Inspired by Bob Ross, Alexandria teen's art focuses on the details

Autistic senior learns from YouTube videos and creates and sells artwork, which has expanded to carvings.

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Josh Zins, senior at Alexandria Area High School, holds up his paint palette. After receiving his first oil painting set three years ago, Zins started creating landscape paintings and selling them at art shows. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

Josh Zins, 18, was never drawn to sports growing up, but he always had a knack for creating.

He saw a Bob Ross painting video for the first time in sixth grade, and he was shocked at the detail he saw come to life in such a short amount of time.

His great grandmother took years to make a single, elaborate oil painting, so this quick method was something he never thought would be possible.

“I was amazed that this guy was making trees with brush strokes,” Zins said.

After he was given an oil painting set as a Christmas present in 2018, Zins sought out full demonstrations by Bob Ross and watched each of his techniques and movements closely, practicing Ross’ methods with mountainous landscape scenes and later drawing from memories of a family trip to Hawaii.


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Josh Zins, 18, lifts two of his framed landscape paintings. The two scenes are loosely based on a beach in Hawaii (left) and the North Shore near Duluth. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

As an individual who’s level one on the autism spectrum, Zins said this has been both a blessing and a curse in his daily life. The plus side when it comes to his art is that he can pick out miniscule details most people wouldn’t notice and focus on one project for hours at a time.

When watching an animated movie with his family, his mother, Jenna Zins, said he would pick out small features in the background, while she would only be focused on the main subject. Once, he asked her if she noticed that all of the characters blinked at the same time.

“He catches things we don’t see a lot,” Jenna said. “Art is his way to chill. It’s a de-stressing agent.”

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Josh Zins crafted this four-foot walking stick to look like a python. He found the wood, shaped the walking stick, carved each individual scale and painted the detailed snake skin over the course of two years. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

Over time, Josh’s family helped him invest in professional brushes, canvases and paints to increase the quality of his creative products. And the more materials he gathered, the more paintings he produced.


“I wanted to get it out there somewhere,” Josh said. “I want people to enjoy my art.”

So, he brought 14 paintings to the Rose City Threshing and Heritage Festival in Eagle Bend. Nine of them sold, and Zins brought home a $300 profit. He also did a painting demonstration, and the finished work sold immediately after he completed it.

Before reaching his senior year at Alexandria Area High School, Josh has not only made a profit from his paintings, but he also has original work in a local museum.

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Jenna Zins wears a Runestone Museum penny as a necklace. Her son Josh entered a design contest, and his drawing of a Viking merchant ship was chosen from more than 200 entries. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

He participated in a contest put on by the Runestone Museum to decide what designs would be featured in its penny press machine. Out of more than 200 submissions that were sent in for the Viking merchant ship, Josh’s piece was selected.

When COVID-19 lockdown hit last year, this prompted him to dive into a new creative pursuit. Josh found videos by woodcarver Mike Stinnett on YouTube and wanted to experiment with this new medium.

“I thought it looked easy enough to try,” Josh said, as he had already learned some whittling techniques from his grandfather. “I have access to those things, so why not give it a whirl?”


He started with painted wood carvings of perch and a crappie. Then, his first creation mounted on a base was a 21.5-inch walleye for his grandfather’s birthday.

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Expanding on his enjoyment of painting, Josh Zins started to pick up the art of woodcarving last year. This mounted piece is called "Tale of Two Sunnies." (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

More recently, he finished a 4-foot walking stick, painted to look like a python. Josh said the longest part of the process was hand carving every single scale.

Following graduation this month, Josh said he plans to do more carving and painting with his extra free time this summer. When the Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show in Douglas County opens up again, he hopes to sell his creations and do a painting demonstration there, too.

Although he’s gotten frustrated by some projects and scrapped a few paintings that didn’t work out, Zins said he appreciates the process, even the struggles.

In the words of Bob Ross, “We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

Jasmine Johnson joined the Echo Press staff in May 2020 as a general assignment reporter. She grew up in Becker, Minn., and later studied journalism and graphic design at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn.
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