The Practitioner’s Edge: Dan Burr Illustration
The beauty, the wonder, and the discovery in nature is a well that never runs dry. An angler appreciates this and is underlying the drive to get outdoors. Each outing is another opportunity to take it in, observe the minute details of your catch, and uncover new treasures where you fish. It’s beyond amazing to me personally and a pursuit that will see me through to my last days provided in this life.
Today we can readily view this through the eyes of other anglers. The internet captures much through shared photos on social media but when you see the beauty, the wonder, and the discovery from the perspective of a talented artist, it brings a depth you will miss, even in your own experiences. Beyond the fact many can’t cover all the locations and species available on this planet in one life, we’re all viewing it from a different perspective. A talented, experienced angler will see the finite details.
When an artist is also an angler, fly tier, guide, and lifelong outdoorsman, it shines through. This is the edge of Dan Burr’s incredible artwork. It’s clear Dan’s not an artist who draws fish but instead a true practitioner and lover of nature, bringing his real world knowledge and experience to breathe life into his work. That makes all the difference. To learn more about all the depth that Dan brings to his work, I took some time to learn more about his story in the interview that follows.
How did you get started as an artist and what kind of fishing do you do?
I was raised in Mt Green, Utah. My father is an artist so I grew up watching him paint and sculpt. He taught me and encouraged me to draw and paint from a very early age. I studied illustration in college and earned a BFA in Illustration from Utah State University and a Masters Degree in Illustration from Syracuse University.
My grand father was a fly fisherman and so was my dad. My dad tied his own flies and I can remember watching him tie when I was young.
I can’t remember a time in my life when fishing was not part of our family life. We camped, hunted and fished. That is what we did as a family.
Now as an adult, I fish as often as I can, usually several times a week. I tie the patterns that I use and I’m a licensed fly fishing guide in Idaho as well. I only guide a day or two during the week so I have time to paint and draw.
I think my art is unique because I fish a lot. I know what the water should look like. I know the anatomy of the fish I am painting. I know how a fisherman should be holding the rod or rowing the boat. I’ve lived it so I know in my mind what makes the work authentic and genuine. Its pretty easy to tell if an artist who paints fishing scenes or fish, has fished enough to know what he is doing… I see bad examples of it all the time…
What’s a favorite fishing story that inspires your work? Do you have any tips or recommendations for readers?
I don’t think I have a favorite fishing story but once when my son was about 8 or 9, we were fishing the Teton river. We were floating and for some reason he thought the spinning rod was the way to go. He wasn’t catching many fish so I threw a fly down stream from the boat and handed him the rod. I said to him, “now when that big rainbow eats that fly, you set the hook” seconds later a nice rainbow ate the fly and he set the hook… we landed it and he has been hooked ever since. My son who is now 21 is a guide as well. He is studying fisheries biology at USU in Logan Utah.
As for a tip I would give any fly fisherman, fish with confidence and choose a fly for the right reasons. Fish it with confidence and you will catch more fish. You will cast it to better spots in the river, you will make sure its floating or drifting well, and the fish will eat it more often than not. Confidence and purpose equal strikes.
Tell us more about your art and how you work with anglers?
I do a lot of commissions for fisherman. They usually want a painting from a trip or their favorite place or a big fish that they caught in some exotic land. I once did a portrait of a 27 1/2” New Zealand brown trout that was huge. When I drew it to the measurements, I couldn’t believe how big it was!
As an illustrator, I do a lot of work for a bunch of different publishers. I have to create an image that helps tell the story. I’ve learned over that past nearly 30 years how to create images that capture the narrative. When someone hires me to do a painting, I bring all of those years to the table, all of my fishing and hunting experiences as well. I don’t think I have ever had a client say “ I don’t like it”. Usually they love the work they have hired me to do. I learned along time ago that if I don’t like the work that I’m doing, I keep working on it until I do. Any painting that leaves my studio has to satisfy me first and it has to fulfill the assignment, be designed well and painted well. If it does that, I hand it off to the client.
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Patrick Ritter is the founder of River King Fishing, LLC. Raised near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the outdoors, especially fishing, has always been a passion.