DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Millions of people travel to the luckiest fishing village to build up their fisherman tales. Destin artist Gnarly Harley takes those epic family fishing trips one step further by live printing and painting exact replicas of fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The very first fish I painted was a Pompano second fish I painted was a Spanish mackerel and then a cobia. And then I kind of got obsessed with it. Started painting every fish that I caught, that my friends caught had friends that were boat captains, deckhands on the Destin Harbor,” said Harley Van Hyning.
Van Hyning started this artwork privately in 2015, with an old-fashioned Japanese painting style known as gyotaku. Using a painting medium he creates a print of the fish on a canvas that will be stretched into a painting.
“I’m very nontraditional in the art form using color, acrylics and different weights of canvas and linens,” said Van Hyning.
The print matches the fish in size and Van Hyning color matches to create the perfect replica. He then goes back and fills in every scale and detail or can leave it as a print sketch.
“I get a lot of people that love just the raw organic print which is straight off the fish because it’s not perfect, but yet it is perfect in a way,” said Van Hyning. “I can never do the same thing twice, none of them are ever the same, so they’re all unique and different.
Van Hyning said he has printed well over 1,000 fish in his years as an artist.
“I add colors and go back and detail it and bring it to life with the art form,” said Van Hyning. “One thing I love about that is, you know, the fish has a story and the fisherman has a story, so it’s kind of stories from the ocean brought to life.”
Van Hyning has also done multi-color prints on fish and can do custom orders for commission.
While each piece is one of a kind, Van Hyning says he is an on-call artist. Van Hyning said anyone who reels in a massive or unique catch coming into Northwest Florida docks can contact him to meet for a print.
“I’m always on standby. I’ve had phone calls at 1:00 AM to go paint fish,” said Van Hyning. “I’ll either come meet you where you are or if you can keep the fish on ice and I’ll get to you as soon as possible. Or you can bring it to me here at the studio in Destin.”
The artist said his most unique painting to date is a sunfish his friend caught in January of 2022. Van Hyning also travels with his skills having printed and painted fish in the Maldives and Hawaii. He said it took him painting a wahoo for himself to see the effect his artwork has on people.
“You can look at something and then go back to that exact moment in time where it’s literally like a photo, you can reminisce on just the whole story of everything that happened to where it is now on the wall,” said Van Hyning.
The gyotaku painting style originated in the mid-1800s along the waterways of Japan. Fishermen would use ink on the fish and press rice paper along the body to keep fishing records.
The way GnarlyHarley uses the method is by fully cleaning the fish of any gulf water slime. He then covers the fish in water-based paints and lays the canvas to form the print.
“Once I’ve sprayed that off slime and removed that from the fish, it doesn’t translate to the canvas. So I mean you can scratch and sniff and it smells amazing,” said Van Hyning.
Van Hyning said he learned a lot from his mother who was also an artist. He said he found ways to take the old technique and modernize it. He credits social media and the internet for making his artwork popular along the Gulf Coast.
Contact Harley Van Hyning:
Follow @GnarlyHarley on social media pages and check out his work online. Van Hyning can be reached for prints by calling (850)-206-8282.