File Management

I am now the proud owner of a full sized western saddle. I picked it up at a garage sale for $25 with nothing more than a significant coating of dust. I cleaned it up and took a plethora of useful photos that I'm uploading to Picasa as I type, but goodness they're large.

So while those upload, here's a quick post on

file management.

Sounds ominous, doesn't it? But trust me, it's not.

When you start collecting reference photos, and it will happen, you need a way to keep them all straight. Sometimes photos of the same saddle are obvious, sometimes not so much. Sometimes its easy to remember the make of  a saddle, sometimes not. So here's what I do.

I have two reference folders, one for finish work and one for tack. We're focusing on tack today.

Within that folder...are sub folders. Lots of sub folders.

I find it extremely helpful to include the name, maker, type of tack and date in the folder name. "Stubben Roxanne", for instance, probably doesn't require a date because it's modern. If it's antique or historical, I'd include it.

In those sub folders, I take advantage of Win8's handy author feature thingy. I'm really sure it was there in previous versions, I've just now noticed it.

I really, really like crediting photographers where possible. It also makes it easier to track them down later if I want to get permission to post the photos or use them in a publication.

At some point, I will probably find it necessary to split my subfolders out. How to split is tough...english saddles don't always fall into clearly defined categories, and neither do western. What I will most likely do is a 'generic' split into english, western, gaited, fantasy, and "other".

You might ask where I get these reference photos...well, I'll cover that next.

Target Wins Again

I love Target. The chic and stylish bedding, the completely and wonderfully fashionable home decor, the clothes that look adorable but never fit (what's up with that, Target?), and the wonderful blend of function and form that is their home storage/office supply area.

I love breezing by the clearance end caps, and here's why:

38 cents. It probably wasn't terribly expensive to start with, but still! $0.38! It's not just any notebook...

It's a file folder! The downside is that those cute little tabs are impossible to write on, so I had to use some sticky labels and trim them down. BUT HEY. It works. I'm using this for pattern storage instead of the index card box. This book fits in better with the other storage items, taking up less room wherever I stash it - desk, shelf, etc. It's maybe not quite as friendly for flipping through, but those accordion sections are pretty generous.

I know it looks spacious, but really - not enough room for an index card box!
Bonus: it actually has a little notebook, and it's removable - and a standard size. I can eventually replace it! It's great for jotting down quick measurements, tack ideas, sketching carving ideas for western saddles...I'm excited, can you tell?

I picked up several of these in different colors, and my Target still had a lot left. If you want one - head over now!

Hard Lessons

I learned some very interesting things while working on my donation to Show for the Cure. Unfortunately, none of them were pleasant epiphanies.  Most of the discoveries were followed by "Oh, crap."

Number one: silver leaf adhesive should probably set really, really well before being sealed. In fact, the sealer sold for silver leaf should probably be used instead of leather sealer. I don't know why, but on the S4TC donation it got tacky and kept sliding around on the pommel after it was sealed. First "Oh, crap" moment. The parade set used a very similar method (I skipped basecoating the pommel in silver paint for the S4TC donation) and is fine. I don't know what happened here, but I'll be keeping an eye on the parade set.

I had two choices: try to fix the bare spots with more adhesive and leaf and reseal (oh yes, great idea), or recover the pommel with leather. That lead to another question...strip the pommel of the fully assembled saddle, try to recover over the silver, or tear the saddle apart and recover it that way? I decided that the chances of glue sticking to tacky adhesive weren't that great and I really did not feel like tearing apart a saddle that used so much Super Glue, so stripping it was. I armed myself with some nail polish remover and pointy Q-tips.

That lead to discovery Number Two: nail polish remover should never be left in plastic bathroom-type cups. Can you guess why?

Yeah. It eats through the plastic. I took a break from picking at the pommel to take the unit test for my intermediate algebra class. I had to get up to keep a cat from playing with something they shouldn't have and when I turned around, I realized that the level of liquid in the cup was considerably lower. I know alcohol tends to evaporate quickly, but nothing evaporates that quickly in a house in February in Kansas. Nothing.

Second "Oh, crap" moment. There was nail polish remover pooled around the base of the cup. The saddle was next to the cup.

The damage was limited to the front part of just one side of the saddle, pretty much what you see here. Nail polish remover also eats through adhesive, though. That's why I was stripping the pommel with it, after all. I'm waiting on the saddle to dry, hoping for no discoloration, and expecting that I'll have to glue the jockey and fender back down at least because the nail polish remover will have compromised the glue. I'm praying that the silver stays intact.

There is a chance that I'll need to tear the saddle apart anyway now. If the leather discolors, I'll have to carve a new jockey, possibly a new fender. The lower skirt, thank goodness, was mostly spared and anything off will be hidden under the jockey/fender.

