A Printmaker Dives Into the Aquatic Domain of a Regal Duck

Artist Meg T. Justice provides a fresh perspective on the habitat that sustains the Hooded Merganser.
A black and white print of a Hooded Merganser illustration next to awls on a printed table cloth.
Meg T. Justice’s Hooded Merganser linocut, a relief print created by carving a design into a printing block. Photo: Ryan Tipton

In high school, Meg T. Justice spent countless hours sketching ducks along the Tennessee River in Scottsboro, Alabama, capturing their glorious quirks. These days her primary medium is printmaking, but she still delights in waterbirds. She chose the Hooded Merganser for this print because of the male’s striking plumage. 

“I do some color printmaking,” she says, “but I’m really more drawn to the black and white and creating texture and contrast with the ink.” 

Justice began with sketches of her extravagantly crested subject and his surroundings and transferred a final line drawing onto a linoleum block in reverse. She then used a variety of gouge tools to carve out the design and rolled ink over uncut areas. Lastly, she pressed the block onto paper, creating a mirror image of her carving. 

The final product is an exquisitely wrought merganser in a richly detailed ecosystem where spidery tendrils of wild rice and finely rendered freshwater snails and small fish abound. Instead of a horizon line, Justice centered the print around the water line, with nearly as much space allotted to life below the surface as above—fitting for a bird whose existence is so closely tied to the aquatic realm. 

Although Hooded Mergansers are not a species of conservation concern, they are vulnerable to water pollution, as are the crustaceans and other small creatures they eat—and us. “The river itself, that’s what we all drink,” Justice says. Her print underscores this intimate connection between water and life.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2024 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.