Fly fishing fruitlessly in mangroves

Fly fishing fruitlessly in mangroves

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Eight questions with artist Josh DeSmit

Recently I discovered artist Josh DeSmit. To get right to the point, seeing his work and hearing his story hit me directly in the solar plexus. I decided I wanted to share his work with whatever audience I could scrounge up. 

Despite encouragement from others I personally veered from the path of art long ago. I have sensed a significant unbalance ever since; partaking a greater variety of working experiences than most people and, as my wife will tell you, too many hobbies. My mind races, always unsettled, always looking for the next challenge. Perhaps writing has helped me be an artist by proxy? There still exists in me a kinship to artistic expression. Occasionally I find myself truly connected to something, and encouraged by the story behind it.

His artwork is dynamic and like any good artist, he finds a way to connect to and inspire his audience, it certainly inspired me. DeSmit's path is proof that we shouldn’t squander our gifts, and represents what we all know to be true, that whatever our spark is we need to fan that flame and not let trepidation or life douse it. When he graciously agreed to answer my questions I started forming the blog in my mind. Like an anxious child I began working ahead considering my own artistic pathway, or lack thereof, sometimes forgetting I wanted the article be not about me but about sharing Josh’s art. Yet as I mentioned, I couldn’t help feeling personally connected to it, and his response to my first question solidified that.

Whether or not you’re an outdoor enthusiast, please take a few moments to enjoy learning more about Josh DeSmit through his own responses to my questions. Josh is a Minneapolis based artist who uses mixed media to express the combined components of his life experiences and passion for the outdoors. To learn even more about him and see more of his art follow the links below.

Photo from

Photo from

Can you describe realizing art was something you absolutely had to pursue?

I knew that I needed to pursue art as a career while working in a warehouse after college and applying for "big boy" jobs in the evening.  All the while, trying to squeeze in some hunting and fishing time and hone my artistic skills until the wee hours. It was crappy day to day work, and nothing I'd applied for really seemed to spark genuine enthusiasm. After a few interviews and countless hours of overtime at the warehouse, I came to think that if I gave the standard route consideration any longer, I would surely never have the time to do it all in earnest and art would slowly exit my life.  Something had to give, and instead of making other folk's dreams a reality I quit my job, and quit applying for those real jobs.

What are you trying to communicate through your art?

Though those days of juggling everything were hectic, they formed a core for my work.  Most folks out there have a couple gigs nowadays, and recreational hobbies are as consuming as they have ever been in society.  Mix in social media, and the world is a chaotic place.  I aim to communicate the overlap of societal calamity and the pursuit of serene escape.  My vehicle is usually fly fishing, because it is one of my most pursued recreations, and I try to couple that imagery with an urban aesthetic. Living in Minneapolis I see the lines of urban and rural blurring rapidly as sprawl is obvious and cabin country is but an hour or two away.

Obviously your work is inspired by the outdoors, what about the outdoors inspires you?

I think the direct connection with nature is exhilarating. In hunting and fishing we humans have to reinsert ourselves into the natural world to have success.  To fool an animal is something we absolutely take for granted in this age of convenience, whereas we used to have to do it to survive. We learn from experiences and mistakes, and the more we go the more we grow. It's rewarding and inspiring to get up early, learn from and soak in nature even if it's for carp below skyscrapers.

From where else do you draw inspiration?

I find inspiration in graffiti on passing trains, billboards, other artists, social media, fly fishing videos, wikiart, museums, my English Setter Linus and my wife, Kelley.  There is a sweet public radio station in Minneapolis called The Current. Stream it, you won't be mad. I love to teach people to hunt and fish, and to see them have success is very inspirational. My family owns a cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well. It is our escape and place to unwind and get inspired on too many beverages.

You use so many tools to complete a piece, how did you come upon your style?

Happy mistakes.  I am an expert in no art process, but I'm pretty good at a lot of things.  I enjoy finding multiple ways to use mediums that suit my hand, and I like to be fairly immediate. I started by combining printmaking with spray paint and sharpies, but have since lost access to the printing press.  I was forced to use new materials.  Now I work in acrylic, paint pens, spray paint, and sometimes bust out the wooden spoon to press a couple prints. If something goes astray I use something else to reign it back in.  I'm not afraid to adapt to the situation of an individual piece. Shit will happen, and often it's the shit fixing that becomes the heart of the piece.

What other artist or person motivates you?

My wife is my main motivator. She kicks ass, and works hard.  She is a photographer on the side, and going through a lot of what I did a couple summers ago. If I'm slacking she tells me, and it's really cool to see her build her business.  She will be full time in no time.  Other than that, there are lots of great new sporting artists with their own touch.  I'm not in the business of one upping, but those folks push me to keep getting better, and when I see someone throw up something rad on instagram I can't help but want to create.

Do you have a favorite piece? Why is it your favorite?

My favorites come and go, but right now I really like a piece I did last summer after returning home from a trip with Redington to film an episode of Find Your Water.  It's called "The Green Drakes" and I just love how it is the right mix of throwback American modernism, mixed with a graffiti-esque edge, and it's just a lot of visuals in a smallish piece.  The inspiration from the green drake hatches we hit on tiny mountain creeks wraps up the awesomeness for me, and brings me back to some cutthroats (trout) I'll never forget. 

What advice do you have for anyone pursuing a creative path in life?

My advice is to struggle for a while, and grind it while you have something stable before you have mouths to feed. Burn the midnight oil.  When you can't stand to do it all anymore then take the leap, but be ready for it. Be different, and offer something unique.  Network like crazy and be good about social media. Have at least a loose plan and be pretty good at what you do.  There's enough money out there to put a roof over your head, and eat some decent food. It won't be glamorous, and it isn't for me, but it's liberating....I might need to take some of this advice now that I've actually written it down.  'Fake it 'til you make it' is what my buddy Ed Anderson told me, and I'm stickin' to it.

Thank you again to Josh DeSmit, best of luck!