There are 403 episodes of Bob Ross' storied "Joy of Painting," a PBS show that consisted mostly of an easel, a black backdrop and an unwavering parade of happy little landscape elements. In it, Ross, the late, delicately coiffured host, would walk viewers through painting tutorials, uttering delightful zen remarks along the way.
"There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend," he'd muse. "I think each of us, sometime in our life, has wanted to paint a picture," he seemed to believe.
If a person wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ross and, say, paint all 403 images he depicted throughout his television run (at a leisurely pace), it would take that person approximately 10 years. At least, that's what Nicole Bonneau somewhat jokingly guesses. She's the woman behind Almighty Painting, a project that's currently taking place across Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. And yes, she's endeavoring to paint all 403 "Joy of Painting" scenes, one happy little tree at a time.
Why? For one, Bonneau appreciates the deliciously dark humor trickled amidst Ross' otherwise positive-leaning platitudes. "I feel like whenever he paints an old cabin, he always makes up some story about what happened to the owner of it," she recalled in an interview with The Huffington Post. "Sometimes he has a bad drinking problem and that's why he doesn't take care of his house. Sometimes he falls into the river and drowns. It's very interesting."
But beyond the morose comedy, art school graduate Bonneau is in it for the creativity too. Guided by the divine voice of Bob, she's looking for an antidote to creative block and a method for reducing anxiety. In the words of the immortal BR, “The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it."
So, tell me about this Twitter account. How did it come to be?
I thought of the idea to paint my way through "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross" over the holiday break last year. I was laying around relaxing with my partner's family on Christmas. His brother had recently taken a liking to Bob Ross, ever since they started streaming episodes on Hulu. We put it on and were totally mesmerized for hours. It was probably the most relaxed I've felt in a long time. At some point, I had the thought, 'What if someone did every one of these paintings?'
I honestly didn't think that I would do it. I just liked the idea, and thought someone should do it. I'm not sure exactly what switched in my brain, but at some point in the next two weeks, I started to wonder what it would be like if I did this project. It has everything I am looking for in a project. It's long-term. It will keep me busy, and therefore less stressed and anxious. It's something I know how to do. There was less pressure to create something amazing right away. I mean, with that many paintings, I was more OK with the fact that they might (probably would) be terrible at first. And most importantly, it would allow me to have a creative outlet where I wasn't blocked due to lack of ideas. It was one big idea, where each time, all I had to do was listen, learn, and paint.
Have you always been a big Bob Ross fan?
I guess I wouldn't have really called myself a big fan before this project. I think he was a very interesting person. He seemed so sweet, optimistic and genuine. Its hard to tell how much of that was about being on TV and how much of it was who he really was.
My favorite thing is when out of nowhere he'll say something incredibly dark. It's so unexpected. For example, I feel like whenever he paints an old cabin, he always makes up some story about what happened to the owner of it. Sometimes he has a bad drinking problem and that's why he doesn't take care of his house. Sometimes he falls into the river and drowns. It's very interesting.
What is you earliest memory of the artist?
My earliest memory of Bob was when I was about 12 years old and came across "The Joy of Painting" on PBS. I had always been interested in "art," whatever that meant to me at the time. It caught my attention right away. There is something undeniably good about watching Bob paint. I remember thinking he was a kind of a weirdo, and that the show was outdated and dull looking. And yet I couldn't turn away. A few months later, I asked my mom to buy me a Bob Ross painting kit, and I did my first oil painting.
Are you yourself an artist outside of your current obsession with Ross?
I actually wouldn't call myself an artist. I'm very creative, and I am constantly making things. But I think of art as more of an expression of who someone is, and what they are feeling. I do admit I wish I could make art in that sense. I just have trouble getting there. My work is more about craft.
Are you a trained painter?
I did attend Mass College of Art in the early 2000s, where I majored in painting. I definitely have the skill of painting.
Do you know how long it will take you to complete all of Ross' images?
This is a daunting question. Of course, I've thought about it, but at the rate I'm going it will be 10 years before I finish! I'm actively working on ways to add more painting time into my schedule. However, with over 400 paintings total, I'm sure this will take a very long time regardless. I did hit a milestone recently, in that I finished Season 1. That means I completed 13, and there are 390 left to go.
What are you hoping to learn from the challenge?
I'm a pretty creative person who is always trying to find an outlet. I have a lot of trouble coming up with ideas for projects on my own. I'm usually inspired by someone's upcoming birthday, that I'm creating a gift for, or someone asking me to help build a website, etc. I don't usually have my own projects that I do for no other reason than I want to.
I guess a part of me is hoping that this could eventually lead to something more original. I'm not sure what that could be at this time. It could be as simple as painting something from nature, instead of from my iPad. It could be something else entirely. Hopefully it's something fun.
Last question: If you could choose a Bob Ross quote to live by, which would it be?
There are so many good ones. I guess my favorite one is: "Ever make mistakes in life? Let's make them birds. Yeah, they're birds now." Mostly I like this one because it's hilarious and it speaks to how sweet Bob was. I guess it also resonates with me because I'm not the kind of person who dwells on mistakes made or things in the past. I think you have to keep looking forward and make the best with what you got.