Tag Archives | BreyerFest

Unexpected things


You will never guess what I am!

I started getting requests to write a book on horse color shortly after I started writing articles on the subject, but I didn’t take the idea really seriously until after I began doing seminars at BreyerFest in 2001. My husband co-authored a physics textbook a few years later, and I began teasing him that surely my obscure interest (horse color) was more marketable than his (optical physics). I am still not sure about that, but his publishing experience did convince me that I was too used to controlling my images and text to work with a publishing company. The growth in self-publishing options, particularly print-on-demand, and the belief that I probably knew the market for this kind of book better than most publishers, decided it for me.

The book I truly wanted to write didn’t seem feasible at this point. I needed high-quality color printing, and while the prices have come down a great deal in recent years, they aren’t yet down low enough. I thought that producing an in-depth book on color identification at a reasonable price was still a few years off, so I thought perhaps a smaller scale project might be a good way to “learn the ropes” of self-publishing. What I had in mind was a book that expanded on the information provided in my breed color charts. Those charts have always been abbreviated, both in the scope of the breeds and the colors themselves (new colors have not be added over time). They also don’t give any background or clarification on the information. That information has always been in my notes – in my rather infamous “color notebooks”.


These are just a few of the sheets from a few of the notebooks. After almost twenty years, there are thousands of pages – and still they represent only a fraction of the accumulated information.

I thought I could produce a book with a brief outline of the colors and patterns currently known, and then present each breed with a narrative of what colors were present in the gene pool. I envisioned a handy reference book that could fill in what the charts did not tell. Since it was not designed to explain horse color, but merely to tell the story of horse color in the different breeds, it could be printed in black and white.

So that was the plan – a handy reference book that could be written in time for a June deadline (making the first copies available at BreyerFest 2010). Along the way, a lot of unexpected things came up.

The horses’ stories got longer. I’m sure my friends would point out that this is common with the stories I tell! But I am laying some of the blame with technology.


I’m a better-known individual than my pony friend up there, but you might not know what I am either!

When I started work on the book, it was important to me that it be as grounded in fact as possible. I knew that many breed ‘purists’ weren’t going to like some of the information I had, so I wanted to be on solid ground with what I wrote. But more importantly I didn’t want to simply repeat what previous volumes said about a given breed. Having read countless horse books, it is rather striking how most simply reword what some other author said on the topic – and sometimes even the rewording is pretty minimal! I thought the least I could do was confirm information with first sources.

This probably wouldn’t have changed the scope of the book, except that technology meant that I had access to a lot more information. I already have an impressive amount of information right here in my own library, but in the last few years many registries have gone online with their databases. Most of the American and British databases are restricted to members of the various breed societies, or are only available on a subscription basis. Smaller countries, however, have proven to be a lot more open. This, paired with Google Translate, has allowed me to tell the stories of many obscure breeds more fully.

The other important bit of technology were sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive. Projects like these are scanning older texts and offering them as PDF files for downloading. In the case of Google Books, there is a powerful search engine that sifts through not only titles, but the text of books and periodicals. Fortunately for me, the formative years of selective breeding in horses is the time leading up and the time just following the turn of the last century. It coincides almost perfectly with the books aging out of their copyright protections. Having access to so many contemporary texts from that time (and being able to quickly search them for specific subjects) has allowed me to better understand the earliest times for many of these breeds.

The downside has been that the book has become unexpectedly large, and is taking an unexpectedly long time (not to mention eating up an enormous amount of my attention). This stopped being a “quick reference” long ago, but I am even more enthusiastic about telling the tale. I think that here, nearly a century in to selective breeding of animals, is a good time to record these stories and give some idea of the sweep of history involved. It is my hope that by showing how things really were, perhaps those of us who love horses can see more clearly how to proceed in the future. It just won’t be done in time for this year’s BreyerFest.

