There is an entire cottage industry built around model horses. That’s good news for people like Clint Voris who has turned his former part-time hobby into a second job. He produces over 100 custom airbrushed model horses each year.
Start with a basic factory model horse. The two major manufacturers are Breyer and Peter Stone. Two great resources for model horses are H & H Winner’s circle in Texas and E-bay.
Sand off the molding seams with a coarse grit (about 200) sand paper. A carbide scraper helps you get into the tight spots. Use a cotton swab dipped in acetone to smooth off the seams. These models are made of cellulose acetone, a plastic that dissolves in acetone. Finish by buffing the entire model with a fine sand paper; about 800-grit. Cleaning the model with window cleaner or degreaser removes the sanding dust and only oils or fingerprint residue from your hand.
For the primer coat, I prefer airbrushing acrylics gesso or gouache, but a spray can is acceptable. Use a heat gun to set the primer coat. Let the model air-dry thoroughly for several days.
Re-examine the model’s seams and sanding. If necessary, buff the seams again and re-prime that spot. Allow to dry. Your model is now ready to paint. Some clients will provide a photo of the horse they want reproduced.
If you want your model to have white socks or pinto markings, now is the time to cover the hooves and apply a liquid friskets; lay it on thick and it will come off easier later. Where there’s frisket, the body will be white. You may want to add a blaze or stripe to the face. Use a disposable plastic paintbrush for the firsket.
I recommend you use acrylics. Your color palette will be very subdued; brown, tan gray, white and some black.
Shading is very important. Use the natural musculature of the body to enhance the three-dimensionally of shading. Horses have variations in their cool patterns, they don’t have even, uniform color like an automatic paint job. Dapples are small (usually circular) variations in color patterns. They can be either contrasting colors, such as a dark gray horse with light gray or white dapples, to something more subtle. Don’t worry about overspray getting on the horse.
After the point has dried, gently peel off the firsk. To enhance the eyes, shade over the entire eye area with black. Some over spray is acceptable here; horses have naturally dark skin around their eyes. Using a paintbrush, apply white and a pinkish color to the sclera. Add brown and black to create the pupil (horse’s pupils are oval and horizontal, not circular like humans). Add a sparkle to the eye with a white highlight.
The mane and tail are painted next. You can use a paintbrush or airbrush. Again, they will not be an even, uniform color, but will have soft streaks of varying shades, tints and tones.
If you have white above the hoof on the leg, the hoof will be a tan color. If there is no white, the hoof will be dark gray, almost black. I use a small flat brush to apply the paint in a downward stroke. Dip each corner of the brush into two different shades. This will create a natural-looking hoof.
Gently go over the entire model with the heat gun again. The acrylics are about as dry as they’re going to get. If you painted the mane and tail with a brush, let the model set for a day or two so the acrylic may thoroughly cure and dry. For the clearcoat, I use krylon brand # 1311 flat. You may also apply a high-gloss finish. Set the clearcoat with a heat gun, and let the model cure for a day.