Photography: Kirsten Shultz and Lee Grogan
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“These are all very nice, of course, but what I really love is to paint and to teach other people to paint,” Bob explains. He has been drawing since he was a child.
“There are dozens of comic instances when I was sketching instead of paying attention in school. I wasn’t exactly a loner as a child, but because of large class sizes, I could be in the background drawing constantly and doing the minimum amount of schoolwork to get by.”
However, it would be grossly inaccurate to assume Bob is more creative than intellectual. Ask him anything about the wildlife and geology he paints. Ask him about environmental policies and legislative procedures. But if you ask him, you’d better be prepared to sit for a long while and challenge all of your own thinking about these things.
Challenging his own perceptions and thoughts has played serendipitously into Bob’s life path. “Near the end of my career in Alaska, I frequently had occasion to be in the State of Alaska office in Washington, D.C. On one of my trips, I accompanied Bill, a member of the staff, to a lavish reception at the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, when Bill recounted our evening’s events, I was surprised to learn that he could recall many details about who spoke and what they had said, details that I could only vaguely recall. On the other hand, I realized that I could draw, from memory, a very complex wainscoting design that was in the room where the function had been held. This realization was a wake-up call for me. I knew that all my life I had been paying attention to visual stimuli, and it was time to give myself the opportunity to pursue drawing and painting full-time.
Today, I tell young students that if they hear this same call, it will not go away whether they act on it or not.”
This sensitivity to the creative process is what draws eager students to Bob’s workshops. Beginners and accomplished painters come from all over, or convince him to come to their locales. Bob is a gentle man, well aware of the propensity for artists (and art students) to be completely paralyzed by insecurities and creative fears. He nurtures his students and believes fervently in their individual processes.
“From my teaching experience, I know that the single greatest obstacle to proficiency in painting is the tendency to quit. It may take some students longer than others to advance, but anyone who wants to paint enough, can do so by working at it, by not quitting. And, those who seem to have a natural upper hand by virtue of some experience, will go nowhere unless they work at it. Many Americans believe you must be ‘talented’ in order to paint. Working artists will tell you, though, what’s really required is hard work.
“I believe that life is largely about learning. Great artists especially seem to have the ability to be perpetual students. The instant you think you know something, you run the risk of ceasing to learn. I usually start my workshop by saying, ‘We are all here to learn. The reason I am teaching the class is because I have been painting longer.’ I like to bring a lot of energy to my workshops; therefore, I teach only a few every year. I learn as much as anyone else in my classes.”