I am entering the real crunch time for the Fall Lottery, but this is what it looked like a little over a month ago. I always plan the horses as a group. What I want is a pretty diverse group, so that not all the horses are gray-toned, or all dark, or all patterned. (Okay, I do tend to come close to that one a lot.) I begin by pulling reference pictures of colors and patterns that strike my fancy. After I have a good group, I try to analyze what it is that draws me to the color or pattern. Often what I am looking for is what I call a “hook” – some feature that makes a particular horse look distinctive or memorable – to see if it might work with one of the lottery pieces. The set of references for the fleabitten grey horse in the bottom center of the picture is a good example of this kind of thing. The horse had a slightly unusual distribution of dark hairs in his mane, and I thought it might be visually interesting on the right mold.
Eventually I settle on a dozen or so ideas and then begin matching them to molds. Some of the ideas will get tossed because I don’t have just the right mold for the idea. For the fleabitten grey horse, I chose Finn because the distinctive shading I found so attractive will pair nicely with the movement of that mold’s mane. The frosty roan pinto to the right hand side of the picture, however, got set aside for later when I had a mold with a long mane that might show off the frosty mane.
The other reason that reference got set aside is that I do a lot of toveros, and a lot of patterned horses with softer contrast, simply because that’s my personal taste. I don’t want to fall into the trap of repeating myself over and over. I want to create unique horses each time around, rather than develop “colorways” like a commercial pottery company. I used to think I could never make legions of similar horses even if someone asked me to, but now that I have made so many I realize that it is a lot easier to do this than I expected. Customers who missed out on this or that horse want to see the color again, and known formulas are certainly much less risky. But I want each lottery group to be better than the last, so that means experimenting and taking risks.
You can also see that the pictures are all in sheet protectors. That keeps me from spilling underglaze on them, and also to stuff extra reference pictures inside with the original inspiration. I almost never paint a horse from one reference. One photo rarely has enough information, so I work from as many as I can find. On the outside I post one sticky note with a list of color mixes I will need (in this picture I’m also beginning to assemble those mixes), and one sticky outlining each underglaze firing step.
I also set this up with the idea that this way the horses will get created in an orderly fashion. In actual practice, it never really works out that way. I almost always underestimate the number of firings a horse will take. Sometimes the only way to find out something won’t work without another firing is to try it. What starts out so orderly and well-planned almost always descends into chaos.
And that’s the stage I am at right now! There are horses all over the work bench and quick-change bottles and magazine clippings spread all over the floor, and I’m not even sure what is going in the kiln tonight. But it always looks like this right before finished horses start popping out of the kiln, so I consider it a good sign.