Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jasmine

Ok, I admit it--I've been checking my computer all day to see if I am the winner of Melanie Miller's free Jasmine resin. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, take a look at this entry from Mel's blog: http://chinookstudios.blogspot.com/2008/11/jasmine-contest-reminder.html. While you're at it, you really ought to check out the entire blog. In addition to pictures of in progress models from her studio, Mel also posts a lot of really excellent tips on sculpting and finishwork. It's one of my favorite blogs and well worth adding to your reading list. I would love to win a Jasmine resin. Not only is it a great, performance friendly sculpture, but I've had the pleasure of meeting the real Jasmine. She's a molly mule belonging to Colorado hobbyist, Emma Loofburrow. I took these pictures a couple years ago at Jasmine's then-home in Littleton, CO. Isn't she cute? I just love her eyelashes. She was very patient with James and me during our visit. I submitted a few "Friday Tip" ideas to Mel so there is a small chance I might win... I'm not counting on it, but my inner optimist remains hopeful!
So, I guess I'll just keep crossing my fingers and hitting the refresh button!

My new Egyptian Dancing Horse Costume

Nearly a year ago, I was delighted to work out a trade deal with Melissa Sage. I agreed to make her two English saddle sets in exchange for an Egyptian Dancing Horse costume and a few other assorted goodies. I am a fast worker (usually) so my part of the trade was completed in early 2008. Melissa's had a busier year. She moved, she had surgery, her kids had surgery... Not surprisingly, it's taken her a long time to finish my costume.

It arrived yesterday, and without a doubt, this was worth the wait!You can see better pictures of it on Melissa's blog : http://sage-creations.blogspot.com/2008/11/having-little-fun.html. It's grey and snowy here today and the light is just terrible for photography. Still, I am pleased with the above picture. My little Regel resin is not a competitive halter horse, but that doesn't mean he can't have a successful costume career. I think he looks marvelous in his new clothes!

Thank you, Melissa, for such a lovely addition to my Tack by Other Tackmakers collection!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Other free saddles

The saddle I'll be making Tiffany next week is not the first saddle I've given away. In fact, it's the third. The first free saddle went to my friend Regan.

Several years ago, Regan ordered a Portuguese saddle set for her Vizcaya resin. Even though I had NO IDEA how I was going to make it, I let her pay me in advance. Big mistake. I made the bridle and breastplate right away, but the saddle scared me. I didn't know where to start. I bought materials and looked at reference pictures. I sketched out the different parts and looked at more pictures. Still, the light bulb did not go on over my head. I tried to force it and got nowhere. Eventually I put everything aside and moved on to other, easier projects. A year passed...

Regan and I do not live next door to one another, but we go to the same model shows and we were riding at the same barn. As even more months slipped by, I found that guilt was making me want to avoid Regan. This was bad because I like going to model horse shows, I like riding and I like Regan. Something had to be done. I was still completely blocked in regards to the Portuguese saddle so I made her a dressage saddle instead. Free.
This was the first dressage saddle I'd ever made, and I was incredibly proud of it. Even after all this time, I think it looks pretty good.

I finally finished the Portuguese set in early 2007. I kind of had to. It was that or make her a free huntseat saddle!
I also made a free saddle for another hobbyist last December as part of Model Horse Blab's Secret Santa gift exchange. If I remember correctly it was a classic saddleseat saddle much like this one.
I didn't sign up for any model horse gift exchanges this year. I was worried I wouldn't have time between the holidays (my in-laws are coming!) and my tack commitments. I'm regretting that decision a bit now. Those exchanges are always so much fun, and as I've been cleaning the house in preparation for holiday visitors, I've found all sorts of model horse goodies that I can happily live without. Keep an eye on this space. I'll probably post some of them here in the next couple weeks.

Friday, November 28, 2008

And the winners are...

The men have come home and the winners have been selected.

James picked the winner of the $50 Friends of My Blog gift certificate. To enter this raffle, you had to either sign up to follow my blog or comment on it via the comments section or email. In this picture James is mixing up the 80 raffle tickets. Note, we are a casual household. Kids are not required to comb their hair on weekends! And the winner is:
Yay! Erin, your comment on the blog entry "Pony dressage" won you a gift certificate!

Ryan chose the winner of the 2008 BCS Customer Appreciation Raffle. This raffle was my way of thanking everyone who bought (or traded for) tack from me in 2008. Every $50 purchase translated to one raffle ticket. Customers who bought tack previous to 2008 could also earn tickets by sending me pictures of their horses wearing my tack. All told, there were 303 tickets in this raffle. That's a lot of tickets for Ryan to mix up.
And the winner is:
Yay! Tiffany Purdy gets yet another one of my saddles! Congratulations!!!

