The Face Behind The Faces

Derek DeYoung opens up about his art, motivation and what is new in his career.

Today on the Wading Room we are talking with Derek DeYoung, artist extraordinaire and expert angler. Derek’s art can be seen across the globe on the walls of fishing enthusiasts, collectors and fly shops. Not to mention a few Simms products.  We sat down with him to get a peek inside the man behind the art.  You can see Simms’ collection featuring Derek’s art here.

What is going on currently in your art world? Things have been great lately. Most exciting for me is that I have been doing a lot more plain air painting (painting out in nature – in the mountains and on the river.) I have primarily been a studio painter my whole life. The control in the studio setting with lighting and easels that can put your painting in any position is incredible. While the control in the studio is awesome, you throw that all away when you are painting in the open air. The wind is threatening to throw over painting whole time. It might rain or snow (or both). Recently I went to Armstrong’s Spring Creek and walked the entire creek looking for a place to paint. I ended up going just below the parking lot, just took a canvas and bag of paints and a palette and sat on rock. The setting was literally inches from the water. I sat and held the canvas and worked in a completely different way than usual. It felt like a return to simpler things.

What predicated this move to open air painting? Any artist that isn’t looking at new challenges and how to broaden their skill set isn’t growing. The goal here for me is to be an old man who has experienced many interesting things in life through his passion for painting. These new challenges don’t always translate into what I might sell more of per say.  As for open air painting, it came down to the fact I have wanted to do more of this for a while. To develop my own style in painting river and landscapes. It is so inspiring. chasing trout in some of the northern Rockies most beautiful rivers and lakes, I often set the rod down, and consider the scene in front of me, not in how to best fish it, but how to best paint it.

Does this mean we will see more of these from you soon? I don’t want to do riverscapes and landscapes like others have done them. Like with my fish art, I try to find a whole new angle to it. When I do begin marketing these riverscape paintings, my hope is that they will catch you by surprise and maybe even inspire you a bit.  Also, I have always felt it is important to create paintings in series.  It often takes a few paintings into the series to get your stride. If you look at the fish faces I have done over the years, they are completely different…every time I start a new one I’m thinking of new ways to paint it, and how to make it a more successful piece then the last one I did.  So you may see some riverscapes from me soon or I might just take my time in developing them until I am pleased with the outcome.

It is funny how things that once were so new and novel end up coming back years later. Back in the day when I was 22, I did a series of bright fish illustrations. I was working with a series of paintings with fish painted completely different from what I would do later (see the piece here). Then, Gray’s Journal picked it up for a recent cover. It made me get interested again in that type of art. Maybe that will happen years down the road with these early riverscapes.

How does it feel to look back on old works? Do you critique them? When I look at my art in the past, I am at peace with these pieces. Many artists are tormented by their art. I really like the process. I like to know where I was and where I came from.

How do you balance the commercial appeal of your art versus what Derek wants? I was told back in art school that in this day and age, if any of us (painters) are able to make a living, we will absolutely have to abandon our creative visions. That we will be doing what others want and we will lose our passion by the time we are 30 years old. We were actually told this in school! So spending my days painting fish… the way I’ve come up with to do it, for folks that are so passionate about fly fishing, seems like a pretty good gig to me.

I get people from around the country that end up at my house/studio after fishing the Yellowstone River and they sometimes purchase an original painting. That’s awesome, but not always the way it works. A good part of my business is commission work – I have a client who has an Orthodontic practice, and wanted specific sized fish faces for the space behind the reception desk. At one point I had to take any art job I could get, but these days I put all my energy into my fish and fishing lifestyle paintings.

What part of your business is working with brands? Those partnerships are so valuable in the sense that the reach of a company like Simms can’t be compared to a gallery. It allows me to reach people I could never reach. Simms and Abel both have such a loyal customer base. In the art world, it is nauseating that if you put out great work, but you are not validated by the “right” people, you are out of luck. Someone at some time has to validate your talent. Working with Simms and Abel is good validation for the edgy artwork that I do.

When I first got into the fly fishing world, my goal was to bring something new to the table. I have no illusions that I am the best painter out there, but I think I am one of the more creative artists. I want to bring you something fresh and new. That was a challenge in the beginning of my career, because fresh and new is sometimes not welcome. I had people tell me to take a hike and that I will never be embraced by the fly fishing world.  This caused me to work harder. Now, bright and fresh is the norm in the fly fishing industry. I am proud to have been part of that movement. Since then, it has been a whirlwind.

  • Great stuff Derek.  I have some of your fish stickers on my boat and my truck. I always get positive comments about your images.

  • Mark Philippe

    It was a thrill meeting Derek at the Somerset show.  We bought the canvas shown just above this comment.  His art work is deeper than pleasing images of fish.  For both my wife and myself, Derek’s paintings touch our souls!