Ducks Unlimited Podcast

In this episode of the Ducks Unlimited podcast, host Katie Burke introduces two special guests, artists Kira Sabin and Adam Grimm, who discuss the upcoming federal Duck Stamp competition. Adam, a two-time Duck Stamp winner, and Kira, an enthusiastic artist who shares her duck stamp journey with her social media followers. Both discuss their different paths toward the same goal -- winning the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Tune in to learn more about their experiences and insights into the world of Duck Stamps.

Creators & Guests

Katie Burke
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Collectibles Host

What is Ducks Unlimited Podcast?

Ducks Unlimited Podcast is a constant discussion of all things waterfowl; from in-depth hunting tips and tactics, to waterfowl biology, research, science, and habitat updates. The DU Podcast is the go-to resource for waterfowl hunters and conservationists. Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands conservation.

00:00 Katie Burke Hi everybody. Welcome back to the Ducks Eliminated podcast. Today on the show I have two special guests who are kind of doing a special episode leading up to the federal Duck Stamp competition. I have artists Kira Sabin and Adam Grimm. Welcome to the show, guys. Thanks. Hi, thank you. So Adam has been on the show before. He is a two-time Duck Stamp winner. And are you two or three time DU Artist of the Year at this point? Two time. Two time. Okay. The canvas backs and the pin tails. Yeah, that's right. Okay. Well, welcome back. If people haven't been, know who Adam is or anything like that, he actually was on the show a while back, back in episode 342. So go back, give it a listen, learn all about Adam and his life and how he got to where he is. But Kira, since you are new to the show, I'd like to start with you and kind of give us a little bit of your journey into becoming an artist and bringing yourself to the Duck Stamp competition as well.

01:02 Adam Grimm So what kind of brought you to this point? Yeah, I certainly didn't expect to get to this point, I don't think. I went to Minneapolis College of Art and Design for my degree. I've always wanted to be an artist. That was my route. But I didn't quite know about the Duck Stamp until 2019. A lot of people in my family hunt and my grandpa told me about it. And that year I entered, it was the first year I entered and I became totally obsessed and tried to learn everything that I could about it. And then how I ended up here would be, I would blame COVID a bit, is when I got on the app TikTok, which a lot of other people did at the time, which felt pretty cringey to me at the moment. But I just started documenting my interest in the program and the Duck Stamp in general and people wanted to follow along and it kind of blew up. And I've been very passionate about it ever since. And somehow that has led me to talking with you guys,

02:06 Katie Burke which is crazy to me. So did you hunt at all growing up?

02:11 Adam Grimm So you said your family hunted, did you? Yeah, I've never had a great interest in it. So I haven't myself, my little sister did once, but they always have and I've loved their stories, how they feels like it's a traditional event

02:26 Katie Burke and everything, it's been big. My sister, I grew up hunting, but I have an older sister and she never did either. She never was interested in it. Yeah, I think it just, some people get the bug and some people don't. When you were going through school, Kira, were you doing more realistic work or did you kind of switch over into that with the Duck Stamp?

02:47 Adam Grimm Were you already familiar with that? Realism was always my preferred method. But I guess in college, even I had to steer away from that a little bit, just because it's such a strict schedule. You don't really have enough time to do exactly what I wanted even. So just focusing on realism and the Duck Stamp

03:06 Katie Burke was definitely my favorite aspect of it. Adam and I talked a lot about his college journey and how being into realism in college was not necessarily an easy path. Did you find you had to fight for wanting to do realism in school or was that just something you just did it anyway

03:26 Adam Grimm or how did that work for you? I think I compromised a little bit. I mean, they definitely were in support of realism. I just like, you have two weeks to finish four projects and you can't really dedicate that much time. I think it helped me learn how to kind of imply realism, which in the end is a great skill to have. So there were pros and cons for sure.

03:54 Katie Burke So let's go into, since we were talking about this year's competition, which will be on the 15th and 16th of September, correct? At Drake University in Des Moines. So how did you go about your subject selection for this year and what played into

04:11 Kira Sabin the species you selected? So I always look at the species that are eligible and I always think if I were to win with one of these species, which I want to win with a species that's popular and that has broad appeal because it definitely helps if you are lucky enough to be selected by the judges. It helps a lot with print sales. And I always think if I were to win with a species that isn't very popular, it would be still a great thing to win it. But in the end, a lot of people aren't, maybe when I won the first time with a model duck, a lot of people had no idea what that duck species even was. It's very region specific in Texas, in Louisiana, in Florida, and most people thought it was either a hen mallard or a black duck. Now because of my age and some of those elements, I still sold quite a few prints, but I guarantee there's still people to this day who don't know what that species is that own the print. So it's just one of those things that I kind of think about. So I always try to pick a popular species and there were some good species this year that were available, species that we have here in South Dakota and species that I have a lot of reference on. The funny thing is, is I was really planning, I had an idea in my head of what I want to try to paint. And I ended up getting injured this spring. I was going to go out and try to get the reference for what I wanted to paint. And it's a lot of work. I mean, it's like duck hunting, but harder, because you got to really worry about sunlight. It's more than just getting the birds into shotgun range, like duck hunting. It's getting birds into maybe within 20 yards on the ground where they're comfortable. They don't know you're there. So that means deploying a full ghillie suit, face mask, laying on the ground, maybe getting bit by mosquitoes or other things. I mean, it's just, we're laying on ice, which is also sometimes the case here as our spring lasts a while, or our winter, I should say, lasts in the spring quite a while. But that was actually my downfall this year, because I was in my daughter, my daughter has a big aviary, and because she also loves waterfall and ducks and has won the Federal Junior Duck Stamp contest three times now. But she was trying to de-winterize her aviary, which there's a lot involved because all winter is just a huge battle trying to keep open water and everything else. But I walked in there and I picked up a log to move it, and underneath the mud was still some ice, and I slipped on that and fell on the log and cracked my ribs. And it was, I mean, I almost couldn't even walk. I hobbled back to the house, went to the hospital, but I really was like laid up for about a month right when spring, like that prime time for photographing was coming on. I did manage to photograph some of my daughter's ducks in her aviary, and that's what I actually ended up using for reference. So I still got the reference, but they were actually her aviary ducks,

07:18 Katie Burke so thank God for that. So I guess that really kind of made your choice of what species you were gonna do.

