Back when I first started fly fishing, being the obsessive person that I am, I immersed myself in the fly fishing culture investigating and learning anything and everything pertaining to it. Early on in those days, I stumbled across the artwork of Andrea Larko. Right away I was a fan as it reminded me of both stained glass and the psychedelic concert posters of the 60s that always seem to be moving. Larko’s work, although not really influenced by those styles, seems to embody that effect. It feels as though there is life beyond the lines and color panels without necessarily being realistic. Needless to say, I was excited to get the opportunity to talk with the artist and learn a little bit more about her work and her life.
Here’s a link to her Etsy page so you can buy yourself some kick butt art and here’s a little bio from Andrea to get us started.
“My earliest memory was learning how to draw a house with perspective. Since then I’ve been hooked on art of many kinds. From taking courses while I was in college in printmaking, glass forming, pottery and sculpture to fine art, graphic design, and jewelry making, art of all kinds has always inspired me.
I graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology without the clear sense of personal style that many of my peers had evolved. I enjoyed drawing anything, painting with any medium, and loved to experiment rather than focus on one particular strength. I wasn’t afraid to fail and loved to learn what worked well and what didn’t but more importantly, why it worked or failed. I didn’t want to be told what the rules of art were, I wanted to figure them out for myself.
Through college drawing incorporated itself into so many aspects of my life. I always found myself doodling in margins, drawing on my clothing or even myself if I didn’t have paper. When I saw something that inspired me I’d start to see things the way I’d draw or paint them. Those visual images would stick in my mind almost as if they were burned into the back of my eyelids until I could get them onto paper or a canvas. I still see every piece in my head before it goes onto paper, and with each new piece I create I get closer and closer to being able to make it look the way the back of my eyelids see it. I do, however, realize my limitations, and have had some pieces stuck in my head for years now, knowing full well that I’m not at the point yet where I could master trying to paint them. I know I’ll get there eventually and I know they’re not going anywhere soon, so until then I just aspire to learn from every mistake and each time I get a little closer to where I want to be.
Growing up with 3 sisters, my parents shared their love for fishing with us. I still remember my father casting a rod for me and putting worms on my hook. He even let my sisters and me reel in his fish if we weren’t having any luck. My mother would help us with our casting in the front yard and we all loved going hunting for nightcrawlers after it rained. When we were too young to start fishing my mother would take us with her to watch my father catch fish larger than we were. I was always amazed by the beauty of what came out of the water.
As my sisters and I grew older fishing took a back seat to education and us all moving for college, but my father still recognized the importance of being on the water, and decided to start a family trip. We now go salmon fishing every year together and camp for a weekend reconnecting and telling the best fish stories from the day and years past.
After I graduated from college I moved back to my hometown of Indiana, PA and started fishing again when I could find the time. I met the love of my life and he purchased me my first fly rod 6 years ago. Needless to say I feel in love with fishing all over again. I felt closer to the water and found a sense of peace and tranquility from being on a stream that I much needed. Once my boyfriend held a fly rod in his hands he fell in love as well. We started spending our free time tying flies and scouting the streams for trout. I ended up with beautiful photographs of so many fish and thought it was a shame they just sat in iPhoto, so I decided to make a few oil paintings for our fly tying and art studio to brighten up the bare walls. After they were posted on Facebook and Instagram I was asked to make prints, so I did, and my business as an angling artist began.
I made prints from the color study sketches I did for the paintings and also a few others I was asked for. I enjoyed what I was doing but it seemed as though anyone could draw a realistic fish. So I started sketching one night with a fish outline and as I always have done while I was thinking, I started to doodle. I ended up with a doodle fish and I thought it looked interesting. I tried to play off the surfaces of the fish, what would be flat I put straight lines and where I wanted dimension I added more detail and curves. They’re so much fun to create. I’m so thankful that people have enjoyed these whimsical illustrations as much as I enjoy creating them. I never dreamed I could be so lucky to live out my dreams of being an artist and getting to fish some wonderful places with someone who appreciates it as much as I do. “
GV – I’d like to start out by stating I’ve been a fan of your work since my early days of fly fishing. At this point I cannot remember where I saw your work first, but I remember really enjoying it, especially the zentangle series. To me, they seemed like a mix between Wes Wilson psychedelia and stained glass. And I felt that the colors you used almost seemed to glow as though there were light shining through them. You mentioned in your bio your process for creating these pieces, but could you possibly elaborate on how you developed this style and perhaps any influences that could have helped to shape it?
