Josh DeSmit: Capturing Chaos, Detail, and Beauty


“Rise, Cutty, Rise!”—Spray paint, oil-based paint pen, stained wood• 20in x 20in • 2013
All artwork by Josh DeSmit

Josh DeSmit is an artist caught between two worlds. He likes to say that he grew up a cidiot (“city” + “idiot”) in the Minneapolis area, but was blessed with the retreat of his family’s. . .


“Rise, Cutty, Rise!”—Spray paint, oil-based paint pen, stained wood• 20in x 20in • 2013
All artwork by Josh DeSmit

Josh DeSmit is an artist caught between two worlds. He likes to say that he grew up a cidiot (“city” + “idiot”) in the Minneapolis area, but was blessed with the retreat of his family’s cabin on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the northern woods, he learned to fish for brook trout, hunt ducks and grouse, and be less inclined to play fantasy football during precious fall weekends. While studying art and playing hockey at Wisconsin’s Lawrence University, Josh’s appreciation for the outdoors became an obsession and remains today.


“Buckets”—Spray paint, paint pen, and acrylic on wood• 20in x 24in • 2013

Between class and trips to the stream, Josh would putter around the LU art building. He explored the possibilities of spray paint in attempts to emulate the graffiti aesthetic he remembered from summer days spent skateboarding the backcountry of downtown Minneapolis. When Josh began to combine his experiences afield with the wilds of a rattle can, his style began to emerge. Since he returned to Minnesota after school, his work has gained boldness in color, as well as a nervous energy reflective of a crowded metro area, an ever-churning American society, and desperation for moments of escape.


“The Magic Hour”—Spray paint, oil past paint pen • 20in x 30in • 2012

Josh continues to use spray paint in most of his pieces and complements the medium with paint pens, acrylics, sharpies, printmaking techniques, and anything else that might look appropriate on a given day. Juxtaposing urban graphic techniques with the natural beauty of fly fishing, Josh has developed a process and style truly unique to the realm of sporting art.

To see more of Josh DeSmit’s work, visit his website.


“Tarpon Study”—Pen and ink, watercolor marker, Sharpie • 11in x 17in • 2015

The Healing Fish Art of Ryan Keene


“Two Panel Trout”
All works by Ryan Keene

When asked where my art originates, a very specific day always comes to mind. I remember waking up that morning in our old, damp tent in the middle of a forest along the banks of my father’s . . .

Written by: Ryan Keene, RAK Art


“Two Panel Trout”
All works by Ryan Keene

Editor’s note: Normally, when we do artist profile, we ask for a basic bio, and we use that as a basis for the profile. But Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based artist Ryan Keene sent us such a compelling story, I decided to let it stand on its own.

When asked where my art originates, a very specific day always comes to mind. I remember waking up that morning in our old, damp tent in the middle of a forest along the banks of my father’s favorite small stream in central Massachusetts. When I looked over to the empty sleeping bag, I jumped out of the tent and ran to the banks while still pulling a sweatshirt over myself. Winter was still fresh on the early-spring day.


“Trout Trifecta”

Standing there, with my fly rod and a vest so large it kept sliding off my shoulders, I could hear the clicking of his reel from what seemed like miles away. It was the only sound in the forest beside the low call of the morning doves. I found him knee deep in a rifle focused on his caddisfly imitation floating past those spots he always taught me to notice. The smoke from his pipe swirled like a nimbus around his head, and his eyes squinted and followed his fly down-current. His hand tightened on the cork of his rod, fingers wrapped around the orange line dangling near his thighs. Then, with the grace of a dancer, he pulled the line taught just as the water exploded. He turned to me like he knew I had been watching the entire time, and in his hands was one of the jewels of the mountain streams–a beautiful brook trout. As the water poured off the slick skin, the red and blue spots almost seemed painted on.


