/ Articles / Local artist wins Wisconsin duck stamp contest
Artist Bob Metropulos of Arbor Vitae has an impressive resume. Over the years his paintings have won the Ohio duck stamp, the Delaware duck stamp, the Indiana game bird stamp, and the Wisconsin pheasant stamp.
Metropulos, who owns and operates the Parkside Gallery in Minocqua, can now add the Wisconsin duck stamp to that list. His beautiful depiction of a female and male wood duck standing on the edge of a cattail patch was the winner of the 2019 contest judged in July. His painting will be featured on Wisconsin’s 2020 duck stamp.
And deservedly so. The detail and composition of the painting are striking. Not only does he masterfully capture the complex plumage of the wood ducks, which are some of the most intricately colored ducks, his brush also re-created the calm, quiet essence of the morning marsh. The reflection of the ducks off the calm water, the subtle mist rolling off the lake in the background, and the hints of shadowy trees in the surrounding woods all contribute to a scene just as serene as it would look at dawn from a duck blind.
While Metropulos’ talent is evident throughout the painting, it is his resiliency that really helped him take the first place prize this year.
After a string of multiple second place finishes, Metropulos grew frustrated and 13 years ago he quit sending in submissions. Then two of his friends, artist Frank Mittelstadt of Beaver Dam, and artist Greg Alexander of Ashland, finished second and third respectively in last year’s federal duck stamp contest.
“These are two Wisconsin friends of mine,” Metropulos said. “I thought, ‘you know what, I can’t let these guys do this. I got to get back into it again.’ So this year I promised myself that I was going to enter the federal duck stamp again this year.”
It was to gear up for the federal contest, which is the pinnacle of wildlife stamp contests, that Metropulos entered the Wisconsin competition this year and finally took first in his home state with his wood duck painting.
His reaction was complete
surprise, not because he won it, but he had forgot about submitting his entry in the first place.
“What I do is I try to forget about it,” Metropulos said. “I love it. Every time I’ve won it’s been a surprise to me, because I forgot that I entered. I forgot when the date was. I used to, years ago, sit by the phone and wait and wait and wait, and realize you know what, it doesn’t matter, I’m doing this for the love of doing it.”
So this year when he got the call from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in July, Metropolis actually put them on hold. He was helping a rental tenant with a door and thought the DNR call was about a campground he had been inquiring about.
When he was told of his win, though, some excitement kicked in.
“I went ‘holy crap!,”’ Metropulos said. “It’s that non-expecting surprise. That’s what I love about the whole thing.”
He will now try to forget about his entry into the federal duck stamp contest, which he just recently submitted.
For that entry he chose to paint emperor geese.
“I really am intrigued with the Alaskan settings so I wanted to do an Alaskan setting in the snow, which is typical with the emperor geese,” Metropulos said. “And the other reason I choose the emperor goose is that we have a remarkable resource here, the zoo, the Wildwood Zoo. They have 12 emperor geese over here and I was able to go over there and photograph every day for a week. I was able to study their personalities and some of their gestures and how they sit and stand and walk.”
Photography is an integral part of Metropulos’ painting process. By studying photographs he’s able to observe the various attitudes and correlating body movements and expressions of his subjects.
To photograph ducks, he and Alexander utilize floating blinds on Lake Superior, where huge rafts of waterfowl congregate in the spring.
“We’d float out there in these little beaver huts with our cameras and throw popcorn out there and they’d come right up to you and you could snap pictures of them.”
Through this process Metropulos has noticed the difference in personalities between different duck species. For example, common golden eyes are brave and bold when approaching the floating blinds, while wood ducks are skittish and much more cautious.
All of that personality study goes into the painting.
Metropulos said his thorough preparation is what dictates the actual painting process.
“The painting time doesn’t take that long,” he said, adding that it takes a few weeks to a month for a stamp painting. “The painting time is really determined on how prepared I am. The better prepared I am the faster the painting.”
Metropulos dedicates a lot of his preparation to a painting’s composition.
“It’s how things are laid out within then painting,” he explained.
A strong composition, he said, requires balance between accurate anatomy, gesture, proper habitat setting, and color, and it can make or break a painting.
“Composition is very important. You can be the best artist in the world, but if your composition isn’t good you don’t have nothing to stand on,” Metropulos said. “It’s no difference than the foundation of the house.”
As in the state competition, composition will be crucial in the federal duck stamp contest, where there will be no shortage of talent displayed amongst the entries.
“When you’re looking at the federal duck stamp, that’s the granddaddy of duck stamps,” Metropulos said. “You can close your eyes and grab one of the top 10 and its just as good as the rest of them.”
In the past Metropulos has finished fifth, sixth, and seventh in the federal duck stamp contest which will be judged in September.
Wisconsin waterfowl hunters are required to purchase state and federal waterfowl stamps in conjunction with the licensing process. The money from those purchases goes toward developing, managing, preserving, restoring, and maintaining wetland habitat.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]