Andrew Kneeland has never actually seen a live wood duck. But when he stumbled across a picture of a female with an array of bright colors on its back he knew he wanted to paint it.
Normally, female ducks are drab, while the males boast the attention-grabbing hues. The female wood duck’s blue and purple feathers were slightly muted and blended with the browns to help it hide from predators.
That was the quiet beauty that Kneeland, 17, wanted to capture in paint.
It took him months of research and planning, but the painting he created won the National Junior Duck Stamp contest. It is the first time since the art contest started in 1993 that a student from Wyoming won first place, said Laury Parramore with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Kneeland’s acrylic painting will appear on a collectible $5 stamp. Money from the stamp goes to conservation education.
The contest grew out of an education program U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services created in 1989 to teach students about wetlands and waterfowl conservation. It held the first national art contest in 1993, and by 2000 all 50 states, Washington D.C. and U.S. territories participated.
This year there were more than 24,000 entries, according to the service.
Kneeland, who lives south of Rock Springs in Arrowhead Springs, grew up feeling a connection to the outdoors. His backyard is filled with sagebrush and he’d spend hours outside watching wildlife. He can’t remember when he discovered art. It’s always been a big part of his life.
His mom, Heather Kneeland, has an artistic eye and often provides feedback on his work, but Andrew Kneeland also seeks connections with other artists. He discovered artist Abraham Hunter online and reached out to him to say he admired his work. The two became friends and Hunter suggested Kneeland enter the Wyoming Duck Stamp contest. Hunter won a similar stamp contest in Illinois in 2008 and he told Kneeland it helped launch his career.
Last year Kneeland painted a picture of a swan and cygnets. It was his first time painting waterfowl. The painting won second place in the National Junior Duck Stamp contest. This year he spent hours researching the list of eligible species he could paint for the contest.
“Now I’m the biggest waterfowl nerd ever,” he said.
He finds himself pointing out and identifying birds when driving. And when he doesn’t recognize one, he looks it up later.
Ducks’ diversity of coloring, size and behavior surprised Kneeland as he looked for inspiration.
“You get something special in each one,” he said.
He thought about the composition and which ducks would suit the small stamp size. He took pictures, then shrank them, seeing if the birds were still identifiable. When he decided on the wood duck, he played with composition knowing he wanted to showcase the female’s colorful back.
Kneeland used acrylic paints. He started with the background first, creating a vignette feeling with darker borders and lighter colors in the center. He painted the entire piece in one sitting.
Kneeland’s win in the national competition came with a $1,000 scholarship award. He’ll fly to Memphis, Tennessee in June for the release of his stamp, as well as the federal duck stamp, which is required with a license for hunting waterfowl.
While he grew up hunting elk and antelope, Kneeland never duck hunted, and after entering the contest he doesn’t know if he ever will.
“I’d rather probably shoot a duck with a camera first,” he said.
A home-schooled senior, Kneeland isn’t sure what is next for him, only that art will somehow be involved.
And he’d really like to see a wood duck.