“Tarpon Flank”

Something clicked in my mind that day: I found my calm, my place of serenity, as the struggles of my 10-year-old reality faded in the morning fog. My dad chose that day to start teaching me the art of fly fishing. The world seemed a little different that day. I started noticing the small intricacies of nature. My work focuses on these intricacies, the blues hidden in the shadows of tree, the reds and blues of a old brown trout’s cheeks, and those jewels set along the sides of brook trout.

I would need that serenity again during the winter of 2015 when I came down with pneumonia for the 13th time, but this time it left my lungs ravaged–something I still struggle with today. During my recovery, I needed the calm of the river, that place of contemplation. The steroids made my hands shake and my mind run so fast that I couldn’t hold an idea or thought for very long. For Christmas that year, I had been given a travel set of watercolors, the medium my mom had taught me over 30 years earlier. It had been about a decade since I had painted last, as I had become a full fledged sculptor doing large-scale installations in alternative spaces, from storage containers to old steel blast furnaces.


“Green Highlander”

I started combining the passions my parents had shared with me. In no time, instead of sitting in a hospital bed, I found myself getting lost in the memories being under a tree, sketching with my mom and holding my first rainbow trout with my dad. Art became my escape, a time machine to an era where all problems were left on the banks. I painted my first piece of angling art that day, a simple featherwing fly, and I never stopped. My works echo that mixture of chaos and serenity that all fishermen understand–that tingle in the elbow as you wait for that strike, in anticipation of the dance.

This journey has lead me to not only reconnect with the fly fishing world, but also to the rivers and streams I fell in love with.


“Cutty”

To see more of Ryan’s art, visit his website, or check him out on Instagram and Facebook.

Angling Art: Gorgeous New Works by Galen Mercer


“Setting A Drop, Gaspé,” Oil on Canvas, 18″ X 24″, 2017
All paintings by Galen Mercer

Artist Galen Mercer lives along the Battenkill in West Arlington, Vermont. Canadian by birth, he’s the grandson of two painters and the son of another, so it’s kind of in his blood. Here are five of his . . .


“Setting A Drop, Gaspé,” Oil on Canvas, 18″ X 24″, 2017
All paintings by Galen Mercer

Artist Galen Mercer lives along the Battenkill in West Arlington, Vermont. Canadian by birth, he’s the grandson of two painters and the son of another, so it’s kind of in his blood. Here are five of his most recent works. He describes the project this way:

These works reflect several recent trips to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, and range in subject from landscape sketches, rivers, and scenes that recount specific fishing moments. Generally, they are of moderate size, though I’ll be working up a large scale version of one of the fishing scenes later this fall.

Of the painting above, he says,

To paraphrase the famous Scottish novelist John Buchan, “fishing is…a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” Nowhere is this more the case than when making a new drop on a salmon river. Everything that’s preceded the moment is forgotten, as a fresh chance wipes the slate clean. At the very end of the day, a pull or two before the “last drop,” this marvelous state is especially acute. There is great theater in the mountainsides, the last light being caught by some and blocked by others, and while anxiety about your chances rises, opportunity increases by the moment. This painting is an initial study for a planned larger canvas.


“First Light, Upsalquitch,” Oil on Canvas, 12″ X 22″, 2017
This painting depicts daybreak over the mountain ranges that define the beautiful Upsalquitch Valley. I left the river very early, in full dark, and was working my way back through various tortuous logging roads when I encountered this remarkable sight. The broad bands of recent night, gaining color by the second, were fascinating, as was the way first light caught and began to illuminate the ridges.

“Out on Soft Weather,” Oil on Canvas, 18″ X 24″, 2017
I have painted this canoe landing on the Restigouche before, but never in the silvery, atmospheric conditions that prevail during a fine misting rain. It’s a moment any salmon angler can relate to–heading out to fish on a windless, “soft” (as the Irish might say) morning that promises fine sport. What light there is tends to fall unpredictably, often in slender gaps miles away, changing mountain colors in surprising and lyrical ways.

