Art of decoys
Paul Sharp has been painting waterfowl since he was a child and most recently, he’s donated a painting for the WET Trust to auction, but decoys are also a passion: hand cut, hand painted and turning the practical into an art form.
Paul is currently in Norway chasing love and trying to become the first Australian trained paramedic to work there. He’s also enjoying the hunting culture and access to ducks, geese, deer, reindeer, moose, wild Mallards and a range of other waterfowl within a few kilometres of his home overlooking the Oslofjord.
“It is a sportsman’s paradise here,” he said. “I grew up on a farm near Corowa and my dad was a hunter and we had a lot of relatives around Kerang and of course they hunted ducks, so I’ve been hunting all my life.”
Drawing was something he began young but Paul said he would get frustrated if he couldn’t make something look realistic. Early works would be screwed up and tossed in the bin.
As he grew older, and was less impatient, his art and hunting began to merge.
“It is all self-taught but it developed and evolved from me wanting to get more out of hunting,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in swamps out of season; I just love watching birds and so I started painting them.”
Fifteen years ago, Paul discovered acrylic paints were the perfect medium. “I can’t draw a person to save my life but I can draw waterfowl,” he said.
“Acrylic is very good: it is a forgiving medium when you are trying to capture the essence of flight or movement and having it look like something that should be flying.”
Paul is now earning a reputation for his decoys. As a boy, he fashioned a few out of palm fronds that fell in the yard but early last year he decided to get serious. “When I buy decent decoys I repaint them all and I have always made my own silhouettes but last year I really got a bee in my bonnet,” he said.
Through a decoy forum, he hooked up with American carver Bill Thurman from West Virginia, who gave him advice on equipment and materials. “He sent me over a bunch of wood, from blocks to half-finished ones, so I could get an idea how to shape them,” Paul said.
The first decoy, a Pink-eared duck, was gifted to Bill as a thank you.
Simon Webster has already collected the second one, a beautifully detailed pacific black duck. “Paul does this as a hobby but he has great artistic flair: to get a black duck looking that good, it is amazing work and a real work of art, I feel very fortunate to even own one,” Simon said.
Simon would like one of every species, or better, a working set. “A lot of guys dream about their own set of hand carved gunning decoys to hunt over. It would be great just to sit back at 30 yards and admire them setting on the water,” he said.
Paul agrees, but he also understands the time and effort required. “I would be happy to make working decoys but it is horrifically expensive; there is so much detailed work and it takes time to build the colours,” he said.
Paul does it for pleasure and will pick up a decoy at night and whittle away or paint for hours. “I do it for love and to keep occupied,” he said.
It might be six months before he takes up carving again as he tries to settle in Norway but whenever he does, it will be a run of four or five individual works of art. “None of them will look the same; they are hand cut and hand painted, so there are differences, but I have a bunch of ideas, including doing a freckle duck,” he said. “The Freckled duck would make a terrific decoy or a cracking display piece for a hunter who is never going to stick one on their wall.”