Use of Published Wildfowl Patterns as Reference Material
To rely solely upon any one pattern, other
than your own is
dangerous. Remember, these are all artist's renditions, and as such are subject to
Even published patterns offered
by champions are not always accurate. These patterns are offered as
reference and are not really made to be copied exactly. The true
expectation is for them to be used as a guide or as reference in the
creation of your own original patterns. If you want to establish
your own style of carving, taking the risk of creating your own patterns
is where you style will begin. Why would anyone not want
to have their own style in wildfowl carving?
It is not unusual for judges to see at the
novice level of competition, several birds carved from the same pattern
which was offered in a class. Slightly different in appearance, but
overall look is the same when they are cut from the same pattern, and
the carvers are instructed by the same carver.
At the intermediate level, it is common to
see birds that have obviously been carved using published patterns from
the champion carvers. The judges can spot them in a heartbeat, and will give more
consideration to the carving that is uniquely different, than to those
carved from these well known patterns.
We even see these patterns in the
level, where this is against the rules! By the time you are in at the Open
or Advanced level, you should be designing your own patterns and
All my life I have been a "reference girl",
taking the time to do the research for whatever I was into at the time.
This has always been key in my success. For debate in high school; I did
the research to find the facts that would be arm me with the information
necessary to prove my point, to win the debate. It's the same for
wildfowl carving; do the research, find the facts necessary to
carve an accurate bird, use the facts to create your pattern, and
creating an accurate carving.
Here's my approach to developing an
I gather as much reference as possible. This
includes, photos, videos, patterns, books, study bills and castings,
reference measurements both printed, and my own.
For waterfowl decoys, I will start first with
the measurements in the back of Bruce Burke's Game Bird Carving, offering
the measurements from chest to tail, width, etc.
For other species like songbirds,
raptors, shorebirds and more I use Pam Krausman's "Images of Nature
Reference Measurement" offering key measurements (Distance between eyes,
front corner of eye to tip of bill, length of bill, flange to flange,
closed wing length, wing span, length of body, circumference of body,
and length of tail) for over 100 birds species (Birds of Prey,
Waterfowl, Upland Ground Birds, & Songbirds).
compare existing patterns for an average length and width.
Often I have acquired access to a frozen specimen, however for many
species this is not possible due to availability, or because it is a
protected species. Utilizing the closest collection of bird skins
is a possibility, especially for local species. For me The Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of
Minnesota is where I can study and measure up a skin. Another resource can
taxidermists and breeders who will allow you to photograph live specimens
or measure up some of their frozen specimens.
Beware of taxidermy mounts, and remember
they are just as much an artist's rendition as a carving or a painting,
are subject to inaccuracies and can be very wrong. Mounts are best used as
reference for feather shape and detail, basic feather layout and feather coloration.
Again, never use a mount as your only reference. Plumage can vary greatly,
depending upon the time of year or the age of the specimen. It is necessary to determine the season of plumage, age of the
bird, and even sometimes hybrids occur.
This can be done through photos, video, discussion with other birders,
hunters, and carvers, as well as first hand observation.
Check with your State Department of Natural
Resources (DNR here in Minnesota), and see if they have any frozen
specimens in their inventory. Explain the reason you need access; to
measure and photograph, and you may be surprised by what is available to
you. This can be an excellent resource for protected birds like Loons,
songbirds, shorebirds, birds of prey, etc., as these are turned in by citizens, and even confiscated from
poachers. This can lead to some very unusual species that aren't
necessarily in your region. In 1986 I was offered access to a Atlantic
Puffin here in Minnesota, that had been confiscated,
this was a real treat for me!
Armed with all of this reference material,
I have an idea in mind for the pose I want, and I attempt to find a
photograph depicting the exact pose and attitude. I make a clay model using Roma Plastilina oil
based clay, because it is reusable and I have a surplus from buying
25 years ago. Today,
Michael's Arts& Crafts and Dick Blick Artist Supplies also offer less
expensive brands of oil based clay which will work just fine.
If you are lucky you might find a pattern
from one of the published patterns close to what you want. However, it is
that you use this only for a basis and not verbatim. Though these are all
good patterns, but they should be used as reference and not for your own
It is those carvers who have taken the risk
of their own pattern, and making their own mistakes, who will dominate not only
the competition, but the sales market as well. This is because their work
is unique and is not the same as the other wildfowl carvings.