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Stories From Afield • Updated Mon, Sep 25, 2023

A contemporary outdoor palette: Derek DeYoung

Avid outdoorsman and fine artist Derek DeYoung draws inspiration from nature to create vibrant, captivating pieces that celebrate the pursuit of fish and wildlife. This article explores DeYoung’s roots, his profound connection to the natural world, and his ability to bridge his experiences with his creative vision.

Imagery courtesy of Derek DeYoung.

Imagery courtesy of Derek DeYoung.

Derek DeYoung’s passion for the outdoors stems from a youth spent fishing the “bayous” of Michigan. While no southerner would dub these landlocked lakes and bays as such, this is common terminology amongst the local community of fish-minded Michiganders inhabiting the region's white sandy shorelines, reminiscent of the Florida Panhandle. Throughout his childhood, DeYoung would rise at the crack of dawn to fish the glassy waters off of the Grand River — Michigan’s largest river. There, he would hunt down trout, smallmouth bass, pike, and other species swimming in his adolescent backyard.

“I believe that fishing is so widely appealing because we can frame our passions through it, whatever they may be,” explains DeYoung. “For instance, I have a good fishing buddy who is an engineer. When you take a look at his fly box, every fly is meticulously crafted from the materials to the thread count. Every piece of gear is oiled and well-maintained. For me, it’s always been about the visual. The fish, the scenery. It’s just another conduit for the artistic side of my brain.”

Derek’s art succeeds in showcasing the intricate visuals of the fishing experience through a masterful balance of light, texture, and color. His pieces beautifully intertwine anatomically accurate detail with contemporary abstractions and stylization that uniquely suit his outdoor subject matter. Throughout his body of work, DeYoung draws upon his creativity as an angler in highlighting the meaningful details that speak to the informed onlooker. Indeed, everything from fly and tackle selection to reading the water flows from a creative headspace. Derek's works pay homage to that creativity and situational awareness through portrayals of wild, wonderful outdoor scenes.

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Derek with two large saltwater fishing themed originals.
“Fishing has always been art because the act of fishing has always been about visuals. Fishing is my lens for focusing on details that I add to paintings to preserve a memory.”

DeYoung has certainly created his own palette in visualizing the beautifully complex creatures residing just below the water’s surface. His trained eye and unique style produce strikingly multidimensional scenes that seem to deepen with each viewing. His work truly is a reflection of his love and understanding of the outdoors - not to mention his detail-oriented mindset, determination, and respectful admonishment of traditional sporting art. “You’re never going to create a new way of thinking by only putting the old ways out,” states DeYoung. “You have to be open to getting your hands dirty and trying something new. It doesn’t always work, but you have to try.”

Derek fought hard to pursue his own style throughout his career in fine art painting. He felt that his experience in art school restricted his creativity, as professors pressured him to pursue a more traditional artistic career path in illustration. However, Derek sought something more aligned with his philosophical values, and a medium that he felt best suited his vision. Today, his growing body of work encapsulates his artistic style with signature precision.

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One of Derek's signature close-ups featuring a rainbow trout and a Royal Wulff fly.
“Everything in my world is part of the artistic process. Whether I'm designing, painting, building, taking photos… it never ends.”

DeYoung faced many roadblocks at the start of his career which put the pressure on himself to make things work only through steadfast commitment to style and vision. “If you believe that there's an alternative route for you in life, you will take it,” explains DeYoung. “You have to be stubborn to fulfill a vision. Often you can't make it work unless you are driven and believe in it's worth one hundred percent.”

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Derek with a hefty Florida Keys permit.

While criticism has certainly stifled many a creative, Derek is proud to have persevered through the early years of establishing his reputation in outdoor fine art. His determination and unwavering passion for style and subject matter have established his works as staples in contemporary sporting art. Today, DeYoung spends his time floating between the Florida Keys, Old Mission, Michigan, and Livingston, Montana, drawing inspiration from each passing day on the water. His creations continue to evolve in both technique, scope, and scale. His persistence is not only inspiring but crucial to success in outdoor endeavors, both artistic and recreational.

To explore more of Derek’s amazing work and learn about sales and commissioned pieces, visit his website here. If you want to read more about art in the outdoors, check out our interview with Michael Paderewski — owner of The Sportsman's Gallery.

Derek DeYoung FAQ

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