As a young artist, I loved Bob Ross. It was like magic watching him paint, and my dad and I looked forward to watching him each week on our local PBS station. As someone with limited painting experience, Bob Ross was my entry into that world — the world of an artist, and I think it was for Christmas during my 10th grade year in high school that I got my first oil painting set — a Bob Ross oil painting kit. It was a big splurge for my parents, and I immediately went to work painting my own Bob Ross paintings. I even purchased a couple of his books to expand my painting repertoire, and for several months or so, I enjoyed emulating his style, and I painted quite a few landscapes with happy little trees, craggy mountains, and rundown cabins.
But after a time, it just didn’t feel right to keep going that route. It started to feel like a rut, and I began to push myself in other directions, trying to paint things other than Bob Ross landscapes with my Boob Ross oil paints. Soon I was painting vases and flowers and people. I had branched off in my own direction, and I left those Bob Ross landscapes behind. I continued to paint, but I had to discover my own way.
I think that this experience really encapsulates my approach to artmaking and creating. Something excites my attention, I give it a go, and then figure out how to incorporate it into the things that I do. I may see something that intrigues me in the colors someone uses or in the way they use a certain material, but I don’t want to do something exactly the way they do. That doesn’t excite me, and there’s nothing there for me to discover. They have already discovered it, and art, to me, is all about a personal discovery.
This has colored the way that I teach and what I want my students to get out of an experience with me. I don’t want them to mimic and copy me — to make what I make — to create work that looks like mine. I want to share ideas, techniques, and modes of working with them, and have them figure out how to take some of those things and infuse them into their way of working. I want to help them discover their voice.
Bob Ross paintings remind me of the paint and wine nights that have been quite popular over the past few years — someone leading you step-by-step to create a very specific thing. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, and many people feel they need that. But for me, I don’t want that as a student, and I don’t want that as a teacher. I am much more interested in opening myself to my own ideas and helping others uncover their own, and if I’ve planned it all out, if I’ve solved all of the problems, then my students are merely manufacturing a product. I want my students to have a creative experience, where their ideas and their choices matter.
But that involves risk, and many people don’t want to take that risk. They are content with following a recipe, but they could do so much more — be so much more. So, how do we step out of our comfort zones? How do we take these risks? How do we create with courage and confidence?
These are the questions that I’ve been trying to answer for myself, and I’ve been exploring these ideas for years trying to figure out what works for me. But it’s different for everyone. Everyone has their own things, their own issues, their own noise in their heads to contend with. Perhaps some of the things that I do can work for them.
These aren’t easy issues to contend with, and it’s going to take time. But I want to offer ideas, techniques, and modes of working that you can infuse into your way of working. This is why I’ve started a podcast, committed to create more online workshops, have created videos, and written more blog posts. I want to help you connect with your creativity, and I am hoping that you will join me on this journey.