“Welcome to the Bob Ross paint-along”, says a committee member of student club De Leidsche Flesch. “It’s very simple: we will have Bob Ross on a screen.” He points to the white screen behind him, “and we will paint along.” There are some thirty people, brushes at the ready, at the rows of tables covered with newspapers, bottles of acrylic paint and artist’s canvases.
The attendance is quite good, considering that most of them only just got back from a study trip last night, but Bob Ross usually draws a crowd. “Everybody’s heard of him”, explains the club’s president, Martje Slob, who has often watched the videos he made in the eighties. For painting? “Well, no, not really.”
Although the painter died 25 years ago, he is a posthumous hit on the internet, which has more to do with the meditative effect of his afro, his soothing voice and happy little accidents than the viewers’ artistic ambitions.
Bob Ross starts talking, and the audience start to laugh. They are going to create a snowy landscape. “We are looking for a sky that is sort of grey, overcast”, Ross’ voice rings out across the Foobar – the club’s home base.
The voice is, even by Bob Ross’ standards, is ve-e-ery slow. “It’s set to half-speed”, says Maurits de Groot (Computer Science and ICT in Business), “otherwise nobody can follow it and we have to keep putting it on pause.”
So far, so good. Each of the viewers has or her own interpretation of a grey sky, ranging from dark green to dark blue and every hue in between. Then Bob adds a few wisps of clouds to the sky and confusion arises: “What’s he doing?” a student demands.
“It’s like magic, he moves a white brush over the canvas and you immediately see it’s a mountain”, exclaims Maths student Bas van der Beek (20). Officially, he’s sharing a canvas with two other people who are busily painting away while he watches, beer in hand. “Perhaps I’ll join in later.” Next to him, Angèl Prangen, has some doubts. “I’m afraid you’ll mess it up.”
The canvas now has some mountains. The atmosphere is the room is a mixture of concentration and increasing confusion. Bob Ross: “We take a little brown and a little blue…” “Guys, here comes a tree!” someone shouts. “Ooh fuck”, someone else exclaims. “It’s at half-speed but it’s still too fast”, gasps Prangen. “Stop, Bob! Stop, Bob!” someone shouts from the other side of the room.
Stefhan Heck (21) has stuck some little napkins on top of his mountain. “It was snow”, he explains. “Now it’s a napkin.” Abstract art, he calls it. He studies Computer Science. He points to his painting: “As you can see.” He’s glad when the photographer takes his picture: “Perhaps they’ll let me do a PhD because they’ll realise that it really is the only thing I’m good at.”
A bottle of white paint narrowly misses his head. There are to be thirty snowy landscapes, but there are only two bottles of white paint so everyone keeps shouting for white. Heck continues with his clouds, which he covers with napkins too.
Bob Ross has been paused so that everyone can catch up. When he starts up again, his voice is even slower and every scrape of his brush is amplified. “Nooooow…”, he says in slow motion. “We’ve brought it down to quarter-speed”, De Groot says. “It was going too fast.” It is a half-hour video, so this will take two hours.
Asking around, it seems that most people have never painted before, but some are doing quite well. Toni Aalbars (28, Science Communication) admits to having watched Bob Ross a lot. No, not necessarily for painting, but she’s familiar with the videos. “Usually, something dramatic happens at the end. A huge tree or something in the foreground.”
Raoul Kalkman (22, Computer Science) considers his picture finished and goes on to paint his trousers. “I’m frightened of spoiling my painting if I add another line.” He has drawn a pattern on his trousers which he is now colouring in with white, black and red paint. “There was a stain on them, and well, I was looking for a way to make them wearable again.”