Paul Cook - The Art of Angling

Interviewed by John, added on 23/12/2006

Chasing Perch - © Paul Cook

A man of many talents, father, angler, artist, rod restorer, illustrator the list goes on and on (though he never played drums for the Sex Pistols that was another Paul Cook). On leaving school, Paul studied at Art College for 1 year. He was then apprenticed to a small glass studio where over the next 5 years he learnt the art of etching, specialising in "French Embossing", Sand blasting, Gold leafing, Sign writing, Hand painted pictorials on glass and wooden signs.

Paul now combines many of his art and craft skills and his love of angling into his 'Art of Angling' work. He offers a wide range of products and services including beautifully decorated floats and float tubes, cane rod restoration and many pieces of angling related artwork and commissons. You may have also come across Paul's illustrative work in numerous angling books and literature, including several Waterlog magazine covers.

Paul kindly agreed to an interview for Pure Piscator, so let's find out a bit more about the chap....

Do you consider yourself foremost an angler or an artist, which is your first love?

This is a tough one to answer as I love them both and they do go hand in hand. I get a lot of inspiration from angling , maybe not actually fishing but observing what is around me when I am fishing . I consider myself very lucky to be able to put down on paper the images and ideas that I see when I am fishing. A few months back I was out fishing and decided to sit and have a cuppa and just admire the surroundings. At the time I was at the fledgling stage of getting ideas for a book about Thames trout fishing. Most of the illustrations have a theme of pathways and trees. As I was enjoying my brew I just glanced over to my left and just a short distance away was a deformed silver birch tree which had literally split in two and had formed a pair of trees which had created a V shape. In between this shape was a perfect picture of a wooded path that borders one of the lakes. This image I was looking at gave me my first idea for one of the illustrations , basically the trees creating a frame with the pathway as the central focus leading and beckoning the angler to follow its course. Not all my ideas come from fishing , but to not be able to do both would be my worse nightmare.


With all of your 'Art of Angling' work, how much time do you get to spend on the bank and when you do manage to get some fishing in, what do you mostly enjoy fishing?

I don't get as much time as I would like to go fishing as a lot of what I do is quite time consuming and with a couple of demanding pre teenage kids my angling time is limited. However, I do have the river behind my house and my club water is a few minutes walk so I can usually snatch a few sacred hours . I have done a complete roll reversal as far as my angling goes, and I find that river fishing is where I am most happy. I am more content to go tiddler fishing , catching roach, dace , perch and chublets on my local River Colne. There are some lovely pools along this stretch and they have a host of small fish and the odd surprise when a large chub or perch come along.


Do you have a favourite piece of gear (rod, reel etc) that you enjoy using more than any other?

My absolute favourite rod of all time is the Hardy LRH no1. I find this rod suits all my requirements when I am roving along the river. It is an ideal rod for freelining for chub and barbel. The pike along this stretch are mostly jacks and the LRH is a good spinning rod. I also use it for carp and and perch fishing the weirpools. The only downside is it is not an ideal trotting rod , so I tend to use an old Edgar Sealey cane, but the LRH is by far the better rod .I only use a centre pin and I quite like the narrow drum Speedia and the Match Ariel.


What would your perfect fishing session involve?

Sitting beside an old lilly pad infested lake on an early summers morning watching Tench bubbles fizzing around my float and waiting for the float to disappear.


Who are/were your angling influences?

I am quite drawn to some of the early but lesser known anglers and writers around the post war period. Writers such as Wilfred Gavin Brown . I also like the writings and art of Robert Gibbings although he was no angler of such but did write a lot of books concerning life and journeys along the waterways such as the Thames. I quite like the work of Bernard Venables and David Carl Forbes both accomplished artists and writers of their time. Modern day writers are Chris Yates as he takes us on some wonderful angling jaunts in an almost innocent and dreamy world. An escapism from the modern way of life. I would say he is one of our greatest angling writers of our time. I like what Fred Crouch has to say regarding the way we fish and how unnecessary it is to make anglers fish in a more complicated way as regards to rigs and bait. He is very controversial, and I quite like that.


Would you like to see a return of the traditional close season?

I have mixed feelings over this one . I have talked, listened and argued amongst angling friends and a few non angling friends who have no idea what the close season dates or debate is about,or even care for that matter. I think times have changed . It seems more of a debate that occurs amongst anglers rather than the general public. Angling is sadly under close scrutiny from the antis and they are a very powerful voice and I think that no matter we do there is always going to be some body that is going to oppose what we do. My club water still has the close season in practice and I don't think that rule will ever change, and I have no problem with that . Other clubs have a shorter close season and others are open all year and I have no problem with this either. some argue that we need to give nesting birds and other wildlife a rest from anglers trampling down vegetation etc but if anglers aren't about there will always be birdwatchers and ramblers etc. These people are more prominent at nesting times especially when migrants come here to breed as this is a popular time on the twitchers calender. It seems that anglers are always getting the dirty end of the stick all the time. All my angling pals are very caring towards nature etc . I do believe that we should have some sort of break but our climate is changing and maybe dates should be reviewed, but I think it should be down to the individual club /owner to decide. A good friend of mine has a small carp lake and they haven't been spawning until august, this is the time he doesn't allow fishing and I think that is a fair way of looking at it .


