The Flylords got to speak with Emma Yardley, an angler, globe trotter, and talented muralist. As a kid, Emma rock-hopped through Vermont’s rivers and streams and chased stripers (and lobster rolls) on the coast of Maine. She later discovered her artistic talent while traveling in New Zealand. Read more about Emma, her artwork, and her inspiration below.


Flylords: Where did you grow up?

Emma: I was born in North Conway, New Hampshire, where my dad landed in his twenties when he moved to the U.S. from England. That was his first American home and it has always been close to my heart. I also grew up in Vermont and love it dearly.

Photo by Abigail Maki Photography

I grew up with a creek in our backyard. Every summer I would be in the rivers, jumping off cliffs, and swimming up miles of river over little waterfalls and through pools. I started rock-hopping down rivers fearlessly as soon as I could walk. It started with small creeks in which you can hop rock to rock and fish for brookies the size of your pinky. I would spend a couple of weeks each summer fly fishing in Maine. I was the queen of lobster rolls and my dad would fish for stripers much longer than I could.

Flylords: Who first introduced you to rivers and fishing?

Emma: My dad—he’s my number one. He would take me to rivers with him and ask nothing of me. He didn’t pressure me to fish and just let me sit on rocks and throw them. He never worried about how my falls into the river disrupted the area. He never mentioned my grades at the time, and always asked if I had fun. He always hiked at my pace because we were there to be together and not to rush the day. 

Photo Courtesy of Emma Yardley

On drives, we would take river roads even if it added time. Those roads are lined with memories of my dad sharing stories of fishing as a kid in England. We always had a fly rod, but our time together was rarely about fishing. Fishing was an avenue to see rivers through stories.

Flylords: Tell us about your climbing background

Emma: My dad was a climbing guide and so was my mom for a bit. My mom climbed with me in her belly. Climbing is literally how I was framed and built. I was climbing—or at least roped up—at 2 years old. Climbing was always a place to share space and experience. 

Image Courtesy of Emma Yardley

As a kid, I was in rooms with a lot of humble legends. I grew up going to ice climbing festivals and would be around some of the best climbers when my dad went out to guide or we all climbed together. When I was smaller my dad put me in women’s clinics. I was twelve learning how to ice climb with a female guide, alongside forty-year-old women.

My dad always made sure I had strong, humble, and kind people around me. The list is endless. He was a single parent and found an amazing village to raise me in. Through climbing I learned patience, to be humble, and that it’s just a rock.

Image Courtesy of Emma Yardley

Flylords: When did you first discover your knack for drawing and painting?

Emma: I didn’t grow up an artistic kid. I started drawing because I was alone a lot and was far away from the people I loved. I lived in my truck for about six years, including winters in the southern hemispheres. The first drawing I did was for my dad when I was in New Zealand. I had a 45L backpack and a fly rod and not much of a plan. I followed the rivers, walking on properties and through towns, hopping on ferries, and rushing through cities.

Photo Courtesy of Emma Yardley

I had four dollars by the time I got to Queenstown. It was around Christmas and I wanted to give my dad something for Christmas, so I drew one of the classic salmon flies he had tied. He ties the most beautiful flies I’ve ever seen. I drew it for him and that was where it all began. 

I then hitchhiked over to Wanaka and knocked on a hostel before they closed. They let me work for a place to stay, so I was a maid for three months and waitressed in Wanaka to get my bank account back up enough for a flight home and a couple more adventures. I was right at the confluence to the lake there and would bike there almost every night and fish those blue waters.

Image Courtesy of Emma Yardley

As the season was coming to an end, I would send my friends off with a drawing. I drew on some of their tailgates so they could rack up for their next climb or put their waders on with my lines next to them. It all came from the connection. 

Flylords: How did you develop your artistic style?

Emma: My lines started by the river and my dots grew as I filled long summer nights in Wyoming. All my art is in this freestyle form of mountains, waves, and fish. At first, I drew a lot of flies and I loved interpreting tiny, 3D, wildly intricate flies into a 2D piece. Then, I started to find myself drawing more mountains and waves and I followed that path. I have walked this line of staying true to my style while letting my creativity be open and free. I always figured that if I was as authentic as possible and intentional with my work I would find happiness and growth.

Photo by Abigail Maki Photography

My development came in scale. It goes back to connection. Drawing the fly for my dad far away, drawing on a friend’s tailgate before a season started, and then having friends ask me to draw in their nurseries, pottery studios, and then bigger things like storefronts and headquarters. 

My jump into murals is a beautiful shoutout to a dear friend who I used to go on art walks with in Tahoe. I had just had my heart broken and I was back on the road. My friend had no idea what to do with me. We would walk and sit and open our notebooks and draw.

Photo Courtesy of Emma Yardley

I asked if I could draw on this old piece of plywood on the wall of his garage. It was a space where he cultivated creativity and love and I needed a connection to such space. He said yes, and I stopped being annoying for a few days while I worked on it. I still cried randomly but I felt good. It was my first piece that scaled and folks kept asking for more.

Flylords: How does your time with rivers contribute to your art?

Emma: I spent so much time sitting on river banks alone in my teens and early twenties. Next to the river, I could be thoughtless and just watch the movement. That time gave me memories of myself and created conversations with myself so that I trust myself.  My art is a result of all that groundwork and trust I created in myself from my time on the river. In my art I can find the same quiet I find sitting on rocks, but in my art, I am the movement.

Image Courtesy of Emma Yardley

My murals are freehand. It is a wild process. I think trust in myself and patience come from the times I have sat with rivers for whole days. I ask to sit with each client and hear what their space means to them. I ask what mountains or waves mean to them if anything. Then, usually, late at night, I start with my first line. It’s an intimidating, huge, permanent black line on a white wall, but from there I just paint the mountain on top of the mountain and find where the waves go.

Flylords: What project has been most memorable for you?

Emma: My first fly commission comes to mind because it all clicked. I was drawing its final parts at the rim of the grand canyon after a wicked hike. That commission paid for my impressively low-budget life for months. I have no idea how I did it back then. Finishing the commission I was like, “Woah, I am drawing this beautiful salmon fly and each part feels new. The layers keep asking for more and I keep being able to draw more.” It didn’t matter how many more commissions I drew after that—that was never my goal. The important thing was that I was connected with myself, my art, that place, and the new person I was drawing. That piece traveled with me for a couple of hundred miles.

Image Courtesy of Emma Yardley

Flylords: How can folks purchase your work or request commissions?

Emma: On Instagram or by email at emmacyardley@gmail.com. Nothing too fancy here folks!

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