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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


We tried something new.

Everyone has a perception of their talents, separating the things they’re good at from the ones they’re not. Case in point: art. We’re led to believe that only certain people get the gene. That’s why I didn’t expect my husband, Rob, to go along with my daughter, Madeline’s, suggestion.

Bob Ross landscape paintings
Rob, Madeline and I show off our landscape paintings after our online tutorial.

It was a cold and overcast Saturday afternoon and she wanted us to watch a Bob Ross video and paint the scene along with him. If you’re not familiar with Bob Ross, he had a show, The Joy of Painting, which ran on PBS from 1983 to 1994 and developed a cult following. In less than a half hour, Bob, with his permed afro and mellow voice, taught viewers how to paint a landscape. Sadly, he died at 52.

Although Rob mentioned enjoying paint by numbers when he was in middle school, he had no confidence in his artistic skills. I fully expected him to make an excuse that he had to caulk the bathroom sink or pick up his shirts at the dry cleaners. Surprisingly, he agreed to paint.

As a crafter, Madeline has many art supplies. It only took a jog down to the basement for her to produce little canvases and acrylic paints in an array of colors. We covered our kitchen table with newspaper, squeezed out dime-size squirts of paint on paper plates, lined up our brushes and hit play on the laptop.

I think we were 30 seconds into the video when Rob declared, “I can’t do this.” We were laying down color for a vibrant sky and none of us had any idea how it could ever look like Bob’s, with its beautifully blended blues, pinks, and yellows. Although we gave Rob a few pep talks, we eventually left him to his mumblings of self-deprecation.

The tutorial went like this: sky, mountains, trees, waterfall, bushes, cabin. And just when you thought you were done, Bob would add another large tree in the foreground. Rob protested each addition, but Bob kept him in the game, calling our missteps “happy accidents.” We had just painted in some bushes when Bob suggested adding a cabin. That was it – Rob was done, and he spent the rest of the time touching up his trees. What started out looking like pickles eventually took shape with more practiced brushstrokes.

Madeline and I soldiered on. She’s got the better eye and produced a tidy little cabin in no time flat. Mine took longer – I had the roofline all wrong. To compensate, I made the cabin bigger. By the time I was satisfied, it had grown to a duplex. It was time to stop. We were tired and none of us had room for Bob’s final tree.

But then, some magic happened. As we were putting the paints away, discarding the newspaper and paper plates and cleaning our brushes, we dared to glance at our landscape paintings. We didn’t wince. Rob’s final tree looked like an evergreen; he even had reflected the mountains nicely. Madeline’s scene was neat and well-proportioned; and my cabin was more defined than I had thought.

We propped the canvases on the kitchen windowsill. The next morning over breakfast, we stopped for a minute, taking in our creations. Rob said, “Mine doesn’t look horrible,” and proceeded to comment on the places where he had unexpectedly captured an element well. Madeline and I had similar reactions.

It felt like our worlds had expanded just a bit and given us a new way to view ourselves – as people who can paint landscapes. Kind of.

Rob says he’s ready for another tutorial. And this time he has some confidence.

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