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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Hairing the Model Horse

Hairing the Model Horse

Hairing is the application of various hair-like materials to the model horse to enhance the realism of the figure. From the very first days of customizing model horses, this technique has been used to great advantage.

Materials used vary depending on the scale of the figure, and what is available. A standard favorite is Mohair which can dyed an endless variety of shades and colors. Other fibers have been successfully used, including dog hair, goat hair, llama hair, and synthetics. Real horse hair and human hair are not used because of the coarseness is not to scale with models. Many synthetic fibers can be found at craft stores, as well as yarn/weaving shops. Good model quality mohair is readily available through mail order.

Basic Hairing Techniques: The Mane

Assuming your model has been repainted and is ready for hairing, prepare your hairing material by cutting it into manageable lengths, from 2" to 1/2", depending on the style of mane you're after. I like to use white glue or Tacky Glue for hairing, and begin by running an inch long bead of glue along the crest of the neck starting down at the top of the withers. Then selecting small swatches of hair, I place it tip-first into the glue (see figure C.). Repeat the process one small swatch at a time until you run out of glue. Then apply another inch of glue along the crest and continue hairing. If you put glue along the entire crest, chances are the glue near the top will begin to dry before you get to it, that is why I like to glue just a little bit at a time.

When you reach the top of the mane where you want the bridlepath to be, stop hairing! I'll also put a dab of glue between the ears and attach the forelock in the same manner. At this stage your horse will look like he put his hoof in a light socket with his mane sticking straight up, but don't worry. Just let it dry at least an hour before fussing with it.

Basic Hairing Techniques: The Tail

Before you even painted your horse, you should have made some sort of tailbone for the hair to be anchored to. There are about as many methods for this as there are model horse artists! I've included a few of my own:

Carved Method: Carve down the existing molded tail with a Dremel or heated X-acto knife (careful!!)  You can then glue the hair to the thinned-down plastic.

 Leather Method: Remove the tail entirely, and make a new tailbone from scratch! Wrap heavy gauge wire in thin leather, and glue to the dock of the model, once dry, glue hair to the leather tailbone...this has a bonus of being poseable!

Wrapped Wire Method:  Based entirely on Carol Williams' method, this is my personal favorite! A more detailed description can be found in Carol's painting techniques book. Basically, cut a length of heavy gauge wire a little longer than your finished tail length. Coat with white glue, and wrap tightly in string or embroidery floss. With the molded tail removed, glue the end of the wire to the body (Carol makes a little Bondo lump at the end and glues that into the hole usually left from molded tail removal). When dry, use Epoxy putty to resculpt a dock at the top of the tail, when that's dried and painted, glue hair to the string-covered wire as described below.

Assuming you are working with a prepared tailbone, begin pretty much the same way as the mane...with manageable lengths of hair. Put glue all the way around the tip of the tailbone, say 1/2" up from the tip. Again using the small hanks of hair, apply them a swatch at a time to the glue, (Figure D) only this time horizontal to the bone instead of perpendicular. Again apply glue as needed, however, after the first 1/2", DO NOT HAIR THE UNDERSIDE OF THE TAIL! This part is hairless on a living horse and models should follow suit. When you finally reach the dock, or top of the tail, put one final bead of glue at the dock, take one good-sized hank of hair, and sort of fan it out...place the end of this into the glue and press firmly, pressing it down into the glue. Let dry.

Once the glue has dried, use a soft toothbrush or your fingers to smooth down the hair. Some hair will come out, this is normal, just don't brush too hard or too much will come out. Take a very small pair of scissors (manicure scissors, embroidery scissors) and trim away loose hairs at the dock of the tail and along the crest of the mane. To trim up the mane, take the scissors and snip upwards into the mane...DO NOT CUT ACROSS MANE...that would look unnatural. Snipping upwards into the mane creates a more natural look. Snip until you have the length and shape you want. Sometimes I'll dampen the toothbrush and smooth down the hair with a little water, and "set" it by wrapping the neck/mane in paper towels or plastic wrap and let sit for a few hours/overnight. This helps the mane to lay flat and train it. The tail too may need some smoothing down with water.


Care and Feeding of the Haired Model Horse

Before a show or photo session, you may have to dampen the hair again to get it to lay flat. It's important to remember to not brush the mane or tail too often, as this will result in the hairs pulling out, and you may end up with something matted and ratty. Eventually you may have to remove the hair and reapply new hair. It's also a good idea to keep your haired models in a dust-free environment, which can be as simple as putting a plastic bag over them. Once the dust gets into the hair it's nearly impossible to remove, so it's better to avoid it in the first place.

