Artist, fly angler and fly tyer Andrea Larko hails from Pennsylvania. She completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York as has put her education to good use creating stunning artwork. Her pieces have grabbed the attention of anglers and fly fishing business owners alike, giving her work widespread exposure to the fly fishing world. Andrea has work with industry heavyweights like Abel reels, Able Women, Simms, Vedavoo and Mountain View Sports. She has also placed her signature on many logos and artworks commissioned by magazines, fly shops, online publications and even body art.
Andrea Larko Vital Links
Daily Fly Tyer (DFT)
Andrea Larko (AL)
DFT: Thanks for sharing a bit of your time to chat with us. I know that is has been a busy year for you and that your artwork has been generating a lot of buzz. Take us back to your early years and your experience with fishing.
AL: As far as the artwork goes for me in the fly fishing industry, it is still the early years. I quit my day jobs last October so I’ve been creating fishing art full time for about a year and a half. I still can’t believe I took that leap but I figured I had to at least try. If I didn’t I’d be kicking myself right now. My early years in fishing started when I was a little kid. I have three sisters and my parents would always take us fishing together. We still fish together as well. I’m actually going to Alaska with my father and two of my sisters this August, which will be my first trip there and I’m so excited! I remember learning how to fish when I was 3 or 4 years old. I was attempting to cast when I got overzealous seeing the bluegill in front of me and ended up letting go of my rod when I came forward to cast. Whoops! My father went in after it though and I managed to catch that sneaky bluegill! My father showed me how to hold it so the fins don’t hurt the palm of your hand. It was so pretty and I was so excited. I guess you could say from then on out I was “hooked”. Yes, bad pun, I know, but I’m full of them. haha
DFT: When did the drawing bug strike?
AL: I started drawing when I was a kid, like any other child. Then through Junior High and High School I found myself doodling on everything I owned like any other artsy student. Creating flip book animations in my vocabulary workbooks to drawing on my clothing and myself, I just found it very relaxing and I never really stopped. My art teacher in Senior High, Mr. Stiles, really gave me the attention I was seeking in art and I took as many classes as I could. I loved that art room and spent as much time learning not just about drawing and painting but liked to play in ceramics and casting molds for making my own jewelry. When I went to college it was the same. I started with a major in graphic design but didn’t get to create as much as I wanted and thought to myself, “I’m not sure I want to do this for the rest of my life”. My advisor suggested I become an illustrator, so I began taking illustration courses and concentrating on my drawing but my focus still steered of course when I found out how much fun it was to blow glass and take some more pottery classes and printmaking as well. But I still decided I wanted to draw and paint. I enjoyed the other mediums but felt like I couldn’t spend as much time on them as I could drawing to create a future for myself. Even then, I also took the rest of the graphic design courses since I was fully aware of the job market for illustrators, which was a good idea and helped when I graduated as my artwork took a back seat to a day job.
DFT: When did you first mix your passion for art and your love of fishing?
AL: It was about 7 years ago when I began fly fishing and suddenly had a fly tying studio in a spare bedroom. I decided to paint some fish for the walls in my studio and it began there. I had done some watercolors of me and my sisters fishing while I was in college and I’ve painted some koi fish in the past, but as far as angling artwork and what began my career as an angling artist, that tryptic of trout began it all.
DFT: What artists or style of art do you find your inspiration in? Who is your favorite fly fishing artist?
AL:I don’t look towards other artists for inspiration in my zentangle pieces. I’ve always doodled like that and wasn’t even aware that doodling had since been called zentangle until someone who followed my work told me about it. I just like to doodle 🙂 I do love the art nouveau period and street art but I don’t see either of it in my work. Maybe someone else might though. Who is my favorite fly fishing artist? Oh boy, you’re trying to get me into trouble here aren’t you? haha! I can’t rightfully say because it is a very long list, and I feel like if I start that list and forget someone I’d really feel bad about it. I think there are so many talented fly fishing artists in the industry right now and I know a lot of them and have met some of them personally. They all have such wonderful stories and it’s great to hear what brought them into fishing and how they fit into the realm. I’m just honored to be a part of that group.
DFT: How do you go about choosing your projects? What makes an interesting subject for you to take on?
