The late painter Bob Ross liked to say when it comes to making a work of art, there’s no such thing as mistakes — only happy accidents.
It was in that spirit that a small group of residents from Cache Valley (and elsewhere) came together last Saturday night to learn how to paint like him, with the help of instructors from Imagine This! Logan.
“What’s going through my head is, ‘Wow! I love these clouds,’” Idena Ward, owner and founder of Imagine This!, told participants after she heard some critique their painting of mountains with clouds above.
The almost three-hour session on Feb. 9 tapped into the gentle style of Ross, who brought art instruction into people’s living rooms in the 1980s and '90s with his show, “The Joy of Painting.” Even after his death 25 years ago, Ross has gained a strong following, with his shows being streamed online (some viewed millions of times) and his image appearing on merchandise.
Feb. 9 marked the second time Imagine This! Logan hosted a night of painting with Ross, according to Ward, who said the idea came through the recommendation of another art instructor.
“I’m just constantly on the lookout for unique paint nights,” she told The Herald Journal.
Ward admires Ross for his accessible style of painting and teaching.
“His paintings are so beautiful and he makes it look so easy,” she said. “Then when you actually try and you realize it isn’t super difficult to get as good as Bob Ross. You can follow along with him … and it works.”
PAINTING ROSS’ WAY
Ross painted using the wet-on-wet technique, meaning more paint can be applied to a canvas before previous paint has a chance to dry. He learned the style through a German-born painting instructor in Florida who had his own television show before Ross got his.
“The technique that he uses actually makes really, really beautiful paintings out of really simple steps,” Marissa Purnell, an art instructor at Imagine This! Logan, told The Herald Journal.
Purnell and another instructor, Brittney Barnes, pointed out that unlike Ross, they had participants use acrylic paint, not oil, for Saturday’s instruction because that medium easier to use. They said even with the difference in the type of paint used, the outcome would still be similar to Ross’ work.
Like Ross, participants were given a paint palette with several colors, a 2-inch blender brush, a fan brush, a script-liner brush and a palette knife.
To teach participants how to paint like Ross, Barnes and Purnell projected a “Joy of Painting” episode up on a wall, allowing them to watch Ross before pausing it and letting them paint what they just saw. Barnes, painting along with participants, gave some of her insights to paint Ross’ way.
“Don’t forget to experiment with color. Bob was all about trying new things,” Barnes said.
Participants also got a taste of Ross’ style of instruction. The late art instructor was perhaps known just as much for his way of talking as he was for his painting style. For him, trees were never just “trees” — they were “happy little trees.”
Along that same vein, Ross referred to “a happy little cloud” he painted above the mountains during the episode participants watched on Saturday. He told participants to “give them names, if you want to.”
“Make up little stories in your mind,” Ross said as he continued applying gentle brush strokes.
Before making the outline of mountains using a palette knife, Ross said, “This is where you have to make a big decision,” which got laughs from several participants who were critical of their work.
“Isn’t it fantastic that you can build a mountain that easy? You really can,” Ross said as he applied a shadow effect to the snow-capped mountains. “Everyday, I get letters from people all over the country who never, never in their life suspected they could paint such beautiful paintings.”
Comments like these led Ogden resident Karin Jefferson to say to the class, “Remember, Bob believes in you.”
Ward told The Herald Journal she was very impressed with the participants’ Ross-like paintings.
“Even though we all followed the same painting outline, every person's was entirely their own,” she wrote in an email. “I hope this event inspired people to create something of their own. It's so important for people to create — whether it be art, music, decorating, cooking, writing, or computer programming, make something that inspires you!"
REFLECTING ON PAINTING
Several participants The Herald Journal spoke with at Bob Ross Night said they had never painted before coming to Imagine This! Logan.
Jefferson, who heard about Bob Ross Night through friends, is a quilter. She said she has stayed away from painting because she feels like she’s not very good at it.
When asked what she thought about her Ross-like painting of the distant mountain, Jefferson laughed.
“It’s better than I thought I could do, that’s for sure,” she said.
Jefferson found Ross’ instruction to be soothing.
“I can see where you could fall asleep because he’s got such a smooth voice,” Jefferson said. “He encourages you to find the inner — don’t follow his plan but just do what you feel.”
Mindy Thornley, of Nibley, said she sees herself as more athletic than “crafty” and she’s going to need to paint more than once if she wants to become a great painter.
“I could give it another shot,” Thornley said. “But I did compare too much to people … so I probably just need to focus on my own if I did it more.”
Thornley appreciated Ross’ style of painting, including his “happy little trees.”
“I don’t think my trees look that happy,” she said. “They kind of look sad because they’re hanging down.”
Kendra Williamson, of Logan, said she came to Bob Ross Night because she wanted something fun to do that evening.
“It turned out a lot better than I thought, so I’m happy with it,” Williamson said.
Williamson thought parts of the art instruction were confusing for her, but she liked Ross’ style.
“You get to make a decision … kind of go with it; you make a mistake, it’s OK,” Williamson said. “It made me feel better.”
She said Imagine This! Logan made her feel welcome and like she could “really accomplish something.”
“Even though me, personally, I didn’t feel like I could do it at first — and now, I see my finished product and it looks great,” Williamson said.