“Morning Fog, Pine Island,” Oil on Canvas, 14″ X 22″, 2017
One of the classic and most beautifully sited camps on the Restigouche River. As I was fishing downstream, mist blanketing the mountains suddenly began to light up as the sun crested. I asked our guide if he wouldn’t mind running us upriver so that I might view this expansive, beautiful pool with the fog burning off. It was well worth the short, chilly trip.

“Summer Dusk, Baie des Chaleurs,” Oil on Panel, 14″ X 18″, 2017
This is the second painting I’ve done of this compelling expanse. It is the body of water that defines the Gaspé and as such is subject to many moods. This storm broke some moments before I arrived at the Grand Cascapedia and was in the process of being whisked out by a strong wind. Its rain brought in many salmon.

Andrew Thompson: Capturing the Essence of Wilderness

Written by: Andrew Thompson


“Salmon Fishing with Sanford Gifford”—Acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches
All Paintings by Andrew Thompson 

Editor’s note: Wildife artist Andrew Thompson believes that painting at its very best can express the very essence of the wilderness and provide a unique insight into the character and. . .

Written by: Andrew Thompson


“Salmon Fishing with Sanford Gifford”—Acrylic on paper, 11 x 14 inches
All Paintings by Andrew Thompson 

[Editor’s note: Wildife artist Andrew Thompson believes that painting at its very best can express the very essence of the wilderness and provide a unique insight into the character and personality of the animals. Most significantly, it is an opportunity to experience the fish or animal in a way that can be shared by both the artist and the viewer. Thompson received a BA in Studio Art from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and spent over a decade in the art world as a scholar and dealer specializing in late 19th and early 20th century American paintings. His has been exhibited in extensively in New York and the Adirondacks and are included in private collections throughout the country. He lives and work in Brooklyn and Hague, New York, a small town on Lake George in the Adirondacks, and he travels to the Wasatch Mountains and Tetons as much as possible.]

I grew up in Brooklyn,* and while I spent summers on Lake George, I didn’t really start fishing until after college. I started fishing very seriously with a friend and coworker on Lake George and throughout the Adirondacks, but we weren’t fly-fishing. After Hurricane Floyd rocked the area of northern Lake George where I had been living and working, I returned to Brooklyn. It was there that I got into a conversation with the bartender at my neighborhood watering hole about fly fishing.

So began my life as a fly fisherman: The bartender worked the Saturday night shift, and I would pick him up as the bar closed at 4:00 AM. We’d drive out of the city and be on the Beaverkill, Neversink, or one of the branches of the Delaware a couple hours later.


“Adirondack Brook Trout”—Acrylic on mahogany, 12 x 16 inches, painted maple frame

I soon started to fly fish in the Adirondacks, and I still spend most of my time on still water– chasing brookies, lakers, and landlocked salmon in wilderness ponds and lakes. I love paddling a pack boat or canoe and casting big streamers. (Not to mention the Adirondack technique of *cough* trolling a wobbler with a trailing fly *cough*.) In the spring and fall, Lake George can produce nice lake trout and salmon on the fly.

I go to Martha’s Vineyard every year and spend a few nights casting for stripers and mornings trying to hook up with a bonito or albies. I still remember my first albie. . . . I had no striping basket and my stripped-in line was in a floating tangle in front of me. The fish busted a foot in front of me, and before I even had a chance to gasp, the line was gone and I was deep into my backing. For sheer exhilaration, I can’t think of a more exciting fish to catch on the fly!


Thompson drifts a nymph on New York,s famed Beaverkill.
Photo Courtesy Andrew Thompson

I have three-year-old and five-month-old sons, so the last few years have featured far less fishing than I care to admit, but I still get to the Catskills, Martha’s Vineyard and fish near my house on Lake George. I like to cast for brookies in the brook that runs through my town, using a 3-weight rod that a friend made.

The nice thing about painting fish is that I can live vicariously through other fishermen and their more grand adventures. On a personal level, it is also away for me to experience a fish that I probably will not have the opportunity to fish for, such as the 6-foot Bluefin tuna I painted recently.

To see more of Andrew Thompson’s work, visit his website .

