I just painted an oil in homage to Bob Ross. Has anyone ever watched his show on PBS? With his quiet voice, charming anecdotes, fanciful perspective, and expert teaching skills, Bob would make a painter out of any artist-at-heart. His sweeping landscapes were distinctive in their misty realism. He made his technique look so easy…and while it was definitely simple, in a sense, and allowed anyone to make a really good-looking attempt on the very first try, it downplayed his own talent. One can readily paint a Bob Ross scene, and be gratified to have it turn out well. But it takes a lot of hard work to paint like Bob Ross himself.
He had only half an hour to go from primed white canvas to completed scene. Bob would begin painting in the background—his technique captured a realistic effect with a minimum of details. A soaring sky, some haze-wrapped hills, a meandering brook. All would appear like magic from his brush. Then he would lay in a few trees—daubs on the canvas that took on the look of a thick grove of greenery. Then maybe he would drop in a bush in the foreground, or perhaps a rolling incline dotted with underbrush. The show’s half hour would be drawing to a close. The painting was impressive, as usual. All done, right?
Nope. That’s when Bob would cast an impish glance at the camera, fan brush poised in hand, and ask, “Ready for our Bravery Test?”
He’d take a breath, turn back to his canvas, and paint a black line RIGHT through his beautiful painting. Through sky, clouds, mountains, trees, and all. As a viewer, one cringes in disappointment—he just ruined a perfectly good painting! But under Bob’s rapid brush strokes, in a few instants, that black line became an amazing evergreen tree. Filled with a personality of confidence and power, the tree dominated the peaceful landscape and made the painting. The picture was beautiful without it. But it was incredible when the tree was added in.
The Bravery Test.
This term has been in my thoughts for some time. So this past weekend, I pulled out my oil paints and Bob Ross videos, and got cracking.
I started with a misty background. Found that it’s not as easy as Bob makes it looks, that’s for sure. But I persevered. I’m an artist, right? I should be able to do this. I’m an acrylic and colored pencil artist who has had limited experience with oils, mind you, but I can troubleshoot. So I did. Had a couple “Happy Accidents” (another of Bob’s terms—there are no mistakes in painting, only “Happy Accidents”), but I got through sky and mountains and hillsides and trees. It looked like a mousewords painting, rather than a Bob Ross…but I was satisfied for the first try.
I pulled out a palette knife and laid in a rocky cliff for my foreground accent, then stood back and took a look at it. It was good.
It looked okay, and pretty on its own. But it needed a tree, of course—that was my intention from the beginning. Faced with the thought, though, as I stood there looking at the canvas, I realized I could have gone days without doing what I had planned to. Out of hesitation, or just wanting to make sure I was prepared, or that I was experienced enough with the paint, or had practiced enough with my brush. For whatever reason, I was clutching.
But then I remembered—“Bravery Test.” Just be brave.
So I loaded up a brush with dark paint…took a breath…and painted a line right down the canvas. Within a little while, it became a tree…a pretty darn good one!
THEN—I put the brush in the hand of my 19-year-old photographer sister, and told her, “Paint one. Bravery Test.” She gaped at me, but took the challenge. Taking a deep breath, she painted a line down the canvas. That was a bravery test for BOTH of us—my oil was still wet! But soon she had a perfect little tree, tucked in next to my big evergreen. Because, as Bob always said, “Everybody needs a friend.”
So here’s the result—“Bravery Test,” 8×10, oil on canvas.
Everyone has talent—something that they can do beautifully already. Writing, singing, teaching, dancing, art, technology, parenting, whatever it is. But you may still have a dream or a desire to do something more. Go for it! Be brave! You may not feel prepared, may not feel ready, may not think what you have to offer is “good enough.” But learn from Bob Ross—take the Bravery Test today. Take a deep breath, and dive in, ready or not. There are no mistakes…only “Happy Accidents.”
The result may turn out to be something even more beautiful than you could have imagined.