A fun fact about me is that I am deathly afraid of most birds. Anything larger than a chicken (which definitely is included in the list of scary birds) that has a beak and can take flight is on my list of “Never Ever Get Near: A Comprehensive List of Birds That Look Like They Most Likely Would Harm Me If Given The Chance.” Small birds aren’t safe from this list, either! Cute little round birds who want to search the earth for berries? I would hold them in my bare hands and give them all the love in the world. Parrots, on the other hand? I will actually have a panic attack if I go anywhere near one. I am exposing my fears on the internet only to give you insight into how unusual it is that I care at all about a contest centered around paintings of birds. I’m still wondering how I got here!
I found out about the Duck Stamp Contest from –you guessed it– TikTok! A creator mentioned how they had entered twice before and hadn’t gotten through but that they were trying again this year. My mind was blown for a minute. I love learning about things I’ve never thought of before. This time it was how the images on stamps are made and chosen. What fun job opportunities these are! Designing art for stamps, selecting artwork for stamps, deciding what themes will come out, coordination with corporations and individual artists, decisions about state- and country-wide designs, and more! The Federal Duck Stamp Contest is an opportunity for artists across the country to submit their artwork of a selected waterfowl species from a list of five eligible species. I’ve never thought this much about birds or stamps, but I thought this was such a cool and niche opportunity! Let’s dive in.
The contest has a rich history going all the way back to 1934. In that year, J N. “Ding” Darling designed the first Federal Duck Stamp. Prominent artists were asked to submit designs for the stamp until 1949 when the first art contest was open for submissions from any U.S. artist. The first contest had 65 applicants and 88 submissions, whereas the number of submissions for the past few years has steadily been between 140-190. Any artist who is 18 years old and a U.S. citizen can enter! The Fish and Wildlife Service holds this competition in various locations across the country to give applicants the opportunity to enter. Artists, hunters, conservationists, birders, and stamp-enthusiasts generally make up the group of people who follow this annual competition.
This year’s list of eligible species includes Ross’s Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Redhead, Blue-winged Teal, and King Eider. In the scene, the bird must be the dominant feature and there must be the inclusion of waterfowl hunting-related accessory or scene that communicates the theme “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage.” Each artist is prohibited from signing their name on their art and can only enter one artwork. These can not be computer-generated drawings or photographs but must be hand-drawn or painted. There are helpful guidelines on the official website with regards to size requirements and good stamp design tips.
These entries are judged by a five-person panel of art, waterfowl, and stamp authorities. They critique the artwork based on qualities such as accuracy of species and habitat, inclusion of mandatory elements, and ability to be made into a stamp. The winners receive a pane of stamps with their design that has been signed by the Secretary of the Interior and they may also choose to sell prints of their design.
Here are some examples of entries from last year’s contest:
Here is a gallery of the 2020 submissions. Thanks for reading!