AL: I don’t exactly chose my projects anymore. Since the first “doodle” brook trout I’ve created in the zentangle style, it has all been commission work for me. The clients I’m working with usually chose what they’d like to have created and I try my best to make that vision happen for them. I have created a few as gifts for family and friends where I’ve chosen the project and they’ve been fish me or my friends caught and I wanted to immortalize. Most of the pieces I’ve started for myself are sitting incomplete in a drawer because work for clients comes first. I’ll get back to them eventually, just takes time. I feel as though working with fish makes it interesting in and of itself. It’s wonderful to draw fish I’ve never seen in person and from all reaches of the world. It also makes me want to travel more to fish for some of those species. I do a lot of research on the fish before I begin, especially if it’s a fish I’ve never caught. I don’t want to miss a fin somewhere or make a head too large or small or fork a tail that’s not supposed to be forked. Since the insides of the zentangle fish are very abstract, the only identification is how I can closely replicate the body, fins and head of the fish. I try and make those as close to correct as I possibly can.
DFT: What is the first artwork that you ever sold?
AL: I honestly can’t remember. I know I didn’t ever want to sell my artwork. I didn’t want to even post it online. It was, and still is, very personal to me. Originals are still very difficult for me to part with, which is why you don’t see many for sale. I have kept most of them in a drawer behind my desk in my studio and the paintings hang around the house or are in stacks in the garage. I have piles of originals I just can’t separate myself from yet. But I’m sure I’ll get there at some point.
DFT: Tell us about what sparked your decision to leave your job to pursue your artwork full time.
AL: I loved my day jobs and honestly didn’t think I’d leave them. I was very lucky to be one of the people who liked what they did for a living and even more so I enjoyed the people I worked with. It was difficult to make the decision, but once commissions started backing up over a year and a half I knew I had to chose one job or the other. Although I liked my day jobs, I love creating artwork more. When I felt like I had enough work lined up to last me a while and pay the bills in case it fell through and I’d have to find another job, I decided to take that leap and put in my notice. I still keep in touch with some of the people I used to work with and it’s nice to know I didn’t leave on bad terms. My co workers kept telling me that I wouldn’t be working there for much longer, but I didn’t believe them. I guess they saw more in me and my art than I did. But I guess that’s the way most artists are. I’m a perfectionist and it’s difficult for me to stop on a piece and move on to the next. I’m still always learning from each piece and try to make the next one better than the last. I’ll never stop.
DFT: What is something people don’t understand about you?
AL: There are a lot of things people don’t understand about me. Well, there are also a lot of things I don’t even understand about myself… but I’d have to say that most people don’t understand how long it takes to create a piece of artwork. I also don’t think they understand why some of my work is priced higher than they’d like or think it should be and that also coincides with rights for using artwork. I have put a lot on the line to be where I am today and I’m still making sacrifices to pursue this dream of mine. I work 12-16 hour days at least 6 days a week and have been since I made the decision to become a full time artist. When I get to go fishing now it’s usually only for an hour, at best, before dark when I feel like I’ve accomplished enough for the day and need to get away, even if it’s only 5 minutes from my house. I don’t expect anyone to understand this though from my point of view, because I’m the only one who sees it. I think it’s amusing how a lot of people say “It must be nice to own your own business, you can make your own hours”. And yes that’s true. I can make my own hours, but I don’t get paid to do my marketing, or advertising, quite the opposite. I also don’t get paid to reply to emails, answer phone calls, write contracts, do research on fish before I draw them, put together my taxes or invoices… There is a long list of what goes into a business I believe most people don’t understand unless they’ve owned a business themselves. The majority of what goes into my business doesn’t pay, so my days are very long since I’d say maybe 10-15% of what I do on a daily basis is actually work that I’ll get paid for, which is why I opened my Etsy shop and sell prints, decals and hats to help out that other 85%-90% when I have to do the work that doesn’t pay, but is just standard upkeep to running a business alone.
DFT: You have a big presence on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. How has social media shaped the way you present your work?
