Equine Sculpture by Mel Miller


Before you start, you should have a good idea of what you want to accomplish. It helps to look through pictures and pick out a few that inspire you. Don't be concerned about color yet, just the position and breed. Then, choose a model that you'd like to work on. You can also do this the other way around by finding the model first, and then deciding what to do with it.

Keep in mind that almost every model horse has something that could be improved. After studying anatomy, conformation and biomechanics (the way the body functions), you'll have a better idea of just what is wrong and how you can go about fixing it. Most Breyer models have short backs, odd facial features, inaccurate muscling, and multiple problems with the legs. Clinics are excellent places to learn how to improve your work and give you a fresh view on your work. Above all, be patient and inquisitive, and just try to do your best every time you work. Learn one part of the horse at a time, and don't try to take on too much. If you get frustrated with a horse, leave it alone for a few weeks or longer. When you have a fresh start at it, you'll probably realize what was giving you so many problems. Do note that many resin artists have policies that prohibit modifications to their resins. If you plan to remake a resin, ask the artist what sorts of changes they allow, if any.

Once you have the majority of things worked out like position and what you'll fix, it's time to get down to business. The best way to get the mane off if you're not concerned about the structure underneath is to either heat the area and cut the mane off with an x-acto knife or, when you move the neck, squash the mane in. Poke a hole in the plastic first, so the built-up heat doesn't try to make a violent escape! To get rid of a tail, heat up the tail head, and just rip it off. (It's pretty fun!) If it's attached anywhere else, you may be able to heat that area and pull it off as well. If there is too much tail attached, you'll probably have to heat it up and cut around it, sanding the area afterwards. You can also use a round saw with your Dremel. (You should always exercise caution when using a Dremel! Wear a dust mask, protective glasses, and tie your hair back.)

If you have choosen to change the position of the horse, start heating an area with the heat gun. If you're going to be moving a leg to a different position, don't forget that legs move from the top; the shoulders and hips. You've got to move those areas first if you want the model to be correct. The best way to move large areas like the haunch and shoulder is to heat up the whole area with the heat gun, and CAREFULLY cut around the parts that need to move, leaving plastic attachments at the joint areas. For the hind leg, cut through the flank, thigh and up towards the tail. For the shoulder, cut behind the elbow, inside the forearm, and up in front of the scapula. (There really is no joint here on the shoulder, but leaving a chunk of plastic behind the shoulder seems to work well nevertheless.) Be very careful while cutting into the plastic. It is very easy to fall into the trap of forcing the knife to cut - this will cause the knife to slip, leading to a potentially nasty cut!

When all of the cuts are made, heat up the attached areas one at a time, and move the pieces to their new positions. You will find that running cold water over the heated areas will help set the plastic faster, but this step is not necessary. Once one joint is done, you can move the rest of the joints on down the leg. Not only is this approach more accurate than just moving the lower leg, but it makes it easier to see the movement while you're working. You can re-heat and re-bend parts of legs to adjust as necessary once you have the general idea in place.

If you want to be even more drastic, you can chop off body parts and make a new structure. Just heat up the area, and rip or cut it off. Fill the horse with foil to give the epoxy a base and to give something to attach a wire to. This is a great use for all those extra wire dry cleaner hangers! Armature wire is available at art stores, but you can purchase aluminium or steel wire from the hardware store which is just as good for this purpose, and much cheaper. Before attaching the wire, wrap it with DMC floss, gluing it down with super glue. This will ensure the wire has some "tooth" for the epoxy to stick to. If your wire has a plasticy or slick coating on it, carefully scrape it off with an x-acto or strip it with pliers before applying the thread. To attach, use 5-minute epoxy. Just use one end of the "appendage" to mix the two liquid parts, and then glop it in a pre-drilled hole in the model. Insert the wire in the hole, and hold it there until the epoxy hardens. Try to scoop any dripping epoxy back onto the wire or into the hole before it completely sets as it is not easy to sand.

After everything is properly attached and adjusted, stuff any remaining open holes with foil and start applying epoxy putty. Make sure all areas that you will be putting epoxy on are cleaned with rubbing alcohol; this gets rid of the oils that make it hard for the epoxy to stick. Sanding with a rough grit sandpaper or sanding drum attachment will help give the plastic tooth for the epoxy to stick to. Experiment with your sculpting tools to find out what works best for you. I like to use the ends of paint brushes to make large muscle depressions, and then smooth them out a bit with my fingers, refining with rounded needle tools when the epoxy begins to set. For finer details, like eyes and tendons, I use my smaller metal sculpting tools. In a pinch, toothpicks and other odd things can work as well. If you use metal tools, make sure to wipe the epoxy off before it hardens! Otherwise, you'll have to scrape it off, and that's no fun.

When you've finished sculpting a detailed area, use a soft brush dipped in water or rubbing alcohol to smooth it. This minimizes anything you'll have to deal with when prepping. Some people prefer rubbing alcohol because it keeps the epoxy from "pilling up" as much. I have found that water works just fine for me. The smaller makeup brushes work very well for smoothing. They are quite soft, so they don't leave any brush strokes. Always clean your brushes immediately with soap and water.

When doing ears, you can make two matching ear shapes in advance. Attach these to the horse, and sculpt the area around the ear. Alternatively, you can build the ear right on the model. You can later carve and refine the ear with carbide scrapers.

Nostrils are easy; just stick a cone shaped piece of epoxy on the end of the nose and smooth it on. Then, carve two comma shapes, with the outside one extending back a bit, making the front tip of the nostril visible in profile. Look at pictures to really get a feel for how the nose is shaped. Videos, if you can't see the real thing, are good to see how the nostrils move when horses inhale and exhale.

When you do the mouth, be sure not to make it slope down or up too much. Mouths run just about parallel to the "teardrop" bone (under the eye). From the profile, the upper lip should extend past the lower lip just a teensy bit and where the lips come together at the end of the nose they should make an angle greater than 90 degrees. The lower lip will protrude a bit on each side when viewed from the front. Again, view horses or pics to get a good feel for the shapes involved.

The teardrop bone below the eye (facial crest) often looks like it will run off the face of many sculptures. People tend to create a more artistic look to the face by destroying this bone. It should run horizontally on the face, and start a little below the eye. Eyes should be at a 45 degree angle to the teardrop bone. When viewed from the front, the widest point on the horse's head should be the "orbital arch" (eyebrow area). This extends out just a little farther than the eye to provide protection. From the widest point, the eye slopes inwards, with the corner closest to the nose being the furthest in.

For chestnuts, I like using a mixture Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig concocted, called "messo". You can also use it to fill in divots when you're prepping the model. Mix equal parts modeling paste, titanium white acrylic, and gesso. This should be a little thicker than toothpaste. I like to add a tiny bit of colored acrylic paint so I can easily identify it on the model. For the watery messo mix used on veins and other small details, just mix a little water in with the messo mix. This should be an Elmer's glue consistency, or a little more watery. The best way to make these mixes is to make a bunch of messo, divide into separate containers, and add water to one. Save these, and you'll have the messo whenever you need it. Don't leave the containers open for too long; this stuff dries quickly!

Materials Checklist