The Making of "Sitting Duck"

A picnic with my wife Michaela on the shore of Lake Tarpon provided the inspiration for this painting.

A sitting duck, according to Oxford Languages, is “a person or thing with no protection against an attack or other source of danger.”

A painting of an alligator in a lake with a rubber duck on its head.

We picnic at the park frequently, taking either a basket of food from home or stopping at Publix or Subway to pick up a sandwich to go. We like to count the alligators that float about six to ten feet from the shoreline. And, no, there are no fences to keep them from visitors at Anderson Park.

The alligators typically range from 1-6 feet in length, and they lie still in the water unless someone or something bothers them. The record number of alligators we have seen there in a visit is 11, but on the day that I got the idea for this piece, there were only two. One of them swam very close to the shoreline, so Michaela decided to take pictures with her cell phone to post online. As she was taking the pictures, a dragonfly perched on the nose of the alligator – thus the idea for Sitting Duck.

Artist Kevin Grass at a picnic in Anderson Park, Florida.I wanted to work as much from life as possible, and since it would be a bad idea to pose a live alligator in my studio, I went to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and purchased a taxidermized alligator head. When I set up the still life, I placed the head in profile, facing to the right, like the logo for the University of Florida Gators. I thought that would be appropriate, since I am a Florida artist. I placed the rubber duck on the alligator’s snout and then I was ready to start the painting.

After blocking in the alligator head and rubber duck with yellow ochre lines, I did a careful block-in of the local colors using a full color palette.

"Sitting Duck" at the start of the painting processI had to supplement the taxidermized alligator head with photographs of live alligators so that I could complete the body and accurately develop the eye and missing soft tissue. I used reference photos that I found online that had similar lighting and angles. Most of the alligator, however, was still based upon the taxidermized subject.

The head of the alligator was the most difficult part of the painting, but it was also the most interesting and fun to paint. The closest that I had come to painting an alligator head was when I did two paintings with dragons many years ago. Working with the “live” model was much more rewarding. University of Florida gator logo

I still cannot understand why simplified or cartoonish alligators are almost always green. I used a limited palette of Prussian blue, yellow ochre, burnt and raw umber, white, and black. My mixtures tended to stay within a broad range of neutral grays, browns, muted yellows, and light blue highlights, but never green. I guess the natural muted color of a typical alligator isn’t bold enough for more graphic image applications. Or I’m color blind. One or the other.

I was especially happy to see that my completed painting was chosen to be included in the June/July 2021 issue of International Artist magazine as part of the “Wildlife” challenge. See it on page 14!


"Sitting Duck" in International Artist magazine.