side of the frame may not have *exactly* happened at the other side of the frame. So in the case of a millisecond event like a SWIFT, strong kick, something may not exactly add up the way it ACTUALLY happened at that point. Kinda like taking a panorama shot when someone moves, but in a much smaller frame of time.

That's how stuff like THIS happens! Ahhhh!!!

You also can kind of see that this is what's happening with Bentley's picture because of this small area here:

That little light spot looks exactly like the background sky, and yet it's over the other hock? That's because that other leg was moving too, and in its time, it moved into and out of view from behind his haunch. In short, his hind legs were moving VERY fast! SO fast, the camera couldn't keep up!

So the moral of the story is: not all reference pictures are created equal. Be careful using such a picture as an example of "Well, it happened in this picture!" Cell phone cameras in particular are notorious for not telling the whole, or even the correct story. That's a big reason of why I prefer a good SLR. It gets the whole story, the right time, the first time.

Now same could be said for using a picture as a reference for a color. Be aware of if the photo looks too warm (red) or cool (blue). People adjust saturation all the time (Guilty!) to make colors pop and sharpen contrast. Our eyes like to see images like this:

Photo by Manu Sharma of Marwari colt Tofan

But in reality, it's likely not near as dramatic

More real-to-life color, but still a BEAUTIFUL rose grey!

So be skeptical, Question what you see if it's particularly breathtaking, consider the (camera) source or the fact it may have been edited (especially from a professional photographer).

Friday, August 21, 2015

State of the Studio 2015

It's been a long silence from me... so much has happened in the last year. Not much new has come out of the studio in the last year and well, I don't think anyone could blame me, but I feel I must share. So here's a recap:

First, in October, after many months of waiting, my mother received a liver and kidney transplant. The roller coaster of her recovery was considerable, and news would filter in on occasion with breakthroughs and setbacks. Being broke and in Kentucky while she was in Indianapolis meant that I couldn't visit her often (and really, shouldn't due to her suppressed immune system), and for a long time she was unable to speak due to the tubes. Every call I got from my family created a sinking feeling that this was "the call." Skype helped us to connect, but it wasn't perfect.

It was around this time (including one being posted publicly while I visited my mother the weekend after her surgery) that several people alerted me about some of my models having problems: epoxy lifting, stickiness, etc. Stuff that I work very hard to actively avoid. I make each model to the best of my ability, armed with all the knowledge that I currently know to prevent such disasters. The fact I had failed killed my motivation just because I still couldn't pinpoint *why* it was happening. Was it my epoxy? The new Breyer plastic that's softer (with more cellulose filler)? Breyer's paint? My primer? Something I was doing/not doing?

One of the affected models: his mane apparently "popped off" which I've never had happen before or since.
I had many more that were unaffected, including ones I own. Because I didn't know why, I despaired, wondering why even bother customizing a model if it's only going to fall apart? I can't offer to fix them because I can't match paint to save my life. And some models will fall apart no matter how good the workmanship, no matter how they're handled or stored. It killed my desire to create. I knew I couldn't support myself in any way with just the models, so I decided against customizing in the winter months (like I've done occasionally in the past) and looked for a job.

In December, I got a new job in a call center... it is not my first love, in fact I'm still not entirely happy with it. The learning process was intense as I learned the software (the best that 1993 had to offer), the codes, the protocol and started gaining experience as a sales person. I'm not the best salesperson, but I am EXCELLENT at customer service, but the stress was pretty overwhelming as I shifted gears to this new "career." It was quite a change that I'm still adapting to.

Not entirely accurate, however...

The reason I got this job was after Breyerfest 2013 I was kicked by a horse and dislocated my knee. To save my knees from wear and tear, I took this desk job, plus it was likely time to find a job with a reliable paycheck and health benefits. I truly miss being physically active in a job, especially working around horses. It was a dream job, working at the Kentucky Horse Park, but it didn't pay much (barely above minimum wage at them time) and was not very reliable (being seasonal). Still, being happy at a hard, low paying job felt pretty good, but I guess being able to pay for groceries and gas is a good thing too... but if I ever won the lottery, fairly certain I'd just work there for free.

