Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Archivally signing one's model horse paint job is important.  I got my ideas about signing from two places:  Decades of making saddles ... and having been tattooed myself*.   However, I confess, after signing both Ambolena and Marimba just now I seem to have chosen a method that is seriously difficult for the average hobbyist.  This post tries to show both the hazards and the advantages of this particular approach.

Brasenose's signature is seen above.  The Cyrillic letters are Margarita Malova's, indicating the sculpture was done in 2016 in Russia (Bologoye, northwest of Moscow).  I am proud to relate that this signing (the SBY 2018 part) has gone 2 years without any seeping, leaking, fading or spreading.  Water does not affect it and it does not stain.  Nor can you really feel it when you run a finger across it.   It is inert:  it meets the goals of an archival signature.

At the time, 2018, I noted only that I used drafting ink and the same dental tool I used to sign all my saddles with.  It's a HU-FRIEDY  H6/H7, with curved pointed tips, kind of like a nut pick.  One tip has a minute sidewise kink at the end which makes it perfect for the job; this was an accident done in the deeps of time, probably by dropping.

When I finally got my act together this year I had two horses to sign.  I had skipped this most important step with Ambolena last year.  One tiny excuse is that M. Malova did not sign her; another possible excuse is that her tummy was a lot smaller than Brasenose's.  Below is my penciled signing, done in 2019, first step to a more permanent signature.
I put a drop of ink in the glass dish, dipped the dental tool hook in and tried to press tiny dots into my filly.  It didn't work.  The ink wouldn't stay on the hook, and the hook was too big and blunt.  Despite the tool's having an excellent handle and thus my having excellent control, I was pressing too hard.  Her finish flaked off.  At this point I was feeling very embarrassed, shamed and sorry.   How it hurt.  You can see my original sins around the "S" and the "B."
Who'd've thunk it:  Ambolena's pose makes it very hard to photograph this part of the horse!!  Another side-angle shot:
Having flaked off the bits around the S and B, I felt I had no choice but to go on.  I'd have to fix up her flakings later; who better than myself to do that.  Now was my chance to learn, again:  I had done tattoo signatures once, successfully;  I had to recapture the knowledge, even though it cost me my reputation.  And so I kept trying.  Gradually I learned that my mistake had been to push too hard.

From my NaMoPaiMo record notebook:
"Press Very lightly seems to be the key. ... Important to be very sharp and have a good handle."'
"The ink separates so stir it frequently!"
"Load the hook and lightly, gently, press a row of 3 to 5 dots, leaving a stripe of ink. ... Let dry - I know this is scary - scary!  Wipe off with mouth-moistened Q-tip." 
"A pierce deep enough to disturb the plastic is too deep! ...  When a stripe catches, that is, when the blob of ink on the hook 'grabs' or contacts the horse and starts spreading, that is the successful start of a row of dots.  Which you have to place blind, under the ink,... I'm up to 6 dots sometimes..."

I practiced on the bottom of a hoof:  N M P M.
"Use only clean parts of the Q-tip!!  Otherwise you're just spreading the ink around..."
"... mixed liquid ink; hook w/ small drop; draw dots within stripe of ink; let dry.  Wipe off dried ink carefully w/ Q-tips, always clean.  This seems to be the secret."

"A great many Q-tips were sacrificed in the making of this animal."
I put what I learned into practice on Marimba's belly.
Here you can see that Margarita left only an MM in the sculpture.  I did not take it upon myself to carve the rest of the letters in; I did, however, deepen them.   (Not to be confused with Mel Miller!)

Earlier in my chronicle of NMPM I documented how decades of making my own dyes caused me to turn to rubbing alcohol as a paint medium.  Now, when it came time for signing, there was something wholly appropriate in using the same tool that had signed all 456 of my leather saddles.  It does not seem possible that a dental tool could make such tiny holes, so smoothly and tightly,... yet I assure you it did.

In my experience, many marking pens turn purple and bleed when used to sign a horse.  Most ball point pen inks leave purple smears on leather.  The fact that I could wipe off dried ink from my horses convinces me that plain inking (at least this brand) is not archival enough.  However, tattooing as outlined here is clearly not for everybody!  It's psychologically terrifying to put black ink on your horse and only someone who's used to it should be working with it.  I believe there are other artist pens out there that would do a sufficient job.

*Don't go getting the wrong idea about this staid stuffy old artist having been tattooed.  MY tattoos are eight tiny dots, "The Signature of Radiology."  Not that I wanted them.  They surely saved my life;  in that respect they were tolerable.  The dots exactly line up the limbs for the radiation machine.  They're great for party talk -- no one who knew me would believe I had tattoos.  But the most shocking encounter was with my dermatologist's assistant.  "What're these little blue dots on your skin?!?"  I was proud to tell him, though I was left wondering just what they taught in dermatology school -- !


  1. Great tips -- something most people never talk about. I have yet to sign my NaMoPaiMo horse, but I promise to tackle it soon!

  2. I cheat and use a very fine Micron pen to sign most of my work, which I seal with fixative once dried.