Dear all, First off, due to the craziness of my research projects...I won't be blogging until the end of this Summer (September). This will allow me to save sometime for a big fishing trip at the end of this Summer. So hopefully I will be back to report some interesting stories and photos. Second, I have received a great honor from Sport Fishing Magazine in Croatia. They will publish some of my watercolor works and the interview in their magazine in the near future. I thought you might be interested in those @@... here is the first draft. They are kind enough to allow me to put them on my blog... Aleksandar Vrtaric is a talented writer and photographer. you might want to take a look of his great website! Very inspiring! http://www.erinaelin.com/work.htm
- Mark, could you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am a biologist, I study animal behavior. I grew up in Taiwan, a small country with a lot of mountains and nature resources. My biggest goal of my life is to keep learning from the nature, and promote the environmental awareness.
- How did your fishing adventure begin and do you remember the day when fishing completed with your love for art?
It’s a hard question! I am always fishing and always doodling since I was a kid. I think it’s all come from the inspiration from the nature. I lived in a place close to mountains, forest and creeks. In college I moved to a big city and I started to hang out with some artists, either photographers or illustrators. Their professional skills and attitudes really inspired me and I started to think about using those tools to capture the beauty of the natural world. My major is wildlife conservation and animal behavior, so everything comes together naturally.
- Could you tell me about the way you work? Do you use your memory, photos or plain imagination? Those fish are full of colours and details and I believe it's not easy to present that... I'm very curious about that "process of communication"...
I was a self taught illustrator, I had no formal knowledge when I started to use watercolor several years ago, and no one tell me what to do and what not to do… it’s pretty much an unlimited color world wide open in front of me. I am really excited about it still. It’s all part of the fun in painting. I pretty much “discover” every kind of pigment and their properties by experimenting and I quite enjoy a kind of “communication” with my pigments. It’s like making a new friend, sometime you feel a match right off the bat, but sometimes you need to spend more time to discover a special personality (some pigments really don’t like been mixed). My philosophy is quite simple… If a cave man can create stunning art by using charcoal and animal blood, I think I can too! I am a big fan of the ancient arts.
I like fish, almost in every aspect. I like to eat fish, and I admire their vivid color and beautiful shape. Since I was a kid I have thought it’s quite exciting to just go shopping around the fish market. Before I start to paint, I spend quite sometime studying fish, I search the internet and library to gather more information about the species. Photos, ecology and behavior etc… every kind of information will help me to construct their personality and feel. Photos are quite important, because I like to get the morphological structure precise. This is important when some species exhibit only subtle differences compared to others. For instance, cutthroat trout has a relatively big jaw, big head compared to rainbow trout. I am also an avid birder too. I can distinguish the difference between two close related species pretty quickly in the field. I think it all comes from my biology training. After a careful sketch, I will be more relaxed in the painting, since naturally there are never two identical fish, and their color really shows their personality and gives me space for my imagination to grow. My imagination comes from many places. It could be a story, a film, an image or just a glance of a masterpiece. It’s all blending together in my day dreaming… Yes, I do spend a lot of time in day dreaming everyday.
To me drawing is the way I express myself, my feelings. I have a painting called steelhead sorrow… it is about the feelings that I have about this endangered species. Drawing and painting are also the ways I talk to myself. It really helps me concentrate, helps me listen to myself. I believe this is similar motivation that I share with ancient people.
I have a lot fun doing careful drawings. The process is also quite different, watercolor has less room for correction, but the pencil is unlimited in the erasing and redrawing process. In fact, I found myself quite enjoy the process of erasing. It think the eraser itself can come up some interesting textures and results.
You might find I frequently combine those two processes in my watercolor paintings. I make a detailed but light sketch on the watercolor paper first. Then I determined which part of the painting in which I want more detailed work, and which part I want it to be loose, more abstractive. I think the idea came from my photography training. We focus on one interesting part and the other side is out of focus. I think in our human eyes, interesting objects always jump out first.
- What is your favourite style when it comes to illustrations? Pencil and Watercolors
I love both, be honest with you, it is hard to rank them. They each have their own distinct characteristics and I exercise both of them keep my skills in a good shape. In general, the watercolor is an expression of instant feeling. So I let the pigment flow free and let the water do it’s work. It’s more impressionism. I enjoy the variation and unpredictability the water brings to me. I like to drink some red wine and paint the watercolor and the mind goes unbounded. On the other side, the pencil is more precise, and you can carefully “chew” on one detail. I practice the pencil on some structural detail… like on fish heads, eyes … I think from the biology perspective those details are the major factor in determining a species or a special personality in a species.
- There is an interesting thing I read on your blog – kids policy. Can you tell me something about that?
The kid policy is the bonus painting along with the purchased paintings. I illustrate a free art for people’s kids if they show me they bring kids fishing, this policy is meant to encourage youth fishing. I was a lucky kid to grow up on a big farm with a lot of fishing and outdoor activities. My grandfather and my uncle always brought me fishing. I am a firm believer that the best way to save our environmental crisis is to get people involved in the outdoors.
- Photography is another love?
Like any naturalist, I am fascinated with the beauty and wonder of the wilderness, and the people who live there… farmer, hunter or mountaineer and fisherman, the connection between people and the land is the main element that attracted me. It’s the balance, harmony, or struggle between nature and people that touched me. Obviously, my photography is rooted in documentary photography. I am heavily influenced by the Magnum group. http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.AgencyHome_VPage&pid=2K7O3R1VX08V I start taking photos when I was in my teens. I was very serious about photography when I get into the college. I process B&W film myself. Then I started to know some famous people and sell some photos to publishers. Me and my friend/ mentor TK Liao published a photo book about a mountain trout stream and it’s ecosystem. We also work as a team produced films and still images for several National Parks.