The irony? In my attempt to avoid tearing down the saddle, I may have created a situation that renders it an absolute necessity.

Hope your day is going better than mine.

It's a Wrap!

The set isn't quite finished. Almost, anyway. But that's not what this wrap is about.

It's about Saran Wrap. Or plastic wrap, if you buy the store brand like I do. Or Evil Forcefield of Staticky Doom if it hates you has much as it hates me.  It sticks to my hands, the counter, the box, itself, and everything but the dish I'm trying to cover.  But I digress.

It's very hand stuff for fitting; protects the model from dye and miscellaneous gunk without creating a lot of extra bulk.  This idea is not mine, lest you think me brilliant or some such nonsense.  Jennifer Buxton and Leah of Shoestring both use plastic wrap to protect ponies while working on various projects.

This lovely Jezebel, resculpted by Mel Miller, is not mine.  Alas and alack.  Let me go weep in the corner for a moment, because she's really lovely and I'm not even an 'Arab person.'

. . .

Okay. Back. If she were mine, I'd skip this step entirely.  Blank resins are not sacred in this studio.  No paint means no problem - I fit directly to the model, wet dye or sealer be darned. WeeJay especially has some epic dye 'sweat' marks, but is tacked up right now (AND my card reader decided to be finicky).

But Jezebel is not mine, and so a great deal of care has been taken with her.  When not in use, she hangs out on a piece of felt on her side, well out of the general carnage.  And when it comes time to fit her saddle, she gets a plastic wrap poncho for protection.

Because I have such bad luck with plastic wrap actually sticking to the desired places, I secured this with a piece of scotch tape under the belly.  It's taped to the plastic wrap, not the pony. The plastic covers more than necessary, actually, since this is just to fit the saddle, but covering the neck and croup helps keep everything in place.

I cover the saddle with sealer top and bottom and then twist tie it down gently.  Too hard and you'll get funky lines across the leather - no bueno. The sealer has two purposes - extra protection for pony down the line and it makes the leather damp, which helps accelerate the shaping process and keeps the saddle in shape after it dries.  Water would accomplish the same purpose, but I like having more than one coat of sealer on a project.  For most of the saddle, this is a second coat. I can be a little flaky with sealing after dyeing and before construction, especially if I'm in a hurry, need just a little bit of this color, or whatever.  That, and the fact that I paint on the studs that go on the jockeys near the pommel, is why I always always seal EVERYTHING at least one more time after I have finished constructing the saddle.

While training the saddle, I do not apply sealer to the stirrup leathers.  I'll do that after it comes off the horse. The stirrup bars (or what would be stirrup bars) are usually covered by the twist tie and cause the stirrup leathers to dry funny.  It's easier for me to do those after the twist tie comes off rather than fighting them.

And viola! Nicely trained saddle, clean pony, win win.

If anyone's counting...10 days until class starts.  Think I can finish this in time?

Sharing is Caring

When my copy of The Babysitter arrived last month, I commented on how large she was and how close in scale that put her to WeeJay.  She was closer than I thought; the two of them can share tack, right down to the bridle and boots!  Because my tack is not adjustable (which makes it easier to put on), each set fits a pretty small range of horses.  In fact, it usually fits just one.

Sometimes the saddle can be passed around pretty easily, but bridles are often quite tricky.  Any time I find two or more horses that can share everything, I get pretty excited.  It means that a sales piece for ________ will also fit _________, which means that it appeals to a wider range of buyers which means that the chances of a sale just went up.

It also means that buyers can get more bang for their buck.  WeeJay is kind of limited to over fences classes, but The Babysitter could tackle a wide variety of events, english and western. With rising prices in the rest of our lives, economizing in the hobby becomes a necessity for most people.  Instead of a saddle for every horse, a set of tack that can go from the CM/AR classes to the OF ring is a great way to cut expenses if you plan to order new gear.

One of my favorite groups of horses to trade tack between is Working Girl/Breyer's WEG Driving Horse.  Working Girl, of course, is no longer in production and actually rather hard  to find second hand, but well worth it if you can.  Sarah Rose's minis hold their value extremely well.  Working Girl and Breyer's WEG Driving horse are both versatile, working models that can be used in a variety of settings.  Because of loose manes, most english flat classes will have to be in lower levels or schooling, but often times fewer moving parts means fewer things to mess up.  A correctly done entry, no matter the level, should always be competitive.

Quite a few of the G3/WEG (G4) models can swap saddles and sometimes bridles, but I have found that in most cases tack cannot be swapped around between generations.  There's a substantial size difference between the G2 (1998) and G3 (2006) molds, and within both generations there's a wide range of head sizes.  The G1s typically have very delicate, refined heads and that is their main problem when swapping tack.  A G2 saddle may fit, but unless you want to do a bridleless reining demonstration you're out of luck.

