Five Minutes with Kristina Lucas Francis

An interview with an amazing artist!

Kristina Lucas Francis sculpting

Kristina Lucas Francis sculpting

Kristina Lucas Francis sculpted the first model released in the Premier Collection- Desatado. She has been sculpting professionally since 1995. Her subjects are drawn from nature; she does restorations of extinct fauna and portraits of domestic and wild animals. She creates her original designs in modeling clay from her sketches, makes her own molds, and produces her own ceramics.

Breyer had the opportunity to talk with Kristina to learn more about her craft, and what goes into creating one of her beautiful works of art!


Breyer: Where do you go for inspiration when you sculpt?

Kristina Lucas Francis: I don't physically have to go to a location. It is delightful when there is a combination of the on-location life drawing/reference photo shoot and good weather. When that doesn't work out, I have a personal library of animal anatomy, breed, and art books, a small collection of sculptures by artists I admire, and, of course, the internet as a tool. Sometimes, I contact breed experts for critiques and for the names of good breed representatives to research. I carry a memory load of images in my head, from past real horse shows, trips to the zoo, etc. I am very lucky to have good visual memory. The only downside is that I don't have a filter, and images get "saved" to memory, whether they are helpful or not. I try to not look too closely at images of poorly conformed horses, or veterinary pathologies, as my brain and hands will download them into my art. This is one solid reason why I sketch a lot at first; I have to "shake out" the irrelevant or undesirable. The sketchbook takes on the role of my mental filter. When I remember how one of my sculpture masters firmly insisted that I stop drawing, it makes me glad that I followed my instincts and kept the method that worked for me. Sometimes, a random sketch inspires a whole sculpture.


Breyer: What was your inspiration for Desatado?

Kristina Lucas Francis: As Desatado was a commercial commission, the plainest truth of his inspiration was the concept that I was assigned. It is good for me to work under some art direction and stay flexible for working with art directors, committees, licensors, and marketing personnel. It is so easy to become spoiled by the freedom of producing my own work all of the time. It can even lead to "barn blindness," or not being able to see the flaws in one's own work. My formal training was in commercial sculpting, so I am comfortable switching between self-direction and making art directed by others.

Desatado Sketch
Premier Collection Sketches


Breyer: What steps take place before you begin to sculpt?

Kristina Lucas Francis: Once the basic concept is discussed, I begin with sketches. First, they are just gestures: the faintest hints of pose with a topline, underline, and single lines to indicate legs. As I build a visual collection of snippets of the portrait horse, I make detailed sketches. The developed pose sketches are the ones that get sent in for pose approvals. Sometimes, I'll do finished drawings of the subject, but not necessarily in the directed pose. For example, if I want to really get a grasp of the portrait horse's head "in the round," I may do some finished head studies. It's a lot like memorizing facts for a test, except it's fun homework. When it is a commercial job, I write down verbal notes of "do this, not that" distilled from phone calls or emails, and stick them directly on my reference copies. It goes so much faster when I only have to make minor tweaks on subsequent approvals.



After the pose is selected, all my references are laid out with notes, I start my wire armature. I calculate (yes, math!) the size the original sculpture needs to be to allow for shrinkage in production. The shrinkage percentage varies between the different media model horses can be made in, so I must calculate for each sculpture. Once I have the dimensions, I make a scaled-up copy of the pose sketch, and bend the wire right on that paper, staying within the lines.


Bust of Desatado
(c) Kristina Lucas Francis

Breyer: What are the challenges of sculpting a rearing horse versus a standing horse?

Kristina Lucas Francis: In some respects, sculpting an action pose is easier than a standing pose. A standing pose portrait is primarily a depiction of the animal's conformation, so symmetry and breed type are the emphasis of the sculpture. At the same time, the sculptor must show life in a static model of a "wooden" pose. One can do some movement with hair blowing, but on a standing horse with minimal hair, the sculptor must get specific with the personality and vibrancy of that individual. That can be very difficult to nail on the first attempt. The rendering of personality in sculpture can be highly subjective from viewer to viewer, especially if it's the owner, who knows the horse in all of his or her moods.


With action poses, the goal is to suspend disbelief that the model is a stationary object. Collectors who compete in photo showing are very familiar with this! A rearing horse also needs attention to its personality, and it has to show all over its body. If the horse is merely playfully rearing, it must indicate that it is not aggressive by showing the corresponding expression and angles of the forelimbs. Is his tail slightly arched in joy, or is it tucked or angrily slapping? Beyond the type and character study of a standing horse, the rearing sculpture has to mimic the right context of equine behavior and movement, from head to tail.


