Unique art biz opens in Old Town

Watercolorist Rob Bonslett runs School of Art Studio and Gallery
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Thirty years ago, Rob Bonslett found his place artistically. Now, he’s found it physically.

The Roseville artist has been painting watercolors ever since he was a teenager, acknowledging he doesn’t have a mind for abstract art. He typically worked at home, where kids, dogs and life sometimes got in the way.

“I know what it’s like to paint at home,” he said. “Every time (you) put it away, it’s like closing a trapdoor on your creativity.”

Bonslett, 49, found a new workplace in Historic Old Town, where he recently opened the School of Art Studio and Gallery on Lincoln Street. He hosted a grand opening May 1.

His watercolor paintings — landscapes, portraits of family members and celebrities Keith Richards, Tiger Woods, Tim Allen, characters from “The Lord of the Rings” and others — hang on the walls where a customer first enters.

On one wall hangs a large painting of Johnny Cash, which took 40 hours to paint and was finished just in time for the opening. The scene shows Cash in 1958 in front of a train, pointing a finger at the viewer.

Bonslett painted the piece using only three colors, as is his technique. But the limited palette conveys a full spectrum of colors.

The business gives Bonslett a public place to hang his art, but he hopes other local artists will also display their art in the gallery.

He has a dream for his venture, which starts with acquiring members.

“Members can paint on their own and receive instruction and be inspired by other artists,” Bonslett said. “My vision is for my paintings to come down and other paintings to come up.”

Down the hallway is a small classroom where Bonslett will teach watercolor courses twice a day, five days a week. Each class will be limited to six students to allow for plenty of one-on-one and step-by-step instruction.

Farther down the hallway a door leads into Bonslett’s “man cave,” where there are brushes, canvases, desks and a stereo playing rock music. This is the studio portion of the facility, which future members will be able to use.

The next room is for starting and finishing projects, and holds equipment such as projectors and framing tools. The far back room is the kitchen. Bonslett said the 1,000-square-foot space is “like an OK apartment.”

School of Art Studio and Gallery will become part of Roseville’s 3rd Saturday Art Walk beginning in June. Roseville Arts CEO Julie Hirota said the business will contribute to the local burgeoning arts scene.

“It’s a great new addition,” Hirota said. “The more businesses we have with cultural arts in the downtown and Old Town area, the more cultural enhancement the community will have.”

Bonslett is eager to help make that happen.

As a 13-year-old in Oregon, Bonslett accompanied his mother to her art classes with a neighbor who happened to be a watercolor master painter. Her son would sit and watch, until the teacher gave him a brush.

“She started letting me paint,” Bonslett said, smiling. “I would say she brainwashed me into thinking watercolors are the way to go.”

He moved to Roseville in 1989 for a job as an artist. Later, he worked full time as a fishing guide before retiring in 2000 to be a stay-at-home dad for his two sons.

Bonslett decided to launch his business in Old Town because “there was a feeling here,” and he hopes other boutiques and galleries will come to the neighborhood. He said the nightlife scene is vibrant, but the historic district could use more storefronts.

“Of course, it’s a risk (to be in Old Town),” Bonslett said. “It’s excitement matched with peril. There’s a frightening aspect with it. I’m putting one foot in front of the other. As things come up, I just do it.”

Sena Christian can be reached at


School of Art Studio and Gallery

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays through Fridays. Open evenings and Saturdays by appointment.

Location: 313 Lincoln St. in Roseville

Info: Call (916) 797-2787 or visit