Diary of a Mutton Busting Sheep
by Elaine Lindelef
After I got everything squared away to enter The Jennifer Show, I thought I was done. I had some vintage horses to bring, so I wouldn’t be completely empty handed. I’d bring my NaMoPaiMo horse and I had two other horses I’d be working on. I was going to socialize. Not so much to show.
Then Jennifer Buxton posted this on June 7: Other Animal Performance.
Okay! This was going to be a fun weird class. No one would really be ready for it. I felt like I should Do A Thing.
My daughter has been raising sheep since 2010. Somehow, it turns out, when you let your daughter keep two sheep a year, you end up with a lot of sheep, and a lot of sheep expertise. So clearly, my entry should be about sheep.
My first thought was a sheepdog trial, but that’s about dogs, not sheep. Plus, coming up with four animals in a fun position seemed a little much to take on even to my very optimistic mindset. I wanted something the sheep was doing… and I hit upon the perfect thing: mutton busting.
I knew only that my sheep would be winning - would the judge want anything less? - and that nothing off the shelf would do. I’d just sculpt one from scratch, no biggie. (Ironic laugh here.)
One of the most fun things about having sheep for me has been taking pictures of them, and so I have thousands and thousands of sheep pictures. I especially love it when I catch them in mid-sproing. This is one of my favorite sproing pictures:
This is our first keeper ewe, named Sweetheart, and sproinging runs in her family. She still sproings even though she weighs more than 200 pounds. I’ve seen her sproing pregnant. This is her daughter, Sakura:
Sakura a bit younger:
And these images were the ones I most relied on for the pose and general sassiness.
So I made my plan. A cavorting sheep, leaping with two hind legs on the ground, and some poor child doll to get flung off in some way. At this point I wasn’t sure if I’d try to make the child myself out of epoxy, find a doll of the right size to dress, or commission one. I really enjoyed Anne Field’s blog about creating Link for Jackie Arns Rossi, and the idea of the final project being a collaboration with her was kind of appealing and fun. But I figured I’d better get started on the sheep.
This image was taken June 29. I had been thinking for a little bit, and finally took the plunge and started.
The first lesson I had to learn, and I had to learn it over and over, is that sheep are not horses. You might think this is something I had learned in kindergarten, or if not then, maybe our first year owning, showing, and raising sheep in 4-H, or maybe sometime between when we started breeding sheep and raised over forty lambs. Apparently not: in my mind sheep are just small, woolly horses.
I made this armature like I’d make a horse armature. I used a profile photo of Sweetheart’s daughter Cricket and drew a skeleton on it, then measured them, exactly as I would for a horse. I realized to modify it for the additional width of a sheep too. All good! But I made two rather significant errors. See that rigid back? Yeah, horses have rigid backs. Sheep don’t. They have twisty, flexible backs, in a big way, and in fact the whole point of my sculpture was a twisty, flexible animal. Oops.
Second. Those wires going down the center of the leg down to the ground are going to be problematic in an animal with two toes instead of one. Sigh.
On the plus side, the mistake wasn’t too hard to fix with a little bit of dremel and a little bit of cheating. Sheep still move differently from horses in the front end, in particular the way that their legs can and do really tuck up against the body more than horse legs do.
Foil to fill in, some blue tape to stabilize…
July 28. Coming along. I still have tons of time, right? Except: notice I’m avoiding the hard parts, and the next day I injured my right hand badly (thanks sheep!), for which I earned a Glove of Shame while it tried to heal. I’m lucky it wasn’t broken.
I used a lot of that ibuprofen for my hand…
And I realize, after toying with various doll ideas, that I really want to have Anne make the doll. So I finally send her the message that I’ve been crafting for weeks explaining the project and what I have in mind. She agrees - and now I REALLY have to finish the sheep, because wouldn’t it be lame for her to get her part done and me to flake on mine?
August 24. I committed to a sheep nose, finally. I’m realizing I have to be brave and just go for it. The dark epoxy is apoxie sculpt left over from my BreyerWest Maggie Bennett workshop. The light is Magic Sculpt. No real reason I’m using both, mostly just experimenting.
August 26. Lili arrives from Anne… awesome! I giggle myself silly as I experiment.
September 2. Suddenly I become aware that TJS is no longer comfortably far in the future. My hand is finally getting better enough that I trust it to hold a pencil. I’d better suck it up and put a face on this sheep. I am annoyed with myself that I haven’t been sculpting eyes every week for the last 20 years. I love that I have a ton of close up reference photos of sheep faces though. I tell myself, “It’s only a sheep, it’s your first one, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it does have to be DONE."
September 2. I made a lot of progress. Holidays are awesome. The sheep ears were really fun to make and fun to put on. I like to sculpt my ears as flat epoxy, then make ear shapes and let them harden, then add the finished, hardened ears in a second step. This gives me more ability to pose them on the animal without botching the ear shape.
September 7. I solved a serious problem. Acrylic rod is certainly inexpensive and plentiful… but not anywhere near me at hours I could get to, and to order it required buying a lot more than I needed and paying rather a lot in shipping. And then I realized I had this two dollar paintbrush….
So, the rod is now installed. I put the plastic wrap on expecting I’d be able to slide the rod back out. I don’t know if I didn’t get plastic wrap on the whole rod or if the epoxy happily bonded through the plastic… but that rod is not coming out. Oh well!
September 7. Uh, TJS is next weekend. I’ve got like 5 days to complete and pack this little friend, not to mention all the side tasks I made for myself…. There’s rather a lot left to do!
September 11. I am leaving for the airport tomorrow. I am not finished, and um, paint would be good. Deadlines have a way of creating inspiration.
September 11. A lot of epoxy went on this day!
I found her a sturdy shoebox, packed her weirdly colored but thankfully no longer sticky self carefully inside it, and wrapped that in my newly purchased hard-sided enormous checkable suitcase. Checking meant I could also bring paint and glue which apparently I was going to need. Also, I was a little leery of trying to get this body full of aluminum foil and wire wrapped in epoxy through the carry on screening, and I had realized that in fact I had a very tight connection between my flight and the first airport bus of the morning - not much time for TSA scrutiny or shenanigans. Checking her in luggage turned out to be exactly the right thing to do, and that part went really smoothly.
In full Model Horse Show Tradition, I finished painting her in the hotel room on Friday afternoon with a bit of extra work on Saturday in the show hall.
And here she is in action on Sunday at TJS!
This was so much fun. She won a green medallion in that impressively competitive Other Animal Performance class, a few hearts, an adorable resin “Stanley” dog by Marilyn Jensen, and a cute dog bowl and biscuit by Shamrock Farms, plus she started many delightful conversations.
I look forward to having many more silly adventures with my Sweetheart amalgam and Lili, both together and separately. They are both so much fun just to play with, and I hope to share them both at more model horse shows.
Thanks, Jennifer, for giving me a reason to sculpt a sheep. Thanks to Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig, who gave me my first patient lessons in sculpting eyes and eventually the confidence - or overconfidence - to think I could sculpt anything once I mastered that. Thanks to Lynn Fraley and everyone who has shared their armature-creation techniques that I was in the end able to adapt to a wholly new species. And thanks to my daughter and all our sheep friends who nudged us into taking those first sheep home “just to try it out, you can totally bring them back if it doesn’t work out” (ha ha ha) and then kept enabling us and filling us both with all kinds of sheep knowledge and expertise.