Fish Tales

How wildlife artist Paul Puckett fished his way to the salt waters of South Carolina, one painting at a time.


How do art and life imitate each other? It’s been pondered for centuries by the likes of Oscar Wilde and Aristotle, but you don’t have to look very far to find an example in the heart of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Paul Puckett is a painter whose specialty is all things nautical and natural, with an unconventional spin. His process is rather straight-forward: He heads out on the waterways and photographs everything that could possibly capture the moment, from the fish and their anglers, to the lighting and the clouds. He then takes the photos as inspiration and transfers them to paper or canvas, creating life-like action shots of wildlife and their surrounding landscapes. The end result is both simple in subject matter and complex in detail, and is an absolute celebration of life on the water.

A process and passion that formed amidst the varying pathways he trod in life, Puckett grew up fishing in Texas with his grandfather and fell in love with the fish as much as the sport itself. Early on, he discovered he also had a knack for drawing and painting, and spent time admiring the work of wildlife and sporting artists at the Collectors Covey in Dallas, noting the works of Mark Susinno, Mike Stidham, and Eldridge Hardie, as three of his greatest influences.

After studying graphic design at the University of North Texas, Puckett produced the first of his signature “Catch and Release” paintings, the foundation of his now-business. After taking live-action photos, he reproduces in stunning detail, the colors, the movement, and even the light in the moment of capture through his paintings—sometimes including only the fish, and at other times, the anglers’ hands. “[The ‘Catch and Release’ paintings] are the foundation for everything I do. They gave me the confidence and practice to become a better painter. They gave me the ability to call myself an artist. But, it was strange at first doing a painting for someone and actually getting money for it,” he says with a laugh.
Not long after the creation of the “Catch and Release” project, Puckett’s love for the outdoors led him cross-country. He spent a long stint in Wyoming before his adventures took him to Atlanta. It was there where he found yet another outlet for his passion. After doing some work for Patagonia and True Flies, he set out to create a clothing line himself.

As the idea took form, Puckett worked in partnership with Will Abbott, who he met through a local fly shop. Eventually Abbott moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, and not long after, Puckett decided it made sense to move to the Lowcountry as well, specifically Charleston. “While living in Atlanta, I showed in SEWE [Southeastern Wildlife Exposition] in Charleston, and grew to love the town,” says Puckett. “It also helped that I had friends living there from my Wyoming days. After eight years in Wyoming, it was time to be around redfish and take my art to the next level.”

With Puckett and Abbott collaborating on both creative and business sides, they successfully launched Flood Tide in 2011, a clothing line rooted in the outdoors. “It’s hard to have a business with a saltwater identity and not live, feel, and breathe in the salt water every day,” says Puckett. “It makes the brand a lot more believable and true, and I think that shows in the product.”

Puckett may prefer a day of fishing over a day in the office, but somehow he’s made all facets of his life work together by focusing on what is at the heart of everything he does—his art. He splits his days between the clothing business and painting in the studio. “On my painting days, though, that is my time to not have to worry about anything and just focus on the painting,” says Puckett.

Now that Puckett is an official and proud Charleston resident, he finds everything he needs right here at home. His fly fishing base is at the Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mount Pleasant, while his studio in West Ashley doubles as the Flood Tide office. But, regardless of where he finds himself for the day, he’s never far from the water. “We have a marsh out the office window that attracts a good amount of birds. I try to get out and fish at least once every couple weeks. Just being in the marsh, the waters, and the tides—it’s always changing; there’s never anything that’s the same about it,” he says. “I feel inspired all day to paint and see all the wildlife that comes and goes on a daily basis.”

Charleston’s famed cobblestoned streets and lush salt marshes have always been a favorite home-base for artists, but Puckett credits the local people and culture for drawing him in: “The greatest things about living in South Carolina are the lifestyle, being around the water, and the type of life that gives. It is very similar to the mindset in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where people just want to live, work hard, and enjoy their lives. This town has done amazing things for my career. It is more community-based, very inspiring, and a great place to live,” he says.

For now, Puckett feels at home in the Lowcountry and plans to bring it to life through his artwork for a long time to come. “Eleven years ago I decided that I was going to give ten serious years to my art,” he says. “It’s now been one plus year, and I’m very happy with where I am, and I don’t ever plan on looking back.”

For more of Paul Puckett, visit www.paulpuckettart.com.

By Grace Nelson