View Full Version : Progression of Federal Duck Stamp entries

02-13-2012, 09:54 PM

Just thought I would post some of my past entries for the federal duck stamp contest. I entered the contest for the first time in 2001 after winning 2nd place nationally in the Junior Federal Duck Stamp contest in 1999.

I have to agree with what a lot of seasoned fed contest entrants here on WC say: seeing the contest judged in person really gives you an idea of what the judges are looking for and helps you understand what makes a good entry.

My apologies for the angles of the photos...the varnish on the entries makes taking good photos with minimal shine difficult.

My first entry of black scoters in 2001 wasn't very good, as I got no 'In' votes, but I did receive some feedback from a friend with the USFWS that was at the judging. She said the judges mentioned the background and composition was a bit weak, and could use some work. The birds themselves were passable, but could also use improvement in contrast, positioning, etc.


So, for 2002 I tried a simpler background, focused primarily on the bird, and tried to improve my colors. Maybe a bit overboard. I have since noticed that judges are not particularly amenable to greenish-tinted backgrounds. Still, this entry received 1 'In' vote, and for some reason I believe it went on the tour (it came back with a label attached to the matting with my name, location, etc. on it). I would likely never do a woodie entry again, as I have learned that the majority of the entrants pick the most colorful species.


In 2003 I went with a very simple water background, and what I thought was a nice, simple composition of a pair of shovelers. This entry received no 'In' votes. I believe this was due to the varnish I used on the painting. This painting was my first federal entry in oil, and I used a can of spray varnish, and thought I saw some pale spots developing on the entry before I mailed it. Sure enough, when the entry came back, it was covered in light spots and splotches. A brush-applied varnish repaired the damage, but it didn't really help with the contest score. I was pretty happy with the colors and composition, but I would have tried to make the birds bigger if I were to re-do a shoveler entry.


I thought for 2004 I would pick one of the dullest birds to paint-the gadwall. One of the most distinguishing features of the gadwall is their white speculum and overall gray/buff color, so I figured a flying entry was in order. This entry was my first to make it past the first round with 3 'In' votes...the 2nd round score was only a 9, but I placed 14th overall, and I believe I had the highest scoring female entry that year.


I was feeling up to oils again for 2005, and I thought I might try a slightly more colorful species, so I focused my efforts on a ruddy drake entry. I worked on this entry over the last summer before my final year of college and was very happy with it. Once again, I made it past the first round of judging with 5 'In' votes, and a 2nd round score of 14, tying my entry for 10th place with many other talented artists. It's always so cool to see your name on the same level with veteran waterfowl artists like Harold Roe, Bob Hautman, Richard Clifton, and so many more. What an honor! (Sorry about the quality of the image...its an old scan and is a bit washed out/over exposed in some areas)


Real life intervened after 2005: I graduated college May of 2006 and got a summer job marking timber in the mountains in Idaho for the USFS (best summer of my life). 2007 I was busy working on entries to the MN pheasant, duck, and turkey stamps (unsuccessful...that's a whole different thread). However, with the fed coming to Minnesota for 2008, I had to get an entry in.

I'm limited in how much I can attach and I cannot upload URLs yet, so I will continue on with the 2008 federal entry in a follow up thread.

Enjoy! Comments and criticism always welcome.

Sara Stack

02-14-2012, 12:29 AM
A tough competition. You're doing really well. Persistence pays!

Studio on the Prairi
02-21-2012, 10:12 PM
Sara, I have a HUGE appreciation for your sharing your fantastic artwork, and what judges might have said, etc. The feather detailing is exquisite! I especially like your Gadwalls. I am a private art teacher and have students who enter the Jr. Duck Stamp Contest. We always wonder what the judges are looking for! Some paintings that I think will win top honors do not! One of our goals is to try to incorporate the duck/geese/swan habitat, and not always easy to be original. I wish you much success in your job, and pursuing your art choices.
Marj, from Studio-on-the-Prairie

02-22-2012, 08:38 PM
I think I will be doing my first entry this year. Thank you for sharing some of what you have learned. You should be able to just hit reply and add more images to this same thread, rather than starting a second one.

