MILFORD — There may not be anything unusual about a boy on a Sussex County farm using his crayons to draw tractors or birds, or even learning to hunt ducks. The boy will probably grow up to be a farmer. Then again, the boy could grow up to be a famous wildlife artist like Richard Clifton.
“I started as a full-time farmer,” said Mr. Clifton, a resident of Milford.
“Then I was a part-time farmer and part-time artist. Now, I’m a full-time artist.”
He’s thankful for his family, who supported him in pursuing his dream of being like the artists whose work he admired in the hunting and wildlife magazines. He is amazed that he is now, “one of those people I dreamed about being.”
Since 1991, his work has been featured on 46 Waterfowl Conservation Stamps, commonly known as Duck Stamps. These include the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp in 2007, the Australian Duck Stamp in 1996, and more recently, Louisiana’s 2017 Duck Stamp of green-winged teals and Oregon’s 2017 Waterfowl Stamp of gadwalls.
The Duck Stamp Act, or Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in
1934 as a means of revitalizing migratory waterfowl populations by preserving National Wildlife Refuges.
It requires all waterfowl hunters over the age of 16 to buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Revenues provide funding for the preservation of refuges. Individual states began issuing stamps and holding contests in 1971, with Delaware’s competition beginning in 1980. Richard Clifton won it in 1992 and six more times, including 2015.
A self-taught artist, Mr. Clifton has mastered the use of acrylics and delicate brush strokes to produce hyper-realistic images of vibrant colors with translucent highlights, usually on Masonite.
“Acrylics aren’t very forgiving,” he said, referring to the thin layers of color he applies.
“You can’t really paint over them and hide anything like you can with oils.”
He surveys the afternoon light on the fields from his studio window near Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. He can watch the ducks working the nearby fields.
“I spend a lot of time here,” he says of his vantage point.
On his drawing table nearby is a work in progress of a bluebird. Songbirds like this one were some of his first live subjects.
He began painting waterfowl after a friend gave him some Ducks Unlimited magazines. Since then, his work has been featured 10 times in the Ducks Unlimited national art package and in 2015 he was selected as their artist of the year.
Now, his work encompasses the migratory birds of Delaware as well as other wildlife from other areas. Currently on display in his gallery is a snow leopard waiting to be shipped to its new owner after a recent gallery sale.
“Like many wildlife artists, I sometimes photograph animals at zoos and then place them in their natural habitats,” he said.
Still, most of his work is produced after hunting with his camera locally, especially in the winter season. He then uses the photographs for reference. “Wildlife doesn’t hold still very long,” he quips.
His subjects also include deer, owls, and bear, as seen on the website for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina, his destination in February. He’ll be working nonstop from now until then to complete about 15 paintings for the show.
Some will take him three to four days while others may take weeks. This of course depends on the level of detail. Six square inches of snow leopard fur, for example, could take a couple of hours alone.
“You work for as long as you can take it,” he admits of the meticulous detail.
Then, he has to step away and do something else, like look out the window at the land that was first his inspiration.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dee Marvin Emeigh is a Milford-area freelance writer.