A Side of Side Pockets

It's just one part of a decoy--but it's an important one.

By: Glenn A. McMurdo
Updated May 10, 2018

Glenn McMurdo’s interest in decoy carving began in 1985. Since then Glenn, now a master carver, has written numerous how-to articles and has judged carving competitions from coast to coast across Canada and the United States. His most recent Workbench Project is Green-Winged Teal Pair. Email mcmurdocarvings@sympatico.ca or phone (905) 372-5821.Castings of this side pocket or full life-size castings of other species are available.
A decoy is more than the sum of its parts, of course, but it’s still necessary to get all the different areas right if you want a realistic bird. In this article, I concentrate on just one aspect of a duck—the side pockets. I try to give some softness to the final product in this area by carving lumps and bumps and adding soft shadows and highlights to the surface. I paint the darker areas to enhance the shadows and make the lighter areas complement the shadowed portions. This adds more softness. Although this side pocket is from a mallard hen, you can use these techniques with different colors for the side pockets of many waterfowl.

This article is from Wildfowl Carving Magazine’s Spring 2014 issue.

Wildfowl Carving Demonstration

For a closer look at each step, please click on the image to enlarge.

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. The first step after sanding the surface smooth is to draw on long sweeping feather flow lines with a pencil. These lines flow back and up toward the top back of the side pocket. Create a graceful pattern to follow when you draw on individual feathers.

  2. After you have established the flow lines to your liking, draw on each individual feather, using the flow lines as reference to establish the size and shape of each.

  3. Notice the areas marked in red. You will remove the wood from these areas to create lumps and bumps that will create highlights (lighter areas) and shadows (darker areas). You will use a 1/8" diamond ball and a 1/4" diamond flame.

  4. I have used the 1/8" diamond ball to removed wood to outline shadowed areas.

  5. Using the same cutters, remove wood on the lower areas of the defined lumps and bumps to create an elevation change from one region to the next.

  6. Round over the higher elevation areas to make them look softer. I use a 1/4" flame-shaped bit and a 1/4" bull-nose diamond bit.

  7. I use a fine smoothing bullnose stone and at least a 400-grit sandpaper to clean up the entire area and eliminate any and all tool marks.

  8. To facilitate further texturing of the feathers, I draw quills with a pencil and then outline them with a burning pen. Outlining the quill gives you starting and ending points where you will apply texture to the individual feathers.

  9. Now apply texture to each feather using a 1/8" diamond ball cutter. Use the quill as a reference and start at the base of the feather, pulling the cutter back while lifting up off the surface. This creates a deeper texture at the start of the cut and gets shallower at the finish near the outside edge of each feather. Finish the texture with a 3/16" ball or fine cut stone to burnish and smooth out any rough areas you created while texturing.

  10. Take the burning pen you used to create the quills and burn in the individual barbs. Burn them one stroke at a time. Burn the larger feathers in the same direction and with the same procedure as you apply texture to each one. The smaller feathers near the belly and front of the side pocket are burned from the tip of the feather toward the base. This gives a different look to this area once it’s painted. When burning, it is important to keep the burn lines parallel with one another and not crisscrossed.

  11. After carving and texturing, I seal with surface with two or three applications of Curt’s Teekay’s Rapid-Dri Wood Sealer, available form Curt’s Waterfowl Corner. Let the sealer dry completely before applying paint.

  12. I base coat the entire surface with a dark warm gray color, mixed from burnt umber and ultramarine blue, lightened with titanium white. I use a 3/8" wide #12 filbert brush and make sure I the color evenly.

  13. Take the previously mixed base-coat color and darken it by adding burnt umber. This is for the shadowed areas. Also, make a warmer value of the base boat by adding warm white. This will be for the highlights. Determine where you want the shadowed and highlighted areas. Use a clean, damp brush and dampen the areas where you want the colors to blend. Then take a second brush and apply the darker color along the area where you want the shadows. Using the clean, damp brush, pull the paint into the previously dampened areas. You may have to repeat this process more than once to get the softness of the blend. Repeat the procedure to apply the highlights.

  14. After the shadows and highlights are dry, apply a wash of burnt umber. A wash is a paint color diluted with lots of water. Apply this to the entire surface, which will give it more of an overall reddish hue. Now paint the final detail with a mixture of burnt umber and raw sienna, lightened with warm white. I prefer to use a high-quality, #6 round kolinsky brush because it holds a point and also holds lots of paint. It also gives me good control. Use the mixed color to outline the margin of each feather. Pay attention to the width of these margins and where they start and end. Use the same color to paint the internal color pattern on the lower half of each feather. Now lighten the margin color with warm white and paint the internal color pattern on the top half of each feather. Now, with the different values of the margin color lightened with warm white, highlight areas on the individual feathers to give them more depth and definition. Next, use burnt umber darkened with ultramarine blue to paint some splits through the margins to give the feathers a flowing look. Finally, use a straight burnt umber and gloss medium mix to paint the quills. 


Free tutorials, expert tips, exclusive partner offers, and more straight to your inbox!


I have not made this yet so I cannot rate it.

Include a Photo Include a Photo

Click the button above or drag and drop images onto the button. You can upload two images.

Cancel Reply to Comment

Thanks for your comment. Don't forget to share!


Report Inappropriate Comment

Are you sure you would like to report this comment? It will be flagged for our moderators to take action.

Thank you for taking the time to improve the content on our site.

Sign In to Your Account

Close Window
Sign In with one of your Social Accounts
Sign In using Email and Password