07:24 Kira Sabin For sure, I mean, I know people who drove halfway across the country to get their reference and went to other aviaries, to people that had birds that are difficult to keep and photograph their reference. And the other thing though is, is you're supposed to keep your species selection and you really want your artwork to be unanimous in the contest. So I always work very hard to not let the cat out of the bag. So you can try to pry, but I won't tell you what I painted. I'll just guess. You might be able to guess, and a lot of people can. You can look at the entries. I mean, I can generally pick out most of the artists that I pay attention to their work, and everyone kind of has their own unique style. But yeah, and I guess in the name of fairness in the contest, and so the judges couldn't ever find out that kind of thing, it's something I've always done. And so it is always kind of a surprise for everyone to go online when they post the entries and see, and it's interesting. I'll get people that'll write to me and say, is yours number 142? And I'll look at it and like, no, that's not mine. So not everyone can tell,

08:40 Katie Burke but a lot of people can usually guess it. I guessed your Wigeon. I knew that was yours.

08:52 Adam Grimm Oh yeah. Well, I'm quite the opposite in that way. Like it's controversial for me to document my process. So, well, okay. It's funny that you said that about the model duck because that was part of the reason why I chose the model duck last year, because I liked how people didn't know who it was or what it was, and I've had so many people also show me the mallard hands that they see. I can't believe I found a model duck. I'm like, I'm so sorry, it's not a model duck. But I partially chose that because you won with that in 2000, 2001, around 1999. That was the year I was born. And I just thought that was really nice and I liked the species, so I chose them. I don't think I choose as, like I don't think about the future too much, probably to my detriment. Since I haven't entered that many times, I kind of just go with the species that I really like because I figure it's probably gonna be a long time if I, till I win sometime. So I might as well like be passionate about the species and make a painting that I would really just like to do. So this year is people know that I've chosen the pin tail because they've watched me paint it. And I think it's won like five times already. So maybe, well, it's a popular duck, maybe it would win again. Maybe it wouldn't because it has won that many times, but pin tails have always just been one of my favorites. So I just went with that, even though they might be looking for something else this year. I last year was able to buy a nice camera for the first time, which was really exciting. And now I get to go out and take my own reference photos. They are definitely not perfect at this point because it is a whole art within itself that I have to learn and improve on. But I was able to travel, I'm from Minnesota and I was able to go to Washington, Oregon, where they are pretty much year round. And I got to see pin tails up close and take their photo. And that was an amazing experience. And that will definitely play a role in what I'm able to pick in future years

11:09 Katie Burke if I'm able to go and do that. Yeah, and pin tails are, I mean, just as a hunter, like they are popular. Probably one of the more popular breeds out there. And you never know, cause the judges are different. So you don't know what you're gonna get and what they're looking for. Or it's always, I always find that part of the competition really interesting of like the criteria of how they choose judges. And it kind of come from so many backgrounds. Like some will have art backgrounds, some will just have a biology background, which is really interesting. So yeah, it's an interesting way cause you have no idea what you're gonna get. And they try to keep that pretty close too. So you don't know who the judges are gonna be. Adam, this question's for you. Since you went, when did you win?

11:58 Kira Sabin 2001, was that was your first one? It was 2000. 2000. It was after the 1999 contest.

12:03 Katie Burke It was the 2000, 2001 federal. And you were 19, correct? 21. 21, okay. Yeah, so, okay, my question for you is you've been doing this since you're 21. How has your strategy to winning the competition

