Fishy art: Matt Zudweg
Published Feb 8th 2007
American artist Matt Zudweg creates the most amazing carved and painted works in wood. His portfolio contains signs and carved fish as as well as more three-dimensional pieces such as furniture. Some might not consider this "proper art", but trust us. It is!
Derek DeYoung. Matt makes carvings, signs, furniture and other painted wooden objects, and while Matt's art may seem more like craft in some people's eyes, but after a short look at his web site, any doubt was cleared off my mind: this is definitely art!
I approached Matt with my questions, starting out as usual inquiring about the motivation for using fishing as a theme for his art, and he replied:
"Fishing has been a passion of mine since my dad started taking me out in a borrowed rowboat when I was very young. I still remember my first fish, and that "feeling" of being connected with something wild."
Matt never got over that feeling, he tells.
"Like a trout junkie, I spend a lot of time and money in search of that "fix" which only seems to come from fooling a wise old trout or bass."
As with most fishermen he knows, Matt can fish all day and into the night until he finally gets a bit tired of it. But that doesn't stop him
Matt has been interested i art since childhood. For him, art consisted of a pencil and sketch pad that was always on hand and he would stay busy for hours at a time just drawing pictures of the things that he thought about most... And as he says:
"Fishing ranked pretty high on that list."
He remembers his time in school:
"It was all about art class, woodshop and study hall, where I spent most of the time reading 'Outdoor Life' or drawing. All of the other classes, which most people view as more important, are just a blur in my memory and it's amazing I was able to graduate."
Matt's time as a student kept on breaking with the norm.
"In my senior year, against my guidance counselors advise, I decided I would make my career as a fishing guide."
He kept the guide job, until he got a job at the local sign shop on the way. The owner was an old-school signpainter in a business that was starting to get digital.
"The art of hand lettering was something I had never paid much attention to, but after just a few lessons at it I knew that I had found my niche. I became so fascinated by lettering design and the idea that I could create it with my own hand and brush that I knew my career as a guide would have to wait so I could fully immerse myself in learning the art of traditional sign making.
Around the same time that Matt was learning traditional sign painting he saw an antique sign in a restaurant he visited. He thinks back:
"I noticed how it made the whole room where it was placed feel nostalgic and it took my imagination to a time when life was more simple, like watching an old movie."
A thought hit him:
"With my new abilities with a brush I could recreate that sign and give it some aging effects that would bring those same nostalgic feelings. Even better, I could make a sign that was more personal by using a subject matter that meant something to me."
He recalls it as one of those moments that changes your life.
"It wasn't long before I began using my new found skills to create fly fishing themed signs for my home and fishing buddies."
Over the next few years Matt focused on mastering all the skills of a 19th century sign artist and created some antiquing methods that made his signs look more genuinely old than the real antique signs he was trying to simulate. He thinks back:
"During that time the demand for my work seemed to grow daily and soon my sign art was being featured in magazines from Log Home Design Ideas to magazines in other languages that I couldn't even read."
When Matt first began creating "antiqued" signs he tried many different paints, from oils to latex and found that water based acrylic paints flowed best with his brushes, especially on the rough textured backgrounds he was achieving in an effort to make his signs look "old".
"When creating a commissioned sign I start by getting an idea from the customer what they have in mind, giving my suggestions along the way." Matt tells.
Once he and the customer have a good idea, Matt spends some time pouring through his library of vintage advertising to get a "feel" for the period he want the design to reflect.
The result is a number of sketches.
Matt describes the next step in the process: "I then sketch out some rough ideas on paper. Once I have all my ideas in place I refine them until the customer and I are happy with the design, composition and color choices."
He then take the design to his woodshop where the background is created, usually from edge glued pine. Once the background is created, the design is transferred to the background, and Matt begins hand painting the design.
The final process is the antiquing:
"When the painting is finished, I spend some time aging the sign a bit more with antiquing methods I've created, until the sign looks almost genuinely old."
Then comes the trim work which has also become something of a trademark for Matt. On most signs he uses small pieces of cove molding trimmed to precise angles to follow the shape of the background. Matt tells that he finds that the trim itself adds a lot to the vintage feel of the piece.
"Several of my customers who bought their first commissioned vintage sign from me liked it so much that they have become very serious collectors of my work, buying dozens of custom pieces every year." Matt says.
"Some have even become very good friends."
The artist has found over the years that the clients his work attracts usually have many of the same interests as himself. They tend to value traditional things rather than the contemporary and tend to like things like old barns, log cabins, bamboo rods, and old school flies like Mickey Finns and Royal Coachmans.
Matt ponders: "I think the more high tech our world becomes the more people long for things from the past, or at least things that remind of us days gone by. My art helps to satisfy that longing."
"My wife and I along with our three children live in a 3 story barn in Howard City, Michigan near the Muskegon River where until recently, my studio was the entire lower level".
Matt outgrew his home studio and has since opened a studio in Cedar Springs, Michigan which is about 15 miles from the families home.
"My desire to guide never went away over the years so I decided life could be even better if I spent a few days a week on the water and the remaining days in my studio." as Matt says.
"It has been very fulfilling and a great way to meet new people who also love fly fishing. I feel very blessed to be able to make a living doing not one, but two things I truly enjoy."
Matt has noticed that some people wonder why the name carvedfish.com. He explains:
"When I started making signs about fishing, it didn't take long for someone to want a carved fish on their sign. I hadn't done much carving before then but I thought I'd give it a try. I bought some carving chisels and after a bit of a learning curve I got a pretty good grasp on it and finished my first fish."
Incidentally, the sign that held his first carved fish went on to win an international sign design competition which landed it on the cover of 'Signs of the Times' magazine.
Naturally he has carved many fish since then."
"I feel my carvings have improved with every one." he says.
"I felt carvedfish.com was a good name to promote my carvings as well as my sign art, and it was a lot easier to remember than Matt Zudweg's Vintage Sign Fine Art..."
Matt's work is available through his website www.carvedfish.com and through various fly fishing shows throughout the winter season. He offers many pieces available for immediate shipment, many of which can be customized as well as completely custom commissions. Custom signs generally take about a month to turn around.
He can be contacted on this address:
Matt Zudweg, LLC
17334 Thunder Bay Ct.
Howard City, Michigan 49329
Phone +1 231 206 7660
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