How to make a duck, or exercises in unnecessary detail

It occurs to me that most people probably haven’t bothered to look at the ducks I use for this project (shame on you), and fewer still have bought any (which you can do here, by the way – let me know if you want to order any, though, as the postage is quite steep and I can just add any to my own next order).

So, what I begin with are a few ducks in each pack that look like this:


There’s also a goose, but I don’t care about those too much (I just gave away a whole bunch – let me know if you’d like one and I’l bring them to the next show we’re both at).

Anyway, as you can see, there are ducklings, a sitting duck, a standing duck and a flying duck. The flying duck is difficult to use because you still need to create the illusion that they’re in the air. Normally you’d hide a pin in the wing and have that in contact with something, but, as you can see, the wings are essentially transparent. I’ve used the wings on other ducks (like the magpie duck), and the head is pretty handy for ducks that have a more streamlined profile, but otherwise those don’t get used either.

The ducklings are absurdly tiny and basically impossible to convert (although I did convert the falling duckling in the wood duck scene), so they have limited use, too. This means that I have a sitting duck and a standing duck to fill in for every possible variety.

(Many of you have seen me hunting for duck models at shows – this is why.)

So, if you’ve ever paid much attention to ducks at all, you’ll probably note that the females in most varieties have very similar colouring – the men are gaudy and ostentatious, and the women are camouflaged to hide from the men. This is partially why the majority of the ducks I’ve done are male, but it also helps to explain why I have to convert them so often – if I didn’t, all of the females would probably end up looking very, very similar.

So, when converting the model, I look at a few key features of the duck:

  1. The tail
  2. The bill
  3. The neck

This accounts for the overwhelming majority of all the differences you can really see at this scale. A few have extra things like tufts on their head (like the scaups and tufted peking) or sail feathers (like the mandarin), but that’s not been too much of a concern. Sometimes the heads are a bit more streamlined, as I mentioned earlier, like the torrent ducks.

Anyway, with the details set, I then have the great joy of cutting up models that are already tiny in order to add or remove other tiny things. This is how you end up with things like this:


Above are a couple of comb ducks (so named for the combs on top of the bills), who are still waiting for a base, a shelduck (note the tail and the bill), and a northern pintail (note the tail, obviously). Other than the structural changes, about all that’s left to tweak are the poses, hence the pintail’s turned head.

It should be noted that I really, really don’t like sculpting, so, if you happen to be thinking about starting a model company or plan on producing some accessories, a few extra ducks wouldn’t go amiss.

The Gathering Quack

A few more weeks down, and a few more ducks prepared. I finally got around to cracking out my new airbrush to paint the cayugas’ base, and I’m pretty happy with it. I’ll need a little more practice before it’s really a prime tool in the toolchest, but it’s certainly a step up from my last couple of airbrushes, which were decidedly shite.

So, first up are the completed cayugas. I went with a sort of mudflats setting. Lake Cayuga has a whole host of different environments, so I was pretty free to pick and choose what I wanted them to be doing, but I also had this set of paper plants that I was keen to try out. I quite like them, but they’re quite fiddly. I ended up using a heavier gauge of wire for the stems because the wire supplied probably would have bent under the weight of the paper leaves…

What you probably can’t see in the picture is the footprints I added to the muddier front of the base. I made a simple tool out of a paperclip and a spare etched brass duckfoot. That’s thinking with fire!

Up next are a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks in a mangrove swamp, also called ‘OMG SOMETHING TOUCHED MY FOOT’. It’s not quite finished, as I want to add a very thin layer of water to the base.

I’d been wanting to do something in the mangroves for a while because, frankly, mangrove swamps are cool. I’m not sure it works entirely because the root nodules look a bit like stalagmites, but that does, however, mean that I now know how to make stalagmites. I suppose that’s a win.

So, with these done, I now have 14 of the wee scenes complete. I was originally aiming for 25-30, so that’s fair whack of them. I also now have to display them in THREE ROWS, which feels like a kind of victory.


We’re also now approaching the start of the competition season, and I’ve plotted out quite a few of the shows I’ll be attending (and dragging Martin along to, as well), and the ducks will certainly be coming along to most of them in some form or another. So, here’s the schedule:

  • 30 March: Sword and Lance
  • 6 April: Salute
  • 27 April: BMSS Annual Show
  • 11-12 May: Euro Miniature Expo
  • 19-20 October: Scale Model Challenge

Sword and Lance is a new one for me, so I’m not sure what to expect except that it’s Up North, which is apparently meaningful to people who are also, from my perspective, from Up North. If you’re going, too, we’ll be arriving the night before and will, obviously, be amenable to beers.

I believe there’s one or two other little local shows I might hit up along the way, so if you know of any, tell me about them and I’ll see if I can fit them into the schedule.

As some might notice, there’s no Duke of Bavaria/Herzog von Bayern listed this year. This is rather sad, as it’s probably my favourite show of the year, but I have some friends who had the gall to get married the day beforehand, and organising a hurried trip back from the other side of the country to then fly out to Germany, or lugging all sorts of wedding stuff around the whole way was going to be a little much.

So, that’s a shame, but I’ll certainly be trying to get back there next year. If you do go, eat some wurst on my behalf. And take pictures of it so I can enjoy them vicariously.

At last, some normal ducks

I’m attempting to predict reactions to this week’s production: mallards. Before I started on this project, when I needed to paint a duck, I’d usually default to mallards or white ducks, because while I could have done them up as something more interesting, it would have run the risk of confusing people. People expect their ducks to be mallards, just like they expect ducklings to be yellow or yellow and brown, and they expect ducks to have orange feet and so on. Those ducks were not the centre of attention for the models they accompanied, so I didn’t want to detract by throwing some exotic South American breed in there.

