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Preparing for a Duck Stamp Competition! (1/4)

Author: Larry Seiler, Contributing Editor

First of all...why a competition? I personally found the competitions invaluable in my own growth, because a standard is raised which pits the artist against his/her own potential laziness to do whatever it would take to develop. Its a bit disconcerting to arrive at the judging day and note that your piece is the brundt of humor because you failed to do your homework. My very first duck stamp was of a decoy...and I was so self-assured I would do well with it. Boy, was I naive and stuck on myself without a cause! I was so embarrassed I felt like crawling into my skivies and slither along out the door hopefully without being noticed!

So...I got to know a number of the artists I admired. I began to go to shows to see other artist's works and chit chat. I observed what publishers were looking for.

Now...many new and young wildlife artists might have no desire at all for competitions, but it should be understood that 20 years of such competitions has raised a bar for the standard of excellence which galleries have come to demand. It would still do you much benefit to attend shows, listen, and take notes.

I've spent about 17 years hunting waterfowl on the historic Green Bay waters, often breaking 20 feet of ice from the shore to slip a skiff into the water, and put out 100 decoys with friends (which bob in the chilly November waters and form ice beards). Such long hours over the spacious waters indelibly fixes flights of ducks in the mind, and became the substance for many art works to come.

To begin...we begin where many of my directions in painting come from, and that is my sketchbook.

I go to aviaries, zoos, to wetlands fighting sparrow-sized mosquitos, and take photographs of birds swimming, birds in flight. I sketch a gazillion quick sketches, noting that various species of waterfowl have their own unique group flight patterns.

Puddle ducks such as mallards flying in their powerful formations taking dramatic drops...literally falling and going into banks and comical turns to land. Greenwing teal, the smallest of the ducks fly in little balls of members that constantly change shapes rising and lowering, twisting and turning...looking very reckless. Most diver species flying within feet of cresting waves at breakneck speeds. What a treat to take it all in!

My body studies strive to see beyond public stereotypes or knowledge, to understand slight nuances that suggest personality. For this, I do many head studies from life, again at aviaries, or getting my hands on video tapes.

A great resource is "The Duck Blind", available online by querying that name on a search engine. They video tape individual specie pairs and put together one hour tapes of the pair swimming, preening, drying their wings, getting out of the pond, standing...etc;

I often get hold of plasticene clay and build 3-dimensional models. Some artists carve bodies from white styrofoam and attach cardboard wings...so that these can be viewed from various angles, and shadows can be studied. I invested in woodcarving pattern books, such as Patrick Godin's Championship Waterfowl Patterns books, volume one and two. I also have a background in woodcarving, having also entered competitions at that level. Thinking three-dimensional and working even with modeling clay helps you visually this 2D work in the round.

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