Picture yourself hooking into a grander blue marlin off the coast of some exotic island. You’re in for the fight of your life, but halfway through the battle you decide to take a dunk overboard to get a better view of the magnificent creature’s anatomy. Once the scene is recorded onto tape for the television show you produce and seared into your memory as a basis for your artwork, you surface, continue to help leader the fish, and ultimately tag and release it.
Back on land, you recall your intrepid encounter and begin expertly painting new designs that will eventually end up as T-shirts on the backs of thousands of your fans, hang proudly as fine art pieces in their offices and homes, and even be published in a book you’re writing that will someday be honored by a foreign government.
But you don’t have time to ponder future achievements. You must immediately begin using your Ph.D. skill set to track the satellite tag on your marlin with the help of world-renowned marine scientists who collaborate with your nonprofit organization. This data will help shape the future of the oceans’ great pelagic species and provide countless joys to a new generation of responsible anglers. Oh, and you’re also very lucky: there are two giant marlin you’ll need to track because you hooked and released a second grander later that same afternoon.
Sound like fiction? Welcome to the wonderful, very real world of Guy Harvey. While Guy might not complete all of those amazing feats in a single day, these are true-to-life events experienced by this extraordinary artist, biologist, author, photographer, documentarian, conservationist, and savvy businessman.
Inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2009, Guy Harvey has built a vertically integrated oceanic-inspired empire through good old-fashioned hard work, passion, and uncanny vision. His deal making with like-minded individuals and companies has created a synergy that we all benefit from.
Pacific Coast Sportfishing was fortunate enough to snag some time with this affable tenth-generation Jamaican and learn more about the man behind the instantly recognizable signature.
PCS: Where to begin with someone who has such a rich history in the world of fishing…Do you remember the first fish you ever drew or painted?
Harvey: I honestly don’t, but I’m looking at some old sketches I did some time ago and it’s a good mixture of game fish; Wahoos, Tunas, Barracudas, Sharks, and Billfish, of course. That whole early experience of fishing with my parents in Jamaica was always positive.
PCS: Speaking of your homeland, being a 10th generation Jamaican (of English descent) must have special importance in your life. What was your favorite part of growing up on the Island?
Harvey: I think being so close to all the wonderful natural things that Jamaica has to offer. It’s a very beautiful country with lots of mountains and great forests and all kinds of different climates. It’s a bit like the big island of Hawaii, actually, and I was always impressed with the birdlife, the farm animals, and the fishing was just an extra bonus.
PCS: So did you do a lot of fishing with your parents as a youngster?
Harvey: Yes, both my parents were very keen anglers, of course my dad a bit more than my mom, but they fished tournaments, Billfish stuff, lots of river fishing. It was just a great time and place to be a kid.
PCS: In 1985 you depicted “The Old Man & The Sea” through 44 incredible pen and ink drawings and exhibited them in Jamaica. Did you ever think you could take your artistic talents, and not only make a living, but also create a full-blown empire from your marine inspired art?
Harvey: Obviously, I didn’t know the full extent. I knew there was inherent talent. A lot of other family members were very accomplished artists. I sold a few pieces here and there for a few dollars—maybe $15 to $20. Of course, in those days it was a lot of money. I didn’t really appreciate the opportunity until Americans began fishing Jamaica in the tournaments in the mid 1980s. I would have these informal expeditions at the tournaments and I would often sell out of the pieces. Once I came to the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in 1986, I realized that here was an opportunity because there just wasn’t much of that genre readily available to people.
PCS: So when and how did your artwork end up on being printed on t-shirts?
Harvey: In 1986 I had signed a contract with T-shirts of Florida, which was then owned by Raleigh Werking, who is a good friend of Bill DePriest Sr., and he ran the company for a couple of years and got me going with the T-shirt deal, which was an instant success. There had been nothing else like it available in the market and, unfortunately, he sold the company in 1989 to his partner. And his partner continued to run the company and we had a license for another fifteen years before AFTCO came along.
PCS: How did you transition to doing business with AFTCO?
Harvey: While T-Shirts of Florida did a good job, we realized we could have expanded the line away from just T-shirts and more into sportswear. AFTCO came along in the early 2000s, and it was Milt Shedd, Bill Shedd’s dad, who came to me and said, ‘We’ve got the Bluewater Line going quite well, but something is missing. We need to include some really good art. How about a licensing program whereby you do some artwork for us?’ At the time, I was still married to T-shirts of Florida so I couldn’t do anything in the T-shirt line, but we did find a way to do some of the Hawaiian-style, all-over prints on shirts. That was early 2002, and the contract with TSF expired in 2004. Realizing what a great job AFTCO was doing in terms of the manufacturing side of it, but more importantly the marketing side of it, I saw them as a much better option. In 2004, I did fifty brand-new designs for AFTCO just so they could start with a fresh palette, so to speak, and off we went. In two years, AFTCO tripled our business, and in 2011 we’re a major brand and doing very well. The thing about AFTCO is that they are a very like-minded company to my company in terms of their whole business philosophy and the involvement of conservation efforts.