This little parable has probably been borrowed, adapted and rewritten countless times. The lesson holds truth though and I think my rewriting is just as apropos when it comes to the subject of being a fly-tier. As students we sometimes mistake “quantity” for “mastery.” We are likely to ignore the path under us while we follow the myth of the end result. The following are some of my latest musings on the process of creativity. Apply them and I promise you will enjoy your path on your way to your destination.
Applying Art Theory to our flies
My formal schooling is as an artist. I can sketch and draw from memory, paint well and have a visual eye for color theory. I realized early on that the art of fly tying is very much a conduit for personal expression. Every fly tier goes through their process of wanting to create “the perfect fly”. We also feel the need to explore different kinds of flies and materials along the way. All of us slop our way through and leave a hundred “bad” flies in our wake. Please make those hundred bad flies and don’t look back. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t learning.
Give yourself permission to be messy and create bad flies.
Creativity is there for all of us to explore. I remember first learning to tie. I didn’t have a teacher, but I had enthusiasm. I just dove in and begin playing with techniques. Like all artistic skills, it is a messy process full of expletives from broken threads and unwinding hackles. You are going to make a lot of ugly flies and mistakes. The trick is to identify your mistakes along the way and make changes as you go. To the best of my knowledge, there are no recorded savants in fly tying. We all learn by doing and hone our skills. So, it is important to give ourselves permission to play a bit, experiment and create bad flies.
Learn from others but guard against dogmatic ideas and notions
Along our tying process we learn little tricks, bad habits and what works best for each of us individually. I am always open to suggestions of ways to do things, but I am put off by those who want to express their dogmatic arguments of how something is supposed to look or be done. If I see someone struggling I ask them if they want advice before just giving it to them. I don’t wish to impose myself on their learning process unless they want my help. I hope that others will respect my process of learning as well.
Don’t compare to others, instead find inspirations that you can apply.
Often as learning tiers we make the mistake of holding our work up to others more experienced in tying. If as an artist you had just start painting, would you hold your work up to someone who has had years more experience and beat yourself up for not painting as well? Accept your work where it is at currently. Don’t copy but instead be inspired by other’s work. While we would like to believe that there is some perfect standard, we should be striving for that from with ourselves. Your fly designs will improve over time and will stand in their own authenticity.
Creativity and the theory of less.
It is a myth that creativity comes from having unlimited choices. Creativity comes from intentionally limiting yourself. Having virtually unlimited choices is a Western idea… We can find quite a lot of practicality and creativity doing things with the few choices we intentionally give ourselves. See for yourself in your next fly tying session how many different variations of flies you can make by limiting your selection of materials. Variety will rise and thrive in your work and it will be a kind of variety that is organic and personalized.
Fall in love with your work.
Having fewer choices will push you to look closer and make choices that are much more focused in every step. We learn the subtleties of our designs. Having limitation creates focus to detail that lets us fall in love with our work. Each hook you put in your vise is a clean slate for you to improve your technique and develop an understanding of your work and design.
Check out my Fly tying video
See my process for tying these flies here.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a cuddly dog, and a very lucky cat. Dennis is an avid minimalist, wood craftsman, curious tinkerer and learner and most notably a deeply focused tenkara angler.