Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Happy Little Trees"

This poem is spillover from the December 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] readera, [personal profile] erulisse, and [personal profile] shadowdreamer. It also fills the "Patient" square in my 2-1-19 "You Are" card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and directly follows "Happy Accidents."

"Happy Little Trees"

[Sunday, August 23, 2015]

After the Ancient Art class
with John Hank Anderson,
Shiv stopped for lunch
and then went straight to
the public housing apartment
that he used as an art studio.

Taylan Letarro waved to him
from the lobby. "Hey bro,
buncha guys plannin' to do
pizza later. You want in?"

Shiv pulled out a tenspot.
"Anchovies and I get
some of the leftovers."

"You and them damn fish,"
Taylan said, shaking his head.
"I'll come bang on the door
if you're not down by six."

"Sure thing," Shiv said,
and trotted to the elevator.

When he got upstairs, Shiv
put away his new paints and
the finished shoulderblade art
that he'd made in the class.

Then he set up his easel
with a fresh canvas and
opened his creme pastels.

He wasn't sure which colors
he might need, though.

So he brought out
his tablet computer
and ran a quick search.

There was a list of paints
for landscape painting.

There were other lists
for flowers, wildlife,
portraits, and so on.

There was even
a coffee cup with
the landscape colors
brushed down the side.

Shiv liked coffee cups,
so he bought himself one.

Next he browsed a database
of all the available episodes
to choose interesting ones.
He prepared a canvas
and set up his palette.

When Shiv finally
started up the episode,
he learned that Rob Ross
had the most amazing voice.

It flowed over Shiv's skin
like silk, or Microfyne, and
he had to shake himself
to keep from zoning on it.

Once he managed
to pay attention, though,
it was a fantastic lesson.

Rob not only described
what to do, he explained
why and even how it worked.

That thin coat of liquid white
made the thicker paint glide over
the canvas and blend in so that
everything looked natural.

A few colors mixed together
to make many different shades.

It was just like magic.

Even though Shiv was
unfamiliar with the technique
and that made him clumsy,
it still looked pretty good.

He just followed along
as best he could and
watched the picture
unfold under his hands.

It didn't take long for Shiv
to decide that this was
a damn fine set of colors
for landscaping, and he
wanted to take it out
to do some plein air.

As soon as the episode
finished, however, Shiv
put in a fresh one. For now,
he wanted to see where
Rob Ross would go.

It was kind of weird
how encouraging
the older artist was.

Shiv had never heard
an art teacher say things
like, "This is your world.
You’re the creator. Find
freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can
do it, ‘cuz you can do it."

The words made him
shiver, because they were
too strange and too raw,
but he couldn't bear
to shut off the show.

"Look around," Rob said.
"Look at what we have.
Beauty is everywhere -- you
only have to look to see it."

Shiv looked at the painting
taking shape beneath his brush,
how all of the different colors
swirled and flowed together.

Everything in Rob's world
seemed to be beautiful.

There were happy little trees,
happy little clouds, all of them
apparently friends with each other.

Shiv wasn't sure he could do that,
but it turned out he didn't have to.

"You need the dark in order
to show the light," Rob said,
reminding him not to bury
all the shadows in highlights.

Okay, that was better.

"If you don't like it,
change it," Rob urged.

Shiv quickly fell in love
with the fact that if he
didn't like anything,
he could just scrape it
off the canvas, wipe
the knife, and paint
something better.

If only real life
worked that way.

Still, it was enough
to make him pause after
that episode ended and
look up the quotes online.

He found a mug that read,
We don't make mistakes.
We have happy accidents

He found another that blinked
through several different quotes:
Every time you learn, you gain.
If you don't like it, change it.
Every day is a good day
when you paint

Shiv bought both
of them and put on
another episode.

He was surprised by
how familiar the painting
began to feel once he
actually thought about it,
because he was used
to working wet-on-wet
when he did graffiti.

Happy little F-bombs,
Shiv thought, and then
got the giggles so he
had to pause the show.

Then he wondered
what made them
"happy little trees"
in the first place.

Further hunting
turned up an article
about "secret shapes"
in art and photography.

Trees that curled up
were happy, and so were
mountains with a swoop
between their peaks, or
clouds that tufted up.

Weeping willows and
other droopy things
were sad instead.

Rob actually made
both kinds of trees.

There were also paths
and portals that invited
the viewer into the picture,
the same way as Rob talked
directly to the painter at home.

The limited palette hinted at
harmony through its use of
many small variations along
tint and tone and shade,
each color blending with
its neighbors on the wheel.

Shiv kept the shapes and
colors in mind as he resumed
the episode, thinking about
them as he worked the brush.

Rob's work wasn't all in color,
though, as Shiv discovered when
he got to the grayscale episode.

"I had a man come to me and say,
'Rob, I could never paint because
I'm colorblind'," the painter said.
"So I thought today we'd do
a picture in gray, just to show
you that anyone can paint."

Shiv was instantly riveted.

It was just like sketching
in charcoal, where you
only had black and white
and gray to work with, but
with the silky texture of
the creme pastels instead
of the dusty charcoals.

Working in monochrome
was all about value, shape
suggested by shades of
dark and light together.

At the end of the episode,
when Rob showed off
a similar painting done in
burnt umber instead, it made
Shiv want to experiment with
other monochrome colors.