Photography, painting and fly fishing have something in common, they share very similar characteristics. They are combination of science and art. It’s takes time to develop skill and technique, but it is an art form when practiced. You learn the principle and you use your creativities to present the beauty.
- And you are a passionate fly angler. How much time do you spend by the water?
I am a “weekend warrior”. Like most of the people that have a regular job, I mainly fish on the weekend. Where I live now it is mainly warm water species in the river system. There are a lot of sunfish, spotted bass in the local small creeks. They are easy and fun to catch. Another respectful game species I regularly chase is stripped bass. They live in bigger river systems and they are harder to catch, but the speed and fighting ability make them a really interesting game to chase. In the summer time, I have taken longer fishing trips for about a week or two. My favorite destination is Utah. There are a lot of pretty trout waters in the western United States.
- Another interesting thing are fiberglass rods. They are your favourite rods? Why go fiberglass today with all those lightweight fast action rods? Some say fiberglass rods have the soul...
Yes, it is “the soul problem” (chuckle). First off, unlike many senior anglers, I have no nostalgia for fiberglass. I approach fiberglass because of its superior feeling as a short and lightweight rod. Just like you, I started with suspicion, but after I tried out several rods myself, I am totally sold. The short (6-7 feet), 3-5 weight fiberglass rod actually feels as light as a graphite rod. And it is soft enough to produce some interesting feel. I think most of the “misunderstanding” of the fiberglass rod (included me) comes from bad rods. Just like graphite rods, there are good and bad rods out there. Bad fiberglass rod are heavy, dampen action and bounce like crazy during cast (generating many shock waves into the cast). But a good fiberglass rod is just like good graphite rod, smooth and accurate with a lot of feel. The feel actually is quite hard to describe in fiberglass. But “soul” is about right! I always joke with friends, hooking a fish with a graphite rod is pretty much the end of the fun, but for fiberglass it is just the start another kind of fun.
I like good graphite rod also, I have a Sage XP 590. I love it as much as fiberglass rod. I use this 5 weight 9 feet rod for Czech nymphing. The stiff rod allows me to feel every bit of condition under the surface, just like my finger feeling the bottom. Every bounce, every fish takes. It’s a zen type of fishing that I really enjoy. I just obtained another two heavy weight fiberglass rods this spring, Fenwick 909 9wt and Fenwick 9310, 10wt. I used them for stripped bass fishing. Surprisingly, they are really not that bad in regard to the weight. And when I hooked a good fish, I have full confidence with those heavy rods. They are virtually indestructible! They also give me good feel, I call it “Chewy and Fluid” (ha).
- What about other tackle? Do you use other retro stuff?
Simple click and pawl reel.
I recently obtain a two handled click and pawl reel dated back to 1930’ (see photo). The idea is using simple tackle to master my skill. I have hooked a 10lb stripped bass with a simple click and pawl reel and I feel it such a wonderful experience to be able tangle with a big fish with such a simple device. I think the admiration comes from the films of a American legend – Lee Wulff. He always used a simple tackle and simple rod to land the big game such as Atlantic salmon. I think now a day, people are over emphasis the technology. There is nothing wrong with technology, but you can have just as much fun, or even more by using simple gear.
My friend makes a beautiful fly wallet with my fish on the leather. http://www.flywallets.com/It is a gorgeous wallet! I store some of my wet flies and nymphs in there. Not only does it function flawlessly, but it really shows the beauty of our sport. I have spent many nights just drinking red wine, tying flies and enjoying all those little beautiful arts.
Wet fly swing technique,
Since this is a pretty ancient fishing technique, I guess you can call it retro style. I just “discovered” this old fishing technique, wetfly swing, about two years ago. It is a very rewarding and joyful fishing technique. I was introduced to it from my friend Vlad, a great musician and flyfisher. He started to show me some elegant wetfly patterns. I really love those simple and elegant flies. Needless to say they are all full of history. The wetfly swing fishing itself is also a pure form of art… I feel myself quite relaxing when swinging a wetfly, the style really allows the angler to enjoy the surrounding too.
- This is your quote: "I will trade all my fancy gears with a day fishing in the Skeena river in it's 1960" . Why is that? Is it the tackle? Is it because fishing was different back then or is it something else?
Salmon, steelhead and Skeena. The holy water for salmon and steelhead. We all feel a bit late with regard to the abundance of natural resources. The big fish and the glory of the fishery are always a bit ahead of our birth. And they are still decreasing in a astonish speed. I guess this is my feeling of the current severe conservation issues in the Pacific North West and the sadness of environmental changes in general. I always say people in the old times may not have all the advanced systems… not much internet, not fancy TV, housing or equipments, but actually they were living in a very spiritual way surrounded by enriched natural resources and cleaner environments. I guess it is more utopia style that I dream about. I think part of the reason comes from the fear of disconnection between nature and man. They are so many fun activities for the modern kids. They no longer feel the need for this environment, water comes from the tap, food comes from the super market. It is hard to educate/ or persuade people to protect the environment if they disconnect themselves from nature. I think this is part of the reason I have “the kid policy.”
- If you would have to describe the whole magical fly fishing world in one or two sentences or favourite quotes, what would they be?
Fly fishing is a good excuse to go out and keep me exploring. I feel empowered when I bring a fly rod.
- Mark, thank you for doing the interview. In behalf of readers of Sportski Ribolov and the editorial board, I wish you all the best with your work, tons of inspiration and many beautiful fishing memories!