Talk long enough with seasoned anglers and eventually you’ll hear someone say, “there’s an art to fly fishing.” That’s a curiously poetic phrase. They’re usually talking about technique, presentation or tying, but it’s interesting to see the correlation one makes between angler and artist. The Black Gnats are equally interested in this connection, so we’ve started a recurring section called “The Art of Fly Fishing” to highlight the unique stories and individuals that bring these two worlds together. This week’s featured artist …

Jonathan Marquardt

Jonathan Marquardt

For designers in our society, the process of translating an idea into a finished product is one that demands immediacy. Jonathan Marquardt is on the opposite end of this spectrum. This Wisconsin-based artist uses a modern version of early techniques designed for mass communication and reproductions: linocut. Linoleum block printing, or linocut, comes from an early movement in Germany where a wood block or woodcut was used as an image-transferring device. An artist would draw an image on a wooden block, then that image would be carved into the block by a craftsman. As technology advanced, alternative surfaces were introduced, like the linoleum block.

Linocutting is very time consuming and extremely personal. The artist slowly cuts away the material that is not needed for that particular portion of the design. Every area of the block must be touched by the artist’s hand, and each cut is a critical part of the image. We’d like to thank Jonathan Marquardt for helping to keep this amazing art form alive. Jonathan is both an artist and a craftsman, as well as a fly fisherman. His work is simplistic in design, but extremely difficult in technique (sounds a bit like fly-fishing!). He also has one of the coolest company names out there –  BadAxe Design!

This week, we chat with Jonathan about art, fly-fishing and the future of the sport. Enjoy!

Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?

Jonathan Marquardt: My dad is a big fisherman. He loves fishing for everything and my brothers and I grew up fishing out of his pontoon boat on Big Green Lake in Wisconsin. Every year we would take a trip up to Canada with a group of my dad’s friends and I remember feeling pretty bored while jigging for walleye. I can’t remember exactly where my interest [in fly fishing] came from, but we signed up for a fly-tying class when I was about 13 and the rest is history.

Big Spring Twist
“Big Spring Twist” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

“… we signed up for a fly-tying class when I was about 13 and the rest is history.”

BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?

JM: Art is truly the one thing I have been doing my entire life. Back to my earliest memories I can remember drawing. Drawing was a challenge and something different that I did within my family, it set me apart. Some great teachers along the way encouraged my talent and over time I became more committed to building skills to enhance my work. Inspiration comes from an interesting place and is hard to describe. When I am making art it gives me a similar feeling to fishing. It is similar to why folks tie flies.

Driftless Brown
“Driftless Brown” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

BG: When did you realize that your passion for art and fly fishing could be combined?

JM: About 3 years ago. In art, you’re always looking for focus. I’ve been making art for a long time, but I never truly felt like I was tapping into my real focus. My wife (who’s done a lot of great things in my life) put fly-fishing and art together for me. She told me to try combining the two things I enjoy most. The result was BadAxeDesign.

Eat It
“Eat It” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

“My wife (who’s done a lot of great things in my life) put fly-fishing and art together for me.”

BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?

JM: I’ve been making a lot of saltwater art lately. The ocean is almost overwhelming with the amount of life and color all over the place. We try to get down to the Keys once a year to do some fishing and spend time with family. I think the water down there is a great experience.

Tarpon Study
“Tarpon Study” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?

JM: I would like to make a bigger impact in the lives of other people, especially children. If I had an unlimited amount of money, I would work to find ways to do that. If I’m allowed to fish while I’m spending all that money, then I’d do that too!

Patriot Trout
“Patriot Trout” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

“I would like to make a bigger impact in the lives of other people, especially children.”

BG: If you could fish with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

JM: I would go fishing with my dad. He’s the most studied fisherman I’ve ever met. Even if someone has more skills than him, no one can match his love of the outdoors and enthusiasm for bringing a fish to the boat. I named my musky piece “Shoulders” for his famous exclamation. He’d always yell, “Look at the shoulders on him!”

“Shoulders” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

BG: Where do you see the future of fly-fishing?

JM: I see it as a hybrid. There’s never been as much visibility for the industry as there is today. The influence of bloggers is growing and makes a real impact on a relatively small industry. The Fiberglass Manifesto is a great example of this change. Cameron Mortensen’s work has heavily influenced the re-emergence of fiberglass rods made by large companies, as well as the promotion of the many small rod builders who are usually kept out of the spotlight. The more the love of our sport grows, the stronger our conservation efforts can be to preserve the places dear to us.

“Bow” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

“The more the love of our sport grows, the stronger our conservation efforts can be to preserve the places dear to us”

BG: How does your medium accentuate your artwork? Does it translate to your style of fly-fishing?

JM: Linocut printmaking has a very strong emphasis on line. This works well with how I see things when I sit down to layout a piece. The best compliment that I’ve received from people viewing my art at shows has been for them to say that I have a distinct style. Many have told me that when they saw one of my paintings, they could tell it was my work. The process of becoming a printmaker has made me a better painter and painting has made me a better printmaker. I guess an unintentional similarity between my artwork and style of fishing is size. I love to fish small water and many of my prints are considered small. More and more, I’m being asked to do work on a larger scale. I guess it’s time to buy a large press to accommodate those requests!

Why Wisconsin
“Why Wisconsin” Used by permission. ©Jonathan Marquardt.

BG: What would you say to someone interested in fly-fishing but is too intimidated to start?

JM: Set up some targets in the backyard and work on your casting, it builds confidence. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for help. Just get out there and do it. You learn best on your own and there’s nothing like finding a stream by yourself, picking a fly on your own and catching a fish on a fly rod.

Please check out Jonathan’s website [BadAxe Design] to learn more about his work and his process. There’s also this great video showing how he does his thing …

Follow Jonathan on Instagram and Twitter, then check out his Etsy shop.