By Emily Robinson
For nearly 30 years, Richard Clifton has graced the world of wildlife art with his breathtaking depictions of ducks and geese. These images have appeared on 48 state waterfowl stamps, the 2007–2008 federal duck stamp, and the 1996 Australian duck stamp. His two most recent state stamp wins, Oregon and Nevada in late 2017, brought him to a landmark achievement of having 50 stamps that bear his artwork.
"That's been a personal goal of mine, to get to 50 duck stamps altogether," Clifton says. "Now I will probably go into semiretirement from the state stamp competitions—just enter the federal and two or three states going forward."
Clifton dedicates a great deal of his time to photo-graphing waterfowl and preparing artwork for the state and federal duck stamp competitions. He says that most of the stamps his work has appeared on were contest wins, but a few—including one of his most recent, the 2017 Colorado waterfowl stamp—were commissioned by the states.
"It's actually more impressive, in my mind, to get a commission for a state stamp," Clifton says. "Your art career has to carry you to a point that a state will look at your body of work and think, 'Okay, this guy is good enough that we can trust him to just go ahead and do our stamp.'"
Fortunately, Clifton is surrounded by ample inspiration for creating his impressive body of work. He and his wife, Terri, reside in Milford, Delaware, on land that was once farmed by Clifton's parents. The property lies adjacent to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses more than 10,000 acres of vital waterfowl habitat and is a popular spot for hunters.
"I take most of my photos either on Prime Hook or on my own property," Clifton says. "There are places where you can actually shoot photos right from your truck. Pull in, set up, let the dust settle, and the birds will work right back in. Other times, you have to camo up."
As a passionate waterfowl hunter, Clifton often waits until duck season ends to photograph waterfowl. "When I'm waterfowl hunting, I want to stay focused on that. I don't want to split my attention between two things," he explains. "And we tend to hunt waterfowl when the weather is bad, which isn't the ideal time to have your camera out in the field."
This is Clifton's second Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year win and his twelfth appearance in DU's annual art package. As with most of his other work, his winning acrylic painting, Twist'n Turn'n Teal, was inspired by scenes near his home. It didn't take long for the work to attract the interest of a buyer.
"After the hunting season was over, I went to the impoundment right behind my studio and photographed teal coming in over a couple of days to create this piece," Clifton says. "I sold the original to someone who owns a few of my other paintings already. He told me, 'You wouldn't believe how much enjoyment I get out of looking at your artwork.' He wanted to make sure I understood how much it means to him."
Clifton has a talent for creating pieces that will appeal both to hunters and to other waterfowl enthusiasts, no matter where they call home. "Ducks lend themselves to some interesting compositions. This has allowed me to branch out into more sophisticated, 'artsy' pieces recently. I also try to leave some things to the imagination of the viewer, not have every detail spelled out," he explains. "That's why my backgrounds often lean toward impressionism—it makes them adaptable to each person's experience."
It is clear from Clifton's success that he is among the country's most skilled and innovative wildlife artists. He remains humble, however, and is still pleasantly surprised when he sells a painting. "We're trying to re-create a moment in time and then find someone who shares that moment through a memory or connection with a certain species," he says. "If they are inspired the way you were inspired when you painted it, that tells you that what you're doing is working. If it gets them excited enough to actually buy it, that's amazing."
Ducks Unlimited's 2018 National Art Package // Contributing Artists
By Scot Storm
This lovely painting by Scot Storm captures the elegance and beauty of a pair of northern pintails floating on peaceful waters. This print is a companion piece to Amber Waters—Canvasbacks, which was offered exclusively at DU events in 2016.
By Chet Reneson
In Missed Chance, a large flock of waterfowl takes off as two hunters return to their blind. Chet Reneson has been producing wildlife art for more than 40 years.
By Bob Hautman
October Sun highlights the natural beauty of a trio of wood ducks enjoying the marsh on a hazy autumn morning. Hautman is a prominent figure in the wildlife art world. His painting of a pair of mallards will appear on the 2018–2019 federal duck stamp, which will be released in June.
By Bruce Miller
A steady black Lab keeps watch over the marsh at sunrise in this serene painting by Bruce Miller. Sunrise Sentinel marks Miller's eighth appearance in DU's National Art Package.
DU Guns of the Year
The Ducks Unlimited 2018 Shotgun of the Year is the Browning A5 Sweet 16. This 16-gauge semiautomatic shotgun is the latest in the line of Browning A5s to salute the iconic Auto-5s of yesteryear. The A5 Sweet 16 comes with a 2 3/4-inch chamber, a 28-inch polished blued barrel with interchangeable choke tubes, and a glossy walnut stock with traditional checkering. The gun's heavily embellished DU-themed silver receiver with gold inlay complements past iterations of the Auto-5 and A5.
The 2018 Rifle of the Year is the Kimber 84M bolt-action rifle, a rugged and durable firearm chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. It features a 22-inch blued barrel and action, a tan synthetic stock, a detachable box magazine, and the DU logo on the barrel. Rounding out this year's selected firearms is another winner from Kimber, the 1911 Custom II two-tone pistol. The 2018 Handgun of the Year is a semiautomatic pistol chambered in .45ACP. Its all-stainless construction features a brushed stainless frame with a black slide. The slide and custom hardwood grips feature the DU logo.