Innovating

Making tiny tack is, like any art, a process of growth. Skill and understanding of your craft improves with every piece, though the fruit of this isn't always visible in the next saddle, or even the one after that. Sometimes it takes five or ten or fifteen or a couple of years before the cumulative knowledge picks up steam and results in visible changes in your work.

I can think of three or four times in my career when I've hit an innovation point. There isn't always just one piece that gives an "ah-ha!" moment; usually it takes a few pieces for me to realize that something is making a significant, consistent difference. I feel like I'm on the edge of one of those points again. 

I'm finessing the shape of my english saddles; finally, the shape of the twist and gullet are consistently looking more realistic. This was a combination of narrowing the twist, hollowing out the gullet, and getting the twist and the area where it flows into the seat to have the proper shape - a lot of the older pieces are flat flat flat leading into the seat, both from pommel to cantle and across the seat. You can see some of those changes in the following two photos. I wish I had something more recent than 2012 for an example, but I really just did not make much between 2013 and 2015, since I was busy with college.

circa 2012; the gullet isn't awful, but the whole seat lacks the organic flow of a real saddle and the twist could be narrower.

Yesterday: the gullet is thinner, and the seat curves down slightly where it meets the twist. The twist is narrower and longer, and though it's harder to see the gullet has a better shape than the example saddle.

I'm tweaking other things, too. Stitch marking is out and being replaced by a carved line. The shape of my D rings is actually more of a D, instead of a squished circle. The shape of my flaps are more refined and accurate. The stirrups have pads, which took me an embarrassingly long time to make a regular thing. Oh, and huge upgrade - micro beads instead of silver paint for pommel nail heads. You can see the difference in the two photos above. The silver paint wasn't a bad solution, actually, but the micro beads just have that little extra oomph.

I've started lining the flaps (though not the gullet) in natural leather. I can't decide if this is an upgrade or a cheat; I used to carve my studio initials and the year in the flap lining, then I scaled back to just signing...but some dyes are too dark, and then I have to cobble together a little piece to glue down. I'm telling myself that the natural leather is part of my signature, like Devocoux's striped blue lining. Special saddles, like The Jennifer Donation and a gift for my friend, Lindsay, have colored linings - blue and purple, respectively. It can be fun to change that up!

Some of the changes that I see happening are the result of finding new techniques and materials (replacing stitch marking and the micro beads, for example). Others, like the improved shape of the seat and flaps, are from wet saddle blanket hours: time spent in the studio making and changing and trying things again and again. 

For funsies, here's a slideshow of my english work with representations of as many years as I can find.