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Post deleted by John Lawrence

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John Lawrence: Dec 25, 2010, 7:09 AM
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to

Handling whites and blacks


Painting white and black on a decoy is a subject that I’ve chosen not to write about before. So frequently I believe that these two colors just “get away” from people. I believe the key, as I told you earlier, is that you should never use absolute white or absolute black. Colors will look darker or lighter depending on what they are surrounded by. And larger fields of white just “pop” when they are bracketed by shadows. Conversely, big expanses of black can be made to do the same by blending in lighter areas in the middle of these fields. Now take it a step further, say from a bachelor’s level class to the Master’s level and try blending in additional colors to warm and cool areas to add depth, shadows and highlight. Now I hope you all know that I paint in oils, but I painted with acrylics for years and this theory of mine started to form when I was in that acrylic stage and trying to conform. And I was able to achieve a degree of success with an airbrush on this technique. Now a days I do my best to be the foremost nonconformist and my move to strictly oils seven years ago expedited this transformation. But where I’m going is that you can achieve this type of depth with either acrylics or oils, I just think that it will be more difficult with acrylics.

Generally I paint a decoy on this schedule; tail, upper rump, lower rump, flanks, primaries and any expose wings parts, tertials, scapulars and cape, side pockets, breast, head and neck, bill, toning and warming and cooling glazes, and last shadow deepening. And that’s the way that I painted the drake Lab. I didn’t find the paint that difficult to do, very similar to painting a Bufflehead or a Goldeneye drake. Now I will stay with my own policy here and nor describe exactly how I paint my white areas online. If you want to ask me at a show I’ll talk your ear off, but I’m not going to write it down. Sorry guys I’ve been copied in the past.

But here is a shot of the wing and scapular region of the drake after the blacks and whites are applied. Discovery number three had happened yet so it is still coming.






http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to

Painting the breast and Head

At this point I had progressed with the paint through the side pockets, scapulars and cape. The breast, neck and head are divided on the drake by a ring of black feathers. So what I had were three fields of color to handle plus the black crown on the head and the yellow color on the cheeks and jowls.

A while back when I really started to push my boundaries’ in decoy carving and painting I was looking for something new or different to add. The Carnegie Museum here in Pittsburgh has an excellent collection of Impressionist Paintings and believe it or not I’ve spent a little time there over the years. Two of my favorite paintings in the collection are a landscape by Vincent Van Gogh and a set of Water Lily panels by Claude Monet. You can step up and get real close to these paintings. One of the hallmarks of the Impressionist style was to make thick applications of paint to the canvas to add texture and depth. This technique if you are not familiar with it is called Impasto painting, and can be done with a palette knife or a brush. A few years ago I started thinking why not try this on a decoy?

This is the technique that I used to paint the breast and head of the drake Labrador. I used my normal white on white technique utilizing lots of grays and blacks blended in to simulate shadows. When I had the blends done to a satisfactory level I added the white over them with thick applications using a ½” filbert brush. Now I’m going to digress here for a little bit to write a little bit about my personal style of painting. I strive for that Impressionist’s feel in my paint. And one of the things that I think marks Impressionism is that the artists suggest shapes and images with their paint rather than minutely defining them. At some point they stop with the detail and let the viewer’s eye and mind fill in the rest. And this is what I try to achieve when I paint decoys. So what I tried to do in the breast and head paint was to leave a little roughness by applying the paint thickly, particularly in the shadow blending. I often think about “levels” of depth while painting. Basically what lies on top of what, and apply paint accordingly. This also causes many variations of shadow and highlight. I also think that some texture in the paint invites or even entices the observer to pick the decoy up and handle it. Decoys when done well are a tactile sensation. If you can meld the shape and color to a point wherein someone wants to hold it in their hands to experience that sensation then I think you’ve crossed that boundary into the realm of art. And this is a core belief in my decoy making theory. If this kind of thought process upsets or scares you when it’s applied to decoys---well those of you that know me know that I’m a little out there when it comes to art. But I’m the guy always pushing the limits right?


The black neck band was painted in the same manner just using a couple of values of a very dark gray and then a thickly applied value of a soft warm black.

I painted the head and neck in the same manner of Impasto painting. I think that this was the right technique to use in this area because once again my research had revealed this quote from the Audubon notes “Plumage dense, soft blended: feathers of the head and neck small, oblong: those on the lower part of the cheeks very stiff, having the terminal filaments more or less united into a horny plate”. How do I paint plate like feathers on the cheek? Well the Impasto style fit this exactly.

After establishing all of the white and shadow values of the head I added the black crown feathers and then did an over glaze of yellows and raw sienna to the cheek and jowls to get the correct colors in place. Because I didn’t want to hurt any of the paint I had already applied, I let each of these stages rest for two days before I applied the next. So over all it took me about a week to paint the drake’s head, but remember the way I do things I was also working on other decoys during this time.

No photo here because that would reveal discovery number three and that will come next. And could there be a fourth discovery? Possibly.




http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
Did Labrador Ducks invent Corporate Branding? Or where they just the first Jimmy Buffet fans?


The paint on the drake’s bill was applied in the same manner and in just about the same colors as the hen’s with two distinct differences. The first was that there was no evidence to suggest that the nail was the tortoise shell color like the hen so I painted it black like the front of the bill.

