Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 9:30 am, my local PBS station airs Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting.
It’s over the air, and I don’t have a DVR, so if I miss it I can’t go back and rewatch it (ignoring the availability on YouTube).
So every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 9:30 am, I put my phone down, make myself some hot tea, and sit down to enjoy 25 minutes of uninterrupted magic with my meditation guru, Bob Ross.
I remember watching Joy of Painting when I was really young. It aired from 1983 to 1994, which were my formative years. Bob was famous for having a big afro and turning mistakes into “happy little accidents.” Those were the two attributes that were most memorable to me from the first run of the show. So when I accidentally stumbled on it one random morning, the nostalgia of my childhood drew me in.
When I actually sat and watched it as an adult, I became enchanted.
Bob would take a virtually blank canvas (there was always a liquid medium on it to facilitate his wet-on-wet painting style), and create an entire scene in the span of a mere half-hour. It was like magic! Watching him work was like watching life literally come into being.
I became bewitched, enthralled, captivated, hypnotized, enraptured. I could not get enough.
There are other painters on PBS, but none of them entrance me as Bob does. One guy takes a whole season to recreate a scene. He’s also very didactic, and not very likable. Another guy is a little less severe, but his style of underpainting isn’t as attractive as Bob’s free form landscapes. And neither of them have the voice.
ASMR is a big section on YouTube. It’s a phenomenon that leads to tingles in the back of the head and neck. These YouTube videos involve a lot of whispering or making soothing sounds to trigger a pleasurable response. That’s fine. But that’s not what Bob Ross did.
Bob’s method of talking wasn’t forced, he was simply pleasant and it carried out in his mannerisms and his painting. He also wasn’t whispering. He spoke simply and kindly. Like his contemporary, and another childhood favorite, Mr. Rogers.
If you know anything about his life prior to becoming the master painter, you know he spent time 20 years in the Air Force. Some of his service time was as a drill sergeant. His time here informed his demeanor later in life stating:
I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.
But his military service also helped prep him to paint fast.
I developed ways of painting extremely fast. I used to go home at lunch and do a couple while I had my sandwich. I’d take them back that afternoon and sell them.
Bob wasn’t the first painter to melodiously teach painting on tv. He was inspired by the German émigré William Alexander, who first aired The Magic of Oil Painting in the 70s. When Alexander retired, he referred potential students to Bob (though later in life they weren’t quite so friendly…).
Why are these reruns so mesmerizing? Why is this meditation?
In the span of a mere 25 minutes, he would create an entire scene. Out of nothing but the same 10 oils on his large palette, and by “beating the devil” out of his brushes, he brought a landscape to life. And he did it all without rushing. His voice and technique were seemingly slow but steady.
At first, I couldn’t get through an episode without the itch to look at my phone. But with repeated viewings, I’ve learned to keep these intrusive impulses at bay. This is what they call “practice.” I’m actually developing a great habit of disconnecting and using this time for self-care. I come back to my studio feeling refreshed and ready to tackle stuff.
So why limit this to only Tuesdays and Thursdays when I could watch it anytime I want on YouTube?
Part of it is the nostalgia of watching it as the show was intended to be enjoyed: in “real” time. I marvel at the end result and don’t actually want to speed through it. I don’t like spoilers, and if I were to watch the available videos, it might ruin the next episode for me. Plus, his process of creating is also special. I could binge on that, but everything in moderation.
PBS is also wonderful in that there are no breaks for commercials. The ads run at the beginning and end of the show, but nothing breaks up the actual episode (except the occasional cut to one of Bob’s animal friends). That isn’t the case with the uploaded videos.
And breaking the flow of the episode is detrimental to both Bob’s style and my meditative needs.
Bob Ross has taught me patience. He’s inspired me to create more. He’s almost led me to think even I could paint…
The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe.
The best part, though, is that Bob Ross makes me want to be a better person.
Who inspires you? Let us know down below!