Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Becca Schlaff Interview

Becca Schlaff
I had the privilege to do a phone interview with Becca Schlaff on Sunday night. It was more like a casual conversation between friends than a typical interview where there is a series of questions and answers.  It is not very often when you talk to someone who talks about their profession and you can tell by the excitement in their voice that they absolutely love their work, this was the case with Becca!
She absolutely loves what she does and although she hasn't fished for long has she found a great love for the sport as well.

Becca Schlaff at the 3 Pillars Gallery in Benton Harbor
More of Becca's work at 3 Pillars Art Gallery
Becca's background in art did not start with painting. Her original interest was drawing in animal portraits which she did as a hobby. She attended Michigan State University where she received a Bachelor of Science in Apparel and Textile Design.

She went back to MSU and started painting in 2007. Becca prefers to paint in oils because there is a texture there as well with all of the layers of the painting giving a feeling of depth. She graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Fine Art Education. She loves doing what she does now and having her own schedule. Although teaching art is not on the horizon now and honestly with her talent and success it may never be, but you can never say never.

Rainbow Spots

After some introductions and idle chat we got to the meat of it....

MN: Becca - I noticed that many of your pieces are very large and quite detailed, how many hours does each piece take?

BS: I get this question asked a lot. It really depends on the size of the piece. Typically I can get one done in 10 to 20 hours. Some projects take much longer and I lose track when it gets to be over 30 plus. Sometimes it is really hard to tell since I'm working on several pieces at once.

MN: Do you have a preference on how big the pieces are?

BS: Bigger is better really. There is just more room for  stuff to happen with the paint. The bigger the piece the so is the texture. It really stands out.

MN: Why have you chosen oils as your preferred medium?

BS: Well oils is a good material to express my emotions through my work. It's not easy for me to really express myself through words, but when I use oils and there is that depth, and the layering I feel I can truly express what I see. Although you cannot see it in the pictures some of the layering is so thick that it stands out from the canvas and other times it is so thin it is almost transparent. I am really satisfied with the way I can express my feelings through my work.

Fall Palette

MN: What made you come to the decision to use fish as your subject to express your feelings?

BS: A good friend of mine, Brian Bielecki owner of Nomad Anglers, suggested that I really should take a closer look at painting fish. So I took his advice and once i did I was really hooked. The the way the sunlight reflected off the scales and the iridescent colors of the fish really almost hypnotized me by its beauty. There is so much going on with the texture and the colors and how it relates to the  power of the fish.

MN: So were you a fisherman first who painted fish, or someone who painted fish then became a fisherman?

(There was a pause as I realized the question was asked in my typical odd sort of way, but when I asked Becca if she understood the question she said she really did.)

BS: As far as fishing goes I am really quite the amateur. I do love it and it is something I am constantly learning. I never really fished as a kid or anything which may seem weird growing up in Michigan. I started painting fish from photographs at first. There is so much to look at and be inspired by photos how they capture that moment in time where you can really study it.

MN: So how long ago did you start fishing and realized you were hooked?

BS: A couple years ago I took a trip to Montana to visit my sister. My brother in law took me fly fishing on the Bitterroot River and I caught my first brown trout. Although it was a smaller one and maybe just 12 inches, I found it to be so beautiful.

Fly fishing in Montana

MN: Besides fish, what else motivates you to paint?

BS: Nature! I just love to be outdoors there is so much about water that inspires me. I love the rivers and how they feel.

MN: In a lot of your work I notice spots, a lot of spots. Id there some symbolism behind that?

BS: The spots are basically a focal point for me. I am really drawn into the skins of the fish, how some scales looks so different and the markings on the fish is something that sets it apart. 

MN: I have seen other artists use a similar focus. Abel reels uses a lot of trout patterns and skins on their products. Are there any artists out there that you really like?

BS: I really like Derek DeYoung. He is the one who does all of the artwork for Abel. I also enjoy A.D. Maddox's work as well. They are both amazing artists.

MN: Are there any other artists out there that really inspire you?

BS: Andy Goldsworthy, I love the way he uses abstracts to express himself through nature. Then there is Gerhard Richter, he really knows how to take colors and textures to get a response in people. You should look these guys up on Google they really do great work.