Previously I mentioned that the discovery of the rump area vermiculations caused me to go over all of my available research information again, and in doing so I reread the included emails that Frank had exchanged with Dr. Chilton. In one of those emails Dr. Chilton describes a feature that he found on every drake’s bill that he examined, both mature and adolescent, and remember he’s the only person to ever see all of the remaining examples. What he described is a ridge on the bill in the shape best described as a “Nike swoosh” just behind the black area at the front of the bill. I brought up the email photos once again and with the zoom feature closely examined all four drake’s bills. And there it was, a ridge shaped roughly like the Nike swoosh, discovery number three. One of the drake’s bills clearly shows this ridge as a ruddy brown color and it looks almost like a partially deflated balloon. The color is a ruddy reddish brown. I also checked the Fuertes drawings and there it was on one of those, recorded in 1925 and presumably the knowledge was lost of overlooked until Dr. Chilton found it again. It looks like the drake Labrador has a pencil thin mustache, get the Jimmy Buffet reference? So I added it in to my decoy.

Now the big question other than why nobody had noticed this structure for all these years is what was this ridge for? Did it help the duck expel salt from it’s body? The deflated look has to suggest that at some point it inflated to form an even more distinct ridge doesn’t it? Is it possible that the Drake Labrador Duck had some type of structural breeding transformation to it’s bill to show sexual dominance over lesser males? We’ll never know. And the chances of any museum letting anyone dissect a million dollar taxidermy mount of an extinct duck are zero.

Here is a photo of the finished breast, neck, head and bill of my Labrador Drake.






http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
A possible fourth discovery and a little surprise

The surprise is that in his search Dale Chilton discovered a 55th specimen. But I’m not going to give you the details of how he found it. I suggest that that you obtain a copy of his book “The curse of the Labrador Duck” and read the whole story for yourself. It’s a good read, somewhat of a travelogue, but fascinating none the less.
When Dr. Chilton was able to view the 55th mount, a drake, he described where the sun hit the drake’s side pocket feathers and they turned an iridescent green. This was the only time he saw the green color but it was also the only time when he saw one of the mounts in direct sunlight. Museums tend to be dark closed in spaces. So in my communications with Frank I told him about that discovery and that I wanted to add some over glazed colors into the black areas on the drake. In nature there are very few true dead blacks on birds, there always seems to be some type of underlying color involved, so it just seemed natural to add it to my drake.
As I’m sure you can tell I had a lot of fun making this pair of decoys. And in a few days they are going to be delivered. The truth is I poured so much into them that I wish I could keep them, but a deal is a deal and they’re going to go live with others of their kind. But I could always make another set; you never know where they might show up.
I guess the big question that now remains is “Are there any more discoveries to be made about Labrador Ducks?” I sure hope so.

Here are the promised links I used for much of the information I described. Search under ‘Pied Ducks” at the Pitt Library. And just as a note you can purchase a print of the Audubon lithograph from the Library for $50. It’s already on my birthday list.


http://cidc.library.cornell.edu/about/fuertes.htm

http://digital.library.pitt.edu/a/audubon/











http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
:BIGthumbsup!: What an absolutely wonderful write up!
Enjoyed reading this immensely, found it to be very interesting, thought provoking and informative.... Thank you, and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
John,

I have to agree with what Mike just said,,,,, outstanding write up.

I will say thu, your decoy does not look like any duck I've ever seen!! :>) :>) (said tongue-in-cheek)

Take care, Huntindave McCann Smile SHELL ROCK IA “As sailors grow older, the wiser ones move to smaller boats.” —Thomas Firth Jones, Multihull Voyaging
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Fascinating read! I echo Huntindave's last remark. Chuckle,chuckle
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Incredible. Very entertaining to read, as an artist, birder, and decoy enthusiast. Thanks for sharing.


Christian H.
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
Wow. You certainly didn't take this decoy lightly. You might just have the closest representation ever. Thanks for sharing your work and research with us.

Eric
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
good backup research--Wilson's Ornithology--pre 1860 copies--some good info--Also, Smithsonian has a few ratty mounts.
Did one around 1985-was fun researching--Worth had it out west for a season. It even made it into an old issue of Waterfowl.
The researching is often the best part of the trek!
george@runamuckdecoys.com

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george w: Dec 26, 2010, 4:47 AM
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Very nice writeup. Great info and great looking decoys!
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
I'm glad that everyone is enjoying this. At Easton in November I had the opportunity to see four new sets of pairs that Frank was picking up. Like I've written before what I like best is that each was done in the maker's own vision, different from the rest. Another interesting thing is that it seemed , at least to me, that there were Labrador Ducks everywhere throughout the show. I know that some were for this collector but it just seems that there is a lot of interest in this species right now.

I have even found a fairly recent painting done by the well known wildlife artist Michael Dumas entitled "Only Echo's" of Labrador Ducks. From what I could determine it's not available in a lithographic print. But I may contact the artist to enquire here in the new year.

Once again I'm glad that people are enjoying this essay.

Happy New Year.



http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com

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John Lawrence: Dec 26, 2010, 12:23 PM
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
Very interesting! Thank you for sharing all that with us. Awesome pair of decoys.

Tim
-----------------------------------------------------------------
"Ah Nuts!"

http://snipehunterfishart.blogspot.com/
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Re: The Call of the Labrador Duck In reply to
Great write up John. I found the research you put into these quite fascinating.

Chuck



"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again."


A. Pope
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Thanks for sharing this John, your decoys are beautiful! I actually just finished reading the book and highly recommend it as a somewhat humorous stroll around the world of museum specimens and the people charged with their care. The story of the Labrador duck in general is pretty interesting and Dr. Chilton does a great job of blending the science of what we know (which is far to little) with his journey to see each in person. It's not very expensive and worth the read.

Brian

PS- The pics are the one George Williams is talking about that he made in the '80s.

[inline Obi_Labrador 1985.jpg]

[inline Obi_Labrador drake top.jpg]

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Brian Hiller: Dec 29, 2010, 9:42 AM
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You are a great carver John...those birds are amazing.
http://www.davidwelsh.smugmug.com
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Thanks Dave, glad you enjoyed the article. I have a lot more on these ducks in the works.



http://www.johnlawrencedecoys.com