Monday, April 27, 2015

Federal Junior Duck Stamp Competition

As the winning artist for the Federal Duck Stamp, I must fulfill many obligations to the program throughout the year. Fortunately, I find them all enjoyable! One of these obligations is that I must attend and preform as a judge for the Federal Junior Duck Stamp.

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp (which I will call the Jr. Stamp) is a bit different than the Federal Duck Stamp. The Federal is a hunting and conservation stamp, and the funds it generates goes directly into our National Wildlife Refuge system and into protecting, maintaining, restoring, and further managing wetland areas both on public and private lands. The Jr. Stamp, however, is a conservation education stamp. The money it generates goes right back into conservation education of school-age students... who are, after all, our future!

Students from all over the united states create artworks of North American waterfowl . Each state selects a best of show from the entries within that state, and these best in show pieces go on to the national level. Each student's work is an amazing contribution. Over 24,000 entries were made by students in the U.S. this year! Each of those students had to take time to not only think about what conservation means to them, but also took the time to appreciate our beautiful waterfowl and habitats enough to create a drawing or painting of them. That's incredible! Imagine if we could touch even more students... that is the dream of the Jr. Program.

National Conservation Training Center in WV (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

The competition was held this year at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. The best in show from each state was sent along and would be judged by myself and four other judges, to select the winner, along with the top placing entries. Before judging took place, we watched as a team of film makers from the training center took some video which will later be edited into an educational video for school age students. It was all about conservation, protecting habitat, and what the Jr. contest was all about.

Here is a Flickr gallery of the top artworks that we had to judge. Each is done by a student and I find them very incredible! I must say that seeing these artworks in person is superior to photos in every way. If you get a chance to view the Jr. Duck Stamp tour, please do. The art is much more lovely in person, if that is possible!

I am sad to say that I really don't have any photos from judging; as a judge I was very focused on the task at hand. Perhaps some will surface later on!

Before judging began, myself and the other judges spent quite a bit of time being briefed on the process. Great emphasis was placed on being as fair and objective as possible of course, and that the emphasis of the stamp and program is conservation education. We also spent a while making the very difficult decision on which conservation message was the best one. It was a tough choice given the many creative and thoughtful conservation messages submitted by students, but in the end the Stamp Conservation Message Contest winner was 14 year-old Sherry Xie from Virginia, who wrote: “Nature painted us the wetlands, but it is we who must conserve and appreciate the art.” by majority vote.

The Training Center had bussed in a large group of students (I believe 7th grade) from Wildwood Middle School at Shenandoah Junction. The students were very engaged and interested in conservation, and during the (somewhat unexciting at times) actual judging, our hosts were engaging the students with trivia and questions about conservation and animals, especially waterfowl and wetlands. Sadly, I wasn't able to listen to most of the exchange as I had to focus on judging.

There are five rounds to judging, the first four of which the group of artwork is narrowed down by the judges placing markers on the protective mat of the painting. I found these rounds extremely difficult, as I saw merits in all of the different artworks; by not 'marking' one to pass to the next round, it was out. I tried to imagine the merits of each artwork as artwork, but also tried to think about what the painting was "saying" about the bird(s), the habitat, the message, and what the student may have been thinking when they were working on their piece. I knew only one could win, but narrowing it down was a tremendously tough and very thoughtful choice on my part, and I would guess the other judges felt the same way.

In the final round, we were presented with each of the top 5 paintings, one at a time, and scored each by holding up a numbered card, from three to five, depending on how we wanted to score the paintings. Fortunately there were no ties, and a clear first, second, third, fourth, and fifth place piece were presented.

First Place, Andrew Kneeland, WY (Wood Ducks)
Second Place, Isabelle Kapoian, NH (Tundra Swan cygnet)
Third Place, Bradley Gray, UT (Green-Winged Teal)

Andrew Kneeland and family, with his winning painting. Andrew is 17. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)
Here is a ranking of the top 25 artworks in the Jr. Stamp Contest. 

After the judging, we had a short debriefing, and then I hurried to help set up to do a small demonstration/class for the students of Wildwood Middle School. I had sent some of my photographs to the Duck Stamp office before the event, and they kindly enlarged them for me so that I could set up on easels for the students. I got a giant drawing pad on another easel and had a great talk with the students about the ethics and responsibilities of proper referencing things. Using my photos, I did a short demonstration about how one can reference from many different photos, to come up with an artwork that was anatomically correct but also of the artist's own unique, creative vision. The students were provided with sketchbooks and colored pencils and encouraged to either draw along, take notes, or come up with their own ideas from my photos.

The wind really kicked up about halfway through my class, which made drawing on giant sketchpads and keeping lightweight photo references in place quite challenging! At least it was a warm day.

Fighting the wind and encouraging students with their drawings and ideas, just after the Jr. Stamp Contest ended.
I can remember well what it was like to be this age, and I know students are enormous wells full of creativity! Changing gears a bit, after we all drew ducks and learned how to reference, I explored the idea of using the parts of the natural world that we love so much and changing it into a creative outlet-- such as fantasy animals! From where we sat we could see a nesting pair of Bald Eagles, and we talked about how the inspiration of these real, amazing and beautiful animals can inspire our creativity, and showed them how I turned an eagle into a mythological gryphon. Of course, then the requests came in! Before we had to end class I managed to draw a dragon as well, while being buffeted by wind (and having the easel and drawing pad blown over onto my noggin more than once!). Their bus was getting ready to leave, but I managed to do some very fast doodles for the few students that approached me, asking for such.

It was a wonderful and exhausting day for me, and I truly hope that the students enjoyed it as much as I did!

I greatly look forward to meeting Andrew and his family, as his painting will be made into a stamp and he will be signing his stamp beside me as I sign mine, when both are released this summer at the First Day of Sale Ceremony! That will be taking place on June 26th, in Memphis, TN.

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