Fd: How did Art and Fly Fishing get together in your life? How were your beginnings in these two different fields?
Both fishing and art were things I did not really choose, they are just a part of who I am.
In terms of fishing, my father was an obsessed fly fisherman starting more the 50 years ago. Prior to any sort of cool factor or mass-produced fly fishing products he was building rods, tying flies and chasing fish. He literally grew up on the north shores of Lake Superior and fished every river from Duluth to the Canadian border. I guess my love of moving water and all things fish is part of my DNA. When my mom and dad got married in the late 60’s he took my mom to the Bahamas for their honeymoon to chase bonefish – back before there were lodges, experienced guides or any real infrastructure for fishing let alone fly fishing in the Bahamas. The fact she was willing to go, chase fish with him and accept his crazy need to look at every river / lake / body of water as a potential place to explore was a recipe for offspring with the same inclinations. Needless to say, before I can remember choosing, I was a “willing” partner for early morning drives to rivers. His love for chasing fish was clearly contagious. Some of my earliest memories are catching brook trout on bushy dry flies, my first job as a 16 year old was working in a fly fishing store, by 21 I was headed to Alaska as a newbie guide and for the past 30 years I’ve been consciously doing everything I can to explore, fish and, on occasion, land a fish or two.
Art was equally impulsive – I simply could not help submerging myself in my notebooks, sketchpads or filling the margins of my school books with doodles. I have no memory of not obsessively sketching, drawing or creating. Because art has a reputation for being a hobby, that is what I made it for most of my life. I took a few art classes in college but took it no further. After college my art went dormant for a decade while I pursued my teaching career and did not emerge until much later. About 6 years ago my daughter was born and my wife was headed into a grueling graduate program. With time on my hands as my infant daughter slept I pulled the paintbrush from storage and began to smear paint on a canvas again.
Coincidently, as I began to take up art again, I completed nearly a decade of guiding in Alaska and Oregon and remembered one of the finest guides I ever worked with, who mentored me as a newbie and who happened to be a highly acclaimed artist in the field. Bob White was one of the kindest, exceptionally humble and most talented people I encountered in my guiding years and his approach to being an artist had a lasting impact on me. This memory helped propel me toward fish centered art. He was managing to take his time in the outdoors, represent it on canvas and do it with a smile on his face and it was an epiphany.
Armed with time, a paintbrush and a fond recollection for an artist who had a profound impact on me I started painting fish. Oddly my passion unexpectedly grew quickly with great results. Looking back, my early paintings are a far cry from what I do now, but somehow I connected my affliction for fish and perspective into something other people enjoyed.
Fd: Did you find any waters apt for fly fishing when you were living in Uzbekistan?
I tried, strategized and dreamed of some new rivers to discover and explore while there. Concurrent with the school year, I had a small window to find water before snow and after run off. Most of the rivers around Tashkent were very limited but I did find some small shad like fish and the occasional carp, but the high mountains were rumored to possess some trout species, but I cannot confirm the rumors. Through a little investigation I was keyed into going to neighboring Kyrgyzstan and fish rivers with actual trout populations. I also had a very keen interest in exploring the Hunza Valley in nearby Pakistan, where a brown trout population is rumored to exist from the British colonial period. In the end I did not get to either.
Fd: Are there other spots around the world that have impressed you in a special way? Which are your favorite for fly fishing?
Narrowing down my favorites worldwide…. That is a tough prospect. As anyone who fishes knows, it is not always about the fish but the memories, location, special significance. So here is a short list.
My time in Alaska. I was fortunate to essentially have a world-class trout river to myself for several years. Living alone on an unbelievably productive fishery with clients flown in every day gave me great insight into fishing, being alone in the wilderness, catching enormous rainbows and appreciating how lucky I was. I love Argentina. In two weeks I travelled in a rental car where I accumulated 3,000 kilometers on the odometer, fished 12 rivers and saw a bunch of a landscape still haunting me when I think of fishing. East Cape, Baja - Roosters… sight fishing an aggressive, beautiful and hard to catch fish on an empty beach and accessible only by a dune buggy. That is what dreams are made of. The Deschutes. Be it trout or steelhead, the D is like an old friend. No pretense, comfortable to be around, welcoming, consistent and always willing to share.
Fd: What advice would you give to the starting artists that want to get into the fly-fishing world?
1) Don’t be intimidated. I guess it is ok to be intimidated (I was) but realize there is a lot of opportunity for new artists and any pretension an “established” artist has is simply bravado. I still wonder how I tapped into a margin of success selling art. The more I talk to fellow artists, the more I realize we all think the other one “has it dialed” and it turns out we are all still learning. The bottom line is none of us have it figured out and the impression we do is silly. The next big thing is waiting to get discovered.
2) Find a niche: Certain looks appeal to certain people and everybody can find their niche. Bob White creates scenes using landscape, Ed Anderson uses pen, washes, movement, large surfaces and quick work to create a creative approach. AD Maddox intensifies color, reflection and canvas size. Josh Desmit is abstract and modern in his compositions. Andrea Larko uses a graphic arts background to build unique work and Travis Sylvester is hyper realistic with his colored pencils. We all find a way to make our work unique.
3) Do the grunt work / create opportunity. Making cool art is the easy and fun part, getting it seen and sold is the hard part. Most of us who sell art associated with fly fishing are doing plenty of other things to supplement our income. I was a full time teacher up until two years ago and I still teach part time. A few of us are artists full time, but it is a big plunge. There are a lot of ways to sell art and none of them are simple or easy. I’ve done summer art shows and trade shows for a few years now and they are a slog and hard work. I drive all over, sit in the sun / rain / snow / convention center, you name it. It is usually five days of exhausting work for a two or three day weekend show. Sometimes you don’t sell a thing, sometime you knock it out of the park, you never know. I’ve shown in coffee shops, retirement homes, real estate offices, you name it. Although not always glamorous, art on walls, being seen is better than waiting for someone to look at it. Typical avenues such as galleries are not always the way to success but you need to figure out where your audience is. This day and age requires a good website, social media and the willingness to get your work out there, but the core of getting there is doing it and doing it with effort.
4) Don’t take yourself too seriously. A fly fishing artist is far from glamorous but still pretty amazing. I painted in my garage up until this year (and was perfectly happy there). I am lucky I get to do this for part of my profession, but it is not changing the world. The bottom line, most of who paint fish or fish centered art, fish first and create later. We love the sport, the fish, the friendships we make and the places we go and putting them on a canvas or piece of paper is just an excuse to be more connected to the thing we like so much.
Fd: Where can we find more about your artwork?
I will be travelling the western US this summer doing shows. I will be in Vail at the arts festival June 26, 27 and 28th. Jackson Hole July 10,11, 12. Breckenridge, Colorado July 24, 25, 26. Sun Valley, Idaho August 7, 8, 9.
In the winter I am planning at attending the Fly Fishing Shows in Denver, Pleasanton, California and Seattle.
Also look at my website / Facebook / Instagram accounts for updates and information. Montana Fly Company and Patagonia both have merchandise featuring my art.
Links: Tightline Studio, Tightline Instagram, Tightline Facebook, work for Montana Fly Company, work for Patagonia.