Monday, January 11, 2016

The Lessons of Bob Ross

Twitch has a weekly stream of the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on Mondays, following a very successful marathon that aired all of the Joy of Painting back to back to celebrate the opening of Twitch's art channel.  I'd like to talk a bit about Bob Ross since I spent a bit of my formative years watching him on the local PBS channel.

I had an art teacher once say that Bob Ross was not an artist.  I've come to realize she was entirely right about that.

He was a magician, not an artist.

You see, he does all the paintings you see on The Joy Of Painting in about 30 minutes.  You have to realize the level of familiarity with the techniques required to do what Bob Ross does in 30 minutes.  They were second nature to him.

Bob Ross employed what is known as a wet-on-wet technique, which is something you can do much easier with oil points than with unmodified acrylics.  Since oil paints dry so much slower, they have a very long work time compared to other paint media.  Which means you can blend and mix things on the canvas.  He also uses the slow drying time to push paint around the canvas, allowing him to play with shapes and forms before finally committing to what looks good.

He also uses the thickness of his paints and the way the brushes behave to create texture.  Like using a fan brush to create evergreens in his multitudinous mountainscapes.  Or using a palette knife to create mountains by just barely touching the paint to the canvas as he pulls the knife across the canvas.

Things appeared on Bob Ross' canvas as fast as he could make a brushstroke (or knife stroke).  Like magic.  You blink and suddenly there's mountains where there were once just vague mountain-like blobs.

But I think the most important lesson Bob Ross taught was to be completely unafraid of making a mistake.  That you didn't really make a mistake so much as created an opportunity to do something you weren't planning on.  This attitude encouraged people to take up painting even if they were novices, because Ross was always encouraging people to take up painting and just enjoy themselves.  Famously, Bob Ross did an entire episode of The Joy Of Painting covering how to paint using just black and white paint because a fan said "I can't paint because I'm color-blind".  By saying that there are no mistakes, Ross was backing up his oft-repeated phrase: anyone can paint.  I suspect he knew that painting was really about self-confidence in your skills.

When my brothers and I owned a game store, we encountered many people who were intimidated by the prospect of painting their models.  We would teach them simple and fast techniques that made their models look decent for the amount of time spent.  One of the things we would also teach them is that if you get paint where you don't want it on the model, you can always paint over it later.  Or even if you don't like what you did; you can always paint over it.

In a way we had realized the most fundamental lesson that Bob Ross taught and were spreading it in our own way.