AL: Social media has given me a way to show the world what I do on a daily basis, whether I got to make it fishing that day or if I’m working on a piece I can show some progress on it, or time lapse videos of drawing. It’s a lot of fun. It has however taken over anything personal which I used to post more of, but that isn’t always a bad thing. My close friends know what’s going on in my life, so I really feel no need to plaster facebook or instagram with updates on what I’m eating or selfies in a bathing suit… although I still think my dog is the cutest and I’ll post photos of her on there and if I’m tying some new flies for myself sometimes I’ll share those as well.
DFT: You’ve been involved on a few projects with some major players in the fly fishing industry like Able and Simms. What is it like for an artist to work with these companies and to be able to get your art out to the masses?
AL: I still don’t think it really has hit me yet. It’s a bit out of my spectrum of reality. I just like to draw weird fish, haha! It’s such an honor and I can’t explain how thankful I am to be working with some of the largest and most reputable names in the industry. I’m flabbergasted.
DFT: Explain the Zentangle style.
AL: Zentangle is basically a meditative drawing style of creating repetitive patterns and designs. It’s very calming and helps to clear my mind. It’s pretty open ended. I call it doodling, it’s still just doodling in my mind.
DFT: The Zentangle style is quite stunning. Any chance of seeing an adult fisherman coloring book featuring your line work?
AL: I’ve been asked about coloring books since I was in college, since I used to love to doodle funny creatures in Sharpie and Xerox them for my employees to color at work. Since I stared the zentangle fish I’ve been asked about making adult coloring books and now I’m asked about it almost daily. All I can say is, I’ll get there. I feel like I have a lot I need to do before that becomes a priority and I know it will take me a long time to put together, so I’ll make it happen, but no set date yet on when it will come to fruition.
DFT: I have a passion for the old streamers of Lew Oatman, Carrie Stevens, Bert Quimby and such. I would love to see what kind of treatment you would give a fly like the Grey Ghost. Have you done illustrations based on flies?
AL: I love old fly patterns as well and especially the beauty of Classic Atlantic Salmon Flies. I have created a few fly designs so far but am looking forward to making some more.
DFT: I think your work would make an incredible tattoo. Have you ever had anyone request you to illustrate something to be inked?
AL: I get asked about tattoos multiple times a day. I have done at least 50 tattoo designs for anglers and they’re a lot of fun. I do ask if someone would like a tattoo of a design I’ve already created for a fee of $75-150 depending on the design and new tattoo designs are $50/hr. I don’t think it’s fair for the first person who wanted it to be their tattoo to have paid for it and everyone else gets to use it for free. I love seeing my work as tattoos but the majority of people believe any work online is theirs for the taking at no cost and have no regard or respect for the artist. I have an issue with this, as being an artist is my job, I wouldn’t ask them to work for free so I ask for the same courtesy. My images posted online are low res and watermarked Copyright for a reason, because they’re all copyright to me and the client who commissioned it and that includes use for a personal tattoo design.
DFT: So what is the next project for you to take on?
AL: My next project will be a tattoo design for a contest winner from Vagabond Fly. It will be a zentangle brook trout and I LOVE brookies, so I’m very excited to create it!
DFT: Hopefully with the busy schedule and demands on your time, you still find moments to go fishing. What is an ideal day of fishing for you look like?
AL: I usually don’t have much time to go fishing on day trips, but when I do it may be for an hour at the most, but even 20 minutes of the evening hatch is enough to decompress for me. I live close to a lot of wonderful trout streams so at most I’m 5 minutes from the water, which is extremely convenient if I’m feeling stressed out I can spontaneously decide to just pack up my waders, usually drying on the porch from the day or so before, and head out for a bit. An ideal day of fishing would be a secluded stream with water high and cool enough for a fun fight from a wild trout. I just started learning more about nymphing but I still love to see trout take a dry off the surface. It just seems to make it so much more exciting. I’m still waiting on some of the more prominent hatches in my area to take over for the dries but I’ve landed a few on them so far this year. I can’t ask for more than that. 🙂
DFT: What is your most memorable fish? Has it made it’s way into your art?