Happy Hairing!


Posted by fassue at 1:34 PM EDT
Repositioning Model Horses

The Art of Remaking Model Horses

What is Remaking?

Remaking, or Customizing, is the process of taking a factory original-finish model, and through the use of heat or other methods, altering the position and physical shape. Other aspects of customizing can include adding and resculpting of muscles, refining/resculpting heads, the addition of details such as veins and genitals, the carving of ears and hooves, the addition of a hair or sculpted mane and tail, or any other of an infinite variety of improvements.

How Do I Start?

The most popular models for remaking are the Breyer horses. This is because of their great detail and realism, plus the plastic they are made from (cellulose acetate) is easily softened and bent, as opposed to harder, more brittle plastics such as styrene. The new Breyer Stablemates are made from a harder plastic that is more difficult to remake, and will not be covered here.

Other models can be used as well.  The relatively new Peter Stone models work very well. Many of the Hartland/Hartland Collectibles can be used as they are also made of the softer plastic.  Some artists have even perfected methods for repositioning/remaking models made of resin and ceramic.

Once you have decided upon a model, you must decide what position you want to remake it into. Sometimes it's just as easy to decide upon a position and THEN find a model that will suit that position. Something I tend to do is find a model of the proper breed/type that is in a similar/easily attainable position to the remake I plan to work on. Say you want a cantering stock horse. A simple remake is to use the Breyer Stock Horse Stallion which is in a walking position, and to simply move the foreleg on the ground forward, and you can have a passable canter. Of course a lot more things need to be done, like move the shoulder forward as well as the leg, plus the head/neck should be lowered, plus the hind legs really should be moved further apart, but you get the idea!

If you're more adventurous, it's fun to take a standing model and move all four legs into that canter, but for beginners, it's best to keep it simple. If you start out with too big a project, the less-than-perfect results can be discouraging. Remember, you have to crawl before you can walk!




Heat Gun


Also known as paint strippers, these produce a strong blast of hot air, sort of like a super blow drier. They're found in the Hardware department of your favorite store, and prices are around the $40 range. Just about any brand name will work, watch for sales!


Candle Flame


Nowhere near as nice as the heat gun, plus the added disadvantage of smoke, soot, and toxic fumes, plus the very real danger of the model catching fire!!


Boiling Water


Works pretty good but takes a long time to heat the model, plus the danger of burns from splashing, and the possibility of collapsing or exploding the model.


Blow Drier


Used on a high heat setting, this takes a VERY long time to heat the plastic to remaking temperature, but it can be very useful for straightening the warped legs of Breyers.



Epoxy Putty


Martin Carbone Epoxy Putty is the favorite of remakers. Soft, pliable, sculptable, sandable, permanent. Prices depend on from where you buy it, so check with the various sources. Also available is plumbers epoxy found in the plumbing department of your favorite store. Not as soft and sculptable as Carbone, it is sandable and works great for initial filling. Approx. $20/lb.




Auto Body Filler. Despite the strong smell and mess, this is the best for basic fill-in/structural work. Economical and strong, sandable as well.


Latex Wood Filler


Available in the wood stain/finish department of your favorite store. Water-based and sandable, not to be confused with Plastic Wood. I like this for fine finishing work/detailing like wrinkles. Sandable and non toxic.


Modelling Paste


Acrylic paste available in art supply stores. Dries to a permanent finish, sometimes mixed with gesso for sculpting wrinkles/veins.





Stock a variety from coarse to super-fine, essential for that smooth finish!




Needed for filing down seams and rough filler spots. I like a variety of rattails plus a couple of flat files


Sculpting Tools


Use whatever works! I use pencils with dull or sharp points, butter knives, dental tools, toothpicks, straight pins, paint brushes, and the best tool of all, the fingers!


Dremel Moto-Tool


Almost a necessity, although the hefty price tag can be daunting. I'd recommend doing some remaking first to see if you really enjoy it before investing nearly $100 or more in the tool, its various bits, flexible shaft, and other accessories. Available at most hobby/craft stores, and in the power tool department of some department stores.