12:21 Kira Sabin changed over those years? Yeah, I guess that my strategy, I mean, when I first started off, I mean, I always wanted to try to paint whatever I thought the most attractive species, most popular species was. For me personally, I always try to think of what duck can I paint in such a way that it's gonna show to where it can be a better painting, a better species than what other people are gonna be able to come up with. Because in the end, I personally kind of wish it was just a one species contest, but they always have it where it's like five species. Well, you get preference, right? You get preferences for maybe this duck or that duck, and among the judges. And I've even heard judges make comments before that, hey, could you tell I wanted pintails to win? Or I really liked the ducks that had the pretty green or the pretty red, that kind of a comment. And it's like, okay, well, I mean, that's nice. And I understand that, but at the same time, you really have to judge the paintings as equally as you can and keep those biases aside. Because if the artist knew that one of the judges had a preconceived bias against a species, they probably wouldn't have painted it. And so, but it's an eligible species, so that really shouldn't play a factor. But unfortunately it does. I know that, well, like one of the most popular duck species is wood duck. Wood ducks are beautiful, arguably one of the prettiest ducks in all of North America. And I know that some people don't like them because they have a red eye and it like freaks them out. They just don't like their rock on a wood duck. So, it's those little things that I always think about when I'm gonna do a painting, like the Northern Shoveler. People call them Hollywood or Smiling Ballers, different nicknames for them. They're a beautiful duck, beautiful color, beautiful contrast. They have a yellow eye, which I think is really neat. It looks very wild to me. But they have this big bill, this big heavy bill. And I think it's super cool. My daughter even has some in her aviary and I love them. They're one of my favorite ducks that she has. But when you have people judging a contest that don't know the duck species, which you would think that they all should, but that's not a lot of times the case. And so, if you have judges that don't even know the duck species and they suddenly see this duck with this huge schnoz, right? They look at it and they're like, what the heck is that? I'm not gonna vote for that. That's weird. And it looks weird if you don't know the ducks. But once you learn the ducks, it's like you grow to love those little things that make them unique and different. And so, I guess for me, I take all of that into account. I always just try to think what's gonna have the best broad appeal, what's a popular species, what duck do I think can be another duck, right? And for what reasons? I mean, is it just a better, more normal anatomy, better color, better contrast, more widely known? I mean, all of those things play into my head. So, for me, it's not just about trying to win the contest. And I don't know that it's ever been. I mean, I've always taken into account what species do I think has the best chance of winning among the species that are eligible. The first year I won with the model duck, the black skoater was also eligible. Those were the two last ducks that had never been featured on the federal duck stamp. And so, you could say that it was like the contest between the ugly ducks, right? And the only way to win the black skoater on was to have it all by itself one year, because they're like, okay, we really wanna have all of the species at least featured once. And I mean, they just couldn't beat anything else. Like the black skoater, it just doesn't know the contrast. And I mean, it's not to say that it couldn't if the painting was done correctly, but it hadn't up till that point. So I chose the model duck because I thought, well, more people know what a mallard is, and it looks more like a hen mallard or a black duck. So I thought maybe it has a better chance than the black skoater just because of that. And so, and I guess I ended up choosing wisely that year because it did win, but I made the painting more about the light on the bird than the bird itself, because the bird itself is just a brown duck, not overly exciting color-wise. They do have a beautiful blue speculum. The drakes have a nice yellow bill. They have the orange feet. And it was actually the second time I had painted model ducks. I had painted them the first year that I entered the contest and came in 16th place with it. So, but I ended up revising how I thought about what this painting should look like. And like I said, I decided to make it all about the lighting. And actually it was a hen blue and teal on a South Dakota marsh that inspired that idea, because they're also a drab kind of colored duck. I watched this hen blue wing raise up and flap her wings on the water. And the way the light was coming through the feathers, I just remember thinking, wow, like that's so beautiful. That could make any duck look good. And so that's how I kind of came up with that idea.

17:20 Katie Burke But anyways. I have a question. I don't know if you remember. Do you remember if any skoders made it

17:25 Kira Sabin in the top five that year or was it all modeled ducks? Yes, no, I think the runner up by Terry Dowdy was a black skoater. So I mean, and I think they're a beautiful duck, but they're all black, but they have like a yellow, orange knob on the top of their bill. They're beautiful. But the eye gets lost because the eye is dark. They're just very dark. And so it really has to be about kind of like the model duck. It has to be about more than just the duck. And I think that the judges just had a problem overall with it just because they're so dark. It just doesn't look like a duck like they're used to seeing when they take a walk in the park or, you know, I mean, it's a sea duck. So they're not real widespread. Although they do show up throughout the US on occasion, you know, on bigger lakes and things. So, but most people don't know what they are.

18:19 Katie Burke Right. So I interviewed Jerome Ford and Susan Fellows, probably. This is right after the duck stamp release. And they mentioned now, they did not confirm this. This is still, I kind of want any of the audience to think this is like going to happen because it was not. But they were saying that since then, you know, the Skoder was the last, but since then we now have the cackling geese and that the cackler has not been on the stamp yet. So, and I asked about, it definitely will make its way, I think, come in the next few competitions. I think they're going to try, but I don't know. I did ask if they would do just a cackler competition. So it wasn't off the table, but they have, they might consider just to get the last species out. But a cackler would be good though. I could see where I never thought about this when you were talking, Adam, about the oddity of a duck being a problem for it, because they don't know either their duck species, like maybe they just have an art background. They don't know the duck species. Kind of have to have both in a way, because the cackler, which the Canada goose has always done really well. It's been, I don't know how many stamps it's been on, but the cackler is almost funny because it has that short little bill. So it almost looks a little funny to someone who doesn't know what it is.

19:32 Kira Sabin Yeah, I mean, if judges that know that species, then it would be fine. And I think that's kind of what has to happen, because otherwise, I mean, and if that's all that's eligible, then that's, I think, not a big deal, because I think they would be forced to know that that's the species, and they would probably research the species a little bit, or at least I would hope so, and know that that's how they look. I personally love cackling geese. And the other thing is, is there's, if I'm not mistaken, I think there's like several subspecies. I know we have the Richardson's here, and so I don't know if they would pick one specific type of cackling goose, but I know that our Richardson's that we get here are incredible. I mean, they're so tiny. Out on hunting type outings, we actually shot one, and we had a Drake Mallard also, and it was smaller than the Drake Mallard. Oh, wow. And I think people don't understand just how tiny that they can be. It's really unbelievable how small. It's really, they're neat to see. And that little stubby bill is so cute. I'm actually working on a painting, if I can ever get back to it. I haven't started that we'll have Richardson's cackling goose in the painting. And because I love some of these other species that we get through our area. So, and if I do get it done, I'm planning on submitting it to DU. So maybe at some point, some of the listeners will be able to see that down the road, but it's gonna take a little time because I got really pretty backed up here with commissions and some other work.

21:02 Katie Burke So, but yeah, it's on the roster. Yeah, there's quite a few, you're right. There are a few subspecies that I wonder, I feel like most people know of the ones out West. I feel like they're probably the most ubiquitous, but I don't know. That would be interesting if they pick a sub,

21:20 Kira Sabin have they ever picked a subspecies of a, I don't think so. Even on the year that like white fronted goose was eligible. I don't know if they specified greater. I'm trying to remember. Yeah, so I don't know. I don't know how into the weeds they get on that stuff, but it would be helpful if they specified though, because like I said, some of the different subspecies of cackling geese do look quite a bit different. And so, like I was saying, I was having the Richardson's here. I kind of have a preference towards them because I think they look closer color-wise and marking-wise to a regular candidate goose, just like super shrunk down. I just think they're super cute to the anatomy. And I really like them. That's why I want to do this painting if I can get back to it.

