Brian Zager is a local artist, skateboarder, fly fisherman, and all around great guy. I have known Brian for a couple of years through the shop and community but had never spent much time with him. I was able to spend a few hours with him on the river learning about who he was while catching a few fish and crushing a few beers.
Brian, thank you for taking the time to hang with us! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Well, I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland in a suburb about 10 minutes outside the city. In middle school, my best friend got me really into skateboarding and punk rock. We played in the punk band from the time we were 12 years old to when we were about 19. We put out a bunch of music and went on a couple tours but we couldn’t keep it together much longer as all three of us went to different states/schools for college. I attribute a lot of who I am now to those days playing music and skateboarding.
What brought you to Central Oregon?
Starting from the beginning, I learned to snowboard when I was 11 after my mom, who is a skier, took us on our first family ski vacation to 7 Springs Pennsylvania. Snowboarding seemed like an obvious choice since I had found a love of skateboarding only months prior. When I was 15, I got my first job at a local snowboard and ski shop and realized I wanted my life to revolve around snowboarding. I used that mindset to decide on a college that would provide me with ample opportunity to snowboard. At the time, I was a die hard east coaster and decided Vermont was my destination. I graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012 with a degree in studio art. Shortly after that many of my friends (who were native Vermonters) ventured out west. My college roommate Stirling Cobb had moved out to Bend site-unseen and I came out to visit him a year later. It was on that trip that Bend seemed like a very obvious choice as a place to relocate. Side note: Stirling is now the Marketing Manager for Mt. Bachelor! All in all, the short answer is snowboarding. I just wanted to live near the mountains that get the most snow.
How has Central Oregon inspired your art?
When I first moved out here, I was illustrating a series of children’s books and hadn’t had too many super exciting projects. I had done a skateboard deck or a t-shirt graphic here and there, but nothing consistent, and really nothing illustration focused. It was really a lot of freelance graphic design. I think Central Oregon has really given me the time and focus on coming into my own as an illustrator. To me, it’s pretty obvious that there is inspiration everywhere whether it’s our daily backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, the rivers, the huge trees, or the seemingly endless about of concrete, transition-oriented skateparks. Aside from the rivers, there isn’t much of that other stuff on the east coast, so living right in it makes it super easy to find material to draw itself or draw inspiration from for other images. I think the biggest thing, is really the juxtaposition of growing up near a big city vs. living on the edge of a national forest. It really has a strong effect on what you might consider adventure and draw inspiration from.
How about fly fishing? Has that had any impact on your art?
Yeah, it has! Oddly enough, one of my biggest draws to fly fishing is its similarity to skateboarding. I’m not sure if anyone would really understand that comparison unless they do both skateboarding and fly fish. Basically, there’s a lot of technique and trial and error when it comes to both so I get very similar fulfillment from either landing a trick on a skateboard and landing a fish on a fly rod. There’s even similarity in spot selection. That said, the cultures of the 2 sports are very different. My art is very influenced my skateboard art and skateboard artists and there is definitely a certain aesthetic to that, and on the contrary, there is definitely a “traditional” aesthetic to fly fishing. I think the biggest impact that fly fishing has had on my art is taking that skateboard style and culture and applying it to fly fishing. It’s super interesting because I think it creates a lot of opportunity within the culture of fly fishing, and I think nowadays you’re going to see the 2 cultures mix more frequently.
Do you have any fly fishing brands you are currently working with?
At the moment, I am not working with any fly fishing specific brands but I did just do a fishing themed graphic for Tactics board shop. It’s a native Redband trout which is cool because it’s a nod to Tactic’s Oregon roots. That should drop in the next week or so. Also, may have some fly fishing themed graphics in the works with Elm Co. Other than that, I’m available for freelance illustration work so hit me up! ha!
Note: Brian also helped with designing the new Patagonia Women’s fish logo. It is on the shirt below! (Please excuse the sun beaming in his face!)
What has been your favorite fish so far? A certain one that got away or is there one that stands out?
To be honest, I’m stoked anytime I don’t get skunked. Obviously, anything that fills my net is the best, but I’m hyped anytime I catch a fish, especially when you see em smash dry flies. That said, the one that stands out the most would be a meaty Redband I caught on the lower D last year during the salmon fly hatch. I’ll never forget to see that guy slurp my foamy off the surface and immediately fought like hell. To this day I haven’t had a fish fight like that where I had to use 2 hands to keep the fish away from rocks and needed my homie to help net it. Shout out to Dave King for helping me land that sucker!
What is next for you?
Really just try to stay busy with drawing whether it’s a freelance for clients or work for my own ‘brand’ BKZ|GRFX. Also been doing a lot of work with SnoPlanks and working right now with them to launch a new brand of bamboo skateboards called Gerry Lopez Street Surfers! There’s a lot of rad brands out there I would be honored to work with especially just looking here in Bend. I definitely want to show more of my own work in solo or group shows and try to get people hyped on what I’m doing. Obviously, find time to go skate and fish and of course the perpetual excitement for next winter.
If people are interested in my work they can check out my portfolio at www.bkzgrfx.com or Instagram @bkzgrfx. I also have a little web store linked my website.