AL – First let me start by saying I’m truly honored you’re a fan. If you had told me a few years ago that I’d have fans and followers of my work I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It really means so much to me to have people like you who support my dreams so I can be a full time artist. I’ve been in the angling art arena for about 2 years now, so you must be fairly new to fly fishing, as am I. Although I’ve fished since I was a little girl, I didn’t pick up a fly rod until 2009, so I’m still learning something new every time I’m on the water; although, I don’t believe that will every change. You also brought to attention my use of colors, and I’m working on toning down some of them for pieces where I want softer tones, but it’s a bit difficult for me as I’m color deficient and pastels seem to all wash out to gray through my eyes. As far as the “Zentangle” style has progressed, I started drawing in the style in Junior High, like most other students who doodle in the margins of their schoolwork, and before there was a name or style for it. It will always be considered doodling to me though. I really don’t have any influences in the Zentangle style I believe show through into my wok, but I love the fluidity and organic lines of the art nouveau period and also enjoy the blast of color and controversy of street art (artist tags aside). I don’t think the calming organic lines and curves of the nouveau period are seen in my Zentangle designs though. Mine seem more like a cluster of organized confusion I tend to pour out onto paper rather than evoking a feeling of serenity through lines in nouveau work. But maybe that’s just how I see it. Seeing as how the inside patterns and designs are so abstract, the viewer can see whatever they want to see from each piece.
GV – It almost seems at times as though your pieces are alive, not in the sense that they are realist, but in the sense that they convey movement and life created really just by simple shapes and their juxtaposition to each other. Can you talk a little bit about how you achieve this effect?
AL – I’m so delighted how my artwork is conveyed to you in that way. I’d like to think others see the movement in the pieces as well but it’s hard to tell how anyone else will interpret it. Any artist critique will include the conversation on how the eye moves though a piece of artwork or design, but without a background it becomes more difficult to keep the eye moving around inside an image rather than off the page. I try and place my designs on the fish rather methodically, to keep the movement in the piece instead of going off of it. I also place patterns in areas where I want to either draw or distract attention from. I try to emphasize focal points and certain aspects of each species which give it their distinction by also creating patterns and swirling lines where maybe current or water would flow by as the fish swims. Over the past few years I’ve played around with placement and complexity of the patterns and detail, including the lack thereof, where I’d want the color to create the movement instead of working against the design. With each new fish I create, I’m learning from the 40+ I’ve created and trying new ways to keep them interesting and unique from each other. Although they may only really be noticed by me and my process. But you seem very perceptive and it’s really great to hear how you view my work.
GV – This is going to show the nerd in me, but I couldn’t help but notice in your Zentangle Bluegill that on the anal fin, you used a technique similar to what comic book artist Jack Kirby did to represent energy fields, called Kirby Krackle. Is there any influence from comic books in your work or is that just a coincidence?
AL – That’s very interesting there’s a name for that pattern, and to be honest, I had to Google it to find out what you were referring to. I didn’t know that putting dots together was used that way and was never really into comic books, but I did own a few graphic novels in high school and college. It could have been a subconscious thing, but I really was just drawing circles and wanted some of them to touch to darken up the area a bit.
GV – It seems as though your art work is showing up everywhere I turn in the fly fishing world. I saw one of your pieces on a hat in my local fly shop the other day. Then I saw you had hand painted a Vedavoo sling for a raffle. And now I’ve seen you have an Abel reels series! What is it like seeing your artwork proliferate amongst the gear world?
