Cardboard was Bobby Marines’ first canvas.

It wasn’t that he loved the heavy-duty packaging material, it was just the only surface he could afford.

The 29-year-old Marines, who grew up in Robstown, Texas, moved nine years ago to Rochester, Minn., to live with his sister, Ashley Marines. He said his hometown offered little inspiration. He said Ashley’s willingness to hang his cardboard paintings in the living room encouraged him.

“She would say, ‘This is mine. It’s going to be worth a lot when you get famous.’ Things like that really kept me going.”

Those cardboard paintings eventually won him five ribbons and “a little cash” at the 2010 Olmsted County Fair. Soon, Marines was painting during the Rochester ArtWalk and Thursdays on First. It was at the latter that Marines sold a painting for $1,000 to District Court Judge Kevin Lund. It was the first painting Marines ever sold for “real money.”

His tireless work ethic now motivates other local artists, including Patrick John.

“When I started coming to [Creative Salon] a year ago,” John said, “I would see Bobby and he was always working, working, working. You learn from him that this is not a 40-hours-a-week job; it’s an 80- to 100-hours-a-week job.”

Before meeting Marines, spoken-word artist Sophie Marie was too shy to publicly share her thoughts. Marines helped her take the stage. But even she struggles to describe Marines’ work.

“It can’t be described. … He’s always pushing the limits.”

“It’s whatever I want to do,” Marines said. “When I get up in the morning, I feel blessed that I get to do what I want for a living.”

Though he didn’t attend high school himself, Marines has addressed art classes at Rochester Community and Technical College and this summer he will teach at an art camp at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, Minn.

Years removed from painting on cardboard, Marines has painted a mural at a Starbucks in the Mall of America and did a painting for the entryway at Sontes, a restaurant in downtown Rochester. This June, he will showcase his best works at Crossings at Carnegie and this fall, he wants to turn “One Night of Art” into a block party. Marines no longer worries about being homeless. His art allows him to live “on my own terms.”