*For fly-fishing and sporting art aficionados, I went to the same high school as Ogden Pleissner. Something about downtown Brooklyn makes people want to go out to fish and paint.


“Cutthrout Fishing with Thomas Moran”—Acrylic on paper, 14 x 18 inches

“Fish of Lake George”—Acrylic on paper, 30 x 24 inches

“Lake Trout, Lake George”—Acrylic on paper, 8 x 10 inches, painted maple frame

“Cutthrout Trout”—Acrylic on paper, 11 x 8 inches

Angling Art: Capturing the Moment on Canvas


“Hooked Up” 16×20 Acrylic on canvas
Painting by Steve Cobb

A couple weeks ago, I used a great image (below) by my friend Sandy Hays to illustrate a post about how to get your nymphs to the bottom fast. Sandy shot the photo several years ago, . . .


“Hooked Up” 16×20 Acrylic on canvas
Painting by Steve Cobb

A couple weeks ago, I used a great image (below) by my friend Sandy Hays to illustrate a post about how to get your nymphs to the bottom fast. Sandy shot the photo several years ago, when he and I were fishing in the Spanish Pyrenees with guide Ivan Tarin of Salvelinus Adventures.


Sandy’s great image captured the moment when guide Ivan Tarin brought a brown trout to hand.
Photo by Sandy Hays

The afternoon when the post featuring Sandy’s image was published, I got a note from artist Steve Cobb asking if he could use the photo as a reference for a painting. I agreed, and he got to work. Over the weekend, he sent me the final painting, which is remarkable for the way it captures the essence of the moment. You may remember Steve from his awesome holiday flies, the Santa Claus and the Thanksgiving Turkey. He’s clearly a great painter, too.


Steve Cobb’s rendition of Sandy’s shot is remarkably true to life.

Steve Cobb lives and fishes in Upstate New York, on the northern edge of Adirondack Park. You can check out all his great art and holiday flies at QuietRaquette.com.

Screen Stars: Steve Harmston’s Prints of Trout and Salmon


“Trout Colors I,” serigraph on archival, recycled paper, 22″ X 10″
All works by Steve Harmston

When you hear the term “screen printing,” your mind probably goes right to those cool tee shirts you made in art class back in high school. But in the right hands, serigraphy—as the art . . .


“Trout Colors I,” serigraph on archival, recycled paper, 22″ X 10″
All works by Steve Harmston

When you hear the term “screen printing,” your mind probably goes right to those cool tee shirts you made in art class back in high school. But in the right hands, serigraphy—as the art form is more properly known—can be used to produce fine art. Arizona-based Steve Harmston loves the way he can capture the brilliance of nature through a series of simple, hand-cut shapes which overlay a vibrant palette of translucent and opaque colors.

Because no two “pulls” of ink during the process are exactly the same, the artworks created each have their own personalities. Harmston’s portraits of salmon and trout leap off the page, displaying a kind of otherworldliness that will be familiar to every fisherman who has held a trout in his hands. For more information and to see more works, visit his website, Harmston Arts. You can see his fish-specific images here, but don’t miss the other works in his gallery.


“Trout Colors II,” serigraph on archival, recycled paper, 22″ X 10″

“Trout Colors III,” serigraph on archival, recycled paper, 22″ X 10″

“Trout Colors IV,” serigraph on archival, recycled paper, 22″ X 10″

Classic Opinion: Is Fly Fishing an Art?


Izaak Walton
 

You often hear folks talking about the art of fly fishing, but do you really think that the sport rises to that level of importance? An English angler once argued the negative position, saying to. . .


