Local artist blends passions for illustrations, fly fishing
The first time Indiana native Andrea Larko doodled inside her own drawing of a fish, she thought it looked “kind of cool.”
Though she’s been drawing her whole life, Larko’s work has never been limited to the margins of school notebooks — she has a degree in illustration from Rochester Institute of Technology and years of experience in graphic design.
But she wasn’t quite prepared for the response she got when she posted the fish drawing online.
“The response I got was crazy,” she said. “I had people online asking for more fish.”
So she kept at it, doing “really simple designs” and expanding it to other design elements, such as over-exaggerating features of the fish.
“It was just a lot of fun to play with,” she said.
What started off as playtime for Larko’s artistic side has become a successful side business, which she balances with a job in the production department of The Indiana Gazette and the hobby that started it all: fly fishing.
“It’s from the minute I wake up until I go to bed — and I’m an insomniac,” she said. “It’s pretty much my whole day unless I take an hour to go fly fishing. I don’t get to draw as much as I want to because I have to get my taxes done now, plus I’m mailing out orders, reading countless emails a day and blogging and social media and Facebook and Twitter. It’s so much more marketing than I thought it would be.”
She used to be able to complete one of her 9-by-12-inch fish illustrations in a few days. Now the process for each piece takes a few weeks. She draws the fish in pencil and goes over it with ink, scans it into a computer and cleans it up using Photoshop, then digitally colors the inside of the fish with Illustrator.
When she’s not working on her illustrations or managing her business, Larko does find time to fly fish, a hobby she picked up a few years ago with her boyfriend when she returned to Pennsylvania after graduating from college.
“It was something I had really missed being at school,” said Larko, 30. “I’ve been fishing my whole life. I have three sisters, and my father didn’t have any boys, so we all went fishing and camping together.”
When she and her boyfriend noticed other fishermen fly fishing, they decided to give it a try.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said.
It was their newfound love for fly fishing that prompted Larko to start creating illustrations of fish, which soon grew into demand for her illustrations from all over the world. She gets commissions from people looking for anything from a tattoo to a print to a design for apparel.
But it’s not just individuals asking for her work. She’s worked with AVID Sportswear; Teton Valley Lodge, a fly fishing lodge in Idaho; and Los Anglers, a fishing apparel company based in California. She also created a label design and packaging art for one of Square Mile Cider’s drinks.
Two of her drawings were licensed by Simms Fishing Products, which provides high-end fishing equipment and accessories.
“Someone on Instagram works for them and asked if they could send my artwork over to their apparel department, and now they’re doing two shirts, and I have an artist’s series coming out through them next spring.”
She’s also been contacted by the owner of The Spey Company, who wants to use her illustrations for a limited run design on his reels.
“I’ll probably do two different designs and there will be maybe 10 reels of each design available,” she said. “Some will be hand painted by me and they’ll all be signed and numbered. His reels are absolutely gorgeous — they’re like artwork to me.”
Her work has led to recognition at international trade shows as well. The International Fly Tackle Dealer Show recently named the Simms’ Fishing Products Women’s Solarflex — Artist Series shirt featuring one of her designs as the Best Women’s General Apparel for the coming year, she said. And she’s been invited to sell her products at upcoming trade shows in New Jersey and Ohio.
Her boyfriend, Zeb Tonkavich, of Pittsburgh, enjoyed it so much that he started his own fishing-related venture, too. He builds custom glass fly rods, designed to cast better than mass-produced rods.
“They’re works of art in and of themselves,” Larko said. “Once you cast a rod from him, you’ll never want to cast a store-bought rod again. The first one he made was for me, and I absolutely love it.”
Tonkavich’s rods sell for hundreds of dollars online, and he’s been “overwhelmed by orders” from all over the world, Larko said.
“Any day he’s not working, he’s doing fly rod stuff, and I’m doing my artwork,” she said.
For the two of them, their creations are more than just side businesses — they connect them to the larger fishing community and to Larko’s family.
“We’re hoping to do a fly fishing show in Somerset, N.J., next year,” she said. “I was asked to do it this year, but my artwork was selling out so fast that I had no stock to do it. It’s just so neat to meet everyone in the industry.”
Larko and Tonkavich have also been able to create unique gifts with their skills. Larko’s father bought one of her prints, and Tonkavich built him a spey rod, a double-handed fly rod, as a present.
“My dad had surgery on his shoulder, and it’s just easier to cast a spey rod,” she said. “He always said he’d never fly fish, but it’s so much easier on his shoulder that he can fly fish all day with no pain. My whole family is behind both of us 100 percent, and I’m really, really lucky.”
Larko’s portfolio and online shop are available at http://andrealarko.com. She also sells prints through Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/andrealarko.
Information about purchasing one of Tonkavich’s custom rods is available at www.snowmancustomrodworks.com.