Monday, October 15, 2012

"Luna" - A Wolfie Web Special

A lot of times I'll be working on projects here in the studio, and I'm unable to share what they are because it's "top secret".  Usually, it's just a realistic paint prototype, (read: yet another brown horse) or the annual "Beautiful Breeds" ornament, or some other little thing.  But, every now and then, I get to try  something totally new!
Breyer's Web Special, "Luna".  Photo copyright Breyer.
I've had the opportunity to work on two unique projects this year that are outside of my norm.  One is still under wraps, but the other was just revealed today!  This is Breyer's latest Web special.  It features artwork of wolves running on the side, and the coolest part is when you turn the lights off, the wolves glow in the dark.
Glowing effect on "Luna".  Photo copyright Breyer.
This concept was my creation, and I'm so grateful that Breyer was willing to give it a shot when I proposed the idea to them.  I have always been fascinated by anything glow in the dark.  When Breyer released their "Merry Widow" model years ago, that featured a glowing spider web on the side of a horse, I thought it was fantastic!  I couldn't believe the brightness of the glow that was actually part of the plastic itself.  So bright and vivid! The only problem?  Black widow spiders really freak me out.  Especially when they show up in your studio now and then.  (True story.)

Breyer soon followed up with "Cryptic" another amazing Halloween horse who was lightly painted to look like stone, but when the lights turned off, he revealed a glowing skeleton.  Now, this guy I couldn't pass up.  It's a stone horse during the day, and an anatomy lesson at night!

However, as a fanatic of all things glowing, I know that glow does not have to mean "creepy".  I don't want to save my glowy stuff for Halloween!  There are lots of gorgeous glowing things out there that we can enjoy year round.  And one of my loves is wolves.  As a teen, I used to draw them a lot, almost as much as horses.  Sadly, you'll just have to take my word on this, because most of my early drawings have been lost through various moves, and most of it has disappeared.  This is all I could find that featured wolves:

Cartoony "animation style" wolf sketch from around 1992.

Wolf design notepad from printing class, 1990.
I had this idea of running wolves on the side of a horse, and with some of Breyer's newer technology using decals, maybe, just maybe, it could actually work?  The idea was that the horse would have paint in all the areas *except* where the decal art lies, so only the wolf scene itself would glow.  At night, the horse would disappear, and only the running wolves would remain.

For the art, I decided to go with one of my old faves: scratchboard.  It's crisp, sharp, and reproduces beautifully.  Now, as I started the sketch, my original vision had to be modified.  Initially, I had wanted BIG wolves running in a pack, wrapping all along the side of the horse I chose - the dynamic "Ruffian" model.  There was just one thing I hadn't figured on.  The intense, bulging muscles and deep detail on this mold.  When I laid my first drawings on the side of the horse, the art became distorted.  (Aha, so THIS is why there is no muscle detail on the "Trail of Painted Ponies" horses.  Duly noted!)  

I wasn't about to give up, however.  I had a vision of wolves on Ruffian, and gosh darn it, that is what I was going to make.  I had to adjust things somewhat, and try to find the few smooth areas on her body and build the scene in "parts".  At this point I came up with the idea of breaking up the artwork into segments.  The wolves looked lonely isolated all by themselves on the barrel, so I added bits of scenery here and there on the neck and body of the horse.

The original art, oversize.
Reduced size photocopies to check for any distortion.
Make the drawings fit the "smooth" areas of the horse.
At that point, I had my scratchboard black and white.  And we were ready to go with a black and white horse, if I wanted to stop there.  But, it just didn't seem to really look "finished" to me.  Sorry, I need some color!  Back to the drawing board . . .

I made photocopies of the wolves on heavy cardstock, and misted color over with my airbrush.  It still kept a lot of the crisp detail of the scratchboard, but it did add a little interest, with a muted hint of color:

Last, I had to tie this new tinted art into the body of the horse.  Hmm.  What to do?  Brown earth with green trees?  Eh, I've done enough brown horses already.  Let's have some fun!

First, I cut out my colored wolf photocopies to mimic the finished decals:

Then I did a quick, impressionistic scene on the side, painted in midnight blues and purples, that kind of tied the wolves into their environment. To mimic the finished result, I took photocopies of the art and taped them to the horse, so we could get a rough idea of how it might look when finished.  Much better!

