I've always had a passion for fishing. When I was a kid my family spent every Sunday on Wappapello Reservoir, the nearest big lake, bass fishing. And there was a river within a mile of my house growing up, and I spent the majority of my summer days riding my bike to the river to fish, often by myself. Although I twice had my bike stolen when I parked it under a busy bridge, my parents never worried about me, and indeed it was a different place and time back in the 1960s, a time when, living in a small town, you simply didn't worry about your kids getting abducted or harmed by crazies.
While I enjoyed fishing the big lake, I enjoyed smallmouth bass fishing in the local river even more. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with rivers. I even made it a lifetime goal to fish a river in every state; I haven't reached the goal yet but I've fished rivers in more than 30 states so far. Whenever I would plan a reference gathering trip, I always checked to see which rivers were nearby and possible to fish. In fact, a lot of times I planned the reference trip around the opportunity to fish a certain river. In the years when I painted wildlife exclusively, streams often furnished the settings for the critters I painted.
So it was probably inevitable that I began to paint fly fishing scenes, based upon the many rivers I had fished. From the first, the fishing paintings were a success. I guess the genesis of my fly fishing art came about because I became friends with Tom Manion, one of the best fly fishermen I know. I had just met him through another friend when he called me one day and said he was planning a trip to Montana and wondered if I would like to go along. I'd been to Yellowstone Park and Glacier Park a few times, but hadn't otherwise spent much time in Montana. He had booked a week at a resort on the Yellowstone River, and it sounded good to me, even though I'd done little fly fishing and knew very little about fly fishing for trout.
That was nearly 20 years ago, and Tom and I, along with a varied cast of friends, have fished the Livingston area at least once a year ever since. The streams we've fished are fabled among trout anglers; the Yellowstone, the Bighorn, the Boulder, the Stillwater, the Madison, the Big Hole, Slough Creek, DePuys Spring Creek. Our guide from that first trip, Tom Coleman of Livingston, became a lifelong friend as well, and the three of us became fishing buddies, not guide and clients.
Mary was content to let it be a guy thing for many years, but she fell in love with Yellowstone Park and the Livingston area as well, so a few years ago we decided to purchase a cabin in Paradise Valley, the beautiful valley through which the Yellowstone flows between Yellowstone Park and Livingston, with the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains on one side and the Gallatin Range on the other. So that part of Montana has become our second home, and my fishing time is split between my beloved smallmouth bass rivers in the Ozarks and the wonderful trout streams of Montana.
My fishing paintings are always of real places where I've fished, so it's no surprise that those Montana streams are a common setting. And the setting is the real subject. I really consider the paintings as landscapes, with a fisherman present but not really prominent in the landscape. Although it's usually hard to tear myself away from the fishing long enough to get out the camera and sketchbook, Tom Manion and Tom Coleman have given me many great fishing poses as I've watched them seek those trout. I've also used myself as a model many times. One of the greatest boons to the realist artist that has come along in the last couple of decades is the digital camera, because if I need a good fishing pose, I simply put on my fishing gear when the light is right, go out in the yard or on the pond next to the house, get into the pose I want, and let Mary snap a few photos. Once the best you could do would be to take the film to a one hour developing business, the nearest of which was nearly 20 miles away from our house, if you needed the photos as soon as possible. Now, I simply go back in the house and download them onto the computer.
So the fishing paintings are pretty straightforward. Real places and real people furnish the reference material, and it is then a matter of composition. I'm not wedded to depicting those real places exactly--I move elements around and change perspectives to enhance the composition--but I think that the places are still very recognizable.
My love affair with rivers has thus been translated to a love of painting them.