Ducks are one of the first birds I figured out how to draw. Not surprisingly, they were also the first group of birds I learned to identify. Waterfowl (ducks especially) are a great ‘starter group’ for novice birders and bird artists. The males of each species are usually brightly-coloured and easily distinguished from each other. Mallard drakes don’t look anything like wigeon drakes, which don’t look anything like merganser drakes. For a budding naturalist of about eleven or twelve, these were the ideal group of birds with which to perfect my identification techniques before moving up to more challenging groups like raptors or songbirds.
Male ducks are a great group of birds to cut your teeth on as a wildlife artist too. Their patterns tend to be bold and there are less details in the feathers than in the more drably-coloured females. The reason for that difference stems from their breeding habits. Unlike geese (where males and females are basically identical), ducks do not mate for life. Every year, males of each species have to get out on the water and strut their stuff in the hopes of enticing a female’s attention. In many species, that means the brighter the better. You see a lot of colour in ducks: green heads in mallards, rusty browns in canvasbacks and redheads, bright blues in teals and ruddy ducks.
I, however, seem to have a preference for the classic combination of black and white (probably because of my penchant for drawing solely in pencil) and am thus drawn to species like goldeneyes and the Hooded Merganser. Until I started working in colour, these species were the most easily translated onto the page.
The thing with drawing waterfowl, is it’s easy to fall into the trap of the ‘decoy pose’ and always rendering the bird from a side few, sitting on the water (like in the first picture). So, over the years, I’ve been trying to challenge myself into drawing different angles, (like the Barrow’s Goldeneye) and even more life-like scenes such as this collection of baby goldeneyes. While I usually use photos for guidance, the inspiration for my work can only come from time spent in nature itself. It’s only through really taking in the world around me that I can flesh out the stories behind the images that I try to put to paper and hopefully make them feel more real.