Horse Netsuke – progress report

The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke
The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke

In the last post on the Horse Netsuke I had more or less finalised the overall shape of the horse and decided finally where the legs would end up. They are still attached to each other at some point so as to give them a little more strength. The surface of the horse was left quite rough, smooth enough so that I could see the shape but not smooth enough to be a final finish. I also had not quite decided whether the tail would stay attached to the back legs.

From there I smoothed off the body and worked to refine the legs, putting in the height of the hooves and the final placing of the fetlocks and other joints.

The face was next, deciding where to put the cheek and the jawline, pulling it away from the body more and starting to see where I think the eyes and nostrils would go. Its all still quite roughly set in at the moment leaving room for me to change my mind a little should I want to, that is happening a lot with this Netsuke.

By working the mane and forelock more I could see where the ears would go, so I put those in roughly before I removed too much of the wood. I made the decision to keep the mane in quite large tumbling blocks for now, that way I would have room to make alterations further down the line if I wanted to. I still want to keep the ears within the height of the mane/forelock to protect them.

Up until this time I had left the bottom of the tail attached to the hooves of the hind legs as I couldn’t decide what to do with it. When you look at most rearing horse sculptures there is only usually the hind feet on the ground and the tail is set out backwards from the body in order to balance the sculpture as it stands creating a stable tripod effect. I was also trying to work out how a tail would fall naturally if a real horse were to be in this pose.

It is quite difficult to figure out what you can remove from the base of a Netsuke so that it looks right but still stands, one thing a Netsuke must be able to do is stand upright by itself on a flat surface. If you take too much away it won’t stand by itself any more. I tried balancing the Netsuke on its three hooves on a smaller surface to test whether it would take removing the tail from touching the floor.

To my surprise it worked, I realised then that I could carved the tail away from the hooves without affecting the balance. The only thing I’d need to watch is that I didn’t leave a ‘pointy’ bit at the bottom of the tail, something that could snag on fabric or break off. So I started by just separating it from the hooves and leaving it at that, by moving onto working on another part of the piece I gave myself time to think about it. Its a technique that I use quite a lot.

The detail being put onto the head of the Horse Netsuke
More detail appearing on the head of the Horse Netsuke

I eventually decided where the eyes and nostrils and mouth should go and put them in, as you can see in the photo above. I am quite pleased with the eyes and put a little of the basic musculature around them. The horse is starting to come alive a lot more.

I carved a little more into the mane, working out where the topline of the neck would sit under all that hair, but am leaving the ears alone for now while I think about what to do.

From here I need to make a decision about the tail, how close or far it should sit from the hooves and how much should be left between the hind legs. Its a case of what looks right against what gives enough support. The mane, forelock and ears need more work as I think there is too much height in there. I may also play a little more with the head. Then I start work on the final finishing, sanding, of the whole piece.

I think its progressing well so far, what do you think?






Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .