My Little Pony. Sure you know it!
Making a customised pony? Oh yeah.
...It's a whole sub-culture out there people, do try & keep up.
See, as I'm a model-maker/sculptor at heart, this project was an irresistible lure as I found myself embroiled in Pony-world via two unexpected sources.
But before I get to that, I'll say something about this project at the beginning: it's been a while since I did any model making/sculpture and man, my skills are rusty. It took way too long for me to achieve anything like the level of finish I used to achieve. And thats really irritating. And it goes to show, time & experience and always maintaining studio practice is crucial if one wants to make, like one wants to get. If you know what I mean. In other words, I'm not really happy about the quality of my ponies, but I really enjoyed making this kind of thing again. It's really been too long since I made much sculptural work and I miss it, so there will be more of this for me in the future, mark my words. ("Oh nooo!" shrieks the World!)
How it started: a very beautiful 10 year old fellow of my close personal acquaintance is rather taken with this dream within a dream, the magical friendship of MLP. He's a self-confessed "Bronie": a male fan of a show once characterised as just a little girl thang. Well it's not, it turns out it's for the fellas too you know, the ten year old variety of which I happen to live with. And it's a subject of great study around here. Trust me, do not get between a Brony and it's Pony.
So I have an vested interest in Ponies, indeed, in all of Equestria all the way to Canterlot.
(See the gif below? I get this a lot. )
And then this regular newsletter from AnOther Magazine (check it out, it's cool) appeared in my inbox, featuring an image that absolutely delighted me. And so it happened that I found the fantastic work of Mari Kasurinen,. A Swedish born artist, working from Berlin, she's THE best MLP customiser ever:
I contacted Mari via the form on her site, asking nicely if she's please consider making some ponies for me & that I had a couple of characters in mind.
And she's so nice! She replied that she'd recently become represented by Galerie Gmurzynska, Switzerland and that although she'd be happy to undertake the commissions herself, she was now in the gallery's hands and that they would be in touch. She's so nice!
Alas however, I never did hear from her or them again.
Never mind. But I couldn't stop thinking about my pony characters and there was no waning of pony enthusiasm going on around me; after several months of denial, I thought I'd have a go at making them myself. And so I did!
Behold: *My Little Artworker Pony, *My Little Bob Dylan Pony & *My Little I M Pei Pony.
*MLAP, MLBD, MYIMP, by abbreviation.
Huzzah! Have a look!
But making them, first lesson: Mari Kasurinen is really good at this. Waaay better than me and I'm pleased for the both of us that this is the case. I wont be crossing any demarcation lines here and I fervently hope I haven't done so already, just with these. It's not my intention to compete in any way with Mari or any other Pony customisers out there, (and golly, there's a lot of them it seems, found all over the intermenet) I just wanted to make these ones. As it happens, these were gifts for special friends and now that the gift has been made, I'm not sure I'll do any more customised ponies. These were fiddly and time consuming and that's fine, but they were also teeny. Really really small. The scale is hard to adjust to when you've worked on things like these...
The above images show the making of "Tenma", the winged Japanese horse which perched atop a building on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia for many years, a long time ago. It was pretty big. But that's another story entirely and a shameless bit of self-aggrandisement. Back to ponies!
One of the things I so admire about Mari Kasurinen's work is the absolutely seamless finish she produces. Just like a factory made, which is essential to the intent. And me, a recovering perfectionist, it's painful for me to accept any less than that too. But alas, mine are only sort-of OK, not marvelous like Mari's, may she live long and prosper and make many more excellent artworks.
But I had a lot of fun with this project. The research for the characters was particularly fun, and the practicalities of the making was enlightening; believe me, there is much and more to this MLP sub-culture and a lot of really nice, helpful people. I found this site helpful, with tips, tutorials, detailed info & advice. It's one of the best features of webworld, knowledge sharing and I'm grateful for what I learn - respect, people.
I learnt from my hours study that to begin with, a pony customiser started with a "Bait Pony"! In other words, raw material; I found a large box full of them on eBay, straight away, very cheaply and locally, and then I was away.
After a clean, I cut off their hair, not pulled it out as recommended. This was my first step away from puritan perfection and to be honest, from here on I just got on with it, accepting that I'd make my ponies 'good enough', not perfect. Yes, such an admission hurts me too. But pulling out hair from the little plugs inside that teeny head and then replacing it the same way? Please, no! I resolved that I would forge ahead my way, and singed off the stubble with a flame, knowing that I'd somehow fix new hair right on top.
Once I'd done this, I gave them a really thorough scrub with detergent and left for a day or more to totally dry out. Next, I painted everything flesh colour, all over except for the eyes, just to establish a baseline away from the pink & blue which was very distracting. All the advice I'd gleaned from related sites & blogs had assured me that artists acrylic would be fine to use, and so it was.
Then it was time to do a bit of modeling of the features and adding of costumes. Enter Super Sculpey.
I admit this was my first experience of it but it was pretty agreeable to work with and takes detail really really well. Mostly it was fingers and *simple wooden modeling tools. I have a collection of modelling tools, some very old friends there, as well as a few steel files and rifflers that were handy. The other helper, trust me on this, is a decent *steel turning wheel. I wish I had one! Also, it would have been fantastic to have a *desktop magnifier. That would've really helped, good grief. On my wish list anyway.
In building up the facial features, I added small balls of modelling material one at a time, after having kneaded well; always knead this stuff before using. The Super Sculpey warms on your hands & fingers becoming very soft & malleable. For the clothing I rolled out sheets at first, then it was fingers fingers fingers mostly. A modelling rake is needed for smoothing out the lumps & ridges that inevitably formed with finger modelling. There is some info on tools and suppliers for sculptors at the tools/supplies page of sculptor.org
Really, I just kept mucking around until it was nearly good enough, planning on much more finishing after hardening. But with this, there was a great deal of mucking around. Much better to do as much as possible before baking, in hindsight.
* All available here at Eckersleys or click on the images below.
Because it turned out, Super Sculpey bakes really hard, like, really hard. and there were layers of reapplying more over already hardened layers, modelling them, hardening, sanding and filing... a few times over and in such minute layers...heavens above. Times like these, one is glad of a Dremel, one of the handiest tools in the business. There was A LOT of sanding. I did read of a Sculpey Dilutant in one of the forums, for attaching new raw bits of Sculpey to baked surfaces but I didn't use this and as far as I can tell, the areas I added extra to seem to have bonded fine. So far!
Below, two snippets of info regarding successful baking of Sculpey. There are a few forums around the Intermerweb, if one goes looking; again, there is no substitute for experience, but I love it when people are generous enough to share theirs. I followed this advice and they were spot on.
I also found I needed to whack a layer of base colour paint on, after each baking, befor adding or subtracting material, just so I could see the surface better; SS is translucent and deceptive to judge after a while. I did read somewhere that it's helpful to mix a bit of grey Sculpey (called "Firm") in with the Super, for this reason. An opaque surface shows more easily where faults in the surface lie and where amendments are needed.
But eventually...I couldn't bear to do yet another teeny layer here or more sanding everywhere and I had to call an end to this part of the project. I hate it when I have to admit it's good enough. Ouch! Heavy sigh.
But once I had the shape of the pony & the apparel right, there was some fun stuff to come with the painting and accessorizing! I'll take you through the development of the character personas individually I think, otherwise I'll be jumping from one to the next, as I do when I'm working, but that may be hard to follow here.
For My Little Artworker Pony, click here.
For My Little Bob Dylan, click here.
For My Little I. M. Pei, click here.
They were all made in tandem, but were three very different characters so I could put one down when it reached a certain stage to pick up the next...