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported my little tack business over the last several years. I wish you could have all been winners today. I am planning to do this again in 2009 so keep the pictures and comments coming!

Getting ready

I've spent the morning working on the raffle. There are 303 tickets in the saddle raffle and 80 in the raffle for the gift certificate. That's a lot of tickets!I'm all ready for the big draw.
However my husband and kids have left the house in search of outdoor adventures. I promised Ryan and James that they will each get to choose a winner, so everything is on hold until they return. No idea when that will be--stay tuned!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I am thankful

Every year before Thanksgiving, my kids come home from school with a new set of I am Thankful books. Despite being completely predictable, I always enjoy this particular classroom assignment.
Today's post is my own personal version of an I am Thankful book, and probably will be just as lacking in originality (sorry!).

First and foremost I'm thankful for my healthy, happy family. I am thankful that I still like my husband some thirteen years later and that our smart, funny boys are are doing well in school and all their other ventures.
I am thankful for my dogs and am especially thankful that my beloved Abbie is still here curled up at my feet as she has been for the past fourteen years. Six months ago, she was battling three separate and serious medical problems, and it seemed unlikely we would be successful in returning her to health and happiness. I am so grateful she has defied the odds and is back to being her bossy, bratty self.Like James, I am thankful for our house. It's no dream house, but it's warm, bright and cheerful. We bought it in 2003 when the real estate market was booming, and I am grateful we did not allow the real estate agent or mortgage broker talk us into overspending (they tried!). I am equally thankful that in today's uncertain economy, my husband's profession seems to be recession proof, allowing me to stay home with our kids and to make lots of little saddles.Lastly and perhaps most relevant here, I am thankful for the model horse hobby in general and for my friends and customers in particular. Thank you so much for the support and encouragement I have received from you over the years. I appreciate every single person who has ever bought a piece of my tack.

I am extra thankful when people send me pictures like these:
The pinto pony is Tiffany Purdy's Molly, 2008 NAN Champion CM Other Performance, wearing her BCS endurance set (picture courtesy of NAMHSA and used with permission). The overo Ruffian is Susan Hargrove's Get Go Gal, 2008 NAN Champion CM Speed Game -Barrel Racing/Pole Bending, wearing her BCS skid boots. No matter how big or small, I love to see pictures of my tack in use. Thanks, Tiffany and Susan.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Early Christmas

About a month ago, my husband came home with a $100 gift card that he had received as a bonus for putting in extra hours at work. He gave the card to me with the stipulation that I spend it on something fun for myself. I was not allowed to buy anything for the kids or the dogs or to use it to purchase groceries or other household necessities.

I'm not much of a shopper so it took me a while to decide what I wanted. Not surprisingly, though, I ended up where I so often do when I have extra money--at a book store. Unfortunately the book I wanted most was pretty obscure, so I ended up forgoing brick and mortar stores for Amazon.com. My books arrived today, and it's just like having Christmas a month early. There is nothing better than a box of new books!

First out of the box was this fun trio of horse-y novels. It's this book, though, that's the real prize.
My kids and I visit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science a couple times a year. I saw this book in the museum gift shop on our last trip. I had really wanted to buy it at the time, but it was expensive and more importantly, I didn't want to be a hypocrite. That gift shop is an absolute treasure trove of things that my two little science obsessed boys want. They can spend hours in there looking at the kits and toys, and of course, they pretty much want one of everything. I had just given them this big speech about how we were only looking and not buying. I simply could not turn around and by myself a $70 book after that.
When Seth gave me that gift card, I went back to the museum (without my kids) but the book was gone. I tried a couple bookstores and then Amazon, which had just a handful of copies left.
If you are even a little bit interested in making model horse scale Native American costumes, I can not recommend this book enough. It's pricey but the pictures are outstanding and very detailed. Horse masks are , naturally, the main focus, but there also lots of historic pictures of horses in full costume. There's even a picture of a horse mask that resides in the museum where I first spied this book. I've made just one Native American costume in my tack career so far and it did have a mask. I've got another one planned for for 2009, but this book is so inspiring that I'm kind of thinking it will be maybe another two or three! Now, if only my holiday dinner would plan itself so I could spend the rest of the day reading...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tired

I was up all night with a sick dog. She seems much better this morning, but I am exhausted and moving in slow motion. So much for best laid plans! This is my kids' last day of school for the week and I had hoped to get a whole list of things done while they were away. Oh well, I'll just have to be that much more efficient tomorrow.

