It’s a special day at Today’s History Lesson. I’m just brimming with stuff to talk about, though I have but one subject.
For those of you that grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, you know how relaxing…and calming…and soothing…and gentle that program was. Rambunctious children like you, by the millions, exorcised their “energy” demons with this magic 30-minute elixir provided by the Friends of Public Television (and RKO General…whatever that was).
But then you grew up to be a teenager (and beyond), and Mr. Rogers, great as he was, was a little too young for you. Awesome for the kids, a little embarrassing to sit with your buddies as a teen. And let’s face it…college life was hectic. Always on the go, not eating right, not sleeping nearly enough, the constant studying. Sometimes a person just needed a break…another of those 30-minute wind-downs.
If you’re like me (and I know I am), you again turned to Public Television. This time for The Joy of Painting…with Bob Ross.
Bob Ross was a genius with oils and The Joy of Painting (which ran for anywhere from 25 to 100 years) was a masterpiece. Like Fred Rogers, he never raised his voice, he was never rushed, and he never stopped smiling. And he could do things with a brush that were just awesome. I’ve heard tell that others artists didn’t care for Bob’s techniques, because he made it look so easy. It was as though he took the “mystery” of painting and made it “mundane”.
But Bob thought everyone should be able to paint, so he worked out ways to make complicated procedures easy. Making mountains involved cutting off a little roll of paint from 2 or 3 mixed colors laid out flat. His 2-inch brush could create “the illusion of mist” or “happy little clouds” instantly. Reflections on water?…pull the brush down, then lightly sweep back and forth. Beauty. Snow on the mountains…no problem. Big trees?…piece of cake.
Every episode showed Bob using the same techniques, and he used the same phrases every time, so it was an art instruction class without the silly homework and nerve-wracking exams. I told people that, even though I was the farthest thing from an artist, I could paint just by remembering the words Bob repeated over and over.
But Bob was also quirky, and it was those quirks that I think made him so lovable. I’m a bunch of words into this and haven’t mentioned them. Bob had the biggest hair ever seen on a guy not living in the 1970’s. And those little things he sprinkled throughout each episode. Let’s make a (partial) list:
- Of course, the always goofy opening intro sequence.
- There was the “18 by 24 double-primed pre-stretched canvas” he used for nearly every painting.
- The “little roll of paint” he cut with the knife.
- “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.”
- Nearly every show had, at some point, “your bravery test”, and it usually involved putting big trees over something you just painted (“because you know me, I love big trees”).
- And of course, “every tree should have a friend.”
- Those times when Bob said, “Let’s get crazy!!”…”crazy” in Bob’s world usually involved a waterfall with some big rocks or maybe a wave crashing on the shore.
- The constant reminders that, “in your world, you can do anything you want.”
- The occasional visits from his squirrel friends.
- (Possibly my favorite) The highly-anticipated cleaning of the brush. Bob would dip the brush in odorless, colorless paint thinner, stir it around, take it out, flick it twice, then rap it against the easel leg, look at the camera, give a snicker, and say “and then we beat the devil out of it.” Absolutely classic (and I’ll bet you did it along with him like I did).
- The colors that ran across the bottom of the screen at the show’s beginning…Van Dyke Brown, Alizarin Crimson, Pthalo Blue (did I spell that right?…who cares…if not, it’s just a happy accident anyways), Yellow Ochre, and Midnight Black. Did you try (like me) to name them before they appeared?
- His collection of brushes…the fan brush, the round brush, the philbert brush, the 2″ brush, the knife.
Everything about The Joy of Painting was just a bit off-beat, and it was wonderfully addictive. In college, “the Dan’s” and I would gather at 2:30 on Saturday afternoons with religious regularity, drink a soda, and relax to the sounds of the world’s smoothest painter. And then the 30 minutes would be done, and Bob would look at us and say, “And from all of us here, I’d like to wish you happy painting…”, give that little wave of the barely-raised right hand, “…and God bless my friend.”
Bob Ross was born on October 29, 1942 and died of lymphoma way too young at just 52 years of age. But he touched a generation of viewers and turned more than a few into artists themselves. The Joy of Painting still brightens Public Television’s screens from time to time, and is an absolute must-see.
Can we buy the various series on DVD anywhere?
Happy Birthday, Bob Ross!!