Derek’s Art

“My work has veered off from the traditional fish illustration style. I place more importance on using a unique style and palette rather than painting a fish to look photo realistic. The reason I’ve chosen fish as the subject of my life’s work is I find fish to be intriguing, not just as a fisherman, but as an artist. When painting fish, I try to capture all the intricacies they possess; their scales, patterns, dimension and texture. When chest deep in a river, I’m not just chasing fish, I’m searching for a magical experience or vision that will inspire me, and raise my paintings to a higher level. For me, the most inspirational vision comes once I’ve landed a particularly beautiful fish. I hold it up, tilting the fish back and forth in the sunlight, allowing all the subtle colors and patterns to come alive. After setting the fish back into the water and releasing it into the depths, the only thing on my mind is getting back to my studio to bring that fish back to to life on my canvas.”

“I used to think that Derek was an extremely talented artist. Then we went fishing. Now I’m not sure whether he’s an angler with a brush or an artist with a fly rod. Either way, there are not many people in the world able to combine the two geniuses as well as he does. Even my non-fishing friends (there are a few) are captivated by his work….” Read Jim’s story & more

Q: What was your goal once you realized that your art really appealed to the fly fishing audience?

A: “When I first got into the fly fishing world, my goal was to bring something new to the table. I have no illusions that I am the best painter out there, but I think I am one of the more creative artists. I want to bring you something fresh and new every time.

That was a challenge in the beginning of my career, because fresh and new is not always welcome. I had people tell me to take a hike and that I will never be embraced by the fly fishing world. This caused me to work harder. Now, bright and fresh is the norm in the fly fishing industry. I am proud to have been part of that movement.”


Q: How is your artwork evolving from where you started out?

A: “With my fish art, I try to find a whole new angle to it. Any artist that isn’t looking at new challenges and how to broaden their skill set isn’t growing. The goal here for me is to be an old man who has experienced many interesting things in life through his passion for painting. These new challenges don’t always translate into what I might sell more of per se. But to develop my own style in painting fish and riverscapes is important. It is so inspiring to me….chasing trout in some of the northern Rockies most beautiful rivers and lakes, I often set the rod down, and consider the scene in front of me, not in how to best fish it, but how to best paint it.”


Q: What makes you want to paint fish?

A:”I am always seeking out the beauty in life and in the world, searching for that magical experience or vision that will inspire me to paint at a higher level. The act of pursuing trout and steelhead with a fly rod contains so many of these magical moments.”


Q: When did you first discover your talent
for painting and other art?

A: “I remember as a young child, how exciting drawing was for me. I was the youngest child in a family of three boys, and art quickly became what I was known for. In the 5th grade I entered a youth wild life art competition, with a painting of a large mouth bass with a frog hanging out of his mouth. I was awarded second place, and the man who announced the winners offered to buy my painting right there on stage. I was hooked!

I’ve been painting fish ever since, and though I wasn’t even sure if the job existed, it was then that I decided that I wanted to be a fish artist when I grew up.”


Q: What early experiences in your life helped steer you in the direction of becoming a professional artist? 

A: “Throughout my childhood, I was known as an artist. My family and friends always wanted to see my latest drawings. God bless them, they gave me a lot of encouragement. By age six I was telling everyone I was going to someday be a famous artist.”


Q: Did growing up where you did influence your interest in art?

A: “I was raised on the shores of a small bayou off the Grand River, in west Michigan. We fished constantly. Being a good fisherman in our family was pretty important. So when I got my sketch pads out, I couldn’t help but draw the fish that I imagined were living deep under the thick mats of weeds out in front of our house.”


Q: What would you regard as your best received works?

A: “I think over all my most successful series is my “Fish Face” series. It was my first painting series that really put my art on the map, and it continues to be quite popular. These days I’m doing a lot more underwater scenes, which I really enjoy. Regardless of how I portray fish, I like bringing a new spin to things.”


Q: Do you prefer oil or acrylics or watercolor?

A: “When I was 6 years old, I talked my dad into letting me do a painting with his old artist oils I found in an old tackle box behind the furnace. We set up in the basement one evening and to get the paint out of the tubes we had to cut the bottoms with scissors, because the caps were dried on over the last 15 years of disuse. The subject of my painting was a sunset over Lake Michigan with a seagull in the sky, and it was the first many oil paintings I’ve done since.

I chose to use oil paint, because it was the most popular choice of the masters, and I figure why fix it if it ain’t broken. I love how rich oil colors are, and how they stay workable for an hour or so after I apply them to the canvas.”


Q: What are some of the awards your work has received?

A: “I don’t enter a lot of art competitions, probably because I usually don’t fare that well in them. I have won some awards here and there along the way, but that’s never been what drives me. To get people excited about art, and fly-fishing, is my reward. I recently visited a 5th grade river conservation club in Livingston, Montana to speak to the kids. By the blank looks on their faces I kindof thought I bombed, but as I was getting ready to leave I felt a tug on the back of my shirt. I turned to find a tiny blond haired girl standing there. She shyly asked “Mr. DeYoung, my Dad just loves your work, could I have your autograph?” then after a short pause she said, “Oh yah, I love your work to!” It was so cute, and was really more gratification then I deserve. ”


Q: What is the most challenging thing about
creating trout fishing art?