Rough prototype of glowing Wolf concept.

Looks good even from different angles!

When I made the art blend with the sculpture, the wolves have a 3-d effect.  

There is so much more I would have loved to do with this paint job, and I am excited about all the possibilities this kind of technique might offer for the future.  However, at this point, I had worked on this paint job alone (including 2-D art) for over two weeks.  And we honestly didn't even know how this would go in production.  Could this even be done?  It was time to wrap things up and see.

When I was sent word that the concept was going to actually work in production, I was so excited!  Sometimes these fun ideas have to stay just "ideas" and many concepts never make it to collector's hands due to unexpected problems.

I'm so glad this one actually worked, and I truly hope you are just as happy with the results as I am.  At last, a glowing model for any time!  I will display this one proudly on my shelf, 365 days per year.  The spot for this beauty in my living room has been cleared off, and is ready.  I can't wait to see it in person.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in Photography - Part One

For the longest time, I've really been struggling to capture my paint jobs correctly in photos.  I hear the same comments over and over from clients and customers.  "This looks even nicer in person!"

On one hand, this is fabulous, because one of the worst things I've heard (behind the scenes, from friends) is when they purchase a model by Artist XYZ and they get the package open, and are sorely disappointed.  "It looked so much better in the photos!

Eeeeek.  That's NOT the reaction that I want people to have when they unpack something I've painted.  So having people be pleasantly surprised when they get something from me is good to hear.

On the other hand, not capturing my paintwork correctly means I'm basically underselling my work.  Even worse, however, is when I can't get the camera to record the correct shade.  That's much more serious.  Here's a great example.  The horse I want you to look at in these photos is the red chestnut Affiity.  That's the reddest horse in the middle of this row.  This is all the SAME horse, remember, in the series of photos.

Here she is on a shot taken from a distance, in a row of models, shown in-progress.  This is very accurate as to her "true" color:

She's in the middle of the group.  Now this week, I worked on building a new light tent.  Here she is in a close-up in studio lights.  Unfortunately, this really seemed to wash out her dark tones, and it doesn't capture the "richness" of her color at all.  Compare the photo below to the photo of her in the line-up above.

Taking the tent outside, I plopped it down in bright sunlight, to see what that would do.  I thought maybe the ultra bright diffuse sunlight would capture her true color.  Instead, it blasts her back with white reflections:

So then I took her to the front of my house.  Usually this north-facing light in the shade takes lovely "true color" photos.

It kind-of worked.  Look at her face in this photo.  Especially the gray around the eyes and muzzle.  It really captures the shading nicely.  However, there is a really distracting blue-sky reflection along her back and neck.  I use a lot of metallic paint in my undercoats, so my paint jobs do reflect a lot of light.  This is why they seem to change color so much depending on the lighting.

Let's see this again with another model.  Here's a "group photo" with Valor, who is the dark chestnut guy standing in front here:

Okay, looks great.  You cans see he's kind of a dark brown "cocoa" color with some lighter golden brown highlights. This photo was snapped with my four or five year old "point and shoot" camera, from a distance of a few feet away.

Now I took a photo of my new light tent.  When I took this photo from across the room, you can clearly see INSIDE the box, that the horse in there looks the same as the horse above.  A nice, deep rich, dark shade of cocoa brown.

But, when I come in close, the camera washes out the color again, and now the darkest tones along the top of the horse are lost, and he pales out and loses the dark shading and "crispness" seen in the quickie candid shot of him just standing on the counter!

Once again, taking an accurate shot of any of my paint jobs evades me.  Sigh!

I've called this post "Part One" because I'm not giving up on this yet.  Next step will be to hopefully upgrade to a slightly better camera.  I can't afford one of those super-high end DSLR pro cameras, nor would I want to drag one around for everyday photo taking, but now I'm looking at something the next step up beyond a point-and-shoot.  Something with a little bit of manual override, so I can get more control of what's going on here.

I'll post again later, when I make the upgrade to the next model.  A friend of mine, Paula Anderson, is a professional photographer and has sent me some great advice.  Apparently, for the best shots, I need to be able to adjust a bit more than what the basic point-and-shoot models allow.  I'm adding a link to Paula's site because I really appreciate her taking the time to share her advice with me!