Then in January, my computer crashed. After a LONG 3 month saga with the absolutely terrible Computer Repair Place, they finally got it fixed to where it worked, but not without loosing a year's worth of archived emails and giving me a computer with less RAM and processing power than I had before (after I specifically told them they could replace part only if they were equal or better than what I had). I like to game on occasion so this was a bummer, but not as much as not having access to my regular routine and reference photos during that time. My computer time is my "escape" and it was hard to escape and de-stress (during a VERY stressful time for me) when my main source had been taken from me, and as much fun as customizing can be, it is NOT my de-stresser.

*sigh* First World Problem, anyone?
In March I judged at a show and accidentally made a sarcastic comment (along the lines of "I'm tired of seeing this person's horses")... and that person took it seriously. The backlash and regret from that killed my enthusiasm for showing, and possibly for the hobby in general. It is NEVER my intent to offend, hurt, or be negative in any way, so for someone to take a joke that I figured no one would ever take in any other way except it's true intention (one that was actually meant as praise, a nudge to how ridiculous the notion would be, being sarcasm after all), and make it sound like I was a biased, untrustworthy monster (my words, not theirs) really put a damper on my motivation and hurt ME deeply. My reputation had been tainted in a moment of misjudgment, and I felt like the worst person on earth, causing irreparable damage between me and this "friend." I decided a hiatus from showing was needed and canceled my plans for my next show.

If I could go back, I wouldn't have said it, but after everything that had happened already that year for me, I just let myself get a little too comfortable in my escape. I had an unprofessional moment when I needed to be "on." To me, a model horse show is usually a fun time with friends who "get me" and a reunion with those I don't get to see often. They are my people. I am still incredibly sorry that I hurt this friend and it still stresses me out (at the time, it literally kept me up at night). Add in to my already stressed situations, and I was starting to feel depressed.

April thankfully brought some joys: I met a new guy who would eventually become my boyfriend. Dating had been disappointing for me in the past and it's great to have someone who shares a genuine interest in each other, common views and interests (geek outs!) etc. Obviously, this meant that my spare time now included him a lot, but ya know, I feel this one is justified. Everyone deserves to be happy and not alone.

"Family" movie night
In May and June I was finally hitting my stride at my job, performing well and getting the hang of it. However, that came to an abrupt halt when on June 18th, when I was home sick with a terrible fever, I got the call that Mom was dying. Her liver had ultimately failed. She was gone within 12 hours. Obviously this changed my world quite a bit as I took 2 weeks off work (when I came back, it was rough getting back in the groove). This woman was responsible for "me", she taught me how to art, teaching me to draw, giving me honest critique, supporting me and in general being the best mother anyone could ask for. Obviously this sense of loss has affected me, I'm sure any of those who have lost a parent or even just loves their mother could understand.

Then of course along came July which means Breyerfest where I volunteered and taught Equine Color Genetics in the Hobby Info Booth. I also entered in Breyer's first Custom Contest with Prowler in the "Most Creative" category... and WON!

I was so excited and feel it is the biggest honor I've ever received. Judged by some of the hobby's best artists, the prizes being so beautiful...

And for once I was in a place in my life where I could afford to keep them and not sell them to the highest bidder. I plan on treasuring "Anahi" and "Agueda" for as long as I can. I picked up an Enchante as well to act as the "daddy" of the family, I think they go well with each other!

And finally, in August, things have settled down. Perhaps now I can work on the models again. First thing's first, commissions will be given primary focus, but as I've shared in the past, sometimes I need to do something else to "freshen things up" and keep me from getting in a funk. I have a general priority list and will try hard to keep to it, and I want to thank everyone who does have an order with me for their continued patience and understanding.