Sports artist CD Clarke (@CDClarkeArt) is one of the longest-running painters in the game. His staying power is no accident. His work has taken him all over the world in pursuit of the most coveted fishing catches, and his conservation efforts reflect a true passion for the landscapes he paints.
We caught up with CD to discuss how he got into fly fishing and his secret to making a living in the art world.
Flylords: We are huge fans of all your work. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into fly fishing?
cd: Believe it or not, I’ve been fly fishing for half a century! I started at the age of 12 and now I’m 63. The amazing thing is that I didn’t have a mentor to speak of. My father was a fisherman, but not a fly fisherman. I guess I just thought the idea of fly fishing was cool, or at least more interesting than the worm diving and lure trolling I started with when I was very young. I was lucky that by the time I started fly fishing, the sport came out of the shadows. It used to be a sport that tended to be secretive. You didn’t want other people to know your techniques or the flies you used. However, starting in the 70s, there was an explosion of “How To” books on fly fishing. I was able to go to the library and get books by Art Flick and Swisher/ Richards and Vince Marinaro. I taught myself with the help of those books. That was all the little brook trout fishing in the East. Later – much later – I was exposed to all different types of fly fishing from Salmon to Tarpon, Stripers to Roosterfish. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world during my artistic career and do commissions for clients doing all different types of fly fishing.
Flylords: You’ve been a working sports artist for decades. What is your secret to longevity?
cd: Just stubborn I guess! Seriously, it’s a way of life for me – a passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else. For all those decades, I have spent 80% of my time painting, fishing or hunting. If you practice something all the time, you will be good at it. and people notice that you are good at it. I often tell people who say something like “you’re very talented” that if they did something a lot – consistently – they’d be good at it too. If you decided tomorrow that you would learn to play the violin and practiced for an hour every day for 5 years, by the end of that time you would be pretty good. Maybe not Itzahc Perlman, but you’d be great. So I think passion is the secret to my longevity. That and I’m never satisfied with my job. The next painting can always be better.
Flylords: Is there a particular painting or piece that means something extra to you?
cd: It is very difficult to choose a favorite painting. It would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. I have a couple of paintings that I have saved because the subjects meant something special. I have one from a pool called “Mandela Pool” in Rio Gallegos in Argentina. That river is my favorite in the world. Frustrating, unstable, wild and beautiful. I fished it for 15 years. That painting (it’s just a small oil study) brings back a lot of memories. I have another one, a watercolor I did in 1984, of a marsh I used to walk through every morning on the Eastern Shore of Maryland every day when I lived down there. Also the paintings I made of my dogs. I love them of course.
Flylords: We know you are very involved in many conservation efforts. Can you tell us a little about some of the organizations you work with?
cd: I have done a lot of this! I’ve always been an environmentalist and conservationist, and since most artists, myself included, don’t have the extra cash to write big checks, I’ve donated art. I would think that I have given away works of art that have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. I know I gave away art in one year that brought in $50,000. I’ve worked with Ducks Unlimited, Tall Timbers (a grouse conservation organization), BTT (I’m on the dinner committee for the NYC dinner, one of the biggest of them), the Ruffed Grouse Society, and especially the Atlantic Salmon Federation ( I am a director on their board). Also the Atlantic Salmon Trust in the UK. The most successful way has been donating a commission in one of the auctions. The winning bidder can choose what they want me to paint.
Flylords: If you had one day left to fish, where would you go?
cd: Heaven save us! I hope I’m not too close to that point!
It would be Atlantic salmon fishing. Preferably somewhere with enough fish around and early in the season so a fish a day or so was a definite possibility. I like them all and have done my fair share of them – tarpon, bonefish, trout – but as spey rods say “pull is the drug”. To me, the electric pull and sudden weight of an Atlantic salmon taking a moving fly is the most exciting thing there is. I also enjoy casting and even when the salmon don’t take, it’s fun and challenging to do. Combine that with the anticipation of the “next cast” and you have a great day.
Flylords: What’s next for CD Clarke and how can we follow the journey?
cd: The big thing on the horizon is a CD Clarke book coming out in 2023. I’m under contract with a publisher and will have all the images (about 200) delivered and copied very soon. It will be a record of the nearly 40 years I have followed fish, game species and paintings. I am very excited about this.
I have a lot of commissions coming in. I’m on Facebook and Instagram so you can follow me on my adventures this way at @cdclarkeart. I also have a website – cdclarke.com