For now, I'm researching a couple of models.  The Nikon Coolpix P310 has caught my eye, seems it has some ability for user control but runs about $350 right now which should be in my budget.  I'm also seeing a lot of good reviews for the Canon Powershot S100.  I still have a bit of a bias towards Nikon products from the "old days" when I toted around a beat-up ancient Nikon SLR camera for years.  But I have to get over that and consider all the options, being as digital cameras are a different animal altogether.  (More like a computer with a lens, anymore.)

One of the things that I find puzzling is the addition of a GPS in a lot of the newest cameras?  I guess if you get lost hiking the back country on a photo safari, maybe your camera can help you find civilization, but for the most part that falls into the category of totally unnecessary gizmos that have nothing to do with better photography.  Unless there is something that I'm missing here . . .

Look for updates in a later post.  Going to try and resolve this somehow, in the next few months.  


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shipping One of a Kind Art

I was over on one of the model horse hobby boards this morning, reading an absolute horror story.  A person on there had shipped a horse resin via UPS.  Someone had clearly opened the box, and unwrapped the horse partially, stuffed it back in the box and hastily taped it back up again.  (Clearly, it was some jerk who saw that the box was insured for $800 and then was let down when it was a model horse, not something easily pawned for crack.)  So when the owner tried to file a claim against this act of vandalism, she was given all kinds of grief, because UPS "does not insure one of a kind items or art."

However, let it be said, they are MORE THAN HAPPY to take your money to insure said items!  And they certainly will neglect to tell you this caveat while you're handing over your cash.  It's only after they have given the boxes to a herd of rampaging elephants to play soccer with that they will mention that art or collectibles are not covered.

This photo of a white peacock that landed on my neighbor's barn at sunset is unrelated to this blog post.
(I just hate blog posts with no pictures.)
This is why I use our good old U.S. Postal Service.  Okay, they can also be annoying sometimes, making your life difficult when you try to file a claim.  Or not?  It really depends on the employee you file with, and what kind of day they are having, ha ha ha.  Because here's the weird thing about all of these companies, they have no actual "rules" about how to pack or what to pack, so they are all kind of flying by the seat of their pants and just don't want to admit it.

( I still don't have any pictures related to the topic so here's a flat bunny.)
But the trusty US Post does their best, as seen in these "experiments" where people try to mess with them by shipping odd items - just to see what they will do:

I wrote an article for JAH with more info on this subject, where studies by Consumer Reports compared prices.  Like they did, I packed up several boxes of models, weighed them, and compared FedEx, UPS, and good old Post Office.  The Post Office was cheapest, despite this pervasive view that UPS is the least expensive service.  (Do note, on large boxes, you need to plan ahead to get good prices, as Priority Mail charges out the wazoo on large boxes, so go with Parcel Post and save major bucks.  Just know it's going to take a week to get there.)

In another article by Popular Mechanics, sensors were put inside of boxes which were shipped via FedEx, UPS, and United States Postal Service, and the USPS won for the best handling (and least dropping or shaking of items.)

But, here's another cool service, and an extra "bonus" for you guys.  I didn't have enough room to write this on the original JAH article.  There is an often neglected FOURTH mailing option that is terribly under-used yet so fabulous!  It's "Registered Mail" from the United States Postal Service, and here's the cool part - it's designed specifically for sending rare, valuable, and precious items.

And, ironically, in SOME cases, it's the cheapest way to ship!  Really!

This blog needed even more photos so here's a yellow dog with blue eyes.
Years ago, I went into the Post Office, where I was trying to ship an original sculpture to a mold maker.  I'm pretty chatty with my Post Office employees, so when I went to insure it for $2,000, he asked what it was.  I explained it was an original clay horse and I was super nervous about it getting lost in the mail.  If it broke, it could get fixed, but if it was lost, it was gone forever.

He explained to me that Registered Mail is checked every step of the way, and is even kept in a locked cabinet at night.  It's way more secure than anything else.  PLUS - it's cheaper than straight insurance, if the item you're sending is worth a high amount.  It was designed as a secure way to ship things like gemstones, gold, collectible coins, anything that is rare and precious.  (Which would include our precious art ponies.)

Registered Mail won't save you money on a $500 shipment, it will cost more.  But for your $10 or $12 fee, you'll get total peace of mind.

