How to Paint a Duck Stamp

Much of my artwork is created for entry into the federal and state duck stamp art competitions. The Federal Duck Stamp originated in 1934 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act.  The act required all waterfowl hunters over the age of 16 to annually purchase a carry a duck stamp when hunting. Proceeds from the sale of stamps have gone to purchase wetlands and wildlife habitat that are included in the National Wildlife Refuge System (see Many states also require purchase of a state duck stamp and annually have art competitions to select the image for their state.

I have recently submitted artwork for the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the Oregon Waterfowl Art Competition and the Nevada Duck Stamp Art Contest.

2018 Oregon Waterfowl Stamp Entry
2018 Oregon Waterfowl Stamp Entry

Last year, my entry for the North Carolina Waterfowl Stamp Contest came in 8th place.  I was thrilled with this ranking since there were many well known wildlife artists in the top 10. This entry is shown on my home page.

In 2016, my entry for the Delaware Duck Stamp Contest came in 2nd and is a painting of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Canvasbacks.

Delaware Duck Stamp – 2nd Place 2016

I will soon be starting on entries for the North Carolina Waterfowl Conservation Stamp Competition, and the Delaware Waterfowl Stamp Contest, and the Virginia Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamp Contest.  This is not an exhaustive list, but are the ones I hope to enter in the upcoming months.

So, how do I paint duck stamps?  I first pick the species that I want to paint.  In the federal duck stamp, you have a choice of five species.  I usually pick the ones that are most colorful. In state contests, there is sometimes a choice but often the state specifies what species should be painted. Availability of my own photos is usually the determining factor in the species I choose to paint. I often get asked where I get the subject matter for my artwork.  Well, I live on a six acre lake and can take my own photos of a lot of species.  I also travel to wildlife refuges and zoos.  It really takes lots of reference material for painting a duck stamp.  I have friends who hunt that have mounts that I borrow.  I even have ducks from hunts in my freezer! I also have taxidermy books and look at hundreds of pictures on the internet to ensure the detail is correct. Not only does the duck have to be anatomically correct, but the plumage must be appropriate for the season, the vegetation must be correct, it has to be artistically pleasing, the light must be right, and it must be good enough to compete with some of the best wildlife artists in the country. It is not an easy thing to accomplish.  I have tried various media. My current approach is to use an airbrush for the background and acrylic or vinyl paint for the detail work. I recently bought an Iwata HP-C Plus airbrush and absolutely love it!  Also, I recently purchased some Lefranc & Bourgeois extra-fine vinyl-based paint. I found that my acrylic paint left a shiny surface after drying. The vinyl paint is great as it dries with a nice mat finish. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it comes in jars. I would prefer a tube, and it seems like I waste a lot. I am currently using gesso board for my stamp contest entries.  I have used bristol board which also works well. It is a continuous learning process, and for now, I keep trying!

I recently returned from the Federal Duck Stamp Contest in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The artwork was amazing and although my entry did not do as well as I had hoped, I got to meet many other excellent artists, including Jim Hautman, winner of the 2016 Federal Duck Stamp Contest. There were 227 entries and 12 made it to the last round.  To see the winners, go to (

2018 Federal Duck Stamp Entry
2018 Federal Duck Stamp Entry
2017 Federal Duck Stamp Contest – Robin gets tips from Jim Hartman. Thanks Jim!