Monday, February 18, 2013

Hobby Horses: Q & A with Model Horse Artist Stacey Kianese

I’m thrilled to introduce my readers to my uber-talented cousin Stacey Kianese. Stacey customizes model horses, taking them from static, cookie-cutter resin figurines to miniature works of art. Her models have NAN-qualified and earned numerous championship ribbons. (View Stacey's gallery.)

Stacey blogs about custom model horse painting and showing at Trillium Studio.

Her blog posts frequently wax eloquent about the vagaries of her hobby and the subjective nature of showing one’s art in competition. They contain so many parallels to the Wonderful World of Writing that they made me realize how closely all creative endeavors are related – up to, and including, the occasional self-doubt that seems to plague every artistic soul. Though the medium may differ, the journey is the same.  Stacey’s passion for her art inspires me. I trust it will you as well…

 Q: How did you get started modifying, sculpting, and painting model horses?

A: I collected Breyer horses way back when I was a kid and I always loved them. Those horses are long gone. Back in 2008, I was on Ebay and I somehow came across a customized Breyer and was blown away with how cool it was. I was shocked to see how much money it was going for. I did a Google search, which lead me to various web sites, blogs, etc. and as they say, the rest is history. 

Q: The model horse world has its own language and acronyms just as the publishing industry does. Can you provide a quick lexicon of common terms for those unfamiliar with the hobby?

A: Here's a quick summary. 
  • RR - regular run.  This is a horse right out of the box, direct from the manufacturer. 
  • OOAK - one of a kind.
  • LR/SR - limited/special run.
  • CM - custom.  A custom can be as simple as a straight repaint or as complex as completely hacking the model apart and resculpting it. 
  • AR - artist resin. These are limited runs purchased directly from a sculptor. They are not cheap, LOL. They are very addictive and are usually way more detailed than your store-bought Breyer. Some highly sought after resins can go for over $1,000.  They are also sold unpainted, so in addition to buying the resin, you would have to commission an artist to paint it. This is also expensive and why I developed my skills so I didn't have to worry about commissioning somebody.

Show holders can submit an application to NAMHSA (North American Model Horse Shows Association) to have their show NAN approved. This means 1st and 2nd place horses will get a NAN card and are eligible to show at NAN (North American Nationals).  You can get a card in Breed, Collectability, Workmanship, and Performance.  

Q:  What are some of the things you have learned from your hobby?

A: I have learned so much about horses by showing. You have to know what colors are acceptable in certain breeds.  For example: no Appaloosa-like spots or blankets on Saddlebreds; no roan Morgans; and no buckskin Arabians. 

I’ve also learned that you don’t have to be rich to be competitive. A lot of people spend big bucks on their models, but you don't have to. I bought a little Arabian stablemate for a buck at a horseshow because I felt sorry for it. I took him to a show and threw him on the table as a joke and he got 4th in a class of 20+ horses last year.

And, of course, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a “sure thing.” Sometimes I find that the horses I think will kick butt don't place and the ones I bring just to put something on the table get the blues!

Q: What do you like best about working with models?

A: For me, my biggest thrill is taking a blank resin and transforming it to a lifelike horse.  Taking care to paint the markings in the correct growth pattern, detailing the eyes and hooves, achieving a realistic coat color -- it's GREAT! 

I work in pastel pigments but some people work in oils or acrylics.  Pigments are pretty messy and take a lot of patience but I feel that medium gives the most realistic depth of color.

There are many steps involved in getting the horse ready for paint.  You have to sand/scrape off seams, you have to bathe the model in Ajax to get rid of any release that may be on the resin, and you have to put a coat or two of primer on it so your medium will stick. Crappy prep job = crappy model, so prepwork is important.  That is why I am so geeked whenever I get ribbons in workmanship classes.

Q: The process of submitting your work for judging is a bit like that of a writer submitting a manuscript for publication. How do you maintain a positive attitude in a highly competitive hobby?

A: I’ve been known to have a crisis of artistic confidence. It's nice to hear somebody other than your spouse / family likes your stuff. We all know that!  Nothing sucks more than to have a model up on the table that you've put your heart and soul into, and the judge doesn't even look at it. Aarrgh!

The thing I keep telling myself is: it is all a matter of opinion. Some judges just don't like sculpts by certain artists. Some judges don't like certain colors. Some judges don't like certain breeds. It just depends on what is on the table and who is judging. 

Then there is the cliquey thing. Nobody likes to admit it but if the judge knows you and likes your stuff, they'll pin you. Also, if it is a popular mold, done by a "big name artist," it has a pretty good chance of getting pinned. 
I think my biggest problem is I have high expectations. Perhaps too high.  I was talking with another hobbyist about "only" placing third. Woe is me!  Waaa!  She put it into perspective for me, telling me the class was large and there were some pretty big name painters on the table. She then went on to say she would have been thrilled with a third. That was my "A-Ha!" moment when I realized maybe I was being just tad harsh on myself.

I don't do commissions. Period. Too much pressure. What I do like to do, however, is donate items to shows, swap customs with fellow hobbyists, and sell stuff on Ebay once in a while. Though ribbons and sales are nice, they’re just the icing on the cake. The real fun is in bringing your vision to life, making something that has never been made before. I have a lot of ideas a-brewing and I can’t wait to get cracking!


Katherine Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine Roberts said...

I also used to collect model horses as a child. I made elaborate stables for them and painted on markings to make them unique if they were the same model. And they all had names, of course.

I've seen some lovely examples of painted horses for sale in a local shop, but I had no idea people actually "show" them... what fun!

Ami Hendrickson said...


I, too, collected model horses when I was a kid. Each had his or her own name, "pedigree," and story. I never know you could show them, either. I am so impressed with artists like Stacey who can take something static and transform it into a work of art.