First thing to do before starting is to take a straight pin and heat it over a flame. Pierce a small airhole in an inconspicuous spot on the model, like between the forelegs or hind legs. This will provide a vent for any heated air inside the model to escape. Otherwise bloating or explosion could result. It's a good idea to provide some sort of vent hole on the model even when it is finished, to allow for the expansion/contraction of the air inside the mold. You might also want to take this time to take a file and file down the molding seams that are often found on the legs and head of most models. Sanding will help smooth things down even more. Some people take this time to remove the molded on mane and tail, but if remaking is going to be extreme, this is not necessary as they will be destroyed in the process. You can also hollow out the ears and carve out the hooves at this time as well.


Assuming we're using a heat gun, hold the neck/head area about 6" above the gun, in the blast of hot air...carefully move the area to be bent back and forth over the heat source, careful not to heat up the actual head itself (this can result in a deformed head!). I usually allow a little extra heating along the crest of the neck as the plastic is thicker here. After a few seconds, test the bend to see if the plastic has softened. CAREFUL: IT'S HOT!! Return the model to the heat repeatedly until it is soft, and carefully, slowly bend the neck where you want it. Depending on the severity of the bend, buckling/warping of the plastic will occur. This is not a problem, I generally end up smooshing the buckled plastic inwards, and resculpt the neck entirely.

Once you have the position you want, holding the model in position, run it under a stream of cold water. This will cool the plastic and set the pose! Dry with a towel, and if you think it needs more adjusting, back to the heat gun!

The technique is the same for using a candle or a blow drier. For boiling water, it will be trickier because you will have to immerse the entire head/neck into a pot of boiling water, and therefore the head will become soft and could collapse.

One nice thing about the plastic when it gets heated and soft is that it also becomes stretchy...with care you can actually stretch out/extend the neck/head to get proper proportion! Try it, it's FUN!


Using the same technique as for head, hold the joint to be bent over the heat source, moving it back and forth slowly until softened. Carefully bend the leg a bit at a time, repeating the heating as often as necessary. Again, once the pose is reached, run under cold water to set it. If the bend is extreme, you may want to use a coping saw/craft saw to saw out a little wedge of plastic on the inside of the potential bend to help it bend easier (Fig. A & B)...otherwise that excess plastic can buckle and have to be filed out later.

This technique will work for bending hocks and fetlocks, but when you get up into knees and elbows, you may have to play it by ear. The plastic is thicker at the knee & elbow, so it will take more heating, and there is a greater possiblity of plastic collapsing. To tuck the forearm up to the chest at the elbow you may have to remove some of the plastic first (using the wedge method described above).

In order to move an entire shoulder or hip, a bit more is involved. This is necessary to attain a realistic look to your custom. The extra work will be worth it! I like to heat the entire shoulder area, and when it is soft, use an X-Acto knife (or sharp knife) to cut behind the shoulder and along the top of the shoulder, careful to leave some plastic at the withers for an anchor. Then the shoulder can be moved forward or backwards as needed. Once this cools, it's a simple matter to stuff the resulting cavity with crumpled newspaper or aluminum foil, and begin filling the gaps. This is where Bondo excells! Occasionally a leg/shoulder (or head!) will have to be reattached by being wired on. I do this by burning a few small holes along the edge of the shoulder and corresponding holes on the body, and "sew" the parts together with fine wire, then apply Bondo or other filler.


By this stage your model is a worthless mess! Only YOU can save it and make it something of beauty! If there are large gaps/chunks missing, I will fill them with Bondo. Once that sets, a rough file-down job, and then bring in the Epoxy Putty to further refine the fill and resculpt any missing muscles/details. When that has dried to my satisfaction, I will go over it with the latex wood filler to apply a bit more fine sculpting and to smooth over rough spots/holes/dents. When that has dried, I will sand it, then apply more filler to take care of the rough spots that have appeared. This process is repeated until I think I've got it smooth, then I will paint the entire model with white gesso (or give it a coat of matte white spray enamel). This helps all the imperfections to appear, and more touch-ups are done with the wood filler. When the thing is finally smooth, I give it one final coat of gesso/primer, and he's ready to paint!

Posted by fassue at 1:33 PM EDT
Repainting Basics


Model Horse Repainting Made E-Z

What Kind Of Model Works Best?

ANY model will work for repainting! The favorites are, of course, the Breyers, due to their availability and realism, but just about any other horse-shape object can be used. Chinas and Resins are also quite good. The nice thing about model painting is that there's no rules!




I work exclusively in Acrylics, so that's what will be discussed here. These paints come in tubes and are available at hobby and art supply stores, as well as the hobby/school supply of some discount stores (WalMart, etc.). Acrylics are water-based and dry quickly, which is why I like them. A good basic set of colors to start with are: Black, White, Burnt Sienna, and Raw Sienna. This is just a basic suggestion, feel free to experiment with other colors.