At last, however, I have capitulated. Behold: mallards.

If you look closely, you’ll also see a yellow and brown wee duckling nestled between them.

I was actually hoping for the foliage to be a little leafier and more varied, but someone (Martin) came by to do some hobby and just used all of my paper ferns. These will do, however. They are brass, so I need to be careful not to touch them lest the paint come loose, throwing off the whole illusion.

Up next is a variety I’ve been keen to do for a while: wood ducks. Back in 2012, PBS in the States made a documentary about ducks called “A Duckumentary” (which you can watch on Daily Motion over here). Awful name aside, the stars of that documentary were some wood ducks, which are both colourful and interesting to look at (well, the drakes are – the females are, well, brown, which you’ll notice is pretty common among ducks) and quite characterful. Wood ducks make their nests in the hollows of trees, 30 feet or more in the air. When the ducklings are ready to leave the nest, they make a leap of faith and plummet to the ground. Thankfully, ducklings are quite bouncy and the ground is very soft.

Anyway, I’ll be attempting to recreate this, albeit without the ridiculous height – sometimes you just have to sacrifice absolute realism.

The female isn’t in place yet, just the drake, a couple of ducklings will be peeking out from their nest, and a third will be plummeting towards its mother. That’s the plan, anyway.

Finally, when Martin came by the other day to steal all of my paper ferns, he also had me take some photos of his stuff. You might recall that we had a challenge to paint the Latorre pirate bust and here we finally have a photo of the two together:


I’m sure you’ll agree that Martin’s is truly awful.

New year, new painting lab

It’s been a while, and you could be forgiven for thinking I’ve not been painting. In reality, that’s actually pretty true – I’ve hardly touched a brush all year so far. In my defence, we did just move house, which obviously gets in the way of doing anything productive other than, you know, moving into a new house. I suppose that’s sort of productive in itself.

Anyway, the new house means that I now also have a new painting area all for myself. It’s fab. Behold:

So on one side I have the painting station, complete with swanky new lamp (thanks Facebook nerds!), while the other has the photography booth and display cabinet. It’s almost like I’m a real grown-up now that I have all the same stuff as everyone else.

I’m really looking forward to actually using it.

Speaking of which, I actually did some painting in the dying days of 2018, including very nearly finishing off a few pieces. First up, the basically complete torrent ducks:

I’m not sure if you can make it out in the pictures, but the fast-flowing water came out pretty well. It’d probably be more effective over a larger area, which is good to know just in case I decide to do something like that in the future. It’s just done with sculptable water (Vallejo, I believe) and a couple of shards of acetate to give it some of the more gravity-defying splashes.

Up next, a couple of pieces that pretty much just need basing finished up so that I can attach the ducks: mallards (at last – a variety of duck that everyone should be familiar with) and muscovies:

The muscovies were quite a lot of work because they’re structurally very different from other varieties: their feathers are oriented slightly differently, they have longer necks, they’re considerably larger (these aren’t quite as large as they could be, but I didn’t fancy sculpting the whole thing from scratch) and they have the weird red growths around their eyes and bills. I’m actually really pleased with how they’ve come out.

And finally, some work-in-progress cayugas, which you might recall from the wee Dusty and Otter vignette.


These are drakes, so they’re a shiny dark green (or they will be). So far just a few highlights; it should all come together with the shading and some mottled white spots. I’m not sure how I’ll base them yet, but I’ve been looking at pictures of Lake Cayuga where they were first bred, and that’s given me a few ideas.

I’m also now contemplating my next major project (I will, of course, still be painting more ducks for the next nine months or so), for which I’ll probably need to commission some sculpts, so I need to think about getting onto that sooner than I might otherwise get started. To that end, does anyone know of a flat/demi-rond/bas relief sculptor willing to exchange their talents for money?

Varieties of duck

It’s been a little while since the last update, which is largely because while the ducks are pretty quick to do individually, there’s still a fair bit of work in each one – mostly the basing, waiting for materials, losing my tools somewhere in the house, and so on. Anyway, there’s been some great progress.

First up, the whio now has its stream:


Next up, a base for some torrent ducks, which are really cool ducks – they live in South America, hanging out in white water ravines and generally being pretty badass. They also have very cool markings.


I’m not completely sold on the rocks yet, but that may sort itself out once the ducks are on there and there’s some torrential water in place.

Next, some scaups, which are diving ducks. Ducks basically fall into three categories: dabbling ducks, which feed on the surface of the water like mallards, diving ducks, which feed below the surface (funnily enough), and perching ducks, which are often arboreal and may get a lot of their food from the land rather than the water, like muscovies. Anyway, I decided to convert one of the ducks to be diving and rummaging among the rocks under the water. It doesn’t really come out well in photos, but the water is much more translucent in the hand.


You may also note a couple of wee scaup ducklings. My wife and I once watched a family of scaups in a lake in New Zealand, and it took us a good fifteen minutes to count them all because it turns out scaup ducklings learn to dive very, very young and, like most children, don’t like to sit still.

Also recently completed (just this evening, in fact) is this ruddy duck. Ruddy ducks have larger bills and distinctive tail feathers, and the males often appear to have horns because of the slightly different feather structure on their head. I couldn’t reasonably sculpt that, however, given the size of the model. Ah well. I still managed the bill and the tail feathers, and I’m especially pleased with his base (slight fogginess in the water still, as the last bit of it is still setting):

And this, of course, now begs to have a full family photo, demonstrating progress:



Anyway, up next are the torrent ducks, a base for a couple of mallards, and then perhaps a muscovy or two, some comb ducks, silver appleyards… I’m sure you get the picture.

As a final query – does anyone know of a good source of 1/32 or 54mm scale bottles and other detritus? I had some that I used in the WWI chap’s wine and cheese shop, but I have no idea where I got them…