Ethan Markie takes a contemplative sip of beer and watches another group of Bozeman “bros” wander into the Rocking R Bar. We’re talking art, and for the Bozeman-based artist, fishing guide and former fly shop rat, this is a day just like any other.
“I need to have the experience first, in order to get inspired to paint,” Markie says. “It might be just something as simple as the patterns witnessed on a recent trout caught and released. Sometimes it might be more complex; a whole general feeling I have about a certain river or stream that is the result of cumulative experiences on that water.”
Markie grew up in rural Connecticut, the eldest of three brothers all very close in age. The brothers lived near several small trout streams, and spent their family vacations camping, hiking and simply being outside.
“Video games were never part of our youth,” Markie said, “so we learned to entertain ourselves the old-fashioned way. Part of this included painting and the other part was exploring outside.”
It wasn’t until the avid fly angler moved to Montana that he considered an actual career in the fly-fishing industry. He worked summer seasons in Alaska while completing a degree in fish and wildlife management, and then worked in several of the area’s top fly shops. Through those changes, art has remained a consistent theme.
“I first picked up a paintbrush probably before I can even remember,” Markie said. “I guess I have always just enjoyed how a painting can turn a memory into a physical thing that can be shared with others. I paint for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I just want to make something cool and interesting. Other times it serves as a state of meditation that allows me to slow things down and re-focus on the rest of my life. But my best work has stemmed from attempts to re-create and preserve a specific experience, memory, or feeling had out on the water.”
“Time outside and on the water is the main thing that inspires my paintings,” Markie said. “You never know what small thing might spark up inspiration for a new painting. Often, the hardest part of painting is the initial idea. When I start to get stuck, I go to the river. Things usually fall into place after that, and when I have that internal drive and vivid image in my head, it is much easier to get the paint to do what I want it to do.”
As all industry people know, burnout is very real and it’s easy to lose that creative spark in the daily routine. For Markie, keeping that internal drive is all about getting outside and on the water.
“Working in the industry helps with extra exposure to the subject matter,” he said. “Guiding especially helps. Not only are you seeing trout being caught, but you also get to see the joy that brings to your guests. (Also) you notice new things when you are out on the water. Maybe it is the way the ripples on the surface reflect the sky, or a certain shade of purple you see in the rocks in the water.”
For the moment, Markie’s work bears his trademark bright colors and high contrast, focusing on trout and cold rivers. Occasionally he’ll dabble with saltwater, or a commissioned piece outside his ordinary subject matter, but at the end of the day, he returns to those same trout and rivers.
“One of the things I like most about creating art is that the painting will outlive you,” he said. “You build something that will be appreciated and viewed by people long after you die. They may not know your name—or anything else about you—but you still have a chance to make a viewer pause for an instant and feel something about your painting. For me, that is good enough. It gives you a sense of immortality that makes me feel at ease with the rest of my life. Days (when) I spend even just a little bit of time on the easel are days I feel more complete, accomplished and calm. Art does that for me.”
The best advice he’s been given was from a fellow young angler—remember to keep it fun,
“He advised that as my art grows into more of an actual business, that I keep the drive alive and never forget why I started painting in the first place—because it is fun,” Markie said. “When things get a bit stressful with deadlines, commissioned pieces, and trying too hard to come up with new ideas, I head to the river and just try to keep things fun. Remembering that helps things fall back into place.
“Knowing that my paintings are starting to spread to places other than my own house, and now all over the world, is a pretty cool feeling,” Markie said. “Strangers somewhere else are enjoying something I created in my own home. If I can continue to make that happen and spread my art all around, that would be all right by me.”