Spin fishing is fishing, but fly fishing, now that’s art. Watch a fly angler throw out a perfectly placed cast to a rising trout, mending their line just upstream with a deft flick of the wrist and you’ll see poetry in motion. A cast with a spinning rod? That’s a cast.
When so many anglers have compared fly fishing to art, it’s no wonder that actual fly fishing artists have always been such a large part of the sport. With the latest social media trends, fly fishing art is everywhere, with the most amazing artists rising to the top of the social feeds. Andrea Larko is known far and wide in the fly fishing world for cranking out beautiful, limited edition prints or drawing crazy designs on everything from hats to stickers that look so good you almost don’t want to use them. Almost.
The Life Of A Fly Fishing Artist
I read in a novel some time long ago that the first step to becoming an artist is to call yourself an artist. If you’re looking to make the switch from desk jockey to slinger of ink and paint (or whatever your medium may be), just remember that it takes a lot of hard work on top of all that passion to make your dreams a reality. Larko has been fly fishing since just after college when her boyfriend bought her first fly rod and reel. “I never looked back after that,” said Larko. “He started fly fishing with me and we began tying our own flies.” When he started building his own fly rods, Larko started creating her own fly fishing art. “He’s now an Epic Pro Rod Builder at Snowman Custom Rod Works,” she said. “Crazy how these things work out!”
It was tying flies that made Larko catch the bug to create fish art, but more specifically her tying studio. “The walls were pretty bare so I did a few oil paintings of brown, brook and rainbow trout to hang over my table,” she said. “I posted photos of the paintings on social media and people started to ask for more fish art.” While Larko loves creating oil paintings, it may be her zentangle fish designs that gave her the most fame in the sport. “I started the zentangle fish designs as a happy accident,” she said. “I’ve always drawn repetitive patterns and designs since I was a kid. In school they were in the margins of my notebooks, on my clothing or even my skin.” (Too much Sharpie on your skin will make you sick, Larko warns).
“In my sketchbooks I’d draw fish outlines with my doodles in them to clear my head,” said Larko. When one of them was good enough to share online, the art started to take a life of its own, gaining popularity all over the internet. From there Larko started taking on commissions along with two other part-time jobs, but one day the art was getting too big a job to be just the side gig. “My commissions had lined up over a year in advance and I just couldn’t keep up with the work,” said Larko. “I decided to follow my dreams to become an artist. I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and owe it all to those who support my work.”
Not Just Doodling
As much as you’d expect the days of a fly fishing artist to be spent elbows deep in colorful pens and paints and photos of fish for inspiration, the reality is much more about numbers and computer screens. “Typically my day starts with checking my social media feeds, responding to emails and packing orders from my Etsy site while my English bulldog, Sophia, does her morning routine of asking to go out every five minutes,” said Larko. “Sometimes that’s my entire day, doing paperwork, marketing, writing contracts and lining up new work.”
After doing other business-related tasks like doing inventory once a week or reordering any packing materials, Larko might finally be able to get back to her art. “If I’m lucky I get to draw, but preparing for that takes time as well,” said Larko. “I usually do a lot of research on what I’m drawing since a lot of the fish I draw I have yet to catch. I want to make sure the outline is spot on, the fins are in the right spots and the proportions are correct.”
Creating her art is Larko’s reward for completing all of the hard work on the business side. “Once I start a piece it’s very difficult for me to put it down,” she said. “If I start something I don’t want to put it down until the ideas in my head are put onto paper, so sometimes I’ll be up until 5, 6, or 7am to make sure it’s how I want it to look before I go to bed…when the sun is coming up.”
Even when she’s sketching though, Larko still has to be in marketing mode. In today’s market it’s not enough to create beautiful and unique art, you have to also know how to market yourself across multiple platforms. “When I start sketching on my iPad I’ll post a time lapse or work in progress photos online,” she said. Larko then creates a final original in pen and ink, will spend another few days cleaning up the artwork, creating a vector of the image on the computer and then she colors it in. “If I’m making decals or prints of the piece I’ll prepare those files and spend a day making prints and matting them,” she said. “I’d say about 85%-90% of my time is spent not creating art, but it lets me appreciate so much more when I get to sit down and draw or paint something.”
Once a piece is done the work still continues. Larko’s limited edition prints are acid free and 100+ year prints, which means they’re all handled with white gloves only. “I then photograph and list them on my Etsy site,” she said. Any pieces that are going to be turned into a decal is dropped off at the local print shop. “I try and support local business as much as I can and the local shop prints my decals on the highest quality vinyl and laminates them so they’re waterproof,” she said. “They also have UV ink so they don’t fade in the sun.”
First Step To Get The Job: Take It All In
Fly fishing art has to not only represent the fish that anglers love to chase, but also reflect the emotions we all feel every time we get out there. “I draw my inspiration from being on the water,” said Larko. “When I get to go fishing I try hang on to that feeling of relaxation of being outdoors and at the same time that frustration when I get my line caught in a tree or the excitement from having a fish on. I pull my artwork from those feelings of fly fishing and the rush it gives me.”
With all of those business tasks that pile up, a waiting list for new work that keeps getting longer and deadlines to meet, Larko still has to get on the water to keep the ideas flowing. Any job that you need to get on the water for is a good one, even if it cuts into your fishing time. “I probably get on the water 3-5 days a week, but most of the time it’s at the end of a long day when I just want to get out for the last 20 minutes of light for the evening hatches and get out of the house to just relax,” said Larko. At least once a week she tries to put in some serious fishing time and take a few hours to herself. “I try to take in the scenery and maybe take photos for new pieces of art I plan to create in the future, she said.
No matter how much work it takes to make it as a full time fly fishing artist, there may be no better career for an angler that loves to create art as much as they love to fish. “I get to do what I love; everyday,” said Larko. “I couldn’t have ever imagined I’d be so fortunate. If you’re reading this I owe you thanks for helping me get there.” Larko says the real best part of her job, is all of the support from people all over the industry and the world. “I couldn’t do it without the support of each person who has purchased one of my decals, hats, a print, or buying a Simms shirt, Abel Reel or Tempress setup on a Yeti with my designs on it,” she said.
For the talented artists that are obsessed with fishing as much as they are art, Larko says the time to go for it is right now. “Just be prepared to work 14-16 hour days to make your dreams a reality,” she said. Also be prepared to be your own marketing and advertising team, accountant, web designer and printer. “If you’re like me you’ll be doing all that yourself, and it’s a lot of work,” she said. “You have to motivate yourself every day to get it all taken care of, but as time goes by you’ll get a routine down. If you want to be a full time artist you really have to want it bad. It’s not easy but to follow your dreams is more than worth it to me.”
This is part four of a series on the best jobs in fly fishing. Stay tuned for a full look into A Day In The Life Of A Postfly Employee and find out if you have what it takes, coming out Friday, July, 22 on the Postfly Blog.