But, if you're sending that OOAK custom resin out that sold for $1500+, it's seriously time to explore Registered Mail!  Not only will your model get luxury treatment, it actually can be cheaper than straight old insurance on a Priority Mail box.  Seriously, it's awesome!  No wonder this is the shipping industry's best-kept secret.  So go forth and use the heck outta Registered Mail on all your high-dollar items!

Read the price comparison at the end of this Ebay guide about it:

Important Note:  To send items via Registered Mail, you are going to need BROWN PAPER TAPE.  That's the old-fashioned kind of tape, that you literally wet the back of to apply.  My tongue was so dry after sealing that box.  (Oh, just kidding, use a sponge to wet it.)

I go ahead and tape with regular packing tape first, and then put this on all openings.  The reason that you *must* do this on all packages sent Registered Mail is this makes a tamper-proof seal.

Pack well, like you normally would, then seal all edges with this tape.  They will stamp the paper tape at the office, so they can PROVE that no one ever opened your box during transit.  The package will take a bit longer to arrive, because it is logged in every step of the way.  Every original sculpture that I've sent via Registered Mail has arrived safe and sound on the other side.

I know it's a bit more work and effort, but it's certainly nice to know such an option exists for shipping art!

Happy shipping!

PS.  Remember when shipping models, to give at least two inches around all sides, and to give the box a really good shake before shipping.  If anything shifts or rattles, add more packing material.  Most damage is caused by the model moving around inside the box.  (Obviously, this rule does not apply when total morons rip open your box in transit.)

(I still have no photos related to this blog post so please enjoy this picture of newborn baby turkeys.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

NAN & Breyerfest 2012

I've been back from the frenzied week of  NAN/Breyerfest activities for a few days now, and I'm finally starting to "come down" a little.  Here at home, I'm usually allowed to work at a very leisurely pace, painting a bit, taking frequent breaks.  But all of this changes if I decide to do both NAN and Breyerfest in KY, plus the Artisan's Gallery, which typically runs Thursday night through Saturday night.

It's a week of utter chaos, because there is so much to do!  And the prep work for it is also insane.  My entire Nationals show string has to be packed and shipped a couple of weeks ahead of time.  Then, of course, there are sales, so new things must be painted.  It shoots me into an unhealthy manic overdrive, where I hunch over my airbrush for way too many hours and days at a time.  I can paint faster than ever when I switch over to this mindset; but everything else (eating right, visiting friends and family, sleep and general hygiene) go flying out the window for a few weeks.  It's a love/hate kind of thing.  I love the excitement and seeing my friends at Breyerfest, but I hate what it does to me mentally and physically.

However, it was an entirely successful event, so no complaints here, other than the fact I'm writing this at 5 a.m. my time - because it's 8 a.m. east coast time, and last week, that meant I had to be SOMEWHERE.

Set-up for NAN was something like 7am.  That's 4am, AZ time.  Ouch.
For NAN, my own personal show string won eight "cookies" but I saw many others who had brought past custom orders to show, so the actually tally of winners involving my paint work was closer to 18 or so.  My strongest showing was in the Workmanship Division.  Champs in Workmanship included Custom Dilute Workmanship, Custom Overo, and Custom Tobiano Workmanship.  Here are a few photos of some winners:

Over at Breyerfest Live a couple of days afterward, my models exceeded all expectations!  You never know how you'll place - these are HUGE shows with truly the best competition in the country.  Sometimes it goes your way, other times, not so much.  While Becky and I worked extremely hard to do our very best work this year, with such stiff competition, there's no telling. 

This was not even a particularly large class.
Here are a few photos from the show:

Normally I wouldn't do so well at this show, because flying in from AZ limits how much stuff you can realistically take . . . and I hate to ship items out and risk them breaking.  But, since they were going to show at NAN, there were over 20 of my personal customs at the show.  (Compared to maybe 12 or so last year?)  A couple of other artists who beat me last year failed to attend this year, or had extremely light show strings.  I certainly don't expect to do this well again!  

Right after the Open show was Breyer's auction of OOAK and test pieces.  I was super excited this year, because when they had me out at the Breyer headquarters for the Kid's event to teach back in April 2012, I took a few days to paint some models in the factory!  Including the rare, and cherished, Alborozo!  He went for $8,000 at auction, which is less than the 13k the first auction model sold for, but still that's a lot of moolah for charity!

