In two previous JLC articles on decorative shingling, I
demonstrated how to layer shingles to create repeating
geometric and free-form designs (see "Decorative Shingling,"
6/06, and "Shingle Art," 1/07). The duck featured in this
article requires a little extra planning but uses the same
basic ramp-and-layer system.
This technique essentially silhouettes a shape, with regular or
modified shingle courses running across the design. Ramping
multiple shingle layers in the same course creates relief,
which helps form shadow lines and makes the design stand out.
Layers also form interesting edges where the exposure of a
shingle climbs up and over other shingles in the same
To simplify the layout, I use a cardboard pattern. This method
can be used to build virtually any design, including animals,
buildings, people, and landscapes.
Making the Pattern
Google Image Search (images.google.com) is a great source of
design ideas: Type in "duck" and instantly you have thousands
of images to choose from. Once you've saved a few you like
(either by printing them out or saving them to disk), the trick
is to enlarge the image to the size you want and then trace it
onto a piece of cardboard. There are several ways to do
• With an LCD projector, display the image onto a piece of
cardboard and trace.
• With an overhead projector, project a small paper
cut-out or printed transparency onto cardboard.
• To use a slide projector, first resize the image to fit
within a 1-inch square; then print on a transparency, cut and
mount the transparency image in a slide frame, and
• To use graph paper, resize the image to a full-size
piece of paper, then print onto 1/4-inch-scale graph paper.
Draw a scale graph on cardboard (or directly on a wall when
doing a giant image) and trace freehand block-by-block. It's
crude, but effective.
The author preassembles complex shingle patterns on a
board, then installs the design as each course goes
To simplify planning, I size the image to fit my shingle course
exposures. A typical exposure measures 5 inches, but I like to
adjust shingle exposures slightly so that shingle butt lines
match the tops and bottoms of windows and other horizontal
elements, then record the layout on a story pole. To make sure
the design fits, I transfer the story-pole marks for the area
where I plan to install the design onto a large piece of
cardboard. Then I draw (or snap) the shingle course layout
lines across the cardboard. When I project the design onto the
cardboard, I size it and adjust it up or down to suit the
Sometimes it also helps to rotate the design slightly. For
example, this duck has two horizontal points on its body
— the tips of the bill and the tail. To avoid having to
glue a fragile piece of shingle to the course below, it's best
that these points align with butt lines rather than end in the
middle of a course.
When I'm satisfied that I've got a good fit, I trace the design
on the cardboard and cut out the pattern. I use tape to
reinforce any narrow sections, like the duck's legs.
Laying Out the Design
I don't try to build a complex design on a wall. Instead, I
first lay it out "dry" on a sheet of OSB or 1/2-inch-thick
plywood placed across a set of horses or a workbench (thinner
sheets or southern yellow pine can warp, making the process
harder than it should be). This allows me to position shingles
for joint offset, lay the pattern down for tracing, and
experiment with different layering and ramping techniques
without fighting gravity.
I cut the sheet (or cleat a couple of pieces together) so
there's about 12 extra inches around the perimeter of the
design, which should be enough to support the ramp shingles on
the sides. And I draw or snap chalk lines representing the
shingle courses across the backerboard.
I tack my small and medium-sized designs onto the shingle
board, using 3/4- to 1-inch-long brads, headless pins, or thin
wire staples located about 1 inch down from the top of each
shingle. Later, when I've carried the whole assembly to the job
site and it's time to install the design on the wall, I can
pull the shingles out in the proper order just by gently
tugging on them.
To simplify pattern orientation during layout and shingle
installation, I snap two exposure course lines across each
group of shingles that constitutes a course. I match the lines
to the story pole so the exposures correspond to the courses on
the wall, and I use white chalk, which can easily be brushed
away if needed.
Installing the Shingles
Once I've shingled up to the area where I'll install the
design, I either screw the backing panel to the wall nearby or
prop it on nearby staging. To help orient the pattern, I snap a
few course lines across the tops of the last course of shingles
and the housewrap. And to help give weight to the bottom of the
design and create the appearance of water, I cut "waves" into
the butts of the last two or three shingle courses.
With a gentle tug to pop the staples or brad nails holding the
shingle groups in place, I remove them in sequence from the
shingle board, then install them on the design. After each
course of the design is applied, the field shingles to the left
and right can be installed; it's easier to run shingles from
the design outward than from corners inward.
Laying out and cutting this design took about seven hours. For
designs of similar size and complexity, I charge between $1,000
By the way, before installing this duck, I redrew and cut out
another set of shingles, which I applied to a shingle board for
storage along with the cardboard pattern. Now, with the design
in my portfolio, I can easily duplicate the same duck for
another client in an hour or two — and charge the same
Mike Guertin is a builder and remodeler in
East Greenwich, R.I., and a member of the JLC Live construction
The feet and belly of the duck in this design hang down
over the regular courses below, giving the lower portion
positive rather than negative relief (on top of instead of cut
into). This gives extra weight to the bottom of the
I begin by tacking two courses of regular shingles to the
board, then redraw the duck pattern over them in chalk (A).