Breyer: Where there any challenges you encountered when sculpting Desatado?

Kristina Lucas Francis: Desatado as a rearing model is at liberty, playful, and confident. His rearing pose was easier for me to convey movement and "life", but action brings even more work in the biomechanical aspects. The sculpture had to show shifting weight, a pause in forward momentum, and simultaneous lift of the forehand. Since I sculpt the horse's body first, and do the hair last, I prevent myself from "cheating" my eye. In the approved sketch, his pose was more like a sliding stop, just starting to get his front end off of the ground. After I sent the first photos of him in 3D, I was directed to make him "less squatty." I had to raise his forehand up more, but not into a full rear because he needed to remain modest.

Model in progress
(c)Kristina Lucas Francis

The reference photos were of a full rearing pose, standing straight up on the hind legs. It was my job to find a happy medium between the sliding stop and the full rear: hence, the semi-rearing pose. At the same time, I found some features that bugged me, and corrected the crooked face and forelegs. A later edit gave all the leg tendons better detail, thinned down the ears, and softened the mouth. It's nice to have some time to put the sculpture out of sight, and come back with fresh eyes.


Breyer: Can you tell us more about your artistic process?

Kristina Lucas Francis: Going back to visual memory, it is no secret that my approach is based in memorization. I have to acknowledge that rote learning and practice are my natural process, with every sculpture, so that I can look for ways to challenge myself. In the time since I sculpted Desatado, I have had opportunities to really push my sculpture technique. I can see how I sculpt every bit of a horse differently today, so that tells me I'm still growing. When I look at all of my sculpts lined up in my archives, it seems like ages passed between whole shelves. I try to mentally flag my older sculptures' errors, and keep the best parts in my "Yes! Do that again!" file.


Closup with Desatdo

Closeup with Desatado
(c)Kristina Lucas Francis

I tend to work fast because of the commercial training. The danger to working at my familiar pace is that I might forget a leg chestnut, a vein, an ergot, the inside of an ear... something small that will bug me later. As soon as I am ready to start all that detail work, I write out a checklist, with right and left sides of every body part, so I don't miss anything.

As awful as it may sound, especially in a social hobby like model horses, I prefer to work alone. I love being able to play my own music, have my favorite DVDs running, not answer the phone, and just work. Sometimes, I forget to eat. I breathe very slowly and the hours fall away. Before I know it, I have to take my dogs out for a walk! The focus is so riveting, that when I sculpt, it seems like the muscles are bubbling up out of the clay; when I airbrush, it feels like I am thinking the color onto the horse. When I am done, only then do I notice my fingers are numb from holding the airbrush for so long. My work is akin to meditation; people who deeply focus on any art form, even dance, say the same thing.

My style was influenced by model horses. To this day, whenever I get a new mold, I turn it over and over in my hands, follow the seam lines, and study the piece. I still collect pieces that teach me about the ceramics process and animal art. I go to model horse shows when I can fit them into my schedule, and every so often, I host a show. Model horse shows are a good place to get critiques and avoid the dangers of sculpting in isolation.

I love to produce ceramic horses. I was fortunate enough to fall in with good people in the California Pottery tradition, back when I was a teen. When I moved out of California, I was loaded with memories of their stories, trials, and trivia. I had to develop mold making and airbrushing skills based on those memories, in order to launch my solo pottery in my new home. I have been doing it for so long, I don't feel an animal sculpture is "done" until I hold a glazed ceramic casting of it in my hands. With commercial work, I don't always have that option, and instead I collect the molds in whatever media they are released. There still is no comparison to opening the kiln and watching light glitter across the contours of the sculptures. For me, that is when my horses finally come to life.


Categories: | Collector_Club_News


Ellie329 Says:
10/29/2012 at 3:31 pm


I'm so sad I don't own him):

fordsmtack Says:
12/06/2011 at 10:56 pm

Your Sketches are life like!

The Sketching and sculpting you do so well at both. I've seen your models, your ceramic horses, but I hadn't seen your sketches of horses till this article, heee, I'd love to see more sketches too! Your interview is enlightening! Keep up ALL the Great work in ALL mediums!

KLKeepsakes Says:
12/06/2011 at 9:01 pm


Wonderful horse and an awesome interview! thank you for sharing!
Karen Dietrich

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