Bob Ross and his happy little friends have introduced millions of PBS viewers to the world of art.
Bob may be gone but his gentle legacy of painting technique continues to charm and instruct.
Not only are there books and DVDs available, but a full line of Bob Ross painting supplies are sold on-line and in select venues.
There are also over 3000 certified Bob Ross instructors nationwide and internationally.
How Does He Do That?
The Bob Ross painting method is the wet-in-wet technique. Artists have used this method for hundreds of years, and for the oil painter it’s the fastest method to use.
The Bob Ross oil paints are specially formulated to meet the consistencies he prefers in the various colors on his palette. He also has a specific range of colors he uses. There are soft and firm versions of many of his colors. That is how important the liquidity is in his painting style. The thinner paints are used in the early stages of painting, while the thicker paint is used in the latter stages. This is known as thick over thin. If a thin layer of paint is applied over thick, there is a danger of cracking, unless it has been made more supple with the appropriate oil medium.
The colors are very specific, and there are sets of colors expressly grouped together for various types of paintings. There are sets for landscapes, flowers and wildlife painting. His style can be emulated using other brands of paints, but if the artist uses different shades of a color, the mixture will not result in the same tone found on a Ross painting. Lamp Black and Ivory Black may not blend exactly the same. Mixing green from yellow and Prussian Blue will not be the same green as yellow mixed with Phthalo Blue.
Paintbrushes that the Ross system favors are simple. He favors larger brushes, so there is little room for overworking detail. One inch and two inch brushes in both flat and round, a few fan brushes and a detail script brush are about all that are necessary. He also uses palette knives in an oddly shaped straight edge that is dissimilar to the standard palette knives with which most painters are familiar.
Starting With The Blank Canvas
Bob Ross’s method begins with a very thin coating of white paint. It must be thin enough so additional paint applied to it will not run or drip. If there is not enough, additional layers of paint will not blend properly. This is a very thin, cream-like textured oil paint used to wet the canvas for the wet in wet technique that the artist will use. This is available readymade, or can be simulated by thinning white paint with the oil medium the artist prefers. This first coat is slow drying and allows the student ample time to blend subsequent colors for skies and foregrounds.
Happy Little Clouds
A fan brush is ideal for painting clouds. They have long bristles and create delicate effects. Paint is loaded generously to the bottom half of the brush and the corner of the brush is used to form the upper edges of the clouds. Using small counter-clockwise circles, work from right to left to define the upper edges of the cloud. Once that rim is formed, go back with a large, clean flat brush and gently blend the background into the lower edge of the cloud, using the same circular motion with the corner of the brush. Then, using the flat of the brush, lightly sweep across the entire cloud area to set it into the sky. Use a very light touch when doing this to give the slightest hint of mistiness to the area
Cut Sharp Lines For Mountains Using A Knife
The unique shaped palette knife that Ross uses is the key to creating his style of mountains. Once the background has been developed, use the edge of the palette knife, loaded with paint only near the edge to define the periphery of mountains against the sky. This method requires little paint, and it is scraped away to just a crisp edge of paint to outline the mountain. The central area of the mountain will be over painted when the basic shapes are completed. A large, flat brush is then used to blend the center of the mountain into the still-wet background paint. This results in the edges remaining crisp while the bulk of the mountain takes on a misty, grayed appearance, due to the blending of the background paint into the dark of the mountain paint.
Just as with clouds, Bob uses the fan brush to paint evergreen trees. The paint is heavily loaded onto a fan brush. Using the edge lay a very fine vertical line to represent the treetop. Use the corner to dab tiny bits of paint to represent the uppermost branches of the tree along the sides of the vertical line. As the artist progresses down the trunk, he applies more pressure and uses more of the edge of the brush. Use a choppy, erratic motion to emulate the uneven, jagged shapes of the evergreen. The underlying layer of paint will blend with the tree color as the brush runs out of paint. Add more as necessary, but do not try to keep all the branches the same color. This is representational, and not meant to be graphically correct. It is the essence of the tree and there is no need to go for authenticity.
Wildlife In Bob’s World
In the Ross method of painting wildlife, preparation is different from painting landscapes. The canvas is thinly coated with grey gesso and allowed to dry thoroughly. Draw or transfer the subject to the canvas using graphite carbon paper.
Rather than using the wet in wet technique, this painting starts with an underpainting of the animal using grey, black and white acrylic paint. The student proceeds with oils to continue painting the subject once the acrylic has dried. Bob Ross wildlife paints are expressly formulated to be softer than the Ross landscape paints and are a line of specific colors.
There are particular brushes recommended to develop the fur, hair or feathers and practice is necessary to develop the skill required to emulate Bob’s happy little woodland friends.
Keep Your World Clean
The worlds that Bob creates are full of clean, vibrant color. To this end, the artist must keep his tools scrupulously clean. The brushes are dipped and wiped throughout the painting session with brush cleaner to keep from contaminating colors with residue from previous paint. Use a beater rack to remove excess thinner from brushes after cleaning them.
Keeping an organized and tidy palette is also important in maintaining clean brushes. Mixing is done with both palette knife and brush, but the blends are kept separate to retain the integrity of the colors. There is no muddiness in Bob’s world.
Bob Ross’ techniques allow the student to develop wet in wet techniques that are the building blocks to learning the art of oil painting. His tried and true methods help the beginning artist gain confidence in their abilities to produce warm and inviting landscapes, florals and whimsical wildlife paintings.
Let Bob’s happy world become a part of your happy world as well.