A: “To paint a photo of a trout is straight forward enough, but to compose a scene, come up with the lighting, color palette, and every other small nuance of a painting, that takes a lot of knowledge.

I’m always researching, trying to figure out how to draw things better, how to present fish in new unusual ways. These aspects of painting can be difficult, and really take a lifetime to master.”


Q: What advice do you have for would-be artists?

A: “Great Art takes dedication. Its not always fun, it’s work. An artist must practice. Only with this level of dedication will you be able to create something worthwhile. But just like in the old saying “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, to me art is not about the finished painting, it’s about the process, the research, the sketching, all the days spent on the water, taking reference photos, taking mental notes on the subtle colors of a fish. Commit yourself to art in this way, and you will find more happiness in it than you ever thought possible.”


Q: What else would you like to share about your art
or passion for art?

A: “Though art runs deep in my veins, it takes more than that to become a successful artist. My wife Janell, who I met in art school, has been there every step of the way. At the end of a long work week, she would get up early on Saturday and Sunday, to help me set up at my art fairs. My Dad and Mom gave me the support and love to help me believe in myself, which was extremely important during those lean years of building my art career. My father in-law John, had a painting on order one after another, to help keep us going during our first year out of art school. Our great family friend Rick took us under his wing, and taught us the right way to run a business. To this day he is the guy we go to when we have a tough business question.

All these people many more are my support system, and have done so much to allow me to follow my dream to be an artist. I owe them a giant Thank You!”


Q: Were you an artist first or an angler first
and when did the two merge?

This would be as difficult to answer as the chicken or the egg question. A strong desire to both fish, and create art seemed to have been inside me before I can even remember. Throughout my childhood, I would draw fish, monsters, portraits, boats, ninjas, guns and knives (I was a typical boy) but the first time I considered myself a fish artist was 5th grade, when I entered the MUCC YOUTH WILDLIFE ART COMPETITION. My drawing of my dads trophy walleye mount, eating minnows took no ribbon home and I was devastated. I enrolled in an after school art class the next month, and worked hard on the fundamentals. I improved rapidly, and the following year I painted a Largemouth Bass eating a frog. It took second place, but more importantly it sent me on a life long journey of being a fish artist.


Q: Judging by your travels you have seen and done a lot but where if your favorite place to be for creative inspiration and expression ?

I really like traveling, seeing the world, and all the exotic fisheries out there. But I can’t help but be most inspired by our own backyard here in the USA. I love spending early mornings out on the flats, in the Florida Keys.

The things you see out there are incredible, and yes, inspiring too. The small streams and creeks of Montana also own a big piece of my heart. Watching a prolific mayfly hatch, with the trout and swallows picking them off one by one, that is about as good as it gets.


Q: Is there a certain species that you are drawn to expressing through painting?

For many years I would have answered this question without a pause, Brown Trout. But as I spend more time fishing the flats of the Florida Keys, I become more and more interested in painting Tarpon. I guess my fascination begins with hunting them on the flats. I find myself lying in bed at 4 a.m. thinking about what area I’m going to look for them first. That same fascination stays with me as I sit in my studio, sketchbook in hand, brain storming the next scene I will paint. As an artist, the more intrigued I am with my subject, the further I will push into developing it in my art. It’s really as simple as that.


Q: Do you have any other artist (outdoor or non) that you admire ?

I definitely admire many of my peers. The fish art genre has expanded and exploded in the last five years! There are so many talented and passionate artists pursuing fish as their subject, it makes this field that much more engaging and fulfilling, and for me, becoming complacent is not a problem, because with such a talented bunch of artists in this genre, its important for me to keep pushing hard to continue capturing peoples imaginations and attentions. The artists in my opinion, who are really bringing it (I mean working hard to bring something new to the genre), are the ones that I think are worth following. They will be the face of fly-fishing in the future.

My work is influenced by several late Master Painters. I only shoot to bring a bit of what they were able to convey with their work. Van Gogh is my favorite. The energy of his paintings is amazing!


Q: What has been the coolest thing you have seen your art in or on ?

Coolest thing my work has been on… a prosthetic leg. A war vet who lost his legs asked me to send him stickers to cover his new legs. It was a mind blowing thought, and it still weighs heavy on my heart everytime I think of it.


Q: What is one place you would like to go either fishing or for artistic reason that you have been yet and is there one fish species that you are looking forward to chasing one day in the future?

The place I want to go on my next fishing adventure is New Zealand. In the end, I’m a trout guy. And outside of being one of the most scenic places on the planet, it boasts some of the most technical fly-fishing for giant trout in small streams to be found anywhere. I’d love to go stay there for a month, paint and fish and be inspired by it all.


Watch Artist Derek DeYoung Paint

See more videos of Derek painting & his fishing adventures on Vimeo