22:07 Katie Burke Well, maybe they'll be in the list next year. I don't know, but they said that's the one they're missing now. Wow. And they want all of them done. So, yeah, so it probably will show up probably in the next few years at least. So that should be kind of cool. Do y'all get to put any input? Like, do you ever get to say, like, for example, like, oh, it'd be really helpful if you told us what subspecies does artists get any sort of,

22:47 Kira Sabin like, do y'all get to give any feedback at all? I've talked to Suzanne Fellows and some of the past Duck Stamp competition chiefs of the program. And I don't know that they are really that… I know I mentioned before about, you know, it would really help the artists a lot if it was just a one species contest, because otherwise you're comparing apples to oranges to peaches and pears. I mean, however you want to word it. And their response to me was, well, one species, a one species contest would just be so boring. And I'm thinking, all right, well, you know, yeah. So I've had other suggestions about, like, ways that the artwork was displayed for the judges, right? They always used to have these really nice display cases that were all lit, individually lit. All the paintings were displayed in two to three rows at eye level, as close to eye level as they could have them. And it was really nice. And they changed that now. They have like these carpet walls and they have some paintings down, I mean, almost to the floor and then some up high. The high ones glare the lights. The ones close to the floor are hard to see. And so I've had some comments about the contest. As far as like what species they pick. I mean, other than I'd like to see it be a single species thing, it's… I mean, I really am okay. I love all of the waterfowl. So, you know, if they picked some kind of seed dock or whatever, I mean, if it was what everyone had to paint that year, then that's just what it would be. And, you know, I mean, I would be concerned about this could be that or, you know, that kind of a thing. Cause I mean, even amongst a single species, you still have those thoughts of, well, are the judges more likely to want to pick a bird on the water or a bird standing or a bird in the air, diving underwater? I've seen that before. I mean, there's a lot of things you can do, a lot of directions you can take it. But, you know, in the end, you only get to do one entry. So you want to take a gamble, but you want to play it safe a little bit and try to think of what's going to make a good design that's going to look good small. I kind of have like a checklist in my head for what a duck stamp, what a good looking duck stamp should be or could be. And I mean, you try to make something unique and different still, but there's kind of a formula that you have to deploy that, you know, has to do with contrast, color, design. It's the things that make a strong piece of artwork. And the Duck Stamp Contest is more of an illustration competition than just like a fine art competition. So, because they want the duck species shown well, shown in its best light. The guy that used to run the program, Bob Licino years ago, who was the chief of the Duck Stamp Program the first time I won the contest. He told us, I was at it with a group of other artists. He said, you want to think of like, like Ken and Barbie on Malibu beach with the sun going through their hair. You know, like, like that's kind of how you want to think of it because that's really what you want to show is you want to show that species in the best possible light. And he had a number of other checklist things. He said, you don't want to show the back of the bird too much. You don't want the ducks like back to the judges, right? You don't want green, a bunch of green in the background because that's kind of like not the right time of year. All of these different things. And I'm looking at my entry that had not won yet, right? For the contest. And I'm thinking, oh no, because first time with the model duck, I had the back to the judges. I had green background because they are a Southern duck. So I thought it made more sense to have the green color. All of these things that he said not to do, I did. But yet when he saw it, he said, that could win. And I said, yeah, but I'm breaking all the rules. He's like, yeah, but he said, you did it in such a way that it still looks really good. So, I don't know. I don't know. You just don't, in the end,

26:53 Katie Burke you do what you think is best and you just go for it. Yeah, that makes sense. All right, so that was really good. Kira, I also want you to be able to ask Adam anything.

27:02 Adam Grimm So if you have a question, feel free to go in. I just want to, I wanted to say, I've been such a fan of yours for so long. Your canvas backs that one have been like my top favorite of the winners for a long time. So it's just cool to even talk to you. Oh, thank you. I was wondering when the years that you have won, did you think you were going to win? Or do you get a feeling like,

27:30 Kira Sabin oh, I think this one is it, or are you always surprised? I usually know if it's a good entry. Yeah. Like I think, okay, this is a pretty good entry. Like I think this will stand up well against other good entries. But I never, never, ever think, oh, I've got it this year. Okay. I mean, you just can't think that. Even if you look at your painting and you think, well, I don't know what someone else could do that would beat this. Even if you think that, it's still, it's a contest with five random judges that just have no idea which way they're going to go. I mean, you could have, you could, there's years that a painting might win the contest. And I always think like, if you held that same contest with those same paintings over with five different judges a hundred different times, how many times would that same painting actually end up winning the contest? Yeah. And sometimes I don't know that it would, you know, but there's years that I think, yeah, I mean, that one would probably have won 80 or 90% of the time, right? I mean, there's years that it's like, yep. I mean, I can look through the entries and say, that one's really good. And then you're kind of scared. You're like, well, I hope one of those judges really likes something about what I did versus something that they did. I don't know if the audience or if you guys have watched the documentary, The Million Dollar Dog. We have. But Bob had a really good mallard entry that year. And I really liked it. And I thought, oh, that's going to have a good chance. And I was really nervous about that painting going up against that painting with mind. And, but in the first round, one of the judges voted him out, which kind of means they don't even think it's good enough to be in the contest, right? And then he ended up not scoring that well in the final round. He still made it, you know, into the final round. And I just think how in the world could that painting, which he basically reworked it and ended up winning with it a number of years later. But I think like how in the world did that painting, was that not like at least the runner up to the one that I did. I was excited to win that year, but it was a really good entry. And I know that one of the judges said that they liked the ones with the pretty red. And I did a canvas pack that had a beautiful reddish colored head. And he did a mallard that didn't have the pretty reds. So apparently that was probably the big blow, I guess, to his painting. So no, you just can't ever go into it thinking that I've got this. I mean, you know, I like to go into it, maybe thinking, you know, I might be in the top 10, something like that, but beyond that, it's a crap shoot.

