Archive | June, 2011

Adventures in self-publishing

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That’s the print test that arrived late last night. It came with some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that I will not be able to get books printed in time for BreyerFest, which was my original goal. I knew that was probably a long shot because it was unlikely that everything would turn out perfectly on the first try. Technology has changed a lot since I was last involved in printing, but I was pretty sure that part of it was still the same. Things always go wrong at the printers. Always.

I knew I was looking at a lot of different quality issues, which is why I sent off a sample section to be printed. That’s what I am holding in the picture. (That’s why it is a small, saddle-stitched booklet, rather than a perfect-bound 430+ page book.) I did not know what to expect from the newer Print-On-Demand (POD) technology. I wasn’t even sure I would go that route, because some of the issues I had been told to expect gave me pause. Ideally I would prefer to go that route because I would love to hand off the fulfillment aspect over to another entity so I can return to the studio. Places that do that (companies like Lulu and Createspace) all use the same print-on-demand technology.

What I had heard was that that the color printing, which is used on the covers, leaves something to be desired. That one issue, paired with the still-high costs involved, is why this particular set of books are being designed in black and white. An expensive book with questionable color was a non-starter. I must admit that while it is not the same as offset printing, and I suspect their press wasn’t calibrated well (too much magenta), it wasn’t as awful as I had been lead to expect. It is the kind of compromise I expected with Print-On-Demand.  (And yes, I know… a book about color in black and white? I’ll talk more about that later in the post.)

But it was the black and white interior where I found the problems.

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Oh, that won’t do at all!

Despite meticulously following the instructions for “best results”, many of the photos and illustrations came out too dark. I don’t need color to show how unusual the patterning is on the Hackney in that first photo, but I do need people to be able to see the pattern!

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The same image using a wide range of level of curve adjustments

The remedy is to go in and tweak the problem images in Photoshop and print another test to determine which settings will work best. It still amazes me that this is actually economically feasible for a printing company, but it is apparently how it is done.

There was some good news that came out of my test, though. As I mentioned, these books are being printed in black and white. Part of that is the economics, but part is also the subject matter. As I have said before, these are not “how to identify you horse’s color” books. Until color printing becomes more accessible, that kind of information is far better suited to a place like this blog. Instead, these books are about the history of horse color in different breeds. In many ways, they are as much about the history of the different breeds as they are about color specifically. As a result, a large portion of the photos are already black and white because they are old. For some all we have are engravings (like the horse in the image above).

Those images are really important to properly tell these stories, but in many cases the image quality is really poor. Often the sole remaining image of a historical animal is the one that was printed in a stud book. Stud books were often printed fairly cheaply on paper little better than newsprint. For others, the pictures come from old periodicals or bulletins issued by agricultural departments. Those were the images that motivated me to print a test section, because I needed to know if they could be included. With modern pictures I have the option of contacting owners and photographers for an alternate, but for the historic horses often there is only one (bad!) image. If that one image didn’t work, I might need to formulate another plan. But ironically, the bad photos printed well. In some cases, far better than they should have! So while the fix for the dark photos is going to be time consuming, at least there is a fix.

The other great irony?

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This was easier to do. When I first announced that there would be books, I had a lot of people ask if they would be offered as e-books or downloads. I said I would try, but I really wasn’t sure that I was up for a great technical challenge like that.

Oddly enough, getting the manuscript into Kindle format was really simple. In fact the biggest challenge wasn’t technical, but one of layout. How could I break down the charts and diagrams (like the one those sample homozygous splash overos came from) so that they worked with that kind of format? That is actually a lot more fun than figuring out levels and curves and file formats! And since I own a Kindle, it is easy to see exactly what my readers will get. I am also told that if I use color images, those devices that can do color will show them in color. That might be the answer for color publishing in the future. So yes, there will be an electronic version eventually. After I figure out how to make the less high-tech version work for me!

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Pattern interactions

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The full horse from the previous post, showing a rather impressive variety of pattern edges all on one horse.

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“My face doesn’t look like it belongs with my butt!”

The recent discussion of the possible sabino-manchado horse has had me thinking about the topic that has consumed much of my attention for the last few years, which is pattern interaction. That was the subject that I began to explore in a series of articles for the magazine published for the (now sadly gone) Realistic Equine Sculpture Society. I had touched upon it before in presentations, but only in the most superficial way, because exploring the ways that the different patterns interact is speculative. We cannot test for most of these patterns, and to make matters worse we already know that some of what we call a pattern (like sabino) is actually a catch-all phrase for a group of patterns that may in fact prove to be quite different from one another. When teaching about horse color, it seemed less confusing to stick with what was actually known.

But just as my friend Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig pointed out in a recent blog post about the difference between anatomical charts and living, breathing animals, and how important that is for anyone wishing to convey life in their sculpture, so too is there a difference between the rules and categories of coat color genetics and the living animals we encounter. Much of what is said about horse color is simplified. It has to be; that is the first step to understanding it. But once those concepts are clear – once a person understands that this is a frame and that a tobiano and that a sabino – then the next step is exploring the far more complicated way that color presents on individual horses.

And one of the biggest influences on that is the way that the different patterns interact. Someone questioned the use of “portions” of the photos in the previous post, but that is exactly what pattern interaction is about. When there are two (or more) patterns, which portions remain? Which are lost? Which get changed so that they look different from either of the original pattern?

In the next few days I am going to try to reformat some of the information that appeared in the RESS articles, and hopefully from there start exploring the topic further.

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Manchado comparisons

I have had a few people ask me what made the Pato horse so different from any other sabino roan. Several people suggested that the horse looked no different from horses like the one pictured to the left of this group. (That photo came from Notorious Stock, and can be seen in its entirety here.) I’ve set the horse from the previous post alongside him with a photo of a leopard appaloosa rump beside it. It is the organization of the spots on the pato horse into clusters, which are reminiscent of a leopard, that made me wonder if he was displaying a manchado pattern along with sabino. The horse caught my eye because he doesn’t look exactly like either a sabino roan or a leopard, but visually falls somewhat in between.

I also had someone say they had not seen a manchado that looked “anything like” a leopard complex horse. Here is another comparison shot.

It is the quantity of round spots set inside the white ground, often concentrated on the hindquarters, that gives the manchado pattern a leopard-like appearance. (Left is a manchado, right is an appaloosa. Photo used with permission.)

That’s not to say that sabinos cannot have round spots set within a white ground.

But it is unusual to see that concentrated on the top of the rump, and spread continuously over the whole horse. We don’t know that it is impossible, but the oddity of it made me suspect something else might be there.

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