Izaak Walton
 

You often hear folks talking about the art of fly fishing, but do you really think that the sport rises to that level of importance? An English angler once argued the negative position, saying to me, “It’s just poxy fishin’,” as we watched the opening ceremonies of the World Fly Fishing Championships in England. To get a better handle on this question, let’s see what one of the most famous fishermen in history has to say about it:

O, Sir, doubt not but that Angling is an art; is it not an art to deceive a Trout with an artificial Fly? a Trout! that is more sharp-sighted than any Hawk you have named, and more watchful and timorous than your high-mettled Merlin is bold? and yet, I doubt not to catch a brace or two to-morrow, for a friend’s breakfast: doubt not therefore, Sir, but that angling is an art, and an art worth your learning. The question is rather, whether you be capable of learning it? angling is somewhat like poetry, men are to be born so: I mean, with inclinations to it, though both may be heightened by discourse and practice: but he that hopes to be a good angler, must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit, but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience, and a love and propensity to the art itself; but having once got and practiced it, then doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant, that it will prove to be, like virtue, a reward to itself.

—Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)

Do you agree?

The “Biological Regionalism” of Artist/Guide Alberto Rey


Biological Regionalism: Arctic Char, Hrutafjardara River, Iceland
All paintings by Alberto Rey

Artist and fly-fishing guide Alberto Rey was born near the Gulf Stream that flows by Havana, Cuba, and he has lived near moving water ever since. After seeking political asylum, his family moved. . .


Biological Regionalism: Arctic Char, Hrutafjardara River, Iceland
All paintings by Alberto Rey

Artist and fly-fishing guide Alberto Rey was born near the Gulf Stream that flows by Havana, Cuba, and he has lived near moving water ever since.

After seeking political asylum, his family moved to Mexico City and then Miami, before settling down in a small coal-mining town in western Pennsylvania. It was there that Alberto started fishing at an early age. His fishing expeditions were rarely productive but the long hikes to the stream and the sense of discovering nature seemed to become almost as important as finding those elusive fish. Perhaps it was that sense of discovery that first lead Alberto to study Biology in college before he got seduced by art.


Biological Regionalism: Catskill Brown Trout

He did not pick up a rod for about a decade after he graduated, as he became obsessed with establishing his career. After he was offered his current position as an art professor in a small city near Lake Erie, he was able to pick up the fly rod again and begin to study the biology of the stream and the migration patterns of the steelhead that swam in the stream that flowed near campus. A couple years later, Alberto started a youth fly-fishing program to provide a productive activity for the inner city youth, and soon afterwards, he became an Orvis-endorsed guide.


Biological Regionalism: Catskill Brown Trout

It became clear that exposing youth to their natural environment and creating activities where they participate in protecting their local waters, can make a significant, positive impact on their role in society. Alberto soon also used his artwork to expose the public to their local unprotected natural assets that needed their attention. He started creating small paintings of the native fish species and the landscape where they were caught. The work slowly got more ambitious and now his exhibitions included large, ten-foot paintings, videos, water data, large scale maps and informational plaques about the history of the stream and the communities that settled next to it.


Biological Regionalism: Cutthroat Trout, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

The work is now in twenty museum collections in the United States and Europe. This month, Alberto is traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he has been invited to create an exhibition documenting the very sacred but extremely polluted Bagmati River that flows through the city. As part of the research, he will also be fly-fishing for snow trout in the only clean parts of the stream high in the Himalayas.


Biological Regionalism: Bull Trout, Bitterroot River, Montana

As a way of sharing the impact that fly fishing can make in our communities, Alberto and friends will holding our fourth annual Children in the Stream Conference. The conference is the only one of its kind in the country where they spend four days discussing the nuts and bolts of starting a youth fly-fishing program and discussing how to into integrate fly fishing into the science, art, literature and social studies curricula in schools.


Biological Regionalism: Catskill Brown Trout

Alberto’s studio and home are now located on the banks of that steelhead stream that he fell in live with twenty-five years ago. This is where he and his wife have raised a family and where he continues to guide, teach, create art, and run an eighteen-year-old youth fly fishing program.


Alberto’s installation at Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State
Photo courtesy Alberto Rey

Click here for more of Alberto Rey’s artworks.

Artist Gavin Erwin Puts His Passion to Work


Erwin works in multiple media, from acrylics and pastels to metal.
All artwork by Gavin Erwin

Gavin Ross Erwin says that he was “born with a fishing rod in one hand and a pencil in the other.” A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Erwin was exposed to the outdoors from an early. . .


