In the latest Artist Spotlight, Flylords caught up with Andrea Larko, a well-known angling artist based in the North East. Check out the full interview below to learn more about Andrea and what goes into her beautiful art.
Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Andrea: I have been drawing and painting as far back as my earliest memory. When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of coloring books. A blank piece of paper was my inspiration to create anything I could imagine. Creating something unique compelled me and has stuck since I was a kid.

While I was in junior high school I found myself gravitating toward the arts and through senior high enrolled in as many art classes as my schedule would allow.

Doodling kept me occupied and focused through school and college during my core curriculum courses outside of art. If I didn’t have paper or a sketchbook in front of me, I found myself doodling on the top of my jeans or even my arms and legs. I wouldn’t recommend that though, especially with sharpies. Meditative doodles appeared alongside my notes and even animated flipbooks through my vocabulary workbooks. 

Drawing was my outlet to stay relaxed, focused and keep my anxious mind from overthinking. I kept a little sketchbook along with pens, pencils or markers in my purse as a welcome distraction before smartphones were the norm. When I applied for college I knew I wanted to be an artist but didn’t know what kind, nor did I know if it was a realistic expectation. l took courses in art ranging from drawing and painting to printmaking, screen printing, glass blowing and flameworking, installation art, animation, design, ceramics, metalworking and casting, gallery management… the list goes on. Through my uncertainty in direction there was always one common thread I enjoyed in all of those courses. It was the planning and sketching of my ideas that I found most interesting. The bottom line, I knew I wanted to go into the fine arts. 

My realistic side told me I wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist. Illustrators didn’t have regular, stable 9-5 jobs anymore, which was more common in generations before mine, and I didn’t want to be a starving artist. I made the decision to major in graphic design at the Rochester Institute of Technology because it seemed to be creative and more stable to find work after graduation. However, after my first year at RIT I became bored with the coursework and didn’t feel like I was able to use design as artistically as I had hoped. I spoke with my advisor about my concerns and was directed to the Illustration department since they also had the design courses but would be able to create and enjoy the fine art side of the program as well. I was told as an illustrator I would have the edge on a graphic design degree because I could have a position as a designer but if a client needed a spot illustration I would also be able to fulfill that role. It sounded like a perfect fit for me, so I switched my major to Illustration my second year at RIT. After I graduated I did find a job as a Designer/Illustrator and it was just what I was looking for. 

Since then, I’ve held a few other positions and even when one wasn’t related to art and focused more on design or advertising I would still draw little doodles for my coworkers to hang in their cubicle to brighten their day. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: When did you start fishing and when would you say it had an effect on your art?

Andrea: It’s a mix of luck and circumstance those two came together. My 3 sisters and I enjoyed the outdoors growing up and our parents took us fishing and camping often. Spending time outdoors was my favorite part of childhood, I felt most like myself when I was in nature.  
When I moved to Rochester, NY for college my focus shifted to my job and coursework. It left little time for enjoying outdoors outside the city. My father and sisters decided to plan an annual trip to Oak Orchard NY every fall for king salmon and fall-run brown trout. I looked forward to that weekend as my decompression before my courses and job at the college took precedence. Less than a year after graduating, the economy started to dwindle which made it difficult for me to stay in NY. I made a quick decision to move back to Pennsylvania and settle back in my hometown. Depression set in as the reality of my quick decision was now my new normal. I had no job, moved away from my friends and a life I had become accustomed to and really loved. I felt like a failure and needed a reason to get out of bed every day. Finding solace in my art and by being back in nature, I started fishing regularly again. Growing up as a spin and bait fisherman I was always compelled by the fly anglers I saw while on the water, including my mother who took an appreciation for it. When I met my boyfriend, Zeb, he bought me my first fly fishing setup. Having so much fun with it and we both began fly fishing together. It was something that bonded us early on and we still enjoy today. When we began tying our own flies I wanted to paint some trout for our fly tying area. I posted photos of the oil paintings on social media and had a wonderful response. Commissions for more fish art began to come in. 

I drew a trout outline in one of my sketchbooks and was brainstorming for a new commission when I ended up just filling in the fish with my meditative doodles I’ve done since I was a kid. Since that first fish doodle, now called “zentangle” style, I have created over 100 illustrations of different fish for clients all over the world. Zeb also found an outlet through fly fishing and now is one of the top fly rod builders in the world, in my unbiased opinion. Running Snowman Custom Rod Works he builds custom rods to suit each of his client’s fly fishing needs. From machining his own hardware and even creating signature rod tapers he has a hand in every part of the build from start to finish. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: You have an incredibly unique style. What would you say your influences are when creating a new piece?

Andrea: I’m influenced by the beauty of fish I catch and the tranquility when I get to spend time in nature. As far as my style, I didn’t think I had one. I enjoyed doodling and never took it too seriously alongside fine art and other illustrations. It was more of a happy accident they came together with fishing. I often get messages or comments on my work from people all over the world comparing it to something meaningful to them and their culture. Mostly from tribes and tribal artwork, but from every corner of the world, each with their own unique feel. I find it compelling how each person can see something different in the same image. Isn’t’ that the best part about artwork though? 

Image courtesy of @theforgedfly

Flylords: What is your favorite medium to work in?

Andrea: I enjoy mixing media in my work. The zentangle designs began as pencil sketches. Once clients started asking for them as commissions I knew I had to clean up my line work so I started using Rapidographs on Bristol paper. A few years later the iPad Pro was released and made a huge difference in the amount of time I put into a piece since I no longer needed to redraw an entire piece to make changes. Drawing digitally eased the process and cleanup from scanning original images and editing. I still was working long hours staring at a screen and it began to take a toll on my eyes, so recently I have been taking a break from the digital work and into miniature original watercolor character fish for a refreshing change of pace.