I have TONS of brushes, from the tiniest 000 to big ol' house-painting brushes. It's very important to have a variety for the different applications, but a good starter kit might be something along the line of a 0, a 2, and a 5 Sable Brush. It's also good to have some scrungy old things that you can wreck doing blends and things as well.


Blending Tools


I use a variety of tools to blend the paint once it's on the model. The afore mentioned old paint brushes, cut very short down to 1/8" in length, for once. I also love to use cosmetic sponges (triangle or circular), and foam rubber. I've also had good luck with my fingertips!




This is a water-based primer which works very well to prep the model before painting. Its slightly chalky surface allows the paint to adhere better than if there were nothing. Gesso is available at the hobby/art supply stores, and now even comes in colors such as black and grey, in addition to the traditional white. It is also available in spray cans. Some repainters like to use Auto Primer for its economy and ease of use. Experiment!


Matte Sealer


This is a spray product used to prep glazed China and Ceramic horses, but its main use is to protect the completed repainted horse. Once the paint is totally dry, a coat of this protectant will help keep the paint spotless and smudgeless. It also comes in a Gloss finish, but Matte is prefered. Available in Craft and Art Supply Stores


Preparation of the Body

If you're working with a plastic horse, such as the Breyers, there is very little preparation needed. The amount of prep work depends on how fussy you are. There is no need to remove the factory paint at all. If you wish, the seams may be sanded smooth. Some people like to carve out the ears and hooves, and add 3-D veining before painting, but this is covered in the Remaking page.

If you're working with a china or ceramic horse, such as a Hagen-Renaker, it's almost mandatory to treat the horse before painting. Otherwise the paints will not stick to the glazed surface. I like to use Krylon (TM) Matte Spray Finish. This and other brands are readily available in Hobby and Art Supply Stores. What it does is coat the model with a matte acrylic finish to which the paint will readily adhere. This product is also used once the painting is finished to protect the paint.

Resin horses, if received unpainted, also need special preparation. Many of the casters recommend cleaning the model with a bleach solution to remove oils, and then the model should be coated with some sort of a primer paint to seal the resin and allow better adherance of the paint. I like to use simple white gesso for this.

Basic Repainting

I'll explain as best I can how I do a basic paint job. I won't get into things like dappled greys and Appaloosas due to the limits of this format, but like they say, you have to crawl before you can walk!

Generally I work from light-to-dark-to-light. I start by mixing a light shade of the body color, let's say Bay for this instance. I'll mix about 20% burnt sienna with 70% white and maybe 10% raw sienna, to get a light tan cream color. I'll paint the underside of the horse in this color...the belly, chest, genital area, inside of the legs. Once this dries, I'll darken the paint by adding more burnt sienna, and with this, paint the rest of the horse, blending in with the lighter color on the underside. Let dry completely.

Using burnt sienna with maybe a touch of raw sienna, I'll use a brush to apply the paint along the top of the muscles/area to be that color. Then using a cosmetic sponge, dabbing at the paint, I'll blend and feather it into the lighter color underneath it. Sometimes I have to grab a fresh sponge, as I want a dry-brush effect. If the sponge gets saturated with paint, it will cause bubbles and not blend as smoothly.

I'll continue doing this, using progressively darker paints, letting the paint dry between colors. I can't stress the importance of using reference photos when painting to show you where the shadings and highlights are on a real horse. Using these photos for guides will really help you.

Once I've applied the darkest layer of paint and it has dried, I then start mixing progressively brighter paints and using these for highlights on the muscles. In this case I would add the raw sienna to the burnt sienna to get more of a golden brown. I'll then want to touch up the light underside of the horse, so I'll add more white to the golden brown and go over the lighter areas. By this time 99% of the original layer of paints has probably been totally covered up, but I feel it adds a glow to the colors that would not be there otherwise. It's not uncommon for one of my repaints to have 10-15 layers of tones!

For darker points, such as for our bay, I use a dark brown to shade the lower legs/muzzle area. Once that dries, I'll work to progressively darker shades of brown, and when I finally do get to black, I only use it on the hocks/fronts of the knees, the front of the cannon bones, and the front of the fetlocks, letting the brown show through on the back of the legs. For muzzles I will only use black on the very front of the muzzle between the nostrils, and let the darker browns make up the rest of the muzzle shadings. Otherwise the horse will look like he'd been drinking from an inkwell!