30:17 Adam Grimm Yeah, so I've always found myself surprised at what the judges prefer. And I very sadly have never been able to go to a contest because I started entering when COVID happened and so they were all online. So I feel I'm so novice because even just hearing you talk about the contest, my only reference to it was the documentary. So that's like when I picture, but like just talking to other people there. And I can't, like I haven't seen anyone's painting in person and that has felt so hard because you can learn so much by looking at other people. So I'm so excited to go this year and just experience what people are thinking of the different choices that they make, the details and everything. I have always been surprised by what the judge is like. And I guess I've never considered even down to the bias of not liking what a species looks like because my twin sister is also entering, chose the harlequin duck and people have been like, oh, well, the proportions are so weird. Like that can't be right. I was like, they're just, they're awkward ducks to begin with. They got, but aren't they so cute? They do have the nice red color, but they look so weird. There's just so much to consider.

31:32 Kira Sabin Well, and I will say this, if I give a clear, I will say this about going to the contest. So I can't stand it. Oh yeah. I sit there and actually if you watch the documentary, you can probably see the look on my face. I was not going to go. I actually, the guy who was filming, putting the movie together, right? He came and filmed myself and a number of other artists, followed us around as we got reference and worked on our paintings. And he wanted me to come to the contest and I had told him, no, I said, no, I said, I said, I've been to the contest before. I said, I can't stand watching it because it is so stressful. The judging sometimes is so bad. Even if I wasn't in it, right? Cause like as the winner, you're supposed to go to the following year's contest to talk and that kind of thing. And so I had gone and I mean, you feel like sometimes standing up and yelling, stop, stop the contest. This can't be right. We gotta switch out some judges or something. So it's hard to go and watch the paintings that you know people poured their heart and soul into and the judges is taken out, you know, out, out. And they flip these cords up or they give a really low score like one or two. And it's like, and that's a good painting. Like what is happening? Like this has to be, someone needs to put a stop to this or something. So it's hard to sit there and watch the contest. And when you're in the contest, it's even more stressful. Cause now you're watching that painting that you worked on come up and you're starting to have doubts about it. You know, should I have darkened this or lightened that or added more color in this or should I have done the birds in flight as opposed to the birds on the water? All of those thoughts come in. Yeah, so I ended up only going to the contest, year of the documentary, because the film director said that he said, well, you know, we filmed, he said, I really would like it to try to have all the artists who we filmed there. And he said, what if I paid for your travel expenses and everything? And I'm like, I know. And I grew up in Ohio. So my parents are there. And I thought, well, I guess if nothing else, I could visit with my parents, you know, a little bit and everything. But it was still very hard. But afterwards, I told him he doesn't owe me anything. And I thanked him for getting me to come to the contest because it was such a cool thing to actually be there on a year that I won.

34:02 Katie Burke That's incredible. So I have a question about like being there in person. So how much of the judging do you witness?

34:11 Kira Sabin Is there, do you witness every round or just? Yep, every round. The parts you don't witness are when the judges are, they're given time to examine the paintings by themselves privately. And so, you know, you don't always know what kind of things are happening. Like, you know, did they get a good look at my painting? Did they, because you're not seeing that part. When the judging actually is happening live in the studio or in the audience, you know, with the audience they're watching, the painting comes up and they'll announce the number and they'll hold that painting up for about like three or four seconds in front of each judge. I've seen the judges completely change their mind on a painting. I actually had a painting one year that got voted out in the first round, which means at least three judges voted it out, which means they must not have really liked it. And then I ended up coming in fourth place in the contest overall. So they drastically changed their minds. I have to think it's when they got a better look at it. Like maybe it was down display low to the ground or something and they didn't see it well. And that's why they didn't, you know, have it, maybe they didn't have it on their sheet and notes and so it's always confusing how that could even happen. Actually, Scott Storm one year did a beautiful painting and he ended up getting voted out in the first round. And then his painting ended up coming back

35:33 Katie Burke to win the whole contest. I do know, I don't know if y'all know this, that the judges can pull something back. Like one judge can have a like, I think it needs to keep going.

35:44 Kira Sabin Yeah, thank you for adding that. Right, so a painting can get voted out, but each judge I think is allowed to pull back up to like five paintings back in. So if a painting you really like got voted out, you could say, well, I think that should go onto the next round and you can pull it back in to the second round. Now, once it gets voted out in the second round, you can't, it's just out. But it's amazing that a painting could have the majority of judges that opposed to it and yet come back to win. Cause in order to win that contest, you're gonna have to be pulling, you know, fours or fives from most of the judges or you're not gonna win. So that's a heck of a turnaround in scoring. I don't know how that can happen, but I-

36:25 Katie Burke I mean, it makes sense if you say like the lighting or the positioning of the first display, is it? Right, cause that makes a huge difference, right? If you have poor lighting and, or it's down on the ground

36:37 Kira Sabin and how many are they looking at? It's marketing 101. I mean, that's why, you know, in the grocery store, I mean, they have things displayed right at ILL and companies can pay to get those better positions. You know, so yeah, I mean, it does make a big difference. I'm sure it makes a difference in the contest. Now, if you make it past the first round, they'll take the paintings that moved on and they'll display those on the board. It's better, right? It's there cause there's less paintings and now they can actually fit them all on at a better height and everything. And that's how I kind of explain in my mind what I think happened that a painting could go from being outed in the first round to moving on and actually winning the first, you know, first place. So, or at least coming in with a high score in to finish.