One thing I've managed to do is finish up Sophie's braided halter, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out. Hope she will be too!I keep looking at this halter and thinking it should be going to Tiffany. If you know Tiffany, you can probably guess why!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness is...

...making progress on the backlog!I shipped out two orders today and expect to have another two ready tomorrow. Hurray, hurray!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning to see

I started taking riding lessons when I was ten and a half years old, and horses of the real, live, breathing variety have been a part of my life ever since. There have been periods in my life when I rode upwards of eight hours a day, six days a week. Of course there were other years when my horse time was a lot less frequent. Still, no matter how you look at it, I've spent almost thirty years around horses.

And yet, in some ways I feel that I'm just now learning to really see horses. For example, if you had asked my ten year old self to define the color bay, I would have said that bay refers to a brown horse with black points. That answer is still correct of course, but it's not complete. Even the plainest non-dappled, non-sooty, non-anything bay has so much more going on than simple brown and black.

This is one of the horses I ride pretty regularly. His name is Punky and he's a Quarter Horse gelding who belongs to my friend Fran. He's the definition of a plain bay. In fact, there was a time not so long ago when I would have described his color as a plain, boring bay.
Not so today!

This new perspective started a couple years ago when I made my first serious attempts at painting models. I tried a bay first because that seemed like such an easy and basic color. I was fine on the base coat, but as the paintwork progressed, I started to realize the limits of my knowledge. There was an astonishing amount of things I couldn't quite remember--stuff like how high above the knees do the black markings extend and exactly how much dark skin shows through around the horses eyes? Is the belly lighter or darker than the rest of the horse? I know the flanks are lighter, but what about the chest? Are the insides of a horse's ears really black? And on and on. I started making a concerted effort to notice these details every time I look at a horse. Pictures are great for in studio reference, but nothing compares to actually studying the real thing.

So now when I look at Punky, I don't see a boring bay. He may be a brown horse with black legs, but look at how beautifully those legs are shaded! I love the soft transitions from black to brown to black again. I also love the subtle color variations on his face. He has just a little bit of mealy-ness around his eyes, yet even in his winter fuzzies the black skin is clearly visible on his lower eyelid. Check out the eyelashes--they're two tone!And who would not love his adorable little nose! There's so much going on here--reddish brown, tan, white, grey, black and even a little pink.Sadly, this new found awareness of color nuances hasn't magically transformed me into a world class model horse painter. However, it has helped me to both improve my own finishwork and recognize excellence in others' . I don't think I would have ever noticed these kind of details had I not become involved with model horses. The little plastic horses have given me a whole new appreciation for the big, breathing ones. Isn't it funny how that's worked out!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The smallest saddle I've ever made

Well, to be honest, I've made two of these. This one was the first and it went together really, really easily. I kept the pattern and the second should have been just as pleasant... Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. Every single step was riddled with problems. I have not yet been persuaded to try a third! Interestingly, the pattern for this saddle is, except for size, almost identical to that of a "big" one. There are only two real simplifications--it has one billet per side instead of the usual three, and I the nailhead is dotted on with silver paint. It has a metal tree and is even made out of the same leather (petite tooling calf) just skived really thin.

I admire people who work in this scale. I can go mini every once in a great while, but I would go nuts if I did it all the time!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pony dressage

Just finished this one up yesterday--it's a dressage saddle made to fit the Stone pony. I am very pleased with the shape of the seat. I make my own saddle trees and this is what I'm aiming for--a saddle that fits the horse properly and looks comfortable to ride in. Hope the new owner likes it as much as I do!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tack Tips--smooth edges

I love looking at tack made by other tack makers. There are so many talented leather crafters working in the model horse hobby right now. Seeing what other people can do often leaves me feeling both inspired and challenged... Other times, though, I also feel really frustrated. One of my pet peeves is seeing an absolutely beautiful saddle that has unfinished, fuzzy edges. Close up pictures intended to showcase fabulous detail work, only make those bad edges more obvious. Finishing edges properly is neither hard nor time consuming if you know the secret. I do and I'm going to share it with you!

That offending, fuzzy edge is clearly visible on this strip of leather.
The next picture shows the same strap with most of the fuzzies trimmed off of it. I did this by holding my shears at an angle to the leather, and cutting as close as possible to the edge without actually cutting into it. This has already improved the edge's appearance significantly.
The next step is to smooth the edge with gum tragacanth. Although you may have never heard of it, gum tragacanth is the secret weapon for taming leather fuzzies.