AL: That’s a hard question! I’ve had so many memorable fish in my net over the years but I think the most exciting was probably the first bonefish I landed on the flats in Belize. Let me first mention that it was very difficult for me to change my mindset and automatic response to trout set on a tight line, and I lost more than I’d like to admit to that mistake before I finally had one hooked. I definitely wasn’t ready for what happened next. That small bonefish took off like death was chasing him down and all I could do was hold that rod tip up and tighten the drag up a bit until I felt like I could start to turn him around, of course by that time I felt like he was already to Cuba, but I began to get the hang of it after that. I did land that fish and it was definitely a memorable experience. I’m even more lucky that Two Fisted Heart Productions with Abel Women was filming the entire escapade and the look on my face once I held that small fish in my hands, I just couldn’t believe something that size had so much power and speed. More entertaining was the ear to ear grin on my face I had plastered there the rest of the day. I began making a painting of that fish when I returned from Belize but it hasn’t come to completion yet, as I paint outside and the weather began to change quickly on me and then winter set it… so hopefully soon I’ll be able to get back to finishing that painting.
DFT: Do you attend any of the fly fishing shows as a vendor? What shows could we expect to see you at?
AL: I do attend quite a bit of shows, some as a vendor and others just to walk around and meet new people. I’ll be attending the Reflections on the Water show at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, and my next show after that will be the Demo Days at Elk Springs Resort in West Virginia on May 21st.
DFT: What piece has gotten you the most attention? Which is your favorite?
AL: Surprisingly the pieces of mine which sell the best aren’t always the zentangle style but the colorful mayfly designs, my watercolor trout designs and marker pieces. So I’m planning on creating more of those in the future. My favorite piece is a recent design I created of a brown trout surrounded by the flowers which coincide with the hatches of the season. Mainly because it helps me remember which flies I should be fishing when I’m on the water if I’m not seeing many bugs rising or under the rocks I turn over in the riffles. It has saved me more than few times on the stream when helping me decide on which fly to tie on.
DFT: What is your flyfishing art-world pet peeve?
AL: Of course everyone has gripes with their job at times but I’d really rather not discuss those trite peeves. I try to put things into perspective and really they’re not worth mentioning or dwelling on. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be living out my dreams as a full time artist and try to walk over those bumps in the road when they arise instead of letting myself trip on them along the way.
DFT: I’d like to end off with a fast five questions.
Favorite rod & reel? My favorite rod is an Epic 590C built by Snowman Custom Rod Works paired with an Abel Super 5N Reel. It has become my all around everyday trout rod. Incredibly versatile and super fun to play with. Casts like a dream for me, and that’s saying a lot because I’m not all that great at casting but that rod seems to cast itself and the reel handles all the work with the fish I catch and looks beautiful doing it! So it suits me wonderfully.
What band / album needs be on my playlist? I’d have to say Muse and the album The Resistance, Silversun Pickups, the Carnavas Album, also anything Smashing Pumpkins. I just went back to college and bought Me Without You A to B Life Album on iTunes, the new Third Eye Blind Album and you can never go wrong with Jimmy Eat World. 🙂 I love music, so it’s difficult to pick just one. … oh yeah…. add Bon Iver, Jeff Buckley, Incubus, Deftones, Chevelle, Alkaline Trio, Tool, Thrice and The Weakerthans to that list. hehe!
What is the last fly you tied? I just tied a pheasant tail soft hackle variant about an hour ago. They’ve been doing very well for me this year and I just can’t have enough of them. Apparently in addition to catching trout, they also catch tree branches incredibly well!
What book should be in every fly angler’s library? Pick a George Daniel book or Joe Humphreys book and hold on tight! Also for fly tying grab the Fly Tier’s Benchside Reference. Great book for fly tying, no doubt.
What was the last fish you caught? The second to last fish I caught was a beautiful 16” brown trout… but you had to ask the last one I caught, and that was a 6” baby sucker. Guess I know my fly is getting to the bottom though. Also better than sticks or leaves. I catch a lot of those now that I’ve began nymphing better as well. Sometimes they put up quite the fight 😉
DFT: Thanks so much. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you and having a chance to share some of your artwork. I’ve now got several of your stickers placed in my tying room, and am looking forward to following your work. We wish you all the best.
AL: Thank YOU! That was a really fun interview.