37:27 Katie Burke So yeah. Yeah, and you have to also, how many people are in the first round? How many paintings are in the first round? It's usually around 200.

37:35 Kira Sabin That's a lot of paintings. It's quite a few, yeah.

37:38 Katie Burke So I can see where just the fatigue of going through that, like looking at 200 paintings and if one's down low or one has bad lighting,

37:47 Kira Sabin it just gets lost. Yeah, that can happen. I mean, for sure. You know, if there's a lot of something to look at and there's some that are really prominent, like right at eye level, I mean, they're definitely gonna get more notice and attention. And the other thing is, is, you know, it's not maybe easy for some people to get down on the floor to really look at a painting that's displayed low. So I mean, it's, yeah. You know, so it's gotta, that's why your painting has to work well up close and far away. It's gotta have all of the good design elements, the good color, good contrast. It just has to be attractive. And I've heard other people describe it as like a postcard, right? It's gotta look like a postcard, where something that's gonna have broad appeal

38:32 Katie Burke to a mass audience. Can you imagine looking at 200 scoters? That's all I can think about when you said that. That's a lot of black words right there. That's all I can think about when you said that. I was like, man, that year they had 200 scoters.

38:47 Kira Sabin So you're really amazing to see how differently all of the artists portray. So there is a really neat element to that. Even like this year, with some of the species eligible, there'll be a lot of pintails. There'll be a lot of some of the other species that are in there because they're harlequins. I mean, they're beautiful ducks. I think, you know, the stup are eligible. So there's a lot of really pretty ducks. Snow geese are also in there. And so when you have beautiful birds like that, the way that people choose to portray those beautiful birds is so diverse and interesting to look at. So even if it was 200 snow geese in the contest, I mean, they're a white bird. White birds are beautiful when painted in color. And I just think it would be kind of cool to see how everybody would choose to do that. So, yeah.

39:36 Katie Burke Yeah, white birds are the opposite of the black bird. They are. I mean, not just the white and black, but I don't think people who aren't artists realize how much color is in a white bird.

39:46 Kira Sabin Yeah. Depending on the lighting, I mean, you can have yellows, oranges, pinks, tans, purples, blues. You know, and you have the reflected light off of the bright area down here that reflects light into the shadow. So you can get all kinds of beautiful form and color.

40:02 Adam Grimm It's really, yeah, really remarkable. It's funny that you guys say that. I did a local news interview once, and we talked for like half an hour at least. And it was the year I was entering Ross's Goose, and they asked me why I chose it. And I said, the white, because I love white with the sunset. It's so fun to paint. And I said, I really love white animals. And when they released it, they cut just that sentence out and put it with no context on either side so that they say something about me and they cuts me. And I say, I really love white animals. And then that's it. And now that's a running joke, but truly, it's really rewarding to paint white animals. I like all animals of all color. Oh, yes. I just wanna put that on. I do. I would also like to try the black skull.

40:57 Katie Burke Adam, before we wrap up, I do want to ask you one more thing about,

41:03 Kira Sabin so when does your daughter get to enter the federal Duck Stamp? Well, she can enter the federal junior contest one more time. Then I guess she can't enter the adult contest. You have to be 18 as of some specific date in June. And I have no idea why that is. Her birthday is in July, right? So the contest deadline is always August 15th for the adult contest. So I'm actually not sure why the June date matters. Why it just isn't that you have to be 18 by the time you enter. But because of that, she won't be able to enter this upcoming year. She just turned 17 this July. So I think she's still a couple years out from being able to do it. But because someone had said something like, well, she could maybe win the junior and the adult in the same year. And it's like, yeah, no. She does have, I will say this, her paintings keep getting better. I mean, I actually have her junior Duck Stamp. The one that she won with this last time sitting right here. Wow. Yeah. Incredible. Incredible. I mean, you know, the first time she won the contest, it was like a total shock. I mean, I just couldn't believe that they picked it. It wasn't even I mean, I looked at all the junior entries and she didn't have the worst as far as the best girls on this. I didn't think it was the best. I mean, but I wasn't a judge. And when they picked her painting, I was just like, they picked Madison. I just couldn't believe it. And I was shocked. And and when she entered the next, she didn't enter again for for years because there was controversy. People didn't believe she painted it and all of this stuff. And she was really it damaged her. She was very upset about how she was treated and how her family was treated and everything. So she didn't want to enter. But I told her, I'm like, you know, you've really got a lot of ability. I said, you should really consider doing another entry. And so she she did the wood duck painting. And I thought it was a lot better than the one she won with when she was, you know, years younger and she won the whole contest again. And I just I mean, it was much more deserved, but I just couldn't believe because I know like how these contests are like, you just can't. Even if you have the best painting in the contest, it doesn't mean anything. Right. You you may you may win or you may not even finish. So and then with this screaming teal painting she did recently, I was like, wow, like, I don't know. I mean, I'm sure there's paintings out there that could beat it, but I don't know what. Because for the junior contest, like, that's a pretty good painting. And so now I'm thinking about, well, she'll have probably a good chance of winning again if she does another entry, because she's just getting better. But then I'm thinking like, well, when she can enter the adult contest, that may not be good for me. I don't know how much I want her in the adult contest. So I am excited for her. I said she she has such a passion for waterfall. And I don't know. She probably has one hundred and fifty ducks right outside right now. All different species. I mean, beautiful, green, winged teal, like the one she did her painting from, Wigin, canvasback, redheads, gold. I mean, she's got all of these beautiful ducks and they don't look so good yet. Although the wood ducks are starting to come back into their good plumage. But, yeah, it's it's a pretty amazing thing to go and just sit in her aviary

44:27 Katie Burke and enjoy the birds. So, yeah, I hope she beats you one day. Yeah. I'll bring her on the podcast that day. So one thing I wanted to ask that we just kind of skipped over. So how long just for our audience, how long from when you get the species until you said August 15th, how long do you have to enter?