And what exactly is gum tragacanth? Here is part of Wikipedia's definition:

Gum tragacanth is a viscous, odorless, tasteless, water-soluble mixture of polysaccharides obtained from sap which is drained from the root of the plant and dried. The gum seeps from the plant in twisted ribbons or flakes which can be powdered. When added to water, tragacanth absorbs water and becomes a gel which can be stirred into a paste. The gum is used used in veg-tanned leatherworking as an edge slicking and burnishing compound and is occasionally used as a stiffener in textiles.

You can buy gum tragacanth at either Tandy or the Leather Factory. A small bottle costs less than $5 and will last a long time. Because I make such a large volume of tack, I buy nearly everything in bulk and refill my small bottles as necessary.
I apply the gum tragacanth by dipping my finger into the bottle and then rubbing it along the edge. In mere seconds, the edge looks smooth and polished. Although you could call it good now, I prefer dark edges on my tack. For years I used paint markers on the edges because that was what Carol Williams recommended in her saddle kit. That didn't work particularly well for me, though, so I started looking for something better. This is what I use now.Edge Kote is another inexpensive product you can buy at Tandy or the Leather Factory. It is made specifically for darkening leather edges and comes in both black and brown. I like it because it's easy to apply and clean up and will not bleed into the leather.

Before I treat the edges, I seal the leather with either Satin Shene or Super Shene. I allow that to dry completely, then I carefully dip a Q-tip into the Edge Kote. I do not want a lot of Edge Kote on the Q-tip because that's how things get messy. I run the Q-tip along the edge of the leather until I get my nice, dark edge.Despite my best efforts, sometimes I paint more than just the edge with the Edge Kote. I keep a paper towel on hand for just that reason. I've found that it cleans up easily as long as you don't wait too long.
Here's a quick picture showing the original fuzzy strap, a strap that's been trimmed and treated with gum tragacanth and a finished, sealed strap with dark edges. Each step has darkened the leather a bit, but I don't use products sparingly. If I wanted to preserve the original ultra-light leather color, I would have been a lot less heavy handed with both the gum tragacanth and the sealer.
Hope this is helpful to someone, and now that you know how easy it is, there's really no excuse for leaving your edges fuzzy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prodigal Daughter

I am feeling tired and uninspired today, so instead of finishing that Tack Tips article I've been working on for days, I'm just going to post some pictures of the newest addition to my collection. This is Prodigal Daughter, a Calamity Jane resin painted by Hilary Schwafel. The original Calamity Jane was a Breyer Silver transformed into a bucking rodeo mare by Sarah Isherwood. Sarah chronicled the customization process in pictures on Blab. I really enjoy it when artists do that, and I got swept up in the excitement surrounding this model. The finished horse was sent to Cindy Williams for paint and was shown to a big win at Breyerfest 2007. Somewhere along the line, Sarah made the decision to have her cast in resin. I signed up for a copy right away.
Months passed and by the time I received my copy of Calamity Jane, I'd begun to regret my purchase. The blank model did not inspire me in person the way it had in pictures. The head looked weird and the sculpting was kind of rough. Perhaps it was my imagination, but as I was prepping her, I could just feel the spots where the epoxy had met the original plastic... I usually enjoy prepping my own horses, but this one took forever as the resin and I seemed to be at odds with one another. I didn't even manage to finish the job. I got her most of the way there, but eventually threw up my hands and sent her on to Hilary hoping she could succeed where I had failed.
Fortunately for me, she did. I had also sent Hilary several pages of reference photos and she did a suberb job of incorporating all my ideas into the finishwork. "Prodigal Daughter" came home last week, and I've fallen in love with her all over again. I love it when that happens!

Thank you Hilary, for transforming this wild child back into something I'm happy to own!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Just a little reminder...

There are only ten days left to submit pictures for the 2008 BCS Customer Appreciation raffle. I'll be drawing the name of the lucky winner on Friday, November 28. This blog is the only place I'll be announcing raffle results, so don't forget to check this spot sometime over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

If you've sent a picture that hasn't yet appeared on this blog, fear not. I've made note of your submission and you are entered in the raffle.I'll also be choosing the winner of the "Friends of my Blog " raffle on November 28. The prize for that one is a $50 gift certificate good towards any tack purchase made in the next year.
For the complete raffle rules and information, check out these postings:
Many thanks to Theresa Kambour for today's pictures!