These are the best Joy of Painting episodes — without Bob Ross

For anyone even barely acquainted with The Joy of Painting, the show is synonymous with its host — most people, including myself, simply dub the entire series “Bob Ross.” In truth some of the best episodes see Bob step away from the easel, exposing viewers to different styles of painting, or at least different styles of teaching. You can find most or all of these guest episodes on YouTube — so if you feel like scratching an obscure bit of curiosity, these are the ones I’d recommend first as someone with way too many hours of viewing under my belt.

Mountain Oval (Season 10 Episode 9)

Bob had a single child, Steve. Though he was never able to take the reins of the family business, Steve started teaching Bob’s technique in his teens and made quite a few guest appearances on the show. I would argue that his voice can be even more calming than Bob’s, and that in many cases, Steve did a better job of explaining the nuances of painting.

That’s one of the reasons this episode tops my favorites. If you want to actually learn painting, rather than just fall asleep to it, Steve does a quality job of explaining how to craft a landscape, especially mountains. I’m a sucker for mountains on the show, and this is some of Steve’s best work. (Incidentally, the best way of starting with the Ross style is by watching Bob’s hour-long “Grandeur of Summer.”)

Portrait of Sally (Season 7 Episode 5)

This episode stars Ben Stahl — probably the most “serious” artist to take the show’s spotlight, as someone with plenty of gallery and pop culture credentials, which Bob spends a full minute and a half extolling. Stahl, meanwhile, was obviously a fan of the impressionists, and here does only the most basic work on a portrait that could honestly compete with Monet (if finished anyway).

Not only does Stahl’s skill vastly outpace Bob’s, he spends most of the episode discussing not technique but rather his artistic philosophy. Drawing, he says, is a “lost art” that would help a lot of painters. “Avoid trickery,” he comments elsewhere, complaining that some painters are “closer to Houdini than they are to Rembrandt.” I’ve always wondered if Bob was offended by that remark, whether or not it was actually meant for him.

Sunlight in the Shadows (Season 27 Episode 10)

Bob Ross Inc. is still going, despite losing its namesake in 1995, in no small part because it keeps churning out supplies and certified instructors. One instructor who signed up during Bob’s lifetime was Dana Jester — someone good enough that he not only continues to join Steve on the road, but had multiple TV stints.

Jester’s Indiana accent has its charm, and instead of the flat, midday lighting most Joy of Painting landscapes share, his work here is set in a darkened forest with the sun barely peeking in. It proves that the Ross method is genuinely flexible.

Keeping the Bob Ross Dream Alive (2020)

It’s stretching the definition of a “guest spot,” but in recent months the official Ross YouTube channel has effectively been putting out new episodes, now starring an instructor named Nic Hankins. It’s all there, from the black backdrop to Hankins dropping the occasional Bob-ism for effect. In fact it’s arguably better, since we can finally watch in glorious HD, and runtime isn’t capped at 30 minutes.

I’m not sure what BRI has planned for Hankins down the road, but I’m hoping he really is allowed to take up Bob’s brush on the internet.

Anatomy of a Wave (Season 5 Episode 9)

Joyce Ortner was both a friend of Bob’s and a mildly famous seascape painter — you can still visit her website and order reproductions. Ortner’s work on this episode doesn’t approach the detail of her off-air efforts, but she does go in-depth on instruction, and her voice has that requisite soothing effect anyone on the show needs. This might be the one to start with if you want to do seascapes.

Winter Sawscape (Season 4 Episode 4)

Something I never imagined was A Thing until this episode was the notion of painting on discarded sawblades. I’m not sure why you’d go to the trouble — most people don’t have logging encampments nearby, and rust removal is a pain — but it’s certainly a twist. That’s really all there is to it, though of course Dorothy Dent is a capable painter.

Mountain Range (Season 8 Episode 11)

It’s another Steve episode, and in many ways everything I said about “Mountain Oval” applies here. I confess: the main reason I’m including this one is because it has a strangely satisfying moment. Right before he starts on the base coat for the mountains, he quickly drags three different colors out into stripes on his palette, then does a triple-tap with his knife. Maybe it triggers some mild form of ASMR, or maybe it just appeals to the obsessively orderly side of my brain.

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