The Making of "Duck Off"

According to, f_ck off is “an insulting way of telling (someone) to go away.” Obviously a vulgar term, it is meant to be offensive and off-putting. Replacing the f with a d, however, not only makes it more palatable, but also creates the opportunity to produce a visual image that is humorous and fun.

rubber ducks fleeing from a spray can of duck repellant

I knew right away that my work Duck Off would consist of an aerosol can of repellant in the background with a group of rubber ducks fleeing away from it, toward the viewer. The final idea was inspired by scenes of people fleeing the alien war machines in War of the Worlds.

This image is all about drama. The aerosol can is tipped backward and rendered with exaggerated perspective to make it look large and menacing.

In the still life I set up for this painting, I placed kneaded erasers under the fleeing ducks to create exaggerated poses. The ducks they look as if they are waddling away from the approaching can.

The stony, barren surface, completely devoid of life (except for the rubber ducks) is based upon photos that I shot on top of Grandfather Mountain near Linville, North Carolina. All elements are unified with a strong light source coming from the right, similar to a spotlight. a rubber duck sitting on a kneaded eraser 

A second light source can also be seen in the background, with rays of sunlight peeking out from behind thick clouds. This light source, however, does not affect the subjects in the foreground. It is instead used for dramatic effect, suggesting a funnel of spray emanating from the aerosol can.

The lettering on the can is based upon the text on a typical can of bug repellant. The content has been changed, however, so that the repellant is specifically for ducks, not for insects. Duck-B-Gone becomes the name of the spray, and at the bottom of the body of text it says that the spray “protects against annoying cuteness, squeaking, and quacking.”

Everything in the composition is angled to suggest tension and movement. All the rubber ducks face away from the aerosol can, moving away from it like the spokes on a bicycle wheel. Lines in the rocky ground plane generally recede to a point in the bottom portion of the aerosol can, enhancing the illusion of depth in the composition.  

I have always been a fan of science fiction, with War of the Worlds ranking as one of my favorite stories. I completed many drawings and small paintings of aliens and spaceships when I was in elementary and middle school. Some were from references, but most were from my imagination. Image from "War of the Worlds"

This painting was particularly fun for me because of its incorporation of elements from science fiction stories and movies. My goal was to retain the dark mood of scenes that inspired the image yet create a painting that is humorous and fun. I think it is almost impossible for anything with yellow rubber ducks to seem threatening or offensive. I caught myself laughing out loud several times as I was developing the image.

The most difficult part of the painting was the lettering on the aerosol can. It took a lot of time and concentration to keep the font consistent and make sure it was accurately wrapping around the tapering cylindrical form. The development of the negative space was important to the accurate rendition of the letters. I constantly worked back and forth between the negative space and the letters, making adjustments until font style and perspective were accurate.

I think fans of science fiction will be particularly drawn to this image due to its obvious influences. The over-dramatization is reminiscent of some of the campy sci-fi movies, with the inclusion of the rubber ducks making everything seem very silly.

Kevin Grass painting his "Duck Off" painting