What I Learned While Binge Watching ‘The Joy of Painting’

Bob Ross will get you out of any lull.

When The Joy of Painting came to Netflix, I immediately added it to “My List” with every intention to watch it. But then life happened, and I was never actually in the mood to watch instructional painting videos.

I think part of The Joy of Painting‘s appeal was that everyone, including me, loved Bob Ross and his “happy little trees,” and the fact that he made painting pretty insanely beautiful landscapes seem easy. I remember watching him on public access television as a kid; specifically, I remember his afro-Q-tip-shaped hair and his sweet voice.

Still I never made a real effort to watch and reconnect. Finally, one day I was feeling pretty down on my luck. I had exhausted every other Netflix option—including a sad slew of Disney shows.

Slouching toward despair, I veered toward The Joy of Painting. And in the first episode, where Ross painted “Cliffside,” I was hooked. It wasn’t so easy to binge watch the show though; I found myself practicing all sorts of control and learning a few life lessons. Because, by the way, watching a painting video for 28 minutes, knowing you can just fast forward to see the fucking end result, and then finding enough self control to NOT do this is incredible.

I might have lost myself, and my friends/life, for a few days, but watching The Joy of Painting was a real joy, and a sad/hard look at all of my flaws. Maybe one day I’ll pick up a brush….maybe.

And just maybe I’m a better person now. Do it, okay? And here’s what you might learn:

1. It is actually possible to practice patience. 

I was sooooooooo hard for me not to skip ahead. I just wanted to see the final piece. But as I kept watching, I got into a routine of waiting (with pleasure) and going with the flow. I think somehow, by not skipping ahead, and forcing myself to watch each episode from beginning to end, I felt a new sense of patience in my whole life. By the end, I was so patient that I didn’t want each episode to end. I have tried to apply this to my real life. Sometimes, it’s actually working.

2. I still have an imagination. 

In my own lulls and funks, I worry that I’ve lost my creativity and I won’t have any good ideas. But watching this show ignited all sorts of imagination and creativity in me. I found myself using my imagination in such a positive way: I could see myself living in a Bob Ross lighthouse on a story coast littered with jagged ocean rocks. Or in a forest. Or on that lake. It felt good to think outside of myself, even just in daydreams.

3. Good things come to those who wait + hope. 

Look, this has to be true. Each episode starts with a (mostly) blank canvas. The whole time I’m thinking, Come on, Bob, this is going be lame or amateur Kinkade. And then, I wait. I force myself to pay attention and wait. And wait. Suddenly, I see a sunset, and a few tiny dear running down a slope to a nearly moving blue stream. Something there, after each episode, makes me feel like if I keep going, just keep painting, there will be a worthy thing I could call a masterpiece. Or at least, some kind of mellow, happy ending.

4. I think I’m still creative. 

Bob Ross encourages you to think about shape, and form, and color. Although I’m no painter, I found myself fully thinking about the process of painting. I even considered getting paint supplies (but then came to my senses). But watching Bob paint shit gave me my own ideas, even when he simply talks of colors like lizard crimsons, titanium whites, yellow ochers, and perfect peaches. My imagination ran wild with ideas.

5. I am capable of meditating. 

I’ve tried meditating in my real life, and sometimes I’m successful. But the true relaxation I feel after binge watching Bob Ross has the same affect. I even tried meditating the week I watched the show, and I had never been so successful. Who knew I just had to chill the fuck out?

6. Yes, I can actually relax enough to take a nap.

I’m not a napper—or a good sleeper. I’ll stay up and worry about to-do lists, big projects, lack of projects, success, failure, etc. etc. etc. But when I watch Bob Ross frequently, I find myself lulled to sleep by his very calm voice, and the sound of the brushes swirling upon canvas. Even the brush dunking into water is calming. I find myself fast asleep, a lot of the time, and am so proud that someone as uptight as me can nap, in the day, without a care in the world.

6. Everything is fine. 

Bob Ross was a simple guy, the good kind. He got his rocks off by painting landscapes and living in Florida and naming clouds, trees, and cliffs in his painting. He called most objects in his paintings, little rascals. And he truly found joy in this. Somehow, watching Bob so simply enjoying being in the moment made me not hate my life as much as I sometimes think I do. Things are just fine. The guy is pretty fucking motivating.

Happy painting!

Thanks to Kindland!

Crissy Van Meter is the managing editor at Nouvella Books and the founding editor of Five Quarterly. Her writing has appeared in VICE, Catapult, Guernica, Bustle, ESPN, The Hairpin, Golly, VIDA, and more. Her debut novel is forthcoming from Algonquin Books.
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