44:52 Kira Sabin They put the species list out way ahead of time. Three to two or three years tentative species list. I know what species are eligible next year. Now, they could change it. So like you mentioned, the cat goes, they have done that before, where they said, you know what, we're just going to have it be this. And and it kind of can throw things off. I mean, I remember one year I had great pintel reference and I was really excited about doing I had this whole painting planned out with this reference that I had gotten. I had this whole painting planned out. I was going to paint. And then they ended up changing the species and pintels were no longer to be eligible. And I remember thinking, what do I do? And so I ended up painting that painting for the Ohio Duct Stamp contest and ended up winning that with that design and with that reference. But yeah, I mean, artists, I don't know that if the Duct Stamp office realized, but artists are sometimes working years in advance to get reference, planning things out for future years.

45:48 Katie Burke So OK, so if that's the case, if they could change it, when do you actually start putting like, yeah, like pen to paper, so to speak? Because I mean, I know you're doing the reference material that far in advance. But when do you like you don't want to go too far down the road and they change it on you. So when do you really start?

46:07 Adam Grimm I'm a procrastinator, but I do get like really excited right after the contest and like I want to be thinking about it the whole year. I'll make sketches just just to throw things out there for a long time. I should start earlier on the painting aspect, though. I know that I I struggle with that.

46:28 Kira Sabin So I I usually start right after the spring migration, because I always think, well, you know, yes, I'm going into this year thinking I'm going to paint this species and I have good reference for it. But I always think, well, let me see what I get reference wise this spring, because I try to go out and photograph every spring. And you never know when God put something in front of you that you had no plans on. And that happened one year with the gadwall. I was out photographing and I forget what species I was planning on painting for that year. Gadwall were one of the eligible species, but they're extremely complicated, patterning, beautiful duck, but not a lot of color, not a lot of contrast. And I was in this little gilly blind thing I had made up photographing. And this Drake Gadwall came walking right up into this shallow area right in front of me, stood in the water in this really shallow little puddle and started preening. And it was like he was posing in the sunlight. It was so beautiful. And I thought, well, I feel like I'm meant to paint this bird like like this. This is seems so staged the way that it all played out like this had to be some kind of divine purpose here that I'm supposed to paint this duck. And so I painted it and ended up coming in second place that year in the federal. It actually was in first place until the final round when I lost by one point. So, you know, so I mean, you just don't really know in the end, but I always wait. I always wait because I think what if I get some reference picture that just is way better than anything I've been planning on? I said that didn't really happen this year with being laid up for a month. So June is, I guess, when I would usually start. Me too.

48:17 Katie Burke Think that's typical. Like, do you think most artists are starting in that two months?

48:22 Kira Sabin I don't know. Most artists are are very bad procrastinators. I mean, I know a lot of different artists and most of them are like right up against the deadline. My I have a good friend, Tim Taylor, who he's in the documentary also. So some people might be familiar with him. He was working on his entry and he is usually so bad about putting it off and cutting it to the last possible minute that he will actually look up and see what time is does the post office close and like, where is the biggest pop office? Like would sometimes drive past other closer post offices that close early and go to like, there was a post office at the airport and he would drive to that one because it was like eight or nine o'clock, but he cut it so close. He almost had to speed the whole way. I mean, it was like he was pressed for time and I think he still didn't make it. And I think he got him to open up like back up. Of course, we're in South Dakota, so that's different here. But I think they actually opened back up for him and took his painting. And had they not, he would not have won the California Duck Stamp contest that year. So that's how badly some put it off.

49:37 Adam Grimm So I have done that. I have driven to an airport post office. You know, I just I need a deadline. Like I just do. I know that I do. So I do. I do view the when you when you can start submitting is like, oh, I should probably paint that I should probably get to this.

49:56 Kira Sabin I usually have the painting done about a month early. That's smart. Or I say done with air quotes because I like to have time to revisit it. And I usually do end up working back into it after a couple of weeks and making some changes and everything. But I at least feel like once it's done to that level, I feel like, well, if I die and someone sends it in for me, I really do think like, well, at least I have something done that could be sent in. So that's true.

50:26 Katie Burke This is a question for you. But then I'm going to swing it to you, too. But since your sister, your twin did it this year, is this the first year she's entered? It is. OK, so how was that for you? Like, did you all get to like always? I asked this because I interviewed Jim Haltman and I was talking about what it's like for the brothers and how they critique each other. So do you get to do that with each other since you're sure? I mean, it's your twins. It's worse than being just regular.

50:54 Adam Grimm I think we we work horribly for like working on the same project, but we work great for constructive criticism. And the Havan brothers, it is incredible that they're all that talented and that they have the opportunity to give feedback so that they can prove it. It was she is not as passionate about the duck stamp or realism in general. She has more of an illustrative background. So, Adam, when you did say that the it does being illustrative is very handy in this competition, like she laid out a composition so much faster than I did. And I was like, wow, like now I need to change something on mine because I I didn't even think to approach it that way. So that just that has been incredibly helpful this year. My wife is also an artist. My family is and has an artistic background. So my family gets annoyed because I do procrastinate and I have and I really just cram it at the end. And I'm like, oh, my God, please look at this doc for the 80th time today and tell me something that I don't see. And I can't do it anymore. But my sister, Kes, she were really good at just knowing what each other needs. So that that was that was a really fun experience for me.

