Bob Ross was underappreciated as an artistic genius and life guru in his time. If he painted now, he’d have an Instagram following millions deep. The guy preached self-love and self-acceptance long before those philosophies were a ticket to influencer status. He also didn’t pair them with gorgeous travel shots and an unattainable lifestyle. Instead, Bob Ross talked sincerely about forgiving yourself and taking pleasure in the small things while he filmed over 400 episodes of his Joy of Painting show in a black public television studio. Now, all that wisdom and all those painting tutorials are available on YouTube for free.
One of the most pivotal episodes of Joy of Painting is in season 23, episode 3. During the episode, he’s painting Mountain Ridge Lake, adding a layer of dark paint to the shore of the lake, to scrape a lighter layer over it. Ross’s wet-on-wet oil painting technique calls adding layers on top of wet paint. His method differed from traditional oil painting where artists wait lengthy periods of time for the previous layers to dry.
He works fast, completing entire landscape scenes during short 25 minute episodes. During Mountain Ridge Lake, he tells the viewer that they need a layer of dark beneath lighter colors to create depth. “If you have light on light,” he says, “you have nothing.” Bob Ross peppers these truisms into his shows, teaching not only how to paint, but how to live an accepting and peaceful life.
It surprises most viewers to learn that Bob Ross didn’t begin his career as a painter, but as a military man. He served as a master sergeant, the guy who yells at fresh recruits for being late, being out of uniform, or for anything at all, really. Ross felt the job required him to be tough and mean. When he left the Air Force, he resolved to never yell or raise his voice again.
Which is how the show’s catchphrase became, “happy little trees.” He also denied that there were mistakes in painting, rather sometimes there were “happy accidents.” You know this soft-spoken man is talking about adding a stream to his painting of a forest, but you want to believe he’s talking about your recent life decisions.
Which brings us back to Mountain Ridge Lake, where we’re layering light on dark because you can’t have one without the other. “It’s like in life,” he says, preparing a new color on his palette, “You got to have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come. I’m waiting on the good times now.” He filmed this episode just a few months after losing his wife to cancer.
You may not think of yourself as a painter, or even want to paint, but you can still appreciate the wisdom and kindness of Bob Ross in these 25-minute episodes. Especially if you’re in the middle of some dark times right now, there’s no better companion for waiting on the good times than Bob Ross.
Featured Image Credit: Britannica