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: What would you say your favorite way to fly fish would be?

Andrea: I like to keep learning new things from my art to fly fishing. So I recently have found an interest in wet fly fishing. Purchasing some books on techniques and wet fly patterns I looking forward to this spring on the water to give it a go. 

tarpon reel
Image courtesy of Abel Reels

Flylords: When did you start working with Abel Reels and what is it like seeing your work on one of the most prestigious fly fishing reels?

Andrea: I was contacted by the son of the owner of Abel in 2013. He told me he would show his father some of my work because I was looking to make a custom reel with my artwork on it for my boyfriend as a gift. Fast forward 2 years, I received an email from Doug Dragoo introducing himself and writing, “I LOVE YOUR ART”. That email began a wonderful collaboration between me and Abel. Releasing multiple designs over the years since, and hopefully, more to come, I’m more than honored, I’m flabbergasted to be working with such a wonderful company and such great people. Their reels are not just beautiful but engineered and crafted so well with attention to every detail. My last tarpon reel design took 2 years in the making to come onto the market. Abel wants to make sure everything is perfect for their customers and I have a great deal of respect for that, I couldn’t be luckier to work with the amazing people I’ve met at Abel. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: I’ve recently seen a really beautiful hand-painted Vedavoo bag you did. What was that for?

Andrea: Scott Hunter was one of the first people in the industry I worked with on apparel design. I owe a lot to Scott for believing in my work and wanting it to be a part of Vedavoo. He began a project a few years ago where he’d send a group of artists a piece from the Vedavoo line to paint on in order to raise money for a nonprofit organization. This past year I decided I wanted my design to show an appreciation for classic salmon flies. When my boyfriend and I began fly tying, we started tying trout flies and eventually wanted more of a challenge. What is more of a challenge than tying classic Atlantic salmon flies? I then found a new appreciation for the patience these fly tyers must have had to take an entire day or more to correctly tie a fly well. I decided my Vedavoo messenger bag would pay homage to those dedicated individuals. The proceeds from each bag were donated to a cause of the artists choosing. My choice this year was a donation to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I cannot fathom the daily struggles those who have MS deal with on a daily basis, including my older sister who was diagnosed about 6 years ago. I’m so thankful to Scott for setting up this entire project out of the goodness of his heart. He’s a dedicated, talented, devoted and incredibly thoughtful man to assemble a project that holds a lot of meaning to so many people. 

Flylords: Do you have any other collaborations?

Andrea: With reels, I work exclusively with Abel. I also have a few designs currently available through Montana Fly Company and more in planning. I designed the logo for the Mayfly Project and am currently creating a new side project for them as well. I worked with Simms as an artist to release the beginning of their women’s apparel line and a few years after that and hope to work with them again in the future. With over 100 commissions currently licensed throughout the industry from family-owned fly shops and guide services to larger companies and down to personal tattoos, I keep busy. One of my more unique collaborations was with a metal worker to build an entry gate to a property at the end of a driveway. It was great to see how it all came together from the sketching process down to the installation of the gate and the sheer scale of the gate when it was completed. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: So, what’s up with Bob? Who is he?

Andrea: Bob is the epitome of every fly fisherman. Where they began and the struggles of misadventures on and off the water. He is the fly fisherman we all are but don’t always want to admit. Fly fishing has a stigma of arrogance surrounding it from outside anglers. Seen sometimes as pretentious I wanted to show the truth of fly fishing through my cartoons and air out some of the misconceptions others may hold. When I began fly fishing, learning through trial and error, mostly error, I made every mistake in the book, and some maybe never seen before. It was really frustrating but all I could do was laugh about it. Over the years I took mental notes of my mishaps and those I also saw others having while I was fishing. Social media was also a wonderful source for new material. Fans of Bob shared their own stories with me and Bob had quickly become a regular in my repertoire when I found the time at the end of my evening. I’m hoping to create enough cartoons to release a book of the misadventures of Bob in fly fishing soon. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: Of all the fish you have turned into art, which is your favorite to catch?

Andrea: My favorite would have to be fishing for either brook trout on blue lines or wild brown trout. My boyfriend and I started seeking out water that wasn’t stocked which led us on some fun and adventurous excursions to remote water and beautiful native and wild fish. I fell in love with their color variations and was over fishing for stocked trout and have had a love for wild trout ever since. Wild trout are spooked very easily and they’re a challenge to find and trick into taking a fly. When I catch a wild trout I feel like I did something right. It gives me a sense of accomplishment in my angling skills and it’s never a dull moment. In a world of uncertainty and chaos, the moment you catch a fish it’s just pure happiness and everything else going on in your life fades into the background. I cling to those moments. 

Image courtesy of @andrealarko

Flylords: Any tips for aspiring artists?

Andrea: In any career path it’s always necessary to pay your dues, but my best advice for aspiring artists is don’t sell yourself short. I’ve seen so many hard-working, incredibly talented and skilled artists undercutting their worth by giving away their art to “get their name out there”. By doing so, they don’t realize they’re setting a standard for their worth in the future and end up detrimental if they ever decide at some point their time is valuable. At that point, it’s very difficult to expect value in your work from clients and customers when you have already set the bar so low on your worth. Whether it’s a hobby or a full-time career, the artwork is called work because it is. Although artists are not valued on the whole for their time and effort to create something out of nothing, it is a very difficult, time-consuming and mentally exhausting job to have. It’s worth more than most give credit. Don’t let anyone convince you it’s anything less. 

You can Check out and pick up some of Andrea’s artwork at https://www.etsy.com/shop/andrealarko.

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