Has angling gone too far down the commercial path?

Yes I think it has but I think we have to move with the times. Our doors are open to world wide trading with cheap tackle on offer . A kid can now go out and kit himself out with a vast array of gear for a few hundred pounds. The post war era was a pioneering time for tackle and ideas. Most anglers made their own tackle as funds for the ordinary working man didn't stretch enough to warrant buying all the latest gear on offer. Those very same anglers relied on public transport or their own two feet to get them to waters . These days its jump in the motor and off you go to the nearest carp puddle and have a good few doubles under your belt before tea time . Earlier on I stated that my fishing had gone full circle and I am just as keen to have a fun few hours catching tiddlers , the very way I started out when I was kid. Sadly the younger anglers are exposed to the big fish at all costs attitude which I think is a great shame as they miss out on the simpler ways of angling. I think once they have caught a few 20ib plus carp after a few seasons they have been there and done it and it is all over for them. A prime example is one of the young lads that fishes for carp on my club water. He is good kid and very keen but only for the big carp. I was fishing for tench with an average depth of 12ft and I was using a stop knot and lift method. Little fella came round for chat and was baffled by my setup . He admitted that he had never used a float in the 7 years he had been fishing, it was all bolt rig and boillies. I just thought it was a shame that he hadn't ever had the fun and enjoyment of using a float. Angling has a tough enough job of keeping the youngsters interested , they have far too many distractions today where the ipod , gameboy etc is far more appealing and to be honest who can blame them . I can only see that the way the younger anglers are targeted to lure them into the sport, is the hard sell and dynamic approach. I fear this only has a short term effect though.


What is your favourite angling book?

'The Secret Carp' by Mr Yates followed closely by 'Anglers Almanac' by Wilfred Gavin Brown


As the humble float often appears in your artwork and as a producer of handmade floats, what do you think it is about the float as a symbol that seems to sum up fishing so well to so many?

I think this stems back to child hood when we see that brightly coloured float . It reminds us of an object that is very toy like . It symbolises our desire to to go fishing and that little bright coloured float is the only object separating us from the secrets which lurk beneath us . As kids we sit there willing it to go under [as most adult anglers still do !] and wait almost impatiently praying and hoping . I think the float resembles the innocence of angling, something that even as adults we still desire.


Who are your artistic influences / which other artists do you admire in general?

My artistic influences stem from the old woodengravers , a skill that has recently began a revival. A lot of the old angling catalogues were from wood engravings , carried out by highly skilled artisans that unfortunately were paid a pittance. When you look at some of the techniques employed within this skill you can appreciate the amount of work involved. Any one reading this who may have a collection of catalogues , take a look at the engravings and you will see how much work was involved in producing the detailed illustrations . Each and everyone was produced by hand. I also like the work of Reginald Lionel Knowles, Agnes Miller Parker, Robert Gibbings , Helen Munroe and Charles Tunnicliffe. Modern day artists , I like Robin Armstrong , Gordon Beningfield , Maurice Pledger, Mick Loates , David Miller and Trevor Harrop.


What is the strangest/oddest commission you have ever received?

I was asked to produce a large engraved panel for someone a few years back with a seascape scene , and various vessels and to also engrave , in the clients own words ...can you also engrave a very small but obvious penis somewhere amongst the rocks !!!!


Glass, ink, graphite, watercolours, You certainly have many strings to you artistic bow Paul, do you have a favourite medium?

My favourite medium is to work in black and white . I love the various techniques and stylised techniques that can be produced. I think this stems from the glass etching where a sheet of glass is etched white. This is the ground to work on and everything is hand painted with what is known as brunswick black, a sort of bitumen type paint which is resistant to acid. When all work is painted and dry the exposed areas of white glass is then burnt away with acid ,. The acid eats away the white unpainted areas and turns the white into a lighter shade of grey. When the paint is cleaned away you are left with the image you have just painted . This remains white and the other areas are grey so two tone are achieved . It is another form of etching , although I am quite happy to paint in watercolour or graphite.


What are you currently working on / projects in the pipeline?

I have just finished a carp book for the little egret press and also some illustrations for Fred Crouch's new book. At the moment I am working on a Thames Trout book with Peter Rogers which has 30 full page illustrations and various chapter headings. It is similar technique as wood engraving and the artwork is very stylised. It is an interesting project and will be published early next year.

John and PurePiscator would like to thank Paul for giving his time for this interview.

Visit Paul's 'Art of Angling' website


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