Bob White used to page through outdoor magazines, looking at the illustrations. “While the stories were compelling, the artwork reached out and grabbed me,” White says.
Growing up in southern Illinois, White loved to hunt and fish, and he dreamed of having his illustrations appear in print. He would create drawings of moments or memories he had from being out in the woods.
Once he reached high school, White began studying art, but “panicked” about making a living once he got close to graduating from college with an art degree, and switched to psychology. After college he worked as a therapist, specifically with kids and families living in south Minneapolis from several American Indian tribes.
After working for several years in Minneapolis, he became burned out by the world of therapy—he recalls an incident where he had to restrain a client—and realized he needed a change. “I had my epiphany,” White says. “I decided, if I’m going to tell people to follow their hearts, I should follow my own advice.”
In summer 1984, he took a job as a guide in Alaska. He had no idea it would be the beginning of the rest of his life. After four months, he returned to Minnesota and took odd jobs to make ends meet. Inspired by his time in Alaska, he also rediscovered painting. When he returned to Alaska the next summer, he brought his artwork with him, and the owner of the lodge he worked for encouraged him to sell his paintings.
White began making some money off of his art, and spending half his year as a guide and half his year as an artist. It’s a path he is still on today. He took a position in Argentina during the winter, and found himself in a routine of working in Alaska in the summer, hosting fly-fishing trips in Chile and Argentina in the winter, and spending the rest of his time painting and producing art.
As he gained more experience, White achieved his childhood dream of being published in outdoor magazines. One submission led to another, and his resume now includes work contributed to about 20 publications. He also has contributed illustrations and essays to more than 30 books. He has a regular spot illustrating in two national publications, Fly Rod & Reel and Ducks Unlimited.
With the scope of his work, White is in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as an artist. In addition to his art accolades, he was named Guide of the Year by Fly Rod & Reel in 1988.
Telling his story from his home in Marine on St. Croix, White is humble about his accomplishments. He remembers being a little kid with a dream and says his greatest accomplishment is “just being able to make a living at this art.”
Looking back, he credits that first summer he spent in Alaska with changing everything. Until then, he had given up on being an artist. If he had never taken that first summer trip, he might be living a completely different life.
“For me, art and the outdoors are inseparable,” White says. “I live what I paint, and I paint what I live.”
Discover the combination of art and nature at Bob White's website.