One of my biggest regrets about the time that Alan and I owned our small farm is that I didn’t spend more time looking – really looking – at the horses in my backyard. I was painting horses then, of course, but so much of my work was done from what I knew about horses, rather than what I saw. It takes a lot more effort now, with a family to care for and the barn a fifteen minute drive away, just to be around horses, but when I can be there I spend a lot of time looking.
Most recently I spent a lot of time looking at hooves. It was already an area I had targeted to improve with my custom glazes. For various technical reasons, it’s a lot harder to get a good hoof on a ceramic horse than a custom or resin.
But I began to suspect that part of my problem was in seeing the colors wrong. Artists do this all the time. In my experience most of us are like computer monitors; we are a little “off” from true color. In our industry, this fact can often make it possible to identify a given piece as being by this or that artist, because their color range tilts distinctively towards one (or more) colors. I suspected this was my problem, but after my mare abscessed a hoof and I spent a few days soaking her foot, I really saw how off I was in what color I was registering as proper for a striped hoof. I was also off on just how much variation in color there was on a single hoof.
To illustrate this, I thought it would be neat to share a trick for making your eyes see. If you’ve ever held artwork up to a mirror to check for proportion, you’ve used this type of trick. It’s all about forcing your eyes to see something – without your brain adding what it thinks it knows first! I’m starting with a photograph of my mare’s hoof.
Before I start I should probably give some specifics about the hoof. Sprinkles is heterozygous for the leopard complex (Lp) gene, so this is a typical striped appaloosa hoof. (If she was homozygous for it, her hooves would be shell colored.) It’s also the hoof of a horse kept barefoot on a grass pasture, so relatively natural.
Just looking at the photo it is possible to see how different in color the two “shell” stripes are. Taking the photo into Photoshop Elements makes it even easier to see the different colors that make up this particular hoof.
I’ll use the Eyedropper tool (at the top left in this picture) to identify to colors. Before I start clicking on the photo, I’ll right-click to get the gray menu shown in this picture. You’ll want to select “5 by 5 Average”. You are looking for a general idea of what color to use in that area, so a number of pixels will give you a more accurate read than just one. Once you have that set, you can start clicking the tool on different areas. When you do, the top color swatch (in the lower left of this picture) will change. You can then double-click on that square of color and Elements will pull up a color mixing menu.
Here you can see the color mixing menu with the selected color (a dull tan) in the smaller box at the top and slightly to the right.
Here I’ve taken samples in various places on the hoof picture, and placed the corresponding samples beside the hoof. Pulled out from the picture and placed against a white background, it’s a lot easier to see (and match to) the colors in the hoof. Notice, for example, how very green the left stripe (1) is compared to how rosey the right stripe (5) is, even though both are “shell colored” stripes.
One of the neat things about this trick is that if you need to match the color, you can use the information in the mixer menu. There are two mixers along the right hand of the menu (HSB and RGB), and the information in those can be fed into a CMYK converter (if like me, you find it easier to visualize with that color model). But even just looking at the mixer menu is helpful since the big square is hue-based, which means it shows the dominant hue (red, orange, yellow, green, etc) of the selected color.
It’s still hard for those of us who work in ceramics, since we aren’t dealing with the straightforward mixing of pigments. (Our colors are created by chemical reactions.) But knowing the true color needed is helpful no matter what the medium.