52:12 Kira Sabin So my question for you, Adam, is now that Madison's getting so good, does she criticize you now? Because I ask everybody their opinion. Actually, if you watch the documentary, you even see me ask my wife and daughters at the time, and they're little in that in that film. It's amazing. It's been that many years ago already. I value kind of everybody's opinion, whether they know the birds really well or whether they don't even know the duck species, because that's sometimes who the judges are. And so it it makes sense like you wanted to have broad appeal to everyone. And sometimes the best criticism I get are from people that don't know the ducks because they're looking at it from a different perspective than how I see it, because I see it with all of the knowledge that I have of the birds, the anatomy, the habitat, the behavioral stuff. And I might miss that. You know what? Yeah. But it's just not that attractive of a pose or of a species or, you know, those sorts of things. So so personally, I ask everybody. I mean, you know, like I said, I keep my pain top secret. Right. I don't like I keep it's a very tight knit group. I mean, pretty much if the people are here. So my cousin and his wife live in the downstairs for temporary, the downstairs of my studio house here. And they so there's they're here all the time. And so they would come up and see what I'm working on. And I asked them even before I started the painting, I asked them about my mock up and what they thought of that. And it it's helpful just to get feedback from just basic people. They don't have to be an amazing award winning artist. I like those opinions, too, because not only might they tell you what they don't like, but they will tell you what they think might you have to might have to do to fix it, which can be very beneficial as well. But I just don't show it to that many people. So I I just try to take in what everyone that I do ask what they say and I think about it. And even if I don't maybe agree with their assessment, I might think about what I need to do to make it look better for them. Like maybe what they thought was wrong is just because the contrast is not right or

54:25 Katie Burke something. All right. So before we go, because we've gone about an hour, which is usually what we do. So I want to ask you if you have anything you want to add about what we've talked about so far or the upcoming competition, just anything that you haven't talked about that

54:40 Adam Grimm you like to add. Well, I had I had a question if I could ask. And yes, go. I just wanted to know what's been to you the most rewarding part about entering the competition, like not even winning, just like being a part of it.

54:55 Kira Sabin I guess it would be the friends that I've made, you know, the connections. I mean, growing up, I looked at these other artists with such I put them up on a pedestal, I guess, in my mind. And, you know, most most kids are picking, I don't know, other other people to idolize, you know, when they're growing up, that kind of thing, whether it's professional athletes or whatever. For me, it was these wildlife artists. And I was I still remember Bruce Miller's painting of a canvas back. And it was on the cover of an NRA magazine. And it had on there, it said what it takes to win the federal. And it had this article about Bruce Miller and his painting. I remember looking at that painting because it was I've always seen like the stamps, but they're so small. And this had actually the image was pretty good size on the cover. And I just remember sitting there looking at that painting for I don't know how long I got lost in it, I guess, and thinking, how could someone paint this? This is so incredible. And I just remember thinking I want to try to do this someday. And so when I won the federal with the canvas back painting, I actually reached out to Bruce Miller and I told him, I said, you know, I feel kind of honored to win with the species that you did that inspired me so much to to stick with this and to try to compete in this competition. So but when I won the federal, it was really interesting because I went from these people that were up here on this pedestal that I, you know, could never even imagine getting to meet or talk to to actually having some of them call me up to congratulate me. And I still remember Robert Steiner called me up and talked to me about maybe publishing my first winning federal duck stamp. And and just to get a phone call from Robert Steiner, who is someone I had looked up to also for years, it was just unbelievable. I mean, it really was a career making thing to win that that contest. And I still have those friendships with these people today. And it's it's pretty incredible.

57:05 Adam Grimm I love that. And I do want I want you to know that, like for the younger generation, now that are starting to enter, you are definitely one of those people that are that way that

57:14 Kira Sabin I idolize. I get emails from people and they're asking me questions and I'm like, I don't know why are they asking me? So surreal, I guess, to kind of achieve what I set out all those years ago to do. It's been a lot of work. I mean, it's it's not it's it doesn't come easy. It's you know, I mean, you have to have I think you have to have a God given talent. But if you don't develop it and put in that energy and effort, it's just going to sit there and go to waste. And so I've I've just worked hard and try to continue to getting better, you know, getting better and achieving what I'm trying to the look I'm trying to go for. So amazing.

57:59 Adam Grimm And I do want to say to go buy a duck stamp. I always try to end that for other people. Go buy one. It's totally worth it.

58:08 Katie Burke Absolutely. And now you can get the well, you should get the physical one. But now you can get the online one and it lasts all of duck season for our duck hunter

58:16 Kira Sabin friends and watch the live stream on September 15th and 16th. Absolutely. And I don't know if Kira has a website, but I do. If anyone wants to check that out, it's just my name with a dot com after Adam Grimm dot com. It's pretty simple. You can find me and contact me through that if you have any questions or interest in

58:36 Katie Burke anything. Yeah, you too, Kara. Say you're what's your Instagram and all that.

58:40 Adam Grimm My Instagram, all my social medias are just my name, Kira Saban, maybe dot art. I do have a website called Raspberry Tuttle dot com, which is kind of weird, but that's my website. I'll be posting any update. I have a lot of tick tock followers. So if anyone is on tick tock, you can see what I'm doing there.

58:58 Katie Burke All right. Sounds good. Well, thank you both. Thank you, Kira and Adam for coming on the show. Yeah, thank you. This is actually really fun. We haven't done anything like this for the duck stamps. This is fun. So thank you both. Thanks to our producer, Chris Isaac. And thanks to you, our listeners for supporting wetlands and waterfowl conservation.