02-24-2012, 02:26 AM
Crias-Excellent! Best of luck with your first Federal entry...it is a fun contest to enter and compete in. Any idea what medium you are going to use?

LOL, thanks for the info on the picture uploads...I felt like an idiot after I figured out I could have just replied to my own thread and loaded more like you said :)...don't play around enough on the forums to do stuff right the first time.

I wish the federal entries weren't due until mid-September like they used to be, summer is a busy time, and it seems tougher to get an entry in by the earlier due date.

02-24-2012, 11:44 AM
Beautiful!!! Each one is more incredible! Best to you in future competitions!

02-25-2012, 09:44 AM
all of your work is just stunning (:

Dave Hawk
02-25-2012, 11:56 AM
Nice birds Sara. I did a state contest a couple years ago and attended the judging. Once I realized and saw all the others work and noticed the exorbitant amount of air brush work I knew that would be the only entry I would be doing. I did a lot of illustration work with air brush years ago but found more pleasure in the brush. Your works are outstanding. Keep at it.

06-26-2012, 03:45 PM
Sara I think your work is very, very good! I think your ducks stand out from your background, and that is appropriate for a duck stamp competition. Keep up the good work!

06-28-2012, 06:33 AM
They are all gorgeous.

Where do you get your reference material for these?

07-22-2012, 12:41 PM

Thank you for the kind words.

My reference material has adapted over time.

I never copy or create a sketch based entirely off photos: I come up with poses and compositions that I like, then I find bits and pieces of supporting imagery that I can use to glean details like feather angles, lighting, etc. Sometimes, once I start researching the supporting reference material, I find that my original sketch had fatal flaws due to my lack of knowledge and I adjust it as needs be.

I started out using a really great set of books called The Complete Waterfowl Study Series by Bruce Burk. I found Volume 1, Dabbling Ducks, at a Half-Price Book Store back home in MN while in college. It provided a great deal of decent pictures for determining waterfowl anatomy. I eventually tracked down copies of Volumes 2 and 3 (Divers, and Geese/Swans)...and these 3 books became some of my go-to sources for adding detail and proper anatomy to my sketch ideas.

However, with the proliferation of excellent digital cameras, and even more excellent digital photography posting websites, I now look to the internet as my primary source of supporting references.

Usually, when I settle on a subject species and I have a decent sketch and composition of what I want to paint, I will spend a few days conducting some exhaustive internet searches using the species given and scientific name to track down as much supporting reference material from google images, Flickr, Pbase, etc., then save copies onto a file specified for the particular painting.

Again, I never copy verbatim from a photo-besides the fact that it is plagiarism, I've yet to find a photo that encompasses everything I want in a painting. There are beautiful photos out there, but often the angle of lighting is wrong for what I am looking for, the background color or setting isn't what I want to paint, etc. The photos are most useful for determining small details that my taxidermy book images don't provide: like head feather shape and direction when viewing a bird from a quartering angle, scapular shape/appearance at specific light angles, etc.

If I had the money and time I would really love to get a great SLR digital camera with a very nice zoom lens and try to take as many reference photos of my own as I could...I live on the Oregon coast now, and there are great numbers and many species of ducks here throughout the year in the sloughs and estuaries (if the seemingly ever-present rain/fog allow you the opportunity to view them!). However, I just don't have the money or time right now...I work full time, do artwork frequently after work, hunt, hike, fish, kayak, beginner flint-knapping, etc. I wish there were more hours in a day!

I've got my fingers crossed I can get my federal entry in on time this year: it's the first year I've tried to make an entry since 2008 due to busy life, moving 2,000 miles from home in 2010, and working on other contests...I'm just about finished with the drake in my painting, but I've got the whole hen to finish, then I have to tweak the foreground water to what I want, varnish, and mat...and only 3.5 weeks left to do so!

A co-worker asked me to try to track my hours on this painting, because he was curious how long a painting can take...and so far this one has nearly 150 hours in it, and it's only half finished. Not to mention I got frustrated with it and took nearly the entire month of June and first part of July off to work on a different painting for another contest.

Hope this isn't information overload! Keep making art!

Vivien Maloney
07-22-2012, 03:51 PM
These are wonderful! I posted in your second thread first. You are an extremely talented artist.