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#ROSSology: Think Like A Tree

Entry #2 | Jan. 22, 2023

“Painting is not everyone following one person, idea or plan. Painting is all participants contributing their efforts together, while benefitting and enriching themselves in the experience.”

Bob Ross was quoted saying the above in 1994.

Not only does that sum up Bob and his view on “The Joy of Painting”, but it also shines a light on how I feel as a Certified Ross Instructor.

Enrichment, legacy and shoot, just having fun.

In his 31 seasons and 400-plus episodes, I would marvel at his incredible delivery of the spoken word. He was talking to just me or just you. He was our friend more than he was a painting instructor.

I’ve carried the Bobisms throughout my life. Many are catalysts of inspiration, while also a sense of stabilization when life gets crazy.

“You have to have the dark in order for the light to show.”

Below are a few Bobisms with regard to the wet-on-wet technique (and of course, life too).


Two Hairs And Some Air
One of my favorites to use in class to stress to students to barely touch the canvas. “Two hairs and some air”, Bob said. Meaning just graze the canvas softly. I remember Bob telling me this while he fluffed his clouds. He would also tell me “if you miss the canvas now and then while doing this, you’re doing it right.”

The Illusion of Depth
As artists, we are challenged with turning a one dimensional, double-primed, pre-stretched canvas into an inviting and layered landscape. This is a challenge to be sure, and one I think beginner’s don’t think enough about. The illusion of depth means layers, separated by areas of mist or lighter vs. darker color. It also means things in the distance are smaller and the foreground is bigger, all while, forcing the viewer’s eye to the middle of the painting.

Don’t Lose Your Background
The background is the part of the painting that is far away. As Bob would say, it might take hours or days to walk there. These are generally less detail and lighter in color as colors furthest away from you are lighter.

Remember The Middleground
Basically the place in your painting that’s just a short walk away and generally darker in color, but still not necessarily a lot of detail.

Live In The Foreground
The place where you are standing right now. Details, highlights and color are important here. You need all three of these for a painting to have life, to not be boring and to have the “illusion of depth”.

Details “Make A Happy Buck”
These are the things, as Bob says, can make you a “happy buck”. The small pieces of a painting that makes you stop and study. In the wet-on-wet technique, it’s not just achieved with small brush or a knife. The clusters of leaves, “shape and form”, from a 2″ brush, too. Big tools creating small details is what makes Bob’s style of painting fun.

Think Like A Tree
“Think like a tree,” Bob said. Shape and Form. I use this so often in my classes, it’s on repeat. By doing this, you add to the items above to make your painting more interesting and real. Resisting the urge to just hit at random with your foliage, but think shape and form. Paint one cluster of leaves, then another, then another. Each tree or bush is an individual, and each cluster of foliage is an individual, too.

Follow Lay-of-the-Land
“Follow the lay-of-the land,” Bob said. But Bob, how can I follow it if I’m creating it? Patience, young grasshopper. The ground is anything but flat and horizontal. There’s gentle curves and rolls, even in the flattest of land. Subtle changes with your brushstrokes and color can change the lay-of-the-land … even in the foreground.

Don’t Kill All Your Darks
Sometimes, as Bob said, what you don’t do is more important than what you do do. You need the dark to show light, so it’s especially crucial as you drop in highlights. If you paint over all the dark or base color, then it’s just another layer of paint on the canvas. Maintain the lay-of-the-land and the illusion of depth, by completing each individual shape, separating forms and layers from each other.


Bobisms. We all have our favorites both in painting and in life. I’ll share more in a future post.

More #ROSSology …


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