How many of you know who this is?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the man in the picture is Bob Ross, an artist who had a public television show called The Joy of Painting that aired all over the US, in Canada, and in Europe.
In this show, Bob would demonstrate a wet-on-wet painting technique in which he created the most amazing landscapes and seascapes merely by smooshing colors around on a canvas wet with liquid white (gesso) using various-sized brushes.
Watch him do this here:
Sadly, Bob is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on in endless reruns of his show, and the sale of painting kits, supplies, and classes where you can learn this technique. I always wanted to do this. Last year, I bought a Bob Ross beginner painting kit.
Today, I decided to try it.
I wish I could have filmed it for you–you would have found my experience pretty hilarious. I used to dabble in painting (badly) and I haven’t done anything like this in many years. I learned some things today. Here are some of them.
- When you buy a kit, open it the day you buy it. Don’t leave it in the closet for six months. Mine was missing some things. There was no fan brush (luckily I have one), and the tray had a space for one more tube of paint than it actually contained.
- You can do this without an easel, though it’s more difficult. I put double-sided tape on a large cutting mat and used it to hold the canvas still. Then I stood over it and painted. I didn’t want to buy an easel until I knew if I would do this again.
- Very, very old oil paints will still be good, if you can get the tube open. I ended up ripping the bottom off an old art kit tube of yellow ochre and another of burnt sienna, since the kit did not provide those colors. When I finished, I just rolled the end of the tube back up and smashed it down.
- Phthalo green will stain your brushes, your clothes, your table, and your palette FOR THE REST OF THEIR NATURAL LIVES.
- I need FAR more odorless paint thinner than the kit provides. Like gallons of it. Also, I used almost an entire roll of paper towels to clean up my mess. There has to be a better way.
- Beating the brush is just as much fun as Bob made it look on TV. I had to do it inside the coffee can that held my thinner, but it still made me laugh just like he used to.
Ready to see the result? ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE READY? Okay, here goes!
Painting and photograph by Elizabeth West
This technique is harder than it looks. My misty foothills look like crap, especially the ones right above the water. The first row marches straight across the canvas; real foothills don’t do that.
I had better luck with the water than the sky. The reflection thing works just as advertised. I’ll have to try again to get fluffy clouds like the ones Bob made.
Also, the instructions in the kit left out a lot. I would have been better off cueing up an episode of The Joy of Painting and watching it as I went along.
The evergreen trees were easy, but the paint is so wet you really have to be careful not to muddy up the colors. When Bob tells you to load the brush full, he means it. Using the palette knife takes a very light touch as well. It turns out that I’m fairly good at cutting off a little roll of paint, but not so great at actually using it.
Like any new skill, painting this way takes practice. I think I shall try again. I like doing this–it’s quick, it’s fun, and I enjoyed creating a happy little world, even if my trees look a little bit pissed off. Despite the horror of this first attempt, I think Bob would be proud of me for trying.
It’s a day later, and I wanted to add a thought. The most important thing I’ve learned from this? It doesn’t have to be perfect. Despite my mistakes, people have responded favorably to my lame attempt at art. I’m happy with the painting, even though it isn’t as good as I’d hoped. It’s still better than I expected.
And that’s about all we can do. If our endeavors turn out fabulously, we’re golden. But silver is still pretty nice too.