Oh, and the two horses pictured are some of the unexpected things I have discovered while writing. The black pony is – believe it or not – a Haflinger. He wasn’t just any Haflinger, either. He belonged to the Emperor of Austria, and was pictured as a “typical example” in a nineteenth century treatise on horse breeds. The grey horse is a Hackney. While I knew the color had once been present in Hackneys, I wasn’t aware there were breeders focusing on the color so late into the twentieth century. (It is, as best I can tell, truly lost now.)

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The book

Much of my attention lately has been taken up with working on my horse color book. It’s a project that I’ve been working on, on and off, for years. I decided last year that it really needed to become a priority, or it was never going to be completed. I set a target of having it ready in time for BreyerFest 2010. It will be the 21st BreyerFest and the 15th annual North American Nationals, and it seems to be shaping as an informal “old timers” reunion. Knowing that my friend Ardith Carlton will be there (with her own book on artist Julie Froelich) has given me a little additional incentive.

The manuscript is still far from finished. Whole passages are rough, and the text is peppered with little side comments about facts that need to be double-checked. (I live in fear that one of them will escape the editors, and the book will be printed with something like “surely this color notation is wrong – check!” somewhere in the text.) It was close enough, however, that I started testing formats and book sizes with the hopes of finding a good fit – and getting a page estimate.

I suspected the book was running a little too long. Unfortunately for me, my suspicions were off. It wasn’t running a little too long; it was running way too long. I ended up with an estimate of close to 800 pages, and that was just the text. I was only just starting to work on the illustrations so they were not factored in to the count. Not only is number of people that interested in horse color rather small, there are page limits on perfect binding. So I am mulling over my options. Do I drop the rarer breeds? (Does anyone really care if the Asturcón are sometimes chestnut?) Do I pull out some of the specifics and publish them in a separate appendix? Or do I break the whole project into two or more volumes?

So those are the things I am mulling over, all while I am laughing at myself. This was supposed to be the small book – the “easy” book – that I published before tackling the “real” horse color book. How long could a book on the history of color in the different breeds be? I would write this short one, and then tackle the harder “everything I know about identifying colors and patterns” book later. I should have known that I don’t know how to do short and easy projects.

But I have been encouraged by these old printouts I found while going through my old notes. They are from the first horse color seminar I gave. The date in the corner is 2001 – the same year that my youngest son was born. He was five months old when I gave the presentation. Somehow I managed to complete the whole thing, including more than 30 illustrations, in just a few months with a newborn in the house. If I could do that, I should be able to make this book deadline standing on my head. At least, that’s what I am telling myself!

And this time around, I have much better tools. I used illustrations when I did the presentation in part out of necessity. It would be too difficult to track down the copyright holders for the photos that I would need to illustrate my points. I also thought that whimsical ink and marker drawings might make the subject matter a little less intimidating. It worked wonderfully.

Except that it was time-consuming. I reused the lineart, as you can see with the stock horse that modeled the pinto patterns, but I had to ink it each time. And the colors were limited. I left out the (then newly discovered) champagne gene because I could not find the right shades of taupe! If only I had known how to make digital images, I could have save myself a lot of effort.

And that is what I am doing with the book. Although it will have photographs, my experience with the presentations taught me that sometimes the most helpful image is a drawing.

For this project, I only have to ink things by hand once. Here is one of the inked line arts that I will be using in the book. There are several different ones that are posed according to what parts I might need to illustrate. This one is for large body pattern illustrations where the face markings are less important. There is one with a dramatic head turn for when I need to show what is going on with the face.

Here the ink drawing has been scanned in and I’ve started inking it electronically with my fancy new Intuos4 tablet. The original ink lines (now a light gray) are still visible under the darker digital ones. After that has been done, I’ll be able to create a template of not only the lines but also the basic shading. That will give me a base that can be used for making multiple illustrations more quickly.

Being such a visual person, and being able to make whatever image I think might clarify the text, probably isn’t going to help my page number problem. So I’m setting the book and the drawings aside for a week or two, and returning to the studio. I find that sometimes answers come after I let a problem sit for a bit while I immerse myself in something completely different. Perhaps an inspired solution will come to me while I erase hundreds of little dapples!

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