I could, quite possibly, be one of a handful of people who remember Bob Ross. In the twenty years since his painting show ran on public television, I've only seen one pop-culture reference on a t-shirt, glorious afro and all. I always envied the way the man traveled through life. Maybe his soft-spoken, overflowing cup of optimism was merely for the camera, but I don't think so. It's hard to fake gentleness of spirit.
I entered my hard-core Bob Ross phase when I was about ten or twelve. Sounds like a season of life attributed to a Korn album or my hand-painted, ripped jeans devoted to Poison, but it's true. The women in my family would gather one day out of the week and paint. My sister, a talented and expressive painter, would give a passing glance to Ross's instruction, then abandon all preconceived notions and just paint. If she had become a writer, she'd be the kind that would craft a story on a whim and follow where the words took her.
My mom was a devoted painting student, pausing only long enough to take tentative steps before Ross's words tethered her back to his idea of art. What would take us an hour would last all day for her, until her burnt umbers and alizarin crimson bled into each other and became more impressionistic than what some of Ross's critics would call "Days Inn" art. Never trusting her creativity, she'd be the writer who obsesses over the first chapter until the spark that ignited the novel fizzled out.
Me? I suppose I fell somewhere in between. I'd approach the canvas thoughtful, but with enough faith in the process and an a non-existent desire to compare myself to what others created, that languishing in the mediocre didn't bother me. For all that I loved having something to hang on the wall, I craved the process more. Much like words on the page today.
Ross's mantra about the "happy little trees" is a great lesson for pursuing art, in any form. His philosophy of layering in what bubbles to the surface of our minds and being at peace with it encourages us to connect with our emotions and sense of beauty in a way no one else can. Sounds crazy--to gain perspective and a certain truth to life--from someone who many joked must have been high on something other than paint fumes. But for all his whispered, Pollyanna-style delivery, I think he was on to something.
I've had three, maybe more, "happy accidents" pop up so far in my current novel. Even in re-writes, the trees bubble to the surface and I keep them. I've written enough to have faith in the process and realize I may not be able to see the entire forest without their presence.
Bob Ross donated every painting for charitable causes. His creations may not be worth of The Met, but he's inspired an entire generation to tackle their own creativity and find that hard-to-get-to place within where thoughts and emotions translate into something to be shared.
Here's a clip of Bob Ross painting and a wickedly funny parody.