Introductory story of more time for art and fishing
My fishing has slowed down, advancing age bringing the usual stiff joints, like they need oil, narrowing my horizons of mobility, so common to aging, but in my case, I suspect worse than most. I still get out fishing regularly though, to what I suppose I can now call my 'home waters'; a dozen or so very pleasing spring-fed ponds, a gentle cascade of them linked like a dowager's necklace by the thinnest thread of a tiny stream in groves of century-old oak trees. There's a backdrop of high, purple peaks, and it's lonely enough as well. It is on Lourensford, a picture-book pretty farm outside Somerset West, the sort of place any angler would be happy to spend a few careless hours in the pursuit of trout that are just as testy as you want to make them. The water isn’t gin clear, mostly transparent shades of pale greys and greens, clear enough for sight-fishing to come into play some days. The fish are rainbows trickle-stocked from a hatchery set up on a mountain stream high above the ponds, and they run a pound to two, though some get bigger, and they are spirited. So it's a lovely place for a 2 or 3-weight rod and a deep-set nymph when all you watch for is a hint of shiver in the leader, which makes it all as exciting as fishing the most famous river in the world.
A typical pools rainbow in good colour. The rod is my new 6' stream rod The Ibra, made by Steve Boshoff after the Italian fly fishing legend Roberto Pragliola. The loveliest small stream rod I have ever used.
For newcomers, it always turns out more beautiful than they imagined, and for the regulars, the fishing is predictably pleasant and if you get overcome with a cascade of proper small stream fever there's a good stream, the Lourens, running a short walk from the ponds. I hope to get onto this stream again once the water warms into the deepening summer, providing my joints and lack of litheness are up to it.
The stream beyond the ponds. Robin Douglas in the first one, myself in the other.
(Photo by Keith Douglas.)
Like most sane people I'd rather be fishing every spare moment I have but I find now – again maybe a symptom of age – that capturing trout on paper with pen and ink is nearly as good as taking them from a stream with a rod and line. Well, nearly.
So my art has lately become a bigger thing in my life, not that it hasn't always been. As a student, I made a few bucks on the side selling caricatures of our professors and lecturers to fellow students and later, carried on with a few cartoons of my fishing buddies.
In celebration of Clive Hatton's 9-pound trout from the Langkloof in Barkly East
With time on my hands, I'm letting my imagination flow, especially as I find it in the iridescent beauty of trout and in fly patterns and in the nostalgia of deep-country settings. So I am painting or sketching trout, either leaping or in profile or over pebbles, whatever, sometimes surrounded by hovering mists of hatching mayflies that are somehow always a metaphor for angling. I paint rainbows and brown trout, but of late I have done a few North American brook trout, cutthroats, and some Japanese trout and char, like the pretty Iwames and Amagos and the white-spotted char, and to ring the changes, some backcountry fishing cottages and bridges I've known and there are more than a few of those.
I have done sketches on-site in a wire-bound sketch pad but mostly I draw from photographs. Taking a sketch pad in the back of your fly vest with a range of pencils is not something I made a habit of, but when I did I learned more about what I was drawing than I ever did from a photograph! And I have kept all those pads.
All my art is done on is watermarked 100% cotton Arches cold and hot-pressed paper. I use only Winsor & Newton paints and store the art in large plastic sleeved portfolio folio holders in dry, dark places. I can arrange to frame, but it puts both the price of the art up but also complicates the transport by courier, so I don't recommend it.
Wild rainbow, Bokspruit River, on the summit of the Breg
I've been painting and sketching trout on unfired ceramic salad bowls, cheese platters and coffee mugs. It's a labour of love because painting on unfired ceramic is a lot like painting on blotting paper, but the results are pleasing once the piece is fired and glazed and those I have done to date have been snatched up by friends and family keen to eat a salad or drink a coffee from a utensil evocative of fly fishing.
The pen and ink sketches on ceramic are especially pleasing to me. I draw these onto the raw bisque ware with a very special Amaco pencil. Standard lead pencils don't work as the sketches disappear in the firing process.
I never use digitally generated transfers in this art. All is original pen drawn straight onto the bowl or mug.
The raw product is fired twice at around 1200° C, once to bake it hard and the second time to cover it in a nicely transparent glaze. So it will last your lifetime – or until you drop it!
Pen and ink
I find this a very expressive medium and I do most of my sketches on high quality watercolor paper or Primeart paper. The pencils I use are a combination of Rembrandt Lyra (HB to 9B) and Wolffs Carbon pencils and Faber Castell Ecco Pigment pens sizes from 0.1 to 0.9.
The Tentkop stream Eastern Cape
I only use pastels to draw trout flies because it is possible to get the finest variety of shades and colour tones by mixing the pastel colours. The effect is very life-like. I use Sennelier pastel paper for the drawings.
Traditional Adams, Catskill style
I will soon get back to oils, a medium I love, since the master of bamboo rods and wood, Steve Boshoff, renovated my century-old easel that once belonged to a famous artist, Jean Welz, whose pastel-colored palette is still evident in the patina of its wood.
An earlier oil painting
Farm outside Stellenbosch 1984 Oil on canvass painted on site
Some pieces in private collections
Clem Booth with a painting of mine he donated to the Red Cross Children's Hospital Trust