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How Model Horses Are Made

Learning How Model Horses Are Made Opens New Collecting Avenues to Explore


Original Sculpture by Candace Liddy for an Artist Resin Model Horse

The original sculpture for With A Twist, an Artist Resin model horses sculpted by Candace Liddy.

Photo copyright 2010 Jeanne Grunert, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Have you ever wondered how horse models are made? Here's a peek into the magical world of creating a model horse.

Creating a Horse Model: The Sculpture

Model horses begin with a realistic equine sculpture. Breyer and other companies hire artists to sculpt the original model. The company commissioning the sculpture or the artist selects the pose, breed and gender for the final piece. Many use reference photos, and some sculptors use up to a dozen or more reference photos demonstrating various angles of the horse to ensure that they get a three-dimensional picture of the horse. If the horse model is to be of a famous horse such as a racehorse or a show horse, permission must be secured from the horse's owners.

The artist may submit sketches to the company commissioning the work to ensure that her concept matches what the company has in mind. At that point, the company must also assess how the final work will be cast in plastic, resin, or china, and whether or not the final piece needs a base or support of some kind.

Once the company approves the sketches, the artist makes a wire frame or armature. The armature is like the skeleton of the horse. Next, clay or a sculpting medium such as Apoxie Sculpt coats the armature. Many layers added on top of each other transform the bare wire into the form of a horse. Some sculptors use balls of aluminum foil inside the armature to create the rounded form of the horse's hindquarters or belly.

As the layers of clay or sculpting medium build upon the armature, special tools are used to shape the horse's muscles. Intricate details such as the eyes, mouth, nostrils, hooves and mane and tail are carved to perfection. Many artists even carve the frog and the concave section of the underside of the horse's hooves.

The sculpture may take many weeks or months to finish. Artists often seek critiques from fellow equine sculptors and sometimes even collectors to ensure that the final piece reflects the beauty of the horse.

Waste Casts and Finishing the Original

Clay hardens but must be cast into what's known as a waste cast. This waste cast holds up better to the rigors of mold making than other material. Waste casts can be cleaned and adjusted but the model is almost complete.

After the final model meets the company and the artist's standard of perfection, it moves into production. Breyer and other plastic model horses are predominantly made using the injection molding process. Mold makers use the original model to create a steel casting mold. Plastic pellets feed into a big injection molding machine, melt down, and the liquid plastic is forced into the mold at high speed. When the plastic horse models come out of the machine, they're entirely white.

Have you ever wondered why your Breyer horse has a tiny hole in the nostril? It's to let air out during the molding process. If it didn't have this tiny hole, the model couldn't be hollow.

Once the model casts are inspected, they're shipped to the group that paints the model horses. Breyer and Peter Stone horse models are entirely hand painted, and some may pass among up to 20 different painting artists before completion. The base color may be airbrushed on with many color variations added by different painters to achieve the realistic shading and details so prized by collectors. White areas on Breyer horses are usually masked areas, meaning that the painters mask out or cover the area when spraying the rest of the horse, allowing the white plastic underneath to show through. After painting, the models are packaged and shipped all over the world.

Reusing Molds

As you can imagine, bring a new model horse to life costs thousands and thousands of dollars. Many companies reuse the base molds and paint the horses into different colors to add to their product lines. Some companies even purchase the molds or the rights to cast models in different mediums. Breyer did this in the 1970's with Hagen Renaker, purchasing many small scale Maureen Love Calvert sculpted-molds to introduce the wildly popular Stablemate line of model horses. Today, many Artist Resins and Artist Resin model horse sculptors cross over into the realm of plastic model horses when Breyer and other companies re-issue their sculptures in plastic or china. Many artists change the mass produced horses slightly to set them apart from the limited edition and very expensive Artist Resins.

Why Learn How Horse Models Are Made?

Other than the odd geek who enjoys learning how stuff is made, why should you learn how Breyers are made if all you want to do is collect and show them? Understanding how Breyer creates its line of realistic and affordable model horses helps collectors who want to paint and customize models later. Because Breyers are made of injection-molded plastic, gently heating the plastic models enables model horse artists to bend, shape or move the model into new positions. Knowing that Breyer horses are hand painted makes unusual markings, such as an Appaloosa without spots even more desirable, the way a coin collector looks for a two-headed penny. It can really enhance your collecting fun and open whole new avenues to explore in the model horse hobby.

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