Erwin works in multiple media, from acrylics and pastels to metal.
All artwork by Gavin Erwin

Gavin Ross Erwin says that he was “born with a fishing rod in one hand and a pencil in the other.” A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Erwin was exposed to the outdoors from an early age, spending many weekends and holidays camping with his family. “I became obsessed with fish and fishing as soon as I could hold a rod,” he remembers. “I started tying my own flies when I was about six years old, using hair I cut from our pet dog, who wasn’t very happy with her numerous bald patches.”


“Modified Baby Rainbow”

As a young adult, Erwin decided that, rather than entering the traditional working world, he would try to forge a career out of his two favorite hobbies—fishing and art. During the past decade years, the 30-year-old has worked hard to improve his painting skills and is now well established as a professional artist. Based on the images of game fish on his website, he manages to get out on the water fairly often, as well, as he features everything from trout to tigerfish to yellowfin tuna. To see more of Erwin’s work, visit his website or check out the works at Lonehill Art Gallery.


Capturing life in the water is a key goal of Erwin’s art.

The Gorgeous Fly-Fishing Art of Bob White


“One Last Look – Rainbow Trout”
Oil on board by Bob White

Editor’s note: I’ve been friends with Minnesota-based artist Bob White since we first met at a benefit fly-fishing event for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in 2007, but I’ve been a fan of his artwork for. . .


“One Last Look – Rainbow Trout”
Oil on board by Bob White

Editor’s note: I’ve been friends with Minnesota-based artist Bob White since we first met at a benefit fly-fishing event for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in 2007, but I’ve been a fan of his artwork for much longer than that. For instance, he did the wonderful illustrations for Tom Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide. He’s more than just an artist, though: he’s a real-deal sportsman and angler. Bob guided fly fishers in Alaska and Argentina for many years, and he continues to lead groups of anglers to far-flung destinations. That’s why he’s also been an Orvis News Trout Bum of the Week.

Bob posted a beautiful Dolly Varden painting—which you’ll see below—on his Facebook page, so I asked him if he would allow us to post a few examples of his work along with his thoughts about what goes into these paintings and drawings. Luckily for us, he agreed. He wrote the following brief introduction and then notes on each piece of artwork:

I love to paint fish.

Each and every one of them is a jewel to behold; an abstraction of color, pattern, form, and wet, reflective surface. They require understanding, passion, and respect to properly capture—both literally and figuratively. When we hold a fish, we take it from a wet other-world, as foreign to us as space, and bring them into ours for the briefest of times. There is a wondrously strange moment when we hold a fish to admire, and perhaps capture some of its magic before its release. Perhaps this is why it is important for me to include the human presence in my paintings of fish, as a way of reminding myself and the viewer that we are somehow more complete for having shared in their life.

My first series of fish was titled “One Last Look” and depicted the moment, before their release, when they were lovingly held and admired with one last look. These fish tended to be Homeric in their size and proportions, magnificent trophies that every fly fisherman dreams of holding. I wanted the viewer to measure the weight of the fish in their hands.


“One Last Look – Dolly Varden”
Watercolor on archival paper by Bob White

Recognizing that the size of a fish has little or nothing to do with its beauty, I began the “Small Fry” series. I wanted the viewer to feel the depth of the magic in their grasp.


“Small Fry – Largemouth Bass”
Oil on board by Bob White

Lately, I’ve been working on a series of fish that I call “Dark Water.” It’s my intent that the viewer wonder about the mystery of the fish they hold.


“Dark Water- Trevally”
Oil on board by Bob White

“Dark Water – Rainbow Trout”
Oil on board by Bob White

The form and reflective surface of fish also lends them to be rendered very effectively in pencil. I don’t think there is anything as elegant in its simplicity as a pencil drawing of a fish.


“Touched – Atlantic Salmon”
Pencil drawing by Bob White

You can see lots more of Bob’s art, including great renderings of dogs and wingshooting, at the Bob White Studio website.