Monday, January 31, 2011

"Interview with Master Decoy Carver Jode Hillman"

When the idea to develop this blog initially struck me, I knew there were a few goals I had to meet.  One was the overall development of this site into the most well-rounded online magazine I could possibly make it.  That, for better or worse, means I simply have to have content from other people, opinions and styles not my own, which in turn allows for growth.  Up to this point, I've had modest success in the category, being able to print stories from my friends while they hunt "Magellan".  But, that's not enough.  It's not enough to just "talk hunting" if you want to be the bottom line for someone looking to spend time online.  I've always said I want this place to be an online "campfire" of sorts.  A place where one may wish to read about any form of outdoor living, and be able to readily find it here.  A place not solely for the hunter, which is quite frankly not our absolute target audience given the broad generalities of the defintion of "hunter" today.  Rather, a place for the "traditionalist" who gets more out of the hunt, who chooses to walk a different path, and who's life is enriched not by numbers but by the overall experience.

Today, I'm one step closer. 

I'd like to introduce Jode Hillman who carves and paints what I consider to be some of the most elegant, stylistic, individualized decoys in the modern era of carving - for both the hunter and collector.  And, he's also one of the first to help a new carver with a problem - trust me on this, I speak from experience.  Sitting around one day I realized I wanted to talk to someone about decoys, and show you more than my sad representations of the art.  I looked no further than Jode.  Upon the request, he graciously accepted and answered all the questions in short only regret is that I didn't ask more.

While you will see a few of Jode's decoys here, please do yourself a favor and go to:  or click the link to the right of your screen "Jode Hillman Decoys" under the links of interest and spend some time looking at his work.

I truly hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoyed watching it come to fruition.

1) When and why did you start carving?  I started carving in the late '90's ('98 or '99 if I remember correctly).  I started for the same reason alot of guys do.  I wanted better decoys than were available commercially, and didn't have the money to spend on the custom birds I liked. Plus I already had alot of the tools to carve, so I figured it would be easy...boy was I wrong on that!  LOL!

PINTAIL DRAKE - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

2) Is there a carver (or carvers) that have had an influence on your style of decoys?  Is there a "region" that has had the same?   I was fortunate enough to have a chance meeting with carver Sean Sutton early in my carving career. We became friends, and it opened a whole new world to me. I was totally clueless as to the excellent carving history all around me, even though I live in probably one of the best areas in the country for old birds, gunners, and the like.

The biggest influence is Sean's advice to always keep it fresh. Even though I am largley known as a Delaware River carver, I enjoy making everything from Woodpeckers to Herons. I think alot of guys get stuck in a rut. They find something that works, and get afraid to deviate from it. From an artistic perspective, unless you are trying out new ideas and outlets, you tend to stagnate and get burned out.

EIDER PAIR - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

3)  How would you describe your carving and painting style?  I think every carver goes through various stages of being enamored with carving, then painting, then carving again. I like to keep my carving to the simplistic side, and focus on proportion and gracefulness.  On these simple shapes I like to dress it up by using semi-impressionistic oil painting techniques.

To me, it doesn't have to look exactly like the duck I am portraying, but capture the "feeling" I get when thinking of my subject.

COMMON GOLDENEYE PAIR - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

4)  What specie do most collectors associate with you?  It varies from person to person, but I make more Pintails and Wood Ducks than anything else. I had a few years where I felt like all I made was preening pintails LOL!

DRAKE WIGEON - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

5)  What is your favorite specie to carve and hunt?  Green-wing teal. I guess it is guilt by association. I spend so much time around Green-wings and Black Ducks I can't help but love them. Green-wings are such great little flyers and are at the top of my list as table fare as well.

BLUE WING TEAL PAIR - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

6)  What is the most important concept for a beginning carver to become proficient at and master?  Most new carvers are timid in the way they approach their blocks. They are afraid of removing to much wood or doing something wrong, hence ruining their decoy. However this often leads to blocky, squarish decoys. Round, round, round, is the mantra I preach to anyone getting started. Forget side pockets, cheek muscles, fancy feathers etc. If a newbie can produce a nicely rounded, well shaped duck it will look better on the water 9 times out of 10 than a poorly exectued more complex pattern. For the beginner, master the simple first before you move onto the more complex!

HOODED MERGANSERS - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

7)  What do you consider the most difficult part of carving and painting decoys?  It used to be finding time to carve and paint!  Carving is like anything else, the more you do it, the more proficient you become. Having days and weeks between sessions is like a weightlifter who only trains once in a while...You may make some gains, but you give them back in short order. I am fortunate to be able to carve and paint full time, and it is amazing how much more satisfying it is when you keep your mental and phyisical tools sharp.

Besides time, the most dificult part is determing what messsage I want a particular carving to convey. Relaxed and resting puddle duck? Ok not to hard...but how about an inqusitive owl getting ready to hunt? Body positions, facial expression, and color scheme all lend themselves to the emotion a carving will convey to the viewer.

WOOD DUCK PAIR - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

8)  What do you consider to be essential equipment for carving?  Whatever tools you happen to have! While I was learning the only tool I was allowed to use besides a bandsaw was a utlity knife!  You can make it as complicated or simple as you want. Most old New Jersey carvers used a hatchet and a pocket knife to turn out some very refined decoys.

My personal list would be a drawknife, spokeshave, detail carving knife, and a bow sander (think of a bow with sandpaper for the "string").  With these tools you can master the basic shapeing of most decoys.

DOWN-EAST SCOTER - photo courtesy of Jode Hillman

THANKS to Jode Hillman for taking the time to answer these questions!

Hope everyone enjoyed this as much as I did.  Check back often and have a great week, Justin

1 comment:

Unknown said...

beautiful ducks, how much a duck cost? thank you so much. please contact me by email or you can call me at: 408-668-4562.
thu nguyen