Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview- Artist Becca Schlaff

I first ran into Becca at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo this last March.  I was instantly drawn to her artwork- her use of color and abstraction beautifully capture the essence of fish. We talked briefly then, but I finally got the chance to sit down and interview her recently.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

FR- Becca- why fish?
Becca- A few years ago a friend who is a fly fisherman asked me to do a painting.  He asked me to do a big canvas of a brown trout for his fly shop Nomad Anglers, and everything developed for me as an artist from there. It clicked for me- the colors and textures of the fish and water. I grew up in the country and had previously done animal portraits and fashion design.  The colors grab me in a certain way, combined with the movement of the water, the colors of the fish, the light and reflections.

FR- How would you describe your art, what is your style?  
Becca- I use an expressionistic approach.  Expressionists are the ones that clicked with me, using the paint itself to speak, creating a visual language of texture, layers and transparency with my own emotional reaction.  Abstract expressionism enters in, the play of chance versus control, almost the opposite of my original work.  You see my own commentary emerge from the paint.  The coolest thing for me is when a line or the colors match a picture of a fish I’ve seen, or times I've been on the water, seeing a fish through the water and shifting light and reflections.

FR- So becoming a fisherman yourself has added to or informed your art? 
Becca- Definitely- I’m still learning so much about it.  Everyone tells me to take it one step at a time.   Art and fly fishing are very similar- it seems like the more you let yourself go, the better it is.  The amazing thing about fly fishing and art is that it is enough to just relax and realize I’m in a beautiful place. 

FR- Could you make a go of this without fishermen?  In other words, does fish art translate across the artistic and art consuming world?  
Becca- It does, it definitely crosses both worlds.  Some are anglers who like art, others are collectors who appreciate my work.  Some (non-fishermen) don’t recognize what it is at first, but when I tell them it’s fish the seem to appreciate it all the more.   I can always tell who the fly fishermen are though- they walk right in and love it, they go crazy.

FR-What do you do to escape?  Is it something outdoors, or does it involve Netflix?
Becca- A little of both.  My best escape is going outdoors.  On a walk with my dog, or a longer hike, or something on the water.  I just cancelled my cable, but I do Netflix too.

FR- Which came first, fishing or painting fish? 
Becca- Fish painting, but fly fishing was the next step.  I grew up boating and kayaking, and love spending time on the water.  I went to Montana and had a great time fishing there this summer.  Fly fishing, for me, has brought my art back full-circle.  I'm so happy to experience what I'm trying to depict in my work.

FR- Do you ever fear being type-cast as an artist?
Becca- I don’t.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I haven’t really thought about it.

FR- Do you ever need a break from painting fish?
Becca- I do occasional landscapes.  I just did an abstract of someone casting.  My memory of a friend who could really cast, I loved the long loops and the lighting.

FR- You’ve been featured by Midcurrent, The Fiberglass Manifesto, and American Angler- is your art changing as you get wider exposure, and if so how?
Becca- I don’t think so.  It’s really cool to get the exposure.  It makes me more committed to what I’m doing.  Things change over time.  I seem to be doing more abstracts.  I’ve only been doing just fish for about a year, so I feel that I’m still a newbie, still developing.

this painting is based, in part, on a photo by yours truly
FR- I see you went fly fishing in Montana this year- if budget weren’t an issue, what would be your ultimate fly fishing destination?
Becca- Alaska, Belize, Italy, Chile- Facebook and its network of anglers has exposed me to a lot of places I didn’t know about.

FR- What’s your favorite fish?
Becca- It’s hard- brown trout?  You probably want me to say brook trout. (I laugh- no)

FR- You seem to capture a lot of motion in your paintings- how do you accomplish that?
Becca- I think that’s from the way I handle and apply the paint.  Layering and dripping, I move the canvas around a lot, they go through a lot of 360 degree rotations.  Sometimes I remove paint, or use a knife to scrape or drag it.  There's a lot of techniques, but it's about capturing a feeling, my reaction to what I'm seeing.

FR- Are fish a metaphor for something bigger in your life?  
Becca- It affects my soul- the water and colors of the fish and how I grew up in the country.  I think it's all tied together.

FR- Commissions aside, what determines that a fish picture gets turned into a painting- do you see each fish as a blank canvas, or does it take some back-story to inspire you?
Becca- It depends.  Sometimes I get a photo with a story, but I do think each fish is a blank canvas.  I typically have a million pictures out for each painting.  I might use three different pictures of brown trout with pictures of light and water to trigger that emotional response  in myself in that expressionist process I talked about.

FR- My personal approach to art is like or dislike, without a whole lot of thought to the process.  What do you say to art Neanderthals like myself-  what wisdom can you share in art appreciation?
Becca- I'm always surprised- fishermen always walk into my booth at art shows, say they don't know anything about art and then come up with these amazing insights, things I haven't seen in my paintings.  I think fly fishing, being an art, makes fly fishermen more open to art.

FR- What’s on your iPod?
Becca- I have a horrible mix of stuff.  Alternative, classic rock, but I have my Lady Gaga and Pitbull.  I play more upbeat high energy stuff when working on a canvas.  I listen to Pandora a lot.

FR- When’s the last time you took a knife to a canvas?
Becca- (Laugh’s) Never! I think I ought to sometimes, but never.

FR- What artists and art forms inspire you?
Becca- My number one is Gerhard Richter, he’s more of a contemporary style artist I learned about in school.  One of my professors turned me on to him.  It’s where my love of the colors and textures of paint came from.

FR- I’ve seen photos of your latest brown trout abstract, which is definitely more abstract than others I’ve seen.  Is this a direction you’re moving in?
Becca- I think it’s the direction I’ve been in.  My early work is similar.  It’s a fine line, whether I use one shot for more realism, or use several to create connections.  I think I just have degrees of abstraction, though those canvasses may be some of the most abstract I’ve done.

I really want to thank to Becca for participating.  I love her artwork and so will you.  Make sure you check out her artwork on her website, or join her on Facebook.  Her studio is in East Lansing, Michigan.

You can find Becca at the following art shows, among others.
January 7, 2012 at Indiana on the Fly
Jan 21,22 at the Islamorada Fine Art Expo
February 11,12 in Bonita Springs, Florida
February 18,19 in Sarasota.
March 10 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo in Warren, Michigan.

Becca wants to fish when she's in Florida in February- help a gal out, give her some tips, share guide contact info, or better still if you live there, take her fishing.


  1. Awesome interview, FR and Becca. FR, thanks for introducing me to her work -- Becca, it's gorgeous, and I love your perspective!

  2. Met her and her Mom at the Bay Harbor art show- love her work and she is a pleasure to know.

  3. Absolutely beautiful work...I think that I need a wall mural. : ) A wall full of brook trout... How does that sound, FR??