Resins, of course, are an entirely different ball game.  There's a wide variety of sizes and poses without Breyer and Stone's level of continuity in shape and scale.  Based on the handful I have in my collection, models from Horsing Around and Animal Artistry tend to stay fairly close in scale and are performance friendly. Animal Artistry models tend to run larger than most plastic models, while Horsing Around runs closer in scale to Breyer's G2 molds.

Unfortunately, I can't finish off this post with a comprehensive list of tack-sharing models. It's been a long time since I've had orders for G2 or G1 models, and most of my recent sales pieces have been for the WEG Driving Horse/Working Girl/Little Lonestar trio.  What I DO have is a Google Spreadsheet with measurements for bridles.  I've wanted to do an Equine Resin Directory-like database with tack making measurements for a long time, but it never really got off the ground and I don't have time to put it in a website form right now.  Tack makers and anyone else who needs it are welcome to use the information as reference.  I plan to add more models as I have the time to measure them, and if you happen to have measurements for a model feel free to email them to me! (check out the contact page for my email address)

Model Horse Measurements Spreadsheet

Record Keeping

Keeping records of tack is something that not everyone does.  Some tack makers are so low volume that it just isn't necessary, or they don't expect to become high volume and have nothing set up.  I started out in the second category; I didn't keep records until 2009, and even then my attempts were sporadic and short lived.  It wasn't until 2010 that I started my current digital version.

Keeping a close record of previously made pieces isn't always imperative, but I find it very helpful.  I like knowing what I've made in the past, and if a customer needs a repair or replacement part, it's especially nice to know what kind of dye I used.  Not only is it great to keep the details of each order straight, records are also extremely helpful when dealing with deposits and time payments.

My first attempts at record keeping were aimed at finding a way to gather the pertinent information about an order in one place.  I cycled through an index card and binder system before settling on Microsoft Excel.  Excel and similar programs like Google's Spreadsheets are useful for a variety of reasons.  Information can be sorted via filters, easily changed, and tabs make it easy to keep track of different sections of your hobby endeavors.  It also made it much easier for me to be consistent with the information I took down, as well as keeping track of non-commissioned pieces.

Excel is part of Microsoft's Office Suit and does not come standard on Windows machines.  If you don't want to buy a program, there are alternatives like Google Spreadsheets and  I have used Google Spreadsheets for other projects and really like it, but am hesitant to use it for tracking orders.  The great thing is that it can be accessed from any computer, and that's also my concern.  Spreadsheets can be marked as private, but I still worry about hackers.  The most sensitive information I keep in my spreadsheets are email addresses, but I don't want some unsavory person getting into any of the information I have on there.

The information I include in my spreadsheet has evolved over time and is still evolving.  I have tabs to keep track of current orders, finished pieces (which includes finished commissions, donations, sales pieces, and personal projects), and accounting.  Instead of just keeping the details of an order straight, I'm also tracking the numbers made, how many times a customer comes back, when certain things were finished, and even trends in dye and style.  Don't forget the accounting possibilities with Excel and other spreadsheet programs!

Here are two screen shots to give you an idea of how I have this set up.  Click on the photo to view larger. Some information has been removed or fabricated to protect the innocent.

The first screen shot is of my tack log.  I track finished pieces here whether they're sales, orders, donations, or personal pieces.  Items are added to this sheet after they are completed.  In the past I only tracked orders and donations, but when I closed my books it became more important to track all of my work.

The sheet is pretty self-explanatory.  Each item has the date of completion, what kind of transaction (donation, order, sales, or personal), the style or discipline (style was shorter), details about the order, price, buyer information, and notes which might be about the transaction as a whole, special information about the tack, etc.

Originally the "details" column included what mold(s) the set was fitted to and what dyes were used, but when I redid my Excel file at the beginning of the year I split those out so that I could track trends more easily.

This second screen shot is of my orders page.

As a rule, I track only time sensitive projects in the Current Projects tab, though I think I had planned to include personal projects and sales pieces at one point.  Instead, I keep tabs only on donations and commissions.  Most of this sheet is set up like the Tack Log sheet, so that when an order is finished I can copy and paste information from one sheet to another.  In the past I included information like buyer's address and the date the package arrived, but that information was difficult to place into Excel in standard form (addresses) or moot once the project was moved to the Tack Log tab (arrival date).

I hope this post is somewhat helpful; I always feel a little out of my depth when I write informational pieces for this blog.  Comments are welcome, as always, and so are topic suggestions!