Take a brush and paint a dayfly!
By Preben Torp Jacobsen
makes fly fishing so fascinating is the fact, that it can be
associated with so many other hobbies. Someone starts even
learning to tie flies and then gets interest in fly fishing.
Most of us go the other way round - we start fly fishing and
then by talks with other fishermen get the knowledge, that one
can tie ones own flies and that with great reward.
Then one starts to find
out, that the flies shall imitate certain insects, and then the
way is not fare to the nearest library to enlarge ones knowledge
of biology from school. Some starts to build up their own
library and then one is on the way to be a book-collector and
not only uses ones spare-money on fly tying materials but also
on old, much looked after, angling books about our beloved
To make good imitations
it will always be an advantage to have the real things in front
of one, when one binds them. Unfortunately dayflies, sedges,
stoneflies and name them all are not easy to bring home. They
can be damaged in the small containers or they change colours in
the time it takes to bring them from ones angling water to home,
and it’s the colour they had when we caught them on the water
that’s of importance - that’s what the fish sees.
Some people try to
maintain them on colour-film, and that’s an art by itself.
I have tried to
‘immortalise’ them in drawings and then afterwards give them the
right colour using watercolours.
The prehistory to this
is rather peculiar. I had written my first book about dry
fly-fishing and wanted to include illustrations in colour of the
different hackle-feathers and dayflies. I made contact to one of
the most ardent illustrators of scientific works we had - Poul
Winther. Unfortunately he was very sick at the moment and had
moreover a lot of work waiting from the ‘Galatea’ -
deep-sea-expedition. A good friend of mine, the late Henrik
Bech, suggested that I started myself making the drawings and
afterwards put colour on. His belief in my abilities did, that I
drove to Aalborg to a paint shop, bought watercolour paints and
tools and started on my own, trying to learn the art. Even in my
time at school we had learned a little about using pencil and
brush and water-colours and I had now to renew my knowledge and
even better it. In a month time I had already made great
progress and had painted the hackles, and then I started on the
dayflies (Ephemeropterae). Half a year later I had all the
drawings ready for my book. It was not so difficult as it looked
on beforehand - and in additions one learns to look at the
smallest details in their body.
The hackles were the
easiest to illustrate - they ‘keep quit’ and that even I used
much time. I could of course had made them on colour-film; but
then I had to make a lot of experiments, then their colours
depends totally on the background on which they are taken- if
one wants all the finer details one has to use the darkest
photo-paper as background and that makes them very sombre. With
Indian ink and watercolours one can reproduce them in the right
structure and nuance.
Quite the opposite when
we shall draw dayflies and other insects - they are always
moving around or they take a position that makes it difficult to
illustrate them. Many times like in nature they want to sit
upside/down. With some patience I succeeded - and one shall
really have good time and use much time; but then the results
will be a fine reward.
Why not also
‘immortalise’ them on film, as many ardent photographers do?
Even with the best equipment and films one can’t get the same
results as with pen and brush. With these we can illustrate the
finest details and moreover we can illustrate them with the
light coming from behind and front. I know for sure, that the
only things we need are an impression of the overall colour of
breast (thorax), body (abdomen) and wings - we shall not like
e.g.. F.M. Halford try to copy every detail on our hooks. But
when we shall make a drawing and afterwards put colour on, why
not make it as exact as possible [As Francis Francis once said
“If a thing is worth doing - it’s worth doing it well”]. When we
afterwards look at the pictures we can make our own conclusions
in what way we shall imitate them! My Finish friend, the
architect, the late Simo Lumme, used crayons in the three
main-colours and on a rough sketch of the fly he placed the
colours of the main-parts and by this got a moment-picture of
the fly that afterwards could be used as a fine guide, when he
sat and created his artificial flies.
Many of the
colour-pictures of insects and flies in angling books are
reproduced in a too small scale - many of them nearly useless.
When we shall make our drawings and afterwards reproduce them,
it shall be in a scale from 5-10x.
At the start I bought a
colour-box (Winsor & Newton) with half-pans and at start a few
colours, but as usual I supplied and ended with these:
Cobalt Yellow - Cadmium
Red - Burnt Sienna - Cobalt blue - Emerald Green - Ivory Black -
Chinese White - Raw Sienna - Venetian red - Burnt Umbra - Davy’s
Of brushes I bought the
finest round Sable brushes - sizes 0,1,2 and one bigger for
larger surfaces - they are expensive but their money worth. The
smallest are working with such a fine point that one can use
them as if they were an ink -pen. Then one needs a few
containers of glass or plastic in which to mix water and colour.
The water shall be distilled or boiled and one keeps it in a
I tried also to use real
watercolour paper for my drawings of hackles and insects; but I
found that good, smooth drawing cartoon was much better for my
One moisten the brush
and makes a few strokes over the surface of the colour-tablet in
the pan and then turns the brush in a few drops of water in the
little cup and repeat the process until the colour is right!
Then one ‘paints’ a small quadrate and sign it with the name of
the colour and by this one creates a sort of colour-catalogue
For ‘larger surfaces’ -
e.g. the wings of the dayflies, one needs one of the bigger
brushes; but don’t use too much water, so that it runs - the
paper will bulge and it takes a longer time to dry. I have
always used as little water as possible and by this it is easier
to control. The same is the case when it comes to the finer
details - I have only dissolved the colour in very little water
and only so little on the fine brush that I could use it as an
ink -pen and make fine lines and dots. By this they dry very
fast and one can add other colours without the risk that they
shall run into one another.
The main rule is to
start with a ‘weak solution’ - one can always make it darker.
The opposite way is much more difficult.
The best way to learn it
is to start - a small box with colour-pans, a few brushes, a
water-bottle and a piece of alufolie (from which to make cups)
and a good pencil and paper fill up very little in ones fishing
bag - and are the trout or grayling dull and the weather is
good, then there is nothing more beautiful than to try make a
small drawing and later colour it.
By Preben Torp