My First Painting and Bob

I have no idea why but this painting has been haunting me lately.  Every time I think of painting, I think of this painting.  Here is the story the best I can remember it.  I was seven and really wanted to take a landscape oil painting class at the local art center.  (I was obsessed with Bob Ross).  My mom signed me up for the class and I missed the first class because I had the chicken pox for a second time and then I missed the second class because I had strep throat (it was a fun couple of weeks that summer).  The third class I went to, behind badly, the instructor sat me in the corner and gave me this horrible landscape to paint.  I wanted to paint a rainbow but since I was so far behind she told me I wouldn’t have the time to do it.  The class was a 4 week oil painting class (one class 2 hours per week), I had already missed two sessions and the instructor knew I was behind and would never catch up.  I had never painted in oils but knew basic painting techniques from my grandma (more than the average 7 year old).  I also knew that the joys of oil painting was that they don’t dry fast, meaning you can make “mud” if you were not careful (I watched Bob Ross on PBS – I knew all about those Happy Trees).  I will admit I wanted to grow a fro just like Bob and I also wanted to paint in oils just like Bob.  I had a big palette (the palette I had for this class was half the size of me) and I had a perm (thank god there are very few pictures of this and I have them under lock and key), so I was well on my way to being just like Bob.

The instructor picked a landscape with a creek for me to paint, I protested the whole time I wanted to paint a rainbow.  (Bob had just painted a rainbow the week before).  She said no, rainbows were much too advanced for me and that everyone starts with basic landscapes.  Me, being seven, knew she was probably right and Bob painted landscapes with no rainbows, so I could paint a landscape with no rainbow.  I then decided I wanted clouds (Happy Clouds) so I went back to the magazine clippings and found this beautiful (hard) landscape.  I was once again was told to sit down and work on the painting she gave me.  The background of this picture was this bright yellow with rays of sunlight shining through and the reflection of the sun on the creek.  Thinking back the picture wasn’t that terrible and under different circumstances I’m sure it would have gone better than what it did.  The instructor was an acrylic painter who never painted in oils (she was a last minute fill for this class) and she didn’t paint landscapes (hadn’t painted a landscape in years).  She painted abstract art.  (I was seven and did not like abstract art).  I wanted to paint like Bob.  I wanted to paint realism, not abstract or like Van Gogh.  Her view of how I should paint my picture and how I wanted to paint my picture were very different.  I wanted everything to look like the picture, she wanted me to choose my own colors by how I was feeling.  I told her Bob didn’t do that.  She replied all artists paint from within, including this “Bob” person I speak of.  Me being seven look at her in horror, she didn’t know of this Bob I spoke of, how could she claim to be an artist and not know who Bob is?  I continued painting my background, trying to make it happy like Bob said.  But the instructor came by and wiped it clean and told me to pick a color of how I was feeling not what I saw in the picture.  I told her black was not an appropriate color for a background, so she picked one for me — Cadmium Yellow Medium (to this day I hate this shade of yellow).  I painted the background yellow, no clouds or anything showing depth, just a solid yellow square.  My hopes of being as good as Bob were crushed by Cadmium Yellow Medium.  I finished the yellow and had proceeded on to the next color and was told.  I couldn’t move on because it had to dry.  I was horribly confused by this fact.  Bob painted right on top of his background and made beautiful paintings in 30 minutes on PBS and she wanted me to stop after painting the background yellow.  I sat there and she came around with a hair dryer and started to dry my painting.  After 25 minutes or so of waiting on the yellow to dry, I started on making Happy Trees just like Bob.  I once again was stopped and had my happy trees wiped off.  I was told to pick a bright color and that art was all about feelings and color.  By this point I wanted to drink the turpentine and call it a day.  I would never be like my hero Bob.  I gave in and picked Thalo Green for the foliage and was told to add some Cadmium Yellow Medium to it for highlights.  When I wasn’t doing it to her satisfaction she took the brush from me and did it herself and she also wanted everything very thick, almost like a palette knife painting.  I wanted everything thin and pretty just like Bob.  Bob used a palette knife every now and then but never painted like this.

I remember the drive home from this art class.  I was miserable and hated everything about it.  All I wanted to do was paint like Bob Ross and this instructor was impeding my “Bob Rossness” so I asked my mom if I had to finish the horrible painting.  My mom was like yes and I’m sure it will be beautiful.  My response was, “No it is crap!”  I was seven and knew it was crap.  The next week I went back for the final class, and well, it was more of the same.  The color of the water was Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White, no realism at all.  She did let me mix the “brown” for the ground (burnt sienna and titanium white) but that was the extent of my color input on the painting.  My trees were flat, no roundness at all, the bottom part of the creek was just as flat, and there were no flowers.  The worst was yet to come.

I was so disappointed in myself and the class but I had to show this horrible painting in the gallery for the “parent show.”  I was so embarrassed by this.  All I wanted to do with the painting was watch it burn in the fire pit, not hang it in the gallery.  She hung it in the gallery next to the other paintings and we had to talk about it.  I was the last to go and stood up there with my family and the other parents sitting in the gallery, staring at me waiting for me to say something.  I stood torn because I had been told to tell the truth but I had also been told if you can’t say something nice then don’t say it at all.  The instructor was saying, “Amanda, tell everyone about your piece and be honest.”  So I stood there and said, “It is crap!  I hate it and I don’t want to even show it to anyone.”  The instructor was stunned.  My mom, my dad, and grandma started to laugh.  I stood there and continued, “I hate Cadmium Yellow and Thalo Green, and this class was nothing like what Bob Ross does on PBS.”  By this time the instructor was trying to get me to sit down and everyone in the gallery was laughing.  I was quite proud of myself for being honest.  Still disappointed in the painting, but felt better because I was honest.

My grandma decided to help me fix the painting or try to fix the painting.  We added roundness to the flat trees, grass and flowers.  Beyond that there wasn’t much that could be done for this painting.  My dad, on the other hand, loved it just the way it was, so my mom got it framed and we gave it to him for his birthday that year.  Little did I know he would hang this monstrosity in the living room for all to see.  It does not matter how many paintings I have made for my dad and mom over the years to replace this one, it still hangs in my parent’s living room.  My dad still says this is his favorite painting.  As a parent I can finally say I understand why this painting is still his favorite.

So after much ado, here it is my very first oil painting:

My First Oil Painting that still hangs in my parents’ living room

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