Earlier this year I asked some of the members of this forum about a pattern for brant. I figured I'd carve about half dozen or so and keep them in the boat. Slack was kind enough to offer some instruction with foamers and we were going to make one or two that I could use as patterns to carve cedar birds. Unfortunately, our schedules didn't match up well with vacations, so things got shoved onto the back burner. About the time I got back from Alaska, someone sent me some brant patterns and I figured I'd be off to the races. The problem was that the patterns were about 25% too big, so I reduced them and started hacking away at some wood. To my way of thinking, they weren't turning out half bad, either.
About in the middle of all this was an article in Newsday about a woodcarving club that happened to meet weekly very near my house. One intriguing thing about this club was that one of the leaders was my old physics teacher from high school (over 45 years ago). Last Friday I decided to take my brant heads (which now numbered 3 with an additional one half done, along with my carving knives, rasps, sharpening stones and sand paper and check out the club. As soon as I walked in, I saw one table that had three gentlemen working at it on decoys. I figured I was in the right place. After the introductions, they asked about my work. I told them that I really wasn't much of a carver, just picked up a knife and piece of wood and cut off everything that didn't look like a duck, or in this case brant. They asked to see my heads and I showed them. The one fellow, who was probably the master decoy carver, looked one head over and pronounced, "This, to me, looks like a brant." I thought, great, at least it's recognizable, I must be headed in the right direction. Things went downhill from there, very quickly. And picked up speed!
My wood was "junk wood", my knife wasn't sharp enough, and the lower mandible is suppose to fit inside the upper! The eye channel was a noble attempt, but somewhat lacking. The bill shape was all wrong, there was no nail on the end, and "would you mind if I showed you how it's supposed to be?" (as he assembled his portable power carver)! YIKES!!!!!
It turns out that this fellow is a grand master carver, having won over a dozen Best In Show ribbons for waterfowl decoys. He was working on a half size Canada that he said would take him 40 hours to complete. The detail was exquisite! He showed me pictures of some of his work and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between his carving and a real bird.
I tried to explain to him that his judge was an intelligent human being with a vast knowledge of avian anatomy and coloration who would be looking at his work at no more than arms length to make their determinations. My judges, on the other hand, have a brain the size of half a walnut at best, are looking at my work with one eye from 50 yards or more while passing at something like 40 miles per hour. He had a difficult time with that.
The other two fellows at the table were somewhat more understanding. They also acknowledged that working decoys are an art form unto themselves.
Anyway, it was fun. Once we reached an understanding of exactly what I was interested in, I was pretty much welcomed into the fold, if somewhat grudgingly by the head carver.