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Fly fishing niche extends Valley painter’s audience around the globe

Tom Hanson, a longtime artist in Spokane Valley, has found a curious niche: painting fishing flies with his modern art flair. The paintings and prints highlighting flies are selling all over the world within the upscale fly-fishing community. (Colin Mulvany)
Tom Hanson, a longtime artist in Spokane Valley, has found a curious niche: painting fishing flies with his modern art flair. The paintings and prints highlighting flies are selling all over the world within the upscale fly-fishing community. (Colin Mulvany)

Imagine an artificial fly floating on the surface of a stream with ripples of light dancing around it. Capture the image on canvas, and then reach out to the people who are passionate about catching fish on flies.

Now you know what keeps Spokane Valley artist Tom Hanson busy these days.

“I never dreamed of doing fly fishing portraitures, but that’s what this turned out to be,” Hanson said.

At 62, he’s found an artistic niche that reaches around the globe.

A lodge in the Netherlands owns a set of prints. A follower in the San Francisco Bay Area has a collection of originals. Lodges in California and Arkansas; fly fishers in Australia; and a website based in Argentina have his work.

“I have people coming to me from all over the world, inquiring and purchasing,” Hanson said.

Inside his studio at his home near 11th Avenue and McDonald Road, Hanson scooped up a blade full of texture paste on Wednesday and began sweeping it onto a canvas in large strokes, moving at carefree speed.

His eyes and face revealed a depth of concentration from his lifetime in the arts.

“There’s a certain fluidity to it,” he said. “It’s more a dance.”

In Hanson’s mind, the best pieces come from the greatest amount of spontaneity. “Some of it is jazz and some of it is pop,” he said comparing his work to music.

“You don’t want it to look too rigid,” said Hanson, a fly fishman himself. “There’s nothing rigid about a fly in the water.”

A native of Great Falls, Hanson grew up in a family and a community where art was encouraged.

He studied film and television in college, and came to Spokane in 1974 to manage stage sets for Expo. He joined the Harry James Orchestra stage crew after James played at Expo, he said.

That morphed into years of making and selling corporate art, a period of Hanson’s career where he learned to be his own salesman.

The corporate art market died off during the recession in 2008 and remains weak.

By chance, one of the grandchildren in his family knocked over a fly fishing booth at Hoopfest two years ago.

The booth was promoting an upcoming fly fishing fair of the International Federation of Fly Fishers in Spokane.

The subject of Hanson’s art came up and the man at the booth offered a chance for Hanson to show his work at the fly fishing fair.

There, Hanson found his audience. The IFFF purchased a batch of his cards to sell as a fundraiser on the federation’s website store. That connection led to other connections.

His art started taking off.

“I never had a big master plan,” he said. “The best stuff usually isn’t planned.”

But he’s enjoying this chain of fortune. A year ago, he was invited to show his images on midcurrent.com, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is the subject of an August interview with flydreamers.com, based in Argentina.

“I have people coming to me from all over the world, inquiring and purchasing,” Hanson said.

He has had clients asking him to do portraits of their favorite fly, including a Royal Coachman. A lot of them tie their own flies. “Saltwater fly fishing is a huge niche,” he said.

Prints and cards are popular because they are less expensive and are easy to ship, Hanson said.

The originals, however, have a depth and texture that no print can fully capture.

Just the textured base alone “adds a wonderful sense of depth and life to the painting,” he said.

Once Hanson puts down the base, he builds over it with layers of acrylic paint before topping it with a polymer with bits of mica for an overall luster.

“I adapted,” he said. “Tenacity and passion over the years have kept me going.”

Now that he is in demand, he said, “I get to have fun all the time.

“The creative process gives me great enjoyment.”


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