(I have checked them out and so should you)

MN: I heard you had recently gone fishing with a good friend of mine, Herb Theodore , and you caught your first steelhead? What was that experience like?

BS: We went on the Muskegon River on Herb's boat and found some fish. Herb is a great guy and I had a lot of fun fishing with him.

MN: Yeah I have been fishing with Herb a number of times. He is a maniac. I do not know anybody else who logs those kind of hours on the river. He is one of the few guys who can out fish me on a pretty consistent basis. He is actually trying to teach me how to Spey cast and It's definitely a learning experience. I thought I would catch on much easier.
What kind of set up did you use when you went out with Herbie?

BS: I think it was called "chuck n duck", but like I said I'm definitely a rookie and  I'm not sure about the terms.

MN: Whew, I was secretly hoping you didn't have a lot of success as a novice with something i was having difficulty with.
How many fish did you end up catching?

BS: I ended up catching 3 steelhead and a native rainbow. Herb was pretty surprised about the rainbow. they were all beautiful fish and they are sure to show up in my future work.

First Steelhead ever! An eleven ponder from the Muskegon river.
And her second fish, someone looks excited :)
Once you got chrome you have to have more!
Oh yeah, she's hooked now!

MN: Do you have a wish list of fish you want to catch?

BS: I have already caught Browns and some Brook Trout. I had just caught Steelhead and a Rainbow. Yeah I guess there is a lot I want to catch yet. Tarpon, definitely a Tarpon and a Rooster Fish.

MN: How about Salmon? There is some great fishing in Michigan for them. I know some great spots where I can put you on some great fish and you'd have a blast all day!

BS: Why not Salmon, I'm up for almost anything new and there are a lot of fish for me to catch yet.

At the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo
MN: I noticed you attended the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo, Do you plan to schedule any other events at other fishing conventions in the future?

BS: I was really overwhelmed by the response I received at the Expo. There were a lot of people who recognized my work and told me how much the appreciated it. I was a little nervous going into it because i really didn't know what kind of response I would get. The whole experience was awesome, fisherman understood what it was they were looking at, at a regular art show I would have to explain it to about 95% of the people who saw my work. It was really a lot of fun how people could relate to it and would tell me of their own experiences as well.

MN: Are there any upcoming events you are really looking forward to and do you think you will attend the expo next year?

BS: I do have a couple events in May in Traverse City You can see my schedule of events on my web site. I had a great time at the expo and will definitely be back next year.

MN: Do you have any interest in participating in Art Prize in Grand Rapids?

BS: In 2010 I did attend and I entered a piece called "Steelhead Super Chrome." I was really busy last year and wanted to attend. Sometimes you feel like kicking yourself for not doing it and this was one of those times. I will be definitely participating in 2012.

Steelhead Super Chrome

MN: Any insight to what your piece may be this year? I'm really interested in seeing what you come up with?

BS: Well....I don't really want to give away any secrets as of yet. I still have to find out where I will be showing my work and what kind of space I'm working with so that kind of dictates what I will be doing. I can say that I may try to do something outside my realm. I don't know if it will happen, but maybe next year.

MN: Since you have started to really get into fly fishing have you tried tying any flies yet? Some say fly tying is an art form unto itself.

BS: Well not really. I have plenty of things that keep me busy right now. I'm not saying I never will it's just I'm pretty busy right now. I understand that catching a fish off of your own creating has to be very exciting. In a way it completes the cycle of making something and seeing it work the way you intend it.

I thanked her for the opportunity and we talked some more about fishing and maybe catching some Salmon together. Herb may play a part in further fishing adventures as well. I'm sure we will cross paths on the river, at Art Prize or next year at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. this was my first real phone interview and an enjoyable experience.

Thanks Again Becca!!! I wish the best of success in your art and with the fish as well.

If you like her artwork, I have her website linked to my blog here. Please check it out :)

Portrait of a Brown Trout


  1. Nice write up. Becca's work is amazing.

    1. Her work is really awesome and she is pretty cool herself. Interviewing her was easy and a lot of fun. She was great to talk to!!! Thanks for reading it Kevin!