AL – It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It still may take a while for that to happen, if it ever does. I spend my days, well nights mostly, in my studio working and my company is my english bulldog Sophia. I just keep my head down and try to keep moving forward on what needs to get done, so maybe that’s why it hasn’t hit me quite yet. It’s really cool to get to see a lot of it on social media, but even through those means, it leaves a level of detachment from me. Going to fly fishing shows, on the other hand, is quite different, and that’s when I get to see more first hand on how much of my work is really out there and the reactions from it. It’s a bit overwhelming and quite the change from my quiet little studio with the snoring bulldog in the background. It’s moments like those where it tends to hit me a bit more and it’s incredibly humbling. Having people ask for my autograph on their Simms hat or those who walk up to me and know my name, my artwork and have supported my work is so amazing and a bit surreal. It makes my 12-16 hour days of working seem worthwhile to get to meet the people who made it all possible for me. I know, sappy, but I can’t help it. It really hasn’t sunk in completely yet and I think I’m stuck in the shock phase still, lol. I don’t ever think it’s something I’ll get used to, nor would I want to. The day you expect things to just happen for you, your drive dies and so will your career, and I’ll push for my dream of being an artist as I have for the last two years. I was brought up on the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard enough for it and I’ll be damned if that isn’t true. Okay, so I doubted it at times when I had jobs I despised but needed to pay the bills, so art was just a hobby of mine but I never gave up. The time I began doing fishing artwork I had 2 part time day jobs and worked more than 40 hours a week between the two, but still made time for what I loved and it has brought me to where I am now. So it was all worth it and I’d never change that. And yes, I got off topic and rambled, haha 🙂 But everyone needs the inspirational speech every now and then because someone reading this right now is stuck where I was a few years ago and they want to give up on doing what they love because they think it’s a pipe dream. I’m just here to say, don’t you dare! 🙂
GV – As the brother of an artist, I am definitely familiar with that lifestyle. Working day jobs so that you can afford to live and buy supplies for your real passion of art can be arduous and frustrating at times. It seems like making that first real connection with your audience is the biggest hurdle. For those other artists out there, can you talk a little bit about how you established those relationships with these well respected names in the fly fishing industry?
AL – I just started posting my work on my social media feeds and clients contacted me from there. My boyfriend also helped get my art out into the industry as he’s a custom fly rod builder. He’s the means behind Snowman Custom Rod Works, Zeb Tonkavich.
GV – You’ve mentioned in the past that your father has been a big part of your life in regards to fishing. I myself have a little girl who I’m desperately hoping wants to fly fish with her Daddy. Can you talk a little about how your experience with how fishing can affect the bond between a parent and their child?
AL – I think fishing with your daughter would be wonderful bonding time. Although if you are anything like my dad, you won’t be fishing, rather untangling knots, getting snags out of trees and teaching one daughter not to catch her sister on the back cast. I have 3 sisters within 2 years of my age, so when my father took us fishing he had his hands full. But he didn’t just teach us how to fish, and I don’t think most people actually realize they don’t go fishing just to try and catch that elusive fish, but it’s about so much more than that. Fishing has become my home away from home, my sanctuary and my therapy. I still go fishing with my dad and sisters, but at least now he gets the opportunity to throw his own line in the water, but he is always still there with the net when I or one of my sisters has a fish on that we can’t land ourselves. If that isn’t a metaphor for life and how amazing my father is, and how fishing relates to so many other aspects in our daily lives, then I don’t know what is. So please teach your daughter, because she may really need to go fishing one day, and whether you’re next to her on the stream or not, it’s something she can have to make her life better and you would have been the one to give her just that.
GV – I can definitely remember my father spending a lot of time tending to my brothers’ and my lines while getting to fish very little himself. My oldest brother Mickey is currently indoctrinating his two kids into fly fishing (both have already caught steelhead). Obviously that gift from your father has meant a lot to you. Can you talk about your experience on the water and how it makes your life better?
AL – I find fly fishing very peaceful and it’s nice to get out into nature and take some time away from everything else that may be going on. I think everyone needs to find a way to decompress and fishing does that for me.
GV – From your bio, it seemed as though fishing, and especially fly fishing, was something that was very much in the background of your life when you were younger. What is it like to now have so much of your life revolving around the sport of fly fishing?
AL – I actually grew up bait casting and spin fishing, but since picking up a fly rod, my tackle box has been sad. It’s really amazing to be part of such a wonderful sport and the industry is so much fun. I have the opportunity to work with some of the best companies in the industry like Simms, Abel, Vedavoo and Tempress for Yeti Coolers. It’s really been an honor and is so much fun to get to go fishing and call it work related. I love being on the water and being able to come home and create artwork where I get to combine my passions is…. well… it hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think they made a word for it yet either. The closest I can think of is that I’m so lucky and honored to be able to follow my dreams of being an artist. My mother always believed in me and all of my sisters to pursue our dreams, even when I said I wanted to go to college to be an artist. She never doubted my decision and its people like that who encourage you to have faith in yourself to keep going and work harder for what you want that keep you going even when you start to doubt yourself. I’m very blessed, there’s no doubt about that.
GV – Well it’s obvious that your hard work is paying off for you and it’s good to see. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and share your work. We’ll keep an eye out for more of your work showing up in our local fly shops. I actually just got a Zentangle Brown print for my birthday which I’ll soon be hanging up above my tying desk.
AL – Thanks so much for supporting my work. I hope you love the print 🙂 and happy belated birthday!