Richard Clifton’s exquisite waterfowl paintings have earned him high honors

By Gwen Guerke  |  Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the April 2015 issue

RichardClifton A Career That Took Wing - Delaware Beach LifeRichard Clifton is living his dream.

It’s easy to see why. He resides on an isolated piece of farmland adjacent to the sublimely beautiful Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. And he long ago developed into an accomplished waterfowl artist, earning not just a living but widespread acclaim.

In fact, Clifton is the 2015 Ducks Unlimited Waterfowl Artist of the Year, the pinnacle of achievement in his chosen field.

But he’s not basking in his success, because this former farmer has a higher goal each time he creates an acrylic-on-canvas image: “I want people to get lost in it. I want it to draw you in.” Though his works are realistic and highly detailed, Clifton also tries “to create a sense of mystery. I don’t want to spell everything out for the viewers.”

That’s a tall order, he admits, especially since “I am always my own worst critic. In the end, I’m trying to please myself. If it gets past me, it’s ready for the viewing public.”

The viewing public has taken notice. Clifton is the winner of 44 state-level duck stamp contests (which come with cash prizes of varying levels) and the 2006 federal duck stamp competition, along with his new honor from Ducks Unlimited, the wetlands and waterfowl conservation group. He recently announced that he has been commissioned to paint the South Carolina duck stamp for the next two years.

And there have been plenty of buyers, some of whom have admired his work enough to pay up to $12,000 for a single painting. (His Artist of the Year award was given for “Afternoon Pintails,” which was sold for an undisclosed amount to an unnamed collector.)

He’s even become something of a TV star. Clifton is featured in a Ducks Unlimited-produced show that will air later this year on the outdoors-oriented Pursuit Channel. Footage from duck and goose hunts in the area where he lives was filmed over several days.

In addition, the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife selected his work for inclusion in its 2015 calendar featuring state waterfowl and trout stamp winners from 1980-2012, an honor that is providing him with even more exposure.

What’s the secret to his success? The answer is a combination of hard work and perseverance, an eye for the right scene at the right moment, an artist’s ability to not just convey realism but transcend it — and maybe some luck when everything comes together. The result is evident in “Afternoon Pintails,” which captures a rare quality of light and mood, what the artist calls “the it.”

Clifton explains that the basis for the image was a photograph he took of pintail ducks while driving down a road near his home. It was winter, and he timed the shot “to hit the golden glow” that was bathing both the sky and the birds gliding through it.

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