Tale of Two Painters

As a former art teacher-turned-photographer, my interest in art has not waned, in fact, I still get up before 6:30 on Saturday mornings to watch two painters in action. The first is Bob Ross who took over the morning paint show from Bill Alexander, a German painter and instructor who hosted The Magic of Oil Painting which ran on PBS from 1974 to 1982.

Painting by Anthony R Socci

Bob was a student of Bill’s techniques and The Joy of Painting ran live until Bob’s death in 1995, however his PBS show continues on as The Best of Joy of Painting.

Back-to-back with Ross’s Best of… program I watch Jerry Yarnell’s Paint This which is a 180º turn from Ross. Let’s compare the two:

Robert Norman “Bob” Ross:

His technique is mainly the wet-into-wet process where he first paints his entire canvas with a liquid white or black then proceeds to add a limited palette of colors which blend with the wet underpainting. He usually completes a painting in less than 30 minutes of allotted to air time.

His subjects are mainly landscapes with clouds, mountains and water. Bob perfected his work by producing only what he does best: landscapes with clouds, mountains and water. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Bob Ross portrait painting or a wildlife rendering.

Jerry Yarnell:

Probably the best description for a Yarnell painting is impressionistic. Jerry begins with the traditional underpaintings then he applies layers of colors to bring out the shapes and definition of the various subjects within the composition.

Mr. Yarnell tackles all subjects from wildlife to portraits of people to Plains Indians He is detail-oriented and his color palette is not as limited as the Ross palette. Whereas Ross employs black, Yarnell prefers to mix his colors to obtain a resulting black.

Which of these two is the “better” artist? If you look at their commercial success, your conclusion would be “neither.” They have both achieved prominence in the same field (painting), with their greatly differing methods.

Ross’s subject matter is landscapes as described above. He perfected his techniques and continued to paint landscape after landscape and then proceeded to bring would-be artists to his side of the equation through instruction. He kept it simple enough for the budding artist to rapidly achieve a modicum of success.

Yarnell’s methods on the other hand, require a bit of abstract thinking and visualization that eventually leads to the success or failure of an artist’s work. His attention to detail leads to a rendering that at times looks almost photographic. (You knew I would eventually get around to photography, right?!)

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from observing these two artists:

1) One is a “bargain-store” style of painter and I ask, “Is my photography a “bargain-store” style studio geared to attract the income of a lower level clientele?”

2) One is a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” shopper who seeks the finer things in life where price is no object. Is this how I’ve positioned my photography studio?

Each artist, be he or she a painter or photographer, must decide which market to pursue and then specialize in that market. It was not easy for me to raise my prices to where I felt properly compensated for my talent. In so doing I lost the clients at the bottom of my list but I added new clients who wanted a “Tiffany” level product. I was then working fewer hours for greater income. Nice!

What type of artist are you?