How many people have written about watching Bob Ross paint? I don’t know why I’m asking that question because I don’t care about the answer. I’m joining up.
His dual-color brush move is a killer. One moment, you’re looking at his relaxed hand smoothing some beautiful forest green down a mountainside underneath some lavender-mauve clouds, and the next he flicks the brush in the other direction and a gorgeous emerald tone appears on the other side of the mountain. He is painting a dream with all the right colors, the ones you see in your mind but can never seem to recreate or even name to any satisfaction. But Bob knows how.
What I didn’t remember is that at the beginning of each episode, Bob runs the names of all the colors you’ll need for your own painting at the bottom of the screen. He thinks you can do this, too – that you can take these very same pigments and do what he does. But even a simple background – the basis for a cliffside, say – he’s made a shade of black that you will never recreate. There are many blended colors that make it a unique hue, and even with Bob spelling out its recipe, your cliffside black will not match his. But you can look at it all you want, and that is enough.
Does anyone really want to paint a Bob Ross painting? If you take away the buoyant afro and the cooing about fluffy clouds, they’re mostly images you’d find in an elderly orthodontist’s waiting room. Yes, the colors are layered and spectacular, but it’s a seascape you ignore while anticipating dental pain. You need Bob to say his incarnations and bestow the canvas with his unrushed blessing. You take away the personality and the cult is just a bunch of angry people waiting for someone to give form to their fears and soothe their minds with some beautifully mixed paint.
Those colors of Bob’s. His palette does look good enough to bite into. Could I reproduce those colors if I broke into a Dick Blick* and made off with all the paint tubes? No, I doubt I could. But Bob can, and he shows us his personal rainbow. He recites the color names – cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson, phthalo blue – and makes a world with them. I want to eat those colors so they become a part of me. When you are incapable of making art yourself, seeing these hues brought to life and “danced” into a canvas is a hell of a drug.
It’s not just the colors – it’s the sounds and the touch. Bob’s brushes make music, and he handles them like a drummer spirals out a line. He stretches a new color into being, and then jazz-hands it onto the canvas. A sun, a sky, a babbling little brook. It’s an ostinato for his gentle sermons. Did he take an elocution class, or was he naturally a human Xanax? His voice is at once captivating and calming, and not likely to give you a skin rash. He’ll put some excitement in your life without ever raising your heart rate. If his voice were a color on his tasty palette, it would be the glowy red-orange of one of his sunsets – the pillowy moment between relaxation and sleep. His brushes gently dab across the growing landscape, making a sound I could listen to in isolation, like Marvin Gaye’s vocals in “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Bob even makes the sounds of the lines he’s drawing, as his own backup singer.
I appreciate color much more these days, seek it out. And with Bob to create the visuals for me, I can get a fix anytime. Right now I’m looking at a purple on the surface of some waves – this incredible violet has never appeared to me before. It’s rich and full, and Bob goes in with some medium lavender to make wave foam. My heart rate is the opposite of that time I got a too-large Novocaine dose when I had my wisdom teeth out. Bob’s colors and words seep into the folds of my brain. He tells me to make up little stories and sounds of my own – I’m there Bob. Right there with you.
I like to think that somewhere Bob Ross and Fred Rogers are painting and neighboring together. Bob is painting a cabin in a welcoming woods, and Mr. Rogers is showing how crayons are made. It’s a worship of color. Their voices mix while Jesus plays the piano and some of the sadness falls out of the world. Humankind will never invent a drug as powerful as this combination of soft-spoken idealists who each tell people how much they are loved and how much they are capable of. It’s nice to have record of their works, a Valley of the PBS Kings to visit from time to time. We all need these colors and these words.
*Yes, I realize these stores now go by BLICK but I prefer the original name, obviously.