Who: Watercolor naturalist Don Zylius, of Sisters, has a knack for depicting mountains, clouds, streams and lakes. Originally from Illinois, Zylius moved to Central Oregon in 1970. His work can be seen in the permanent collection at Roberts Field in Redmond, has been featured in Gray’s Sporting Journal and was selected for inclusion in Cincinnati Zoo’s “Wondrous Wildlife” exhibition. Closer to home, more than 20 watercolor works by Zylius are being featured in a September-long exhibit at Black Butte Lodge Gallery, 12930 Hawksbeard, Sisters. His work also hangs at Ken Scott’s Imagination Gallery in Sisters.
Q: When did you start painting?
A: I started when I was a staff artist at the Waukegan News-Sun. … I got a job as a proof boy. At the time, the art department had two people in it. … Evenings I would come in and watch them work a little bit. Eventually, Tom, the art director, saw that I had a real good interest in that. I would start half-days in the art department, and then I became full days in the art department, and I started painting at home.
Q: So you’re mostly self-taught?
A: Oh yeah. When I was in the Naval Reserve, I took a correspondence course, but by the time I got in there, I knew everything, or thought I did, that the correspondence course was teaching me. … I did a couple of oil paintings, but it just wasn’t me. I liked the gamble of watercolors. So when I was able to move out West, I had been painting somewhat. I opened up a commercial art studio in the old O’Kane Building in Bend, and painted on the side. Bend at that time was under 10,000 people, I guess, and for a commercial artist to make a go of it was pretty tough. I used to put paintings in the Pine Tavern at the time, and little by little I found out there were outdoor shows available. I started to go to some of the outdoor shows. … I got a little better known, especially in Central Oregon. … It was really tough sledding, not only for me but a lot of the other artists. I wasn’t about to quit. I said, “I’ll do what I have to do to keep painting.” (laughs) I have no problem telling people, “Boy those first years, I came very close to grazing with the geese down at Drake Park.”
Q: Did you always paint landscapes?
A: I did a few pet portraits, and hunting and fishing scenes. But it was all watercolor. I just — and I tell all my students and anybody that’s interested — I love the gamble of watercolor. I try to utilize the wet-in-wet technique as much as I can: throwing paint on wet paper just always — wow. It (is) great, and a lot of my works show it.
— David Jasper, The Bulletin