• Amy Cherie Copeland

A Learning Experience

Last weekend, after years of watching the Bob Ross painting tutorials on YouTube for entertainment and/or a soothing background voice, I set out to paint one of his landscapes. The experience of being a beginner was humbling, for sure.

My art schooling consists of the just-in-time and just-enough sort, such as receiving suggestions on options for paint mediums and techniques when I used to frequent a ceramics shop where I could work on projects with friends. Other times I've attended workshops, art groups, or a few lessons where new techniques were taught. That's how I learned about the effects of layering acrylic paints, how to Zentangle, and how to build a ceramic bowl from clay by hand.

When I choose to draw, paint, or create, I'm usually working with abstract shapes or warping something real into a fantasy. If I am trying for realism, there's usually a twist. For example, the Bird in the Hands project I shared in my last blog displays the color pattern of a real blue jay, painted onto a vaguely bird-shaped piece of wood.

I approached my first attempt at a landscape like most things I do, by the seat of my pants. I had some 12" x 12" canvases I'd found on sale, a few basic brushes, and a collection of random colors and styles of acrylic paint, some of it 20 years old or more.

All I needed was the right lesson, so I turned to Google, asking, "What is the easiest Bob Ross tutorial?" The consensus of the great oracle was that Season 14, Episode 1: Distant Mountains was among the best choices because of the simplicity of its composition and color scheme.

Sunday afternoon, I prepared my kitchen table with newspapers, laid out my brushes, made a makeshift palette from a white plastic plate, and went to work on the 27-minute-and-37-second tutorial.

I faced several challenges, not the least of which was that I had to improvise on colors. Since I didn't have a set of artist's acrylic tube paints in the standard colors but a random collection of hues in little bottles, pots, and tubes, some of my colors were a bit off from the ones Ross produced.

Within a few minutes of beginning, I realized I would not reap the benefit of practicing Ross' "wet technique" because my white paint, the first layer to go on the canvas, was the wrong consistency and dried too quickly. Then I had a near crisis when one old paint bottle turned out to contain partially-dried globs of blue with the tiniest bit of liquid. I almost ran out of blue before I was done painting sky and water!

Ross uses several of the same size and style brushes so he doesn't have to constantly stop to clean them. I had only one of each, so that slowed me considerably. I also found myself frustrated with my makeshift knife tool, an old plastic spackling spatula that was too wide to manage gracefully.

Thank goodness for YouTube, because I had to pause the video every minute or two while I worked on the step I was doing, or stopped to clean or mix paint.

Landscape painting with snow capped mountains in background and water in foreground.
It took me about four hours to complete the 28-minute tutorial for this painting!

Four hours later, I stopped to take a break because I was exhausted. I had planned to come back and put in a foreground with a big tree on the right, but my small canvas is so limited on space that I'm thinking this is enough. All I need to do now is sign it.

This project motivates me to try some more Bob Ross lessons after I stock up on brushes, artist's acrylics, and tools. If I painted this with random paints and crappy gear, imagine what I could do with the right materials.

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