Many collectors take the plunge into painting and customizing as a way to repair a broken or scratched Breyer model horse or simply add interest to an old, favorite model. Models found at garage sales and yard sales may be so played with by grubby little hands that they aren't worth much in their original finish. These so-called 'body models' are excellent first Breyer horses to hone your customizing skills. As your skills develop and you become more and more fluent with a paintbrush, you can tackle coat patterns such as pinto and Appaloosa, advanced painting projects such as finishing artist resin model horses, and more.
Customizing Model Horses
Painting, hairing, repositioning and resculpting existing model horses all falls under the umbrella term of "customized" or "customizing" model horses. The idea is to take a basic model horse and change it in such a way that it becomes a unique model.
Customizing, like any artistic skills, takes time, patience and practice. There are some great how-to videos, CDs, and books on the market to help you create realistic coat patterns and colors. If you'd like to begin practicing immediately on some simple colors, begin by assembling the basic materials.
Basic Painting Materials for Model Horses
The basic materials needed for a simple customization are:
- Horse model: Choose a current favorite or find an old, scratched model at a flea market or yard sale. If you're not sure of the age of value of the model, check before painting - you don't want to paint over something valuable.
- Paint: Most beginning customizers use acrylic paints. Artists' acrylic paints can be thinned with water, dry quickly, and wash out of brushes and off of work surfaces and hands easily. You can find them at art supply stores, craft and hobby stores, or even some mass retail stores.
- Brushes: Purchase several sizes to start with, some with wide tips and some very fine tips for detail work. A 0, 2 and 5 brush are three good started brushes.
- Rags: A few rags are handy for cleaning up spills and drying brushes.
- Water container: An old coffee can, empty and clean plastic container or some other container works well to clean brushes.
- Gesso or primer: Gesso is a water-based primer that creates an opaque, smooth surface. It helps create a blank canvas on a three dimensional model horse body. Some people also use automotive spray primer, the gray stuff found at hardware stores. Others just paint on a coat of white or another color to create a smooth, solid, monotone base. You may wish to experiment with various materials and colors to see what works best for you.
- Sealer: A clear, matte spray sealer locks in the paint and prevents scratches.
- Sandpaper: A fine grain sand paper isn't necessary but can be useful for touching up rough spots before priming.
- Newspaper or cover for the table: Just in case you spill some paint, spread newspaper on the work surface.
- Empty pie plate or piece of cardboard: Empty pie tins, the disposable kind from frozen pies, work well as an artist's palette or a place to mix your colors. A piece of cardboard can also work just fine.
Basic Paint Colors
Nature provides a varied and extensive selection of coat colors for horses, but fortunately for the model horse customizer, a few basic tubes of acrylic paint are enough to mix many interesting colors for painting model horses. White, black, burnt sienna, and raw umber are the four basic colors needed to mix most other colors. Raw sienna, a cream color, and a yellow may also be useful to blend into other shades and colors.
Assemble a Reference Photo Library
Another useful item to have on hand is a reference photo of the desired color you wish to paint on your model horses. Collect photos from magazines, websites and books of colors that you love. Keep them in a binder or folder for easy reference.
Most collectors also invest in one or more horse breed reference books. These provide color photos of each breed plus specifics on the breed, including any restrictions on colors allowed in purebreed registries. If you plan to show your model horse, you'll need to assign it a breed and perhaps a pedigree, so painting it an acceptable color for the breed saves time later trying to find breed assignments for models.
After assembling the tools and materials, it's time to practice. Choose an inexpensive plastic model. Remember that practice - and patience - makes perfect. Have patience with yourself and enjoy the learning process.