Then I lay several shingles on top of the regular shingle
courses so the bottoms of the shingles cover the duck's feet,
being careful that each leg and foot can be cut from a single
shingle (B). With the pattern laid over these shingles and
oriented to the sketch of the wings and head above (it may help
to snap exposure chalk lines across these shingles to aid in
orienting the pattern), I draw the outline of the duck's legs
and belly up to the point of the next shingle-course exposure
Narrow pieces like the legs can snap off, so I take care when
cutting them out (C). Since they'll be overlying the course
beneath, they're prone to damage; for reinforcement, I laminate
a layer of fiberglass mat on the back or glue them to the
shingles beneath during final installation.
After repositioning the shingles on the board and tacking them
in place at the top, I chalk a "1" onto the shingle group to
indicate the course (D). Collating them together with duct tape
along the top edge before tacking them to the shingle board (or
using precollated shingle strips) simplifies installation on
the wall later, because the shingles can be withdrawn as a
group rather than individually.
This course forms the breast of the duck as well as the
back and tail. Here, I'll run multiple groups of shingles up
over the first group in the same course, using ramps to ease
the transitions between levels.
After applying regular course shingles from the right, I apply
a ramp to the left of the last shingle in the group. When there
are multiple layers of shingles in the same course, I use
letters to differentiate each layer (A). For example, I marked
this group of shingles "2A/3" (2 = second course; A = first
group of shingles in this course; 3 = three overlaying shingle
groups in this course).
I chalk in the breast of the duck, using the pattern as a
guide (B), then place the second group of shingles on top of
the design. After placing the pattern over this group and
drawing in the breast (in pencil) for cutting and the duck's
back (in chalk) for reference, I mark these shingles
Once I've cut out the pencil line for the breast and
repositioned these shingles on the design, I need to add one
thin ramp to the right of the bill and a thick ramp at the tip
of the tail (C). Taping or stitch-stapling these extra ramp
shingles to their shingle groups helps keep them
To finish the second course, I lay a third group of shingles
over the tail ramp and up to the back of the duck's head, place
the pattern over the shingles, and pencil in the back of the
duck for cutting (D). This is group 2C/3.
Even though most of the shingles in the right half of the
group will be cut short and covered by the next course (E), the
half-shingle "undercourse" provides backup for the smaller
"background" wing (F).
In this course, I want to create more depth so that I can
highlight the wings and place the smaller background wing
deeper in the design than the foreground wing. The easiest way
to do this is to expose the top lap of the second course below
(undercourse), following the same procedure for ramping groups
of shingles up and over each other as in the previous
The first group of third-course shingles starts a couple of
inches to the left of the foreground wing (A). After tracing
the pattern onto these shingles, I cut out the head and part of
the background wing portion up to and across the horizontal
exposure line. Before attaching this group (3A/3) to the
backer, I add a ramp on the left side (B).
The second group of shingles — 3B/3 — is short
(C); it needs to run only a couple of inches beyond the leading
edge of the background wing (with a ramp to the right), and a
couple of inches to the left of the trailing edge of the
foreground wing (D). The final group of shingles in the course
(3C/3) forms the trailing edge of the forward wing (E). Here,
instead of ramping, I'll simply butt the shingles of two
different courses together.
Before cutting out the last group of the third course
(3C/3), I position the first shingle group (A) of the fourth
course (4A/3) and mark out the background wing area for cutting
(B). Because placing shingles of different courses together
creates a discrepancy in thickness, I plane the left edge of
the first fourth-course shingle to match the thickness of the
top lap of the third-course shingles (C). I make registration
marks where these offset shingle courses meet, to help keep
them organized during installation.
The second shingle group of the fourth course (4B/3) forms the
leading edge of the foreground wing and has a cutout for the
top of the background wing, which adds to the shadow line (D).
The third shingle group (4C/3) forms the trailing edge of the
foreground wing. The cutout for the background wing tip further
deepens the shadow line (E).
The first group of shingles in the fifth course (5A/3)
gets only a small cutout for the tip of the background wing and
a planed ramp on the left side (A).
The second shingle group (5B/3) forms the leading edge of the
foreground wing. Leaving extra shingles to the right of the
wing provides an extended undercourse for the sixth course of
shingles (B); this lets me avoid having to place two ramps on
top of one another, which would produce a pronounced bump in
the overlying course right at the top of the foreground
The third shingle group (5C/3) forms the trailing edge of the
foreground wing (C).
To complete the design, a single group of shingles in the
sixth course (6A/1) ramps up and over the top laps of two
groups of shingles in the fifth course, with only the tip of
the foreground wing cut out (D).