For white markings, I like to first map out the markings with a white wash, that is white paint dilluted to a transparent consistency. Once that dries, I'll go over it with the white, careful to make sure that the edges of the markings are irregular...live horses never have stockings that go straight across their legs, there is always some irregularity.

A quick and easy dappling method for solid colors is to mix some paint a shade or two lighter than the color you want to dapple. This paint is then thinned slightly (not too runny!). Using a smallish brush (a number 1 or 2), lightly dab on the paint in the area you want dappled. Only dapple a half dozen at a time. Quickly, before the paint dries, take your finger (or cosmetic sponge) and dab at the dapples, blotting them. You can also dab your then-wet finger on the surrounding area, and this creates fainter dapples in the background. This works great for solid colors!

For Eyes, perhaps what's simplest for beginners is to simply paint them solid black. When you view a horse from any distance, their eyes appear black anyway. It's better to do that than to try to paint a fancy tri-colored eye and end up with something that looks like a freak. Once the paint is dry, dot the eyes (and the nostrils while you're at it) with clear nail polish. This will give them that "lifelike shine."

Hooves are quite fun. If your horse is going to be a showhorse, and is not an Appaloosa, you can take the easy way out and paint all the hooves black. Showhorses can have blacked hooves, no matter what color their legs are. Appaloosas are the exception. Since they have the striped hooves, they are shown with clear hoof polish to show off their striping. If the horse will not be wearing hoof black, then remember if the leg is dark, the hoof is dark. If the leg is white, the hoof is light. There are exceptions, but this is just the basics. I find a good dark hoof color is black mixed with some burnt sienna to give a real blackish-brown color. If the horse is a grey, I like to go with a dark grey instead. For a light hoof, you can't go wrong with white, raw sienna, and a touch of burnt sienna to give it that pinkish shell color. Experiment. And if you want to get really tricky, use a white wash around the coronet band to give the appearance of the growth band on a real hoof! If you want to give it the hoof polish effect, once the paint is dry, coat the hooves with clear nail polish.

Once the horse is dry, spray with the matte finish to protect it. Now you're ready for Hairing, or if not, you're ready to show!




Posted by fassue at 1:32 PM EDT
Sunday, 20 March 2011

I've been enjoying the hobby of model horse photo showing since March of 1973 (gosh, 37 years!! Did they have cameras back then??), and one of the big "things" of photo showing is...the background.

Back in the early days I made due with scenic poster purchased at a local book store. After a while, I turned to painting various arenas on illustration board and using them. Then people came out with custom poster-sized backdrops of horsey locations (arenas, stables, pastures). Then around 2000 people prefered plain fabric backdrops, with more focus on the horse than its setting. Nowadays I think the trend is heading back towards realistic settings, especially for performance setups where the object is to recreate a horse show class in miniature!

This blog entry details how to create a simple, economical, and perfectly proper indoor arena setting. Just do a Google image search for "indoor horse arenas" for ideas and reference pictures. The simpler, the better, because you don't want to distract from the subject of your photo; the model horse!

Here's the inspiration for this backdrop.

I started out with a large sheet of corrugated cardboard, but you can also use any rigid board such as plywood, particle board, foamcore, or even matte board. I wouldn't recommend lighter cardboard like poster board, because it'll bend and warp.

Using a ruler, I marked out where I wanted to draw the "support beams" and horizontal "boards", and where the ridges for the "siding" would be. I masked off the areas to be painted with painter's tape, and used black and white acrylic paints, painted the "beams". You could use poster paints as well.

I used a soft black drawing pencil to do the small vertical lines.

Then I cut a piece of foam core board the width of my cardboard, and about 8" tall for the lower piece and hot-glued it along the bottom.

At intervals along the foam board, I drew vertical lines with pencil to simulate where the panels would be "joined" in this arena. Along the bottom I used Elmer's glue to smear it randomly, and sprinkled/smeared garden dirt on the glue to give it that dirty arena look. A finger dipped in water and then the dirt also worked to add various smears and dirty patches.

Once this dried, just prop it up behind your photo setup, and there you go!

You can cut out logos from magazines or newspapers and glue them to the background to simulate a real horse show, or stable rules and regulations, or as I've done here, the Michigan Equine Liability Law postings!

Just shove the footing material up against the base of the background so it hides the gap between the background and the footing, and you're ready to go!

Posted by fassue at 2:52 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 20 March 2011 3:52 PM EDT

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