Bob Ross Took Over My Life

I’m a passable musician. I like to think I’m a pretty good writer. But before February, I wouldn’t have imagined I could paint a wall in my condo, much less a canvas. I never took an art class, never drew much more than doodles. I took one intro to art history course in college and the only thing I remember about it is that the lecturer got angry when we left at 11:50 because she didn’t seem to understand that the ten minutes before the top of the hour was supposed to allow the students to get to their next class.

So if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may be puzzled that my social media has been less concerned with literature and more focused on painting. First things first, I haven’t given up on writing. There just hasn’t been much to brag about lately (though keep your eyes peeled. I’ve got a bit of good news coming soon that I can’t share quite yet….). But the truth is, Bob Ross has taken over my life.

I’m not sure what prompted it, but I came across a Bob Ross video on YouTube and was captivated. In 30 minutes, without any edits, he painted a snow-capped mountain, a glistening lake, and, of course, a forest full of happy little trees. It was mesmerizing, and moreover, he made it look so easy. A few taps of a fan brush, a quick stroke of the knife, three hairs and some air, and you’ve got a gorgeous landscape. I suppose part of the impetus was the combination of my alcohol-free new year (I made dry January last through most of March) and the never-ending winter we had. I needed something to do on the weekends, and I was in a writing lull. So I bought a Bob Ross starter set–an assortment of brushes, 8 tubes of oil paint, a palette knife, and a small bottle of magic white. I bought a cheap canvas, a cheap easel and set up shop in our guest bedroom. Then, I covered my laptop in Saran Wrap so it wouldn’t get painted and queued up “Portrait of Winter” from Bob Ross’s 24th (!) season. Five hours later, I had a painting that looked kind of like what I was trying to paint.

Painting 001 - Portrait of Winter - Cropped

The snow didn’t quite break on the mountains for me like it does for Bob, my trees and bushes aren’t quite as happy, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s going on with that cloud. But damn, that water looks good, and the distant trees look like distant trees, and Bob wasn’t kidding. I could do this.

The obsession took hold.

From there, I watched dozens upon dozens of Bob Ross videos and tried a few more paint-alongs, then moved on to Kevin Hill, Michael James Smith, Stephen Conway, Andrew Tischler and everyone else I could find on YouTube who did oil painting landscape tutorials. I’ve been painting about one per week, and trying all sorts of different styles.

A few months ago, Kathryn and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum I’d been to many times before. But this time it was different. I looked at these paintings with a fresh set of eyes and a whole new appreciation for the craft. And I know I have so much to learn. But I’m excited for the process.

And no, I haven’t abandoned writing. In fact, I’m learning a lot about writing from my approach to painting. But that’s for a future essay.

So if you like, check out the Painting section of my website. I’m only posting the original compositions (even though the paint-along videos I’ve done have turned out great, and I’ll still share them on my social media as well as my painting-only instagram account, @stevetrumpeterpainting [follow me!]). And wait until you see the painting I’m working on now. Masterpiece!

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