When I first began thinking about making bas relief Trading Cards, I started a number of horse busts scaled to work in that format. I thought if I had some basic head and neck poses and perspectives, it would help me visualize how each might work. Since I didn’t have much time if I wanted to have something for the holidays, I chose the one that was closest to done. The downside with that particular horse was that it was the most problematic in terms of design.
The profile of a horse’s head and neck set into a rectangle leaves three areas of dead space; the area in front of the face, the area over the neck and the area under the jaw. Because a horizontal trading card is a fair bit longer than it is tall, I posed the horse’s face as if he were stretching out to look at something ahead of him. That would fill as much of the card as possible and minimize the space along the top of the head and neck.
It did, however, leave quite a large area under the jaw. I might be able to artfully arrange the mane and forelock for other spaces, but something else would need to be done with the lower lefthand side. To me it seemed perfect for text, but then again I worked long enough in publications that it’s actually hard for me to design without text! The problem is that even if you have passible hand lettering skills (which I do), sculpting text is really, really hard.
I had done it before. A few years ago, I sculpted these lettered tiles to give as Christmas gifts. After three simple letters, I was ready to call it a day! I knew if I was going to use text, I was going to have to come up with a pretty short word.
I spent quite a while trying to think of some kind of holiday word that might work with a horse. I’ve been down this path before with my Christmas items. Of course most of my colleagues would find it completely natural to have horse-themed Christmas decorations. Our houses are already filled with horse things, so it would fit right in. The same would probably be true of my friends at the barn where I keep Sprinkles.
But the “holy grail” for me has been something that would work for the other half of my world – for family and friends who know me as a classroom volunteer, or a fellow parishoner, or scouting Den Leader. I spent a fair bit of time trying once again to think of some kind of wording and background that might make a horse relevant to the holidays. Maybe a stylized winter scene? Some snowflakes? No matter what I tried, it all seemed forced. I just couldn’t imagine that friends outside the equine community were going to do much more than look at their gift and think, “Oh, it’s a … horse.” (Again.)
I finally decided that it just wasn’t going to work, or at least not in the restrictive format of a Trading Card. I was trying to make one thing answer too many needs. While I longed to give my friends something made with my own hands, it would probably be kinder to all involved if I phoned Harry & David for everyone who wasn’t horse crazy, and focused on creating something that spoke to the people who really would appreciate a shiny horse trinket.
When I did, the word I needed for the bottom left corner came almost immediately. INSPIRE. That’s why we exchanged these gifts. At least, that’s why I so look forward to them each year. Seeing what other people do, and showing them what I do, is the greatest inspiration I know. And that is the traditional purpose of an Artist Trading Card. And hey, only seven letters and two of them “i”s!
From that point, the design came together really easily. I chose an Art Nouveau font in part because that school of design is a common thread for many of us who work in ceramics. (Art Nouveau, Celtic music and tea.) It also would give me a lot of options for bordering the design.
This was the initial layout done with layers of tracing paper. I often design this way because it lets me move things around in layers. If you look carefully, I have a layer that is the traced outline of the horse. The horse itself was not fully roughed in at this point; his throatlatch and shoulder were still missing. Setting him on top of the design was helpful, though, to see how he worked with the text and the border.
I should point out that at this point I know I’m going to be making changes. Drawing designs on paper has its limitations because lines have a very different weight than a sculpted border. I am pretty sure at this point that the borders I have drawn may actually be depth shifts. So the band at the bottom with the text probably won’t have a sculpted line on the bottom and on the top. It might instead be a raised band with the text inscribed in, while the box behind the horse’s face might be lower.
I’ve also left off any mane treatment. I know I’ll probably drop the swirled borders in the top left in favor of movement in the forelock, but for now it will work. Like a lot of the design, I’ll know better what I need once I get my hands in the clay. All that really matters at this stage is that I have some idea where I am going with the layout. Translating it to the clay is where I’ll resume with tomorrow’s post.