AMHERST — Life is just ducky for Firelands High School senior Ian Valerius.
The 17-year-old Amherst resident found out Tuesday that he took first place in the state of Ohio for the National Junior Duck Stamp competition.
Ian’s oil painting on panel of a green-winged teal won “Best in Show” in the state and is now representing Ohio in the national competition.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started a student version of the National Duck Stamp contest in 1993. More than 27,300 students enter across the 50 states, districts and territories annually. One national winning art work is produced on a $5 postage stamp sought after by collectors. All of the proceeds from the sale of this stamp go directly into the art competition and environmental education activities for student participants.
Ian, an avid artist and nature enthusiast, has been creating art as long as he can remember.
“My dad is very artistic, and I’ve always had a passion for it,” he said. “In middle school, I started sketching wildlife, and then started sketching ducks.”
His father also sketches ducks and birds, Ian said.
“My grandpa was the reason I got interested in the contest,” he said. “He is friends with the Grimm family.”
In 1999, Adam Grimm became the youngest person to ever to win the Federal Duck Stamp competition at age 21. Grimm, formerly of Elyria, won again in 2013. Although he never won on the junior level, he did win best of show in Ohio when he was a young teen and even had his piece place high at the federal level.
But that’s where the similarities end.
Ian chose a green-winged teal as his subject matter.
“I just thought it was a neat duck,” Ian said. “It was a little challenging to paint, but I just decided to go for it.”
For the background, Ian chose a “native Ohio wetlands” look.
“I had to go over certain parts to blend the colors just right and make it as realistic as possible and get it to stand out as much as possible,” he said.
Ian has been Laura Tawil’s art student at Firelands for four years, and she said he knew he could do it.
“I knew he had it in him,” she said. “He has been following this contest at least since sixth grade. He said I want to do this. I want to win this. And he did. This was his passion project.”
It also was his independent art project, and earned him an “A” in class, even before Tawil learned the results of the contest. Last year, he won “Honorable Mention” for the state for a colored pencil drawing he did. The honorable mention only encouraged and motivated him this year, Tawil said.
“He is a gifted student in art,” Tawil said. “This is by far the best work he has done. It’s beautiful. The light coming through the tips of the feathers — he was really seeing it, really focused in on it. He had neat brushwork, tight.”
Ian also was diligent in his work schedule. Although entries were not due until March 1, he had to finish sooner in order for the paint to dry enough to mail the entry.
“His whole class was behind him,” Tawil said. “They would tell him, ‘This is going to win. This is a winner.’”
Apparently, they were right.
Ian, who is the son of Anthony and Suzanne Valerius, was surprised when his parents told him about the win.
He didn’t have much time to celebrate before heading out to a Future Farmers of America field trip in Port Toledo. He anticipates the celebration to begin today in art class.
Ian, who is an FFA officer, also participates in track and cross country at school.
After graduation, he plans to attend Bowling Green State University to study business and possibly minor in art.
National jurying continues in April in Bismarck, N.D., where all 50-plus finalists’ works are assembled. In addition to his state best-in-show awards, Ian is in the running for scholarships if he is among the top three nationally. If Ian’s work is selected as the national winner, it will serve as the official design for the 2018 Junior Duck Stamp. He and one parent will be hosted at the official “first day of sale” ceremony this summer. Ian’s original painting will circulate in a national tour of Best in Show for one year.
Ian took about two weeks off from art, but is back at it again, working with acrylics and sketching. Currently, he is painting a still life of vegetables for class. And he’s still sketching wildlife, skies, trees and plants.
“I’d like to find a good career in art that could take me somewhere,” he said.