It is given to few of us to combine work with what we love best, but such a blessing came some years ago to Roger and Sarah Bansemer, who spend their summer months traveling around the country in an RV, painting and producing a TV show based on both activities. Painting & Travel with Roger and Sarah Bansemer debuted on PBS five years ago and is running strong.
They have more than 100 half-hour programs behind them and are seen on some 175 public-television stations in the U.S. and Canada.
Each show is built around a particular location — Glacier National Park in Montana, the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, to name a few — as viewers watch Roger create one of his well-known en-plein-air genre paintings while Sarah explores the area, interviewing locals and visiting nearby landmarks. “It takes several days to shoot each episode, and sometimes more,” Roger says from St. Augustine, Florida, where the couple spend their winters before heading north to a studio Roger maintains in Flat Rock, locale of some of his favorite landscape subjects.
“We usually don’t have any set plans when we begin traveling for the show, but along the way, we may find something that catches our eye,” he says. “We tend to film in areas off the beaten path most of the time.”
The idea for the show first popped up some 25 years ago, when Roger saw an instructional painting show on public television and thought he could do it just as well, if not better. “I had a friend who worked at an NBC affiliate in Tampa as an anchorman, and I pitched the idea to him,” he recalls.
But heavy work schedules got in the way, and it wasn’t until later when Sarah, who studied music and drama at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, revived the idea and encouraged Roger to buy his own video and editing gear.
“I had no idea how technical it really is to produce for PBS, but we managed to get through all that with sheer persistence and the help of a few friends,” Roger says. “It can take between 35 and 40 hours to edit one half-hour show to get every little thing right.”
Now, however, the couple has honed their production skills to the point where they have no need of a film crew. Sarah shoots Roger’s painting segments with multiple locked-down cameras so viewers can watch the painting come to life in detail, or in relation to the actual subject being portrayed, while Roger steps behind the camera for Sarah’s cultural and historical segments — perhaps talking with the director of the Duesenberg Museum of antique cars in Indiana while Roger paints one of the museum’s classic cars, or touring a restored small-town North Carolina drug store while Roger paints the facade.
“We just try and be ourselves during filming,” Roger said. “Both of us feel quite comfortable in front of the camera.”
At times, mistakes in composition or color judgment are made, but they often become part of the finished show, corrected as the painting progresses.
“People like that, and it gives them permission to do the same. We get many e-mails from people who have always wanted to paint, and after watching our programs have finally gotten the courage to go out and give it a try,” Roger says. “The show is casual enough and totally nonjudgmental.”
Despite the travel and post-production schedules, the couple finds time for other pursuits, as well. Sarah writes and publishes children’s books.
Roger has published eight books, including one about his first expedition to the Titanic in the Russian deep-sea submersible “Mir-I,” with a forward by Titanic movie director James Cameron.
During a second dive, Roger actually created a series of paintings of the ship while hovering over the bow. They’ve since become collectors’ items.
Then there are the 700 hours that he’s logged as a hot-air balloonist.
But painting, especially painting outdoors, is his chief passion. This summer, Roger and Sarah will be traveling again for another 13 shows that will comprise their ninth season.
“The nice thing about doing a show like ours is that no one is suggesting where to shoot, what to paint, or what to say,” Roger says. “And it seems to be working.”
Visit bansemer.com to view Roger’s paintings and learn more about the show’s PBS broadcast schedule.