The next morning, I had a workshop for the clear "Suncatcher Stablemates".  It feels like cheating to teach this class, because it is just so much fun!  The students made some fabulous creations:

Aside from the showing, I had a great time hanging out with everyone!  There were a couple of people that I really wanted to visit with a lot more, but it's tough with everyone in different hotels and of course, with many of my friends being artists, they also have to take care of sales.

Saturday night we were too exhausted to face the debauchery at the CHIN hotel bar, so we headed back to the Embassy for their free happy hour, where we ran into the Jouster fellas from "Full Metal Jousting".  That was entertainment for sure!  We absolutely loved staying at the Embassy and are kind of mystified that more hobby folks haven't discovered it yet.

Then is was back on a plane across country . . . still winding down from everything and trying to recover!  In all this madness, later I realized that I didn't get any photos of the PEOPLE.  Not one single photo of me or my friends hanging out.  That's criminal!  I know it was busy, but what a shame that I didn't get even one shot of us all together.  Arrgh!!!  I will remember next time, for sure . . . . 

Everybody's Doing It.

Everybody's doing it.  Starting a blog, that is.  And I mean, specifically, a blog about their art.

I pondered all the cute and catchy blog names, and in end, I couldn't think of anything beyond the fact it would be a blog talking about what was going on in my studio.  And my name is Sommer.  So "Studio Sommer" it is . . . winning the prize for least creative blog title ever.  Yay.

I know why y'all check out these blogs and will try to include the sort of things you'd like to see.  Like how-to articles, updates of stuff in progress (with lots of pictures) and hopefully a giveaway every now and then.

But since this bloggity blog will be mostly about what's going on in the studio, as well as (hopefully) hints and tips for model horse hobbyists, let me start by showing you around my current studio.  Previously, I worked in a spare bedroom of the house.  Later a tool shed was "repurposed" into a new studio.  For the most part, my studio is rather dusty and utilitarian, with a touch of friendly clutter.

These photos are not typical . . . this is  about as good as it ever gets.  Recently, I had eye surgery, and my mom came over to help me clean it out.  It was a huge help because I was able to swing right back into working again!  This is Arizona, after all, and dust builds up FAST here.  So about once a month, I have to wipe everything down, but it had been a couple of years since I had dragged EVERYTHING out and cleaned top to bottom.

When you first walk in, there's a long counter and sink.  The letters saying "Art Room" were cast off signage that my boyfriend nabbed at a job.  (He does commercial store installations, among other things.)  My most pressing works go there - stuff I'll be doing RIGHTNOW.  This was shortly before Breyerfest, so in progress were customs and sale resins.

Off to the right, you see this giant banner with my name on it and a picture of a button.  What's that about?  Well, for umm, three or four years, I think it was, I was a server at The Olive Garden.  They encouraged us to customize our own button, and soon as I walked in with my hand-painted buttons, everyone on the staff started paying me for custom orders!  I probably painted 100-200 of the darn things between moving around three stores and all the various employees.

My last year working there, they had a button-painting contest with a theme, "The World of Wine".  Now keep in mind this was on an actual BUTTON.  So the faces on that giant blown up poster actually could have fit on your pinky nail.

While I wasn't the winner of the contest (they chose a still life of a wine glass on a table) the managers at my store in Peoria were so awesome.  They bought me a $100 gift certificate to an art supply store and posted that huge banner on the wall.  Unfortunately, to my knowledge they never held the contest again, but it was pretty fun.  The next year, I finally sold my first commercial sculpture and that was it for my button-painting days.

There is the mandatory pile of magazine clippings and reference over there, misc. godknowswhat art supplies.  To the right, piled up in the corner, are the dreaded Body Bins where innocent plastic horses await destruction, and then, rebirth.

To the left, the table where I actually sit and airbrush, which is constantly covered with debris and various horsies.

A close up reveals I was working on a "Mango" resin and a new custom that Becky Turner had just sent me.

On the shelves, rows of tiny prepped minis.  Some were painted in time for Breyerfest but most remain.

Inside the cabinets, storage for beautiful resins that desperately need attention.

By the T.V. is this little handsome man-doll that I bought on clearance at Wal-Mart.  I haven't given him a name yet, but I imagine that he murmurs words of encouragement, like "My, how attractive you look today in those paint-spattered lounge pants!"

And that's it for now.  Hope you enjoyed the tour!