Sarah Landstrom is a skilled painter hailing from North Muskegon, Michigan. The 27 year-old artist currently lives between San Francisco and her cabin in Northern Michigan, and this combination of rural and urban living inspires her artwork. Recently, Sarah has teamed up with Flylords and painted a custom cooler to support Trout Unlimited’s Trout Week. Working with Sarah for Trout Week, we have learned about her artistic development and love of fishing. Check out her work and her story below!
How did you first experience fishing? What has kept you interested?
My first experience fishing was fishing off of my grandpa’s dock back in Michigan. It wasn’t until I was living in Montana that I discovered fly fishing. I think what has really kept me interested is the fact that there is always more to explore—that and seeing others develop a love for the sport.
When did you first engage with art?
When I was a kid I always felt like art was the only thing that I was accomplished at. I wasn’t much of an athlete, was awful at subjects like math, and was very shy. Art was a special space where I could create my own world through doodles. It wasn’t until I was in college, though, that I began to take it seriously and consider myself to be an “artist.”
Are you exclusively a painter, or do you have experience with other types of visual art?
Weaving, paper making, and knitting are all types of art that I love and find therapeutic. I think fiber art can be empowering, especially as a woman. There is a connection to the work women have done for thousands of years and the development of intricate techniques that combine beauty with practicality.
What draws you to fish and their environments as your subject matter?
When I was going to school at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), I was cut off from fishing for months at a time. One day I decided to paint “Missouri River Brown” and it gave me the same feeling I would get on a river. Now, I have the opportunity to fish whenever I like and reflect on that experience in the studio. I love it.
What is your favorite type of paint?
I almost always use Golden acrylic paint. The quality reminds me of the effect of oil paint. It has a heavier body and they also have high quality mediums that you can explore. I highly recommend Golden paints—they are worth the price tag.
Have you always used vibrant colors? What draws you to them?
The colors represent how I remember certain fish. It reflects the intensity I feel and it just sort of happens. I used to fight it and force myself to paint in more neutral colors, but now I understand that it’s better to just follow my instincts.
Do your personal passions find their way into your artwork?
Absolutely. I’m very thankful to be involved in certain projects such as [Trout Week]. When you’re alone so much of the time painting, it’s nice to know that the art will help make a difference. And it’s always a treat to have the opportunity to speak with groups like Trout Unlimited and their efforts. [Those conversations] usually end up inspiring the piece. In this case, I painted a brook trout, which is the state fish of Michigan, where Trout Unlimited began.
How have your mentors shaped your development as an artist?
When I was at SAIC and began painting fish, many students were confused and thought of it as “kitsch.” I had a professor named Paola Cabal who was always encouraging, and having that encouragement come from such a great artist was all I needed to keep going.
Navigating how to begin working with the fly fishing industry was the next big step I had to take. Derek DeYoung was incredibly helpful. I met him up in Traverse City, and he thoughtfully shared his experiences and provided invaluable advice. He is a very kind man.
In your experience so far, how has your artwork impacted people who see it?
In my experience, [my artwork] brings people back to memories of their own, and I love that. Children are usually mesmerized by the colors even if they don’t have fishing memories of their own yet.
Why do you think art is important?
I believe art is important for the same reason I think design, music, theatre, writing, etc. are important. It’s an expression and a way to communicate with people on a level where all interpretations are unique to that person.
What made you want to participate in Trout Week?
When I heard that this [project] involved Trout Unlimited, I said yes right away. It is such an impressive and important group of conservationists. I grew up seeing the work they were doing in my home state, and I feel honored to be partnering with them for Trout Week!
What fishing destinations are on your bucket list?
They are countless, but Scotland for Atlantics, Mongolia for Tamen, and Columbia for Peacock Bass are all up there. I’ve been trying to fish more locally this past year and a half. I’m looking forward to when it becomes safe to travel internationally again.
What is your best fishing story?
I would have to say the first time I went to British Columbia. All of my Steelhead fishing had been in Michigan, so it was my first chance to catch a sea-run Steelhead. After camping along the river, I started making my first couple of casts. Along this tiny seam, all of a sudden, my line blew up. The Steelhead immediately jumped and thrashed. I was so shocked by the power that I lost it within seconds. Excited, I ran down to tell my friend. He didn’t believe it when he saw where I said it had been sitting, so I took another swing. The fish crushed the fly a second time and I was mind-blown by the sheer aggression. The trip also included some sketchy night hikes, a dozen or so bear sightings, and nearly missing a flight home after losing track of time. But it was the power of the fish up there that really made the trip.