The sporting artist C.D. Clarke (@CDClarkeArt) is one of the longest-running painters in the game. His staying power is no accident. His work has brought him all over the world in pursuit of fishing’s most coveted catches, and his efforts in conservation reflect a true passion for the landscapes he paints.
We caught up with C.D. to discuss how he got into fly fishing and his secret to making a living in the art world.
Flylords: We’re big fans of all your work. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into fly fishing?
CD: Believe it or not, I’ve been fly fishing for half a century! I started when I was 12 years old and I’m 63 now. The amazing thing is that I didn’t have a mentor to speak of. My Dad was a fisherman, but not a fly fisherman. I guess I just thought the idea of fly fishing was cool, or at least more interesting than the worm dunking and lure trolling I started with when I was very young. I was lucky that about the time I started fly fishing, the sport sort of came out of the shadows. At one time it was a sport that tended to be secretive. You didn’t want other people to know your techniques or the flies you used. Starting in the 70’s however, there was an explosion in “How to” books on fly fishing. I was able to go to the library and get the books by Art Flick and Swisher/ Richards and Vince Marinaro. I taught myself with the help of those books. That was all small stream trout fishing in the East. Later on – much later – I was exposed to all sorts of different types of fly fishing from Salmon to Tarpon, Stripers to Roosterfish. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world through my art career and do commissions for clients who did all those different types of fly fishing.
Flylords: You’ve been around as a working sporting artist for decades. What’s your secret to longevity?
CD: Just stubborn I guess! Seriously, it’s a lifestyle for me – a passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else. For all those decades, I have spent 80% of my time either painting, fishing or shooting. If you practice something all the time you get good at it. and people notice that you are good at it. I often tell people who say something like “you are sooo talented” that if they did something a lot – consistently – they would be good at it too. If you decided tomorrow that you were going to learn to play the violin and practiced for an hour every day for 5 years, by the end of that time you would be pretty good. Maybe not Itzahc Perlman but you would be pretty good. So I guess passion is the secret to my longevity. That and never being satisfied with my work. The next painting can always be better.
Flylords: Is there a particular painting or piece that means something extra to you?
CD: It is very hard to choose a favorite painting. It would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. I have a couple of paintings that I have kept because the subjects meant something special. I have one of a pool called “Mandela’s Pool” on the Rio Gallegos in Argentina. That river is my favorite in the world. Frustrating, fickle, wild, and beautiful. I fished it for 15 years. That painting (it is just a small oil study) brings back a lot of memories. I have another one, a watercolor that I did way back in 1984 of a marsh that I used to walk through every morning down on the Eastern Shore of Maryland every day when I lived down there. Also the paintings I’ve done of my dogs. I love them of course.
Flylords: We know you’re very involved in a lot of conservation efforts. Can you tell us a bit about some of the organizations you work with?
CD: I have done a lot of that! I have always been an environmentalist and conservationist and since most artists, myself included, don’t have the extra money to write huge checks, I have donated art. I would guess I have donated artwork that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. I know I donated art in one year which brought in $50,000. I’ve worked with Ducks Unlimited, Tall Timbers(a quail Conservation organization), BTT (I’m on the dinner committee for the NYC Dinner, one of their biggest), The Ruffed Grouse Society, and especially the Atlantic Salmon Federation (I’m a director on their board). Also the Atlantic Salmon Trust in the UK. The most successful way has been to donate a commission to one of the auctions. The winning bidder can choose what they want me to paint.
Flylords: If you had one day left to fish, where are you going?
CD: Heaven forbid! I hope I’m not too close to that point!
It would be Atlantic Salmon fishing. Preferably somewhere with enough fish around and early in the season so that a fish a day or so was a definite possibility. I love it all and I have done quite a bit of most of it – tarpon, bonefish, trout – but as the spey rodders say “the tug is the drug”. For me, the electric pull and sudden weight of an Atlantic salmon taking a fly on the swing is the most exciting thing there is. I also love spey casting and even when the salmon aren’t taking, it is fun and challenging to do. Combine that with the anticipation of the “next cast” and you have a great day.
Flylords: What’s next for C.D. Clarke and how can we follow the journey?
CD: The big thing on the horizon is that there will be a C.D. Clarke book coming out in 2023. I am under contract with a publisher and I’ll be submitting all the images (around 200) and copy very soon. It will be a record of the almost 40 years that I have been chasing fish, game species, and paintings. I’m very excited about that.