Equine Sculpture by Mel Miller

Dappling Tutorial

Smart Chic Olena sooty buckskin

There are many ways to go about dappling a horse; this tutorial illustrates only how this particular model was done. No matter what technique you use, the most important thing is to keep references handy, especially for horses with odd dapples such as sooties. No painting technique in the world can overcome an unbelievable pattern!

When you look at pictures of sooties, notice how some dapples are round and fuzzy, and some look like interlocking pieces, appearing giraffe-like. These types can appear anywhere there is dappling to be found, but are mostly located somewhere behind the shoulder. The really interesting dapples occur mostly on the neck and shoulder. These can be wildly shaped with spikes, and frequently run together to make large, odd looking dapples.

Notice also where the dark sooty areas are located. These vary wildly from horse to horse, with different concentrations of dark hairs in different areas, but there are some general common features. Usually, the dark hair originates at the topline and extends down the body. Dark legs also tend to remain dark higher up and can run into the body. The areas that tend to stay light when the horse is nearly completely dark are the underside of the belly, flank, rear of the buttock and behind the jaw.

Once you have noted where the sootiness and dappling will occur, you are ready to paint! To start, mix up a batch of oils in your desired shade (this would work equally well with acrylic, hand painted or airbrushed), and block in the areas in their appropriate colors. Blend and smooth the paint, and begin adding dapples in your light color mix over the sooty areas. These don’t have to be perfectly shaped, as they are merely acting as base coloring and as a general map for future layers. Smooth again and wait for the horse to dry. Repeat this process, but this time taking more care in shaping the dapples. Be gentle in the final smoothing on this layer to prevent large streaks of color.

When the oil is dry, spray the horse with DullCote, and you are ready to begin with the pastel layers. Mix up your dust to match the oil colors as closely as possible, and begin the first layer by simply blocking in the colors as with the first oil coat. Try to avoid the dapples when applying the darkest colors. Using a tiny round brush, cut down to about 1/16 to 1/8 inch, begin adding more color to the dapples. Dip the brush in the powder, and tap off any excess before scrubbing in the dapples. Using another cut down round, work around the dapples with your darker colors in a network pattern. You can extend this network with the tiniest bit of dark dust outside of the dappled area for the faint impression of ghostly dapples creeping into the dark hair. Apply as much pigment as the horse will hold, and when you can’t apply any more, spray lightly with DullCote. Before you spray, be sure there are no flecks of dust sticking to the horse, as they are quite difficult to cover later!

On the next layer, repeat the previous pastel session, but instead of using the round brush to “paint” the dapples, use a pointed rubber tipped tool (see pic). This will create more definition and is easier to use to control the shape of the dapples, especially the spiky areas. Be sure that there is no extra dust on the tip before touching the horse; tap it just like the brush to avoid applying too much at once.

Repeat this process several times until the horse is solidly covered in pastel, and the blending is just right. You can work back and forth between using the rubber tool and the round brush to attain just the right amount of shape and fuzziness to your dapples. It helps to use a transitional brown color at various stages as needed, scrubbing it over both the dark and light hairs in the dappled areas, especially around the edges. This “sets the dappling in”, and makes the work all appear as if it is part of the horse, and not merely floating on top.

When you are approaching your final layers, you can start picking out certain dapples to emphasize and lighten. Doing this ensures your dapples aren’t all one shade, which looks flat and lifeless in the finished piece. It will take a few layers to build up enough light pigment for this effect to be convincing. And remember, don’t get so caught up in the detail that you loose sight of the entire piece – always check for the overall impression. Doing more emphasizing than is realistic can look worse than none at all! Happy painting!