The way Rob talked about
the texture of paint got Shiv
thinking that, once it dried,
you should be able to read it
with your fingertips too.

Working with a combination
of thin paints and thick paints
created a lot of surface changes,
like from dragging a palette knife
over the canvas to make mountains
and then snow on their slopes.

Shiv made a mental note
to show one to Mrs. Wu
after it dried, and ask
what she thought of it.

Would she be able
to tell the trees from
the mountaintops when
they were both pointy?

He thought she would.

Shiv loved the scenery
that Rob painted, even if
most of it was soft and
fluffy instead of sharp.

Every once in a while,
though, Rob said something
hinting that his life hadn't been
all sunshine and flowers, that
what he did with his art was
create the kind of world
he wished to live in.

"We want happy paintings.
Happy paintings," Rob said.
"If you want sad things,
watch the news."

Shiv laughed,
but it was still true.

He tried to follow along, but
it was harder than it looked.

Matching the moves was
easy enough, but matching
the tone could be a real struggle
for him. He still kept at it.

The problem wasn't even
a matter of artistic skills,
it was a matter of personality.

Rob Ross wasn't anything like Shiv.

Rob was gentle and patient where
Shiv was rough and restless.

They didn't paint the same way.
They didn't sound the same.

And maybe that was a good thing,
because the inside of Shiv's head sucked.

Shiv thought about the Smack House
and the water stains on the ceilings
and the piss stains on the floors
and the who-knows-what stains
on the walls of different rooms.

If he ran the videos long enough,
maybe he could paint over that mess
with some happy goddamn trees.

Given a little luck, that velvety voice
might even manage to overwrite
some of the bad tape in Shiv's head.

He'd gotten a few replacements from
the Finns, and he liked Rob's sayings.

It sure would be nice to replace
"You're such a fuckup!" with
"If you don't like it, change it,"
and "We don't make mistakes,
we have happy accidents."

Sometimes the older man
made Shiv laugh out loud.

"Ever make mistakes in life?"
Rob said cheerfully as he
screwed up a painting.
"Let’s make them birds.
Yeah, they’re birds now."

Shiv hadn't actually made
a mistake on this painting yet,
but he was ... curious ... so he
flicked a little black on it and
tried to turn the spots into birds.

And holy shit, it worked.

He wound up with
a whole flock of them
sweeping across the sky,
just because it was so fun
to make birds out of blots.

"Whatever makes you happy
you put in your world," Rob said.

Shiv paused the video right then
and searched the quote online.

He found it on a white T-shirt
in rainbow letters, and bought it
a size big so he could paint in it.

Then he picked up his brush.

It took him three tries to get it
right, but eventually Shiv managed
to sink an axe into the stump.

Just because Rob's style was
totally different from his own
didn't prevent Shiv from taking it
and putting his own touch on it.

There was something relaxing
and yet strangely satisfying about
doing that, so he kept doing it.

Shiv had just set his painting aside
to dry and was browsing the database
for another episode when he noticed
someone pounding on the door like
he'd maybe been doing it a while.

"What?" Shiv said, yanking it open.

"Dude, it's ten after six, you want
your pizza or not?" said Taylan.
"Nobody else wants to eat
the damn anchovies!"

"But I just had lunch,"
Shiv protested.

Taylan rolled his eyes,
pointing over Shiv's shoulder.

Turning to look at the window,
Shiv saw that the light had turned
the deep gold of summer evening.

Then he realized that his belly
was gnawing on his backbone
and he should maybe go eat
something before he faceplanted.

"Come on, man, get some supper,"
Taylan said. "You look like you're
about to fall over, and I don't
need your boss on my ass."

Yeah, neither did Shiv.
He knew better than that.

"Okay, I'm coming," Shiv said,
slipping out into the hallway
to follow Taylan downstairs.

The videos would wait for him.

* * *


What makes a tree "happy" anyway? Look for upward curves, like a smile; and soft rounded forms, like cushions. The evergreens in this picture have branches that curve up. Here the deciduous trees form fluffy shapes. In this picture the mountain slopes form curves. Read more about bioaesthetics.

This is the painting that Bob Ross did in grayscale for a colorblind fan. Enjoy the video here.

Two Inch Brush has a searchable database of all the episodes of The Joy of Painting. In addition to excellent art lessons, they also make great gentle listening when you need to relax or fall asleep.

Listen to these episodes with the warm, encouraging tone. Now contrast that with local-America's current trend toward reality TV that features some expert verbally abusing the contestants. Which do you think produces happier, healthier people and more art? Remember that most of the difference between here and there is simply proportion. They have a lot more shows with this tone. We have a lot more shows catering to people who find 30-60 minutes of verbal abuse entertaining. What would our world look like if more people talked like this? I can't tell you how many times I've flabbergasted someone simply by encouraging them to enjoy their hobby. That doesn't get said enough. So here: Do things that bring you joy, whether it's painting happy little trees, happy little F-bombs, empowering other people, or something else.

Check out these ideas for a Bob Ross date night.

In L-America, Bob Ross capitalized on simplicity to demonstrate that anyone could paint for fun and turn out attractive art. He gave everyone lots of encouragement. He used a limited palette and set of tools to paint landscapes with a consistent style. In T-America, he quit the military a decade sooner and lived decades longer, giving him more time to branch out. So he also did portraits, still life, wildlife, and other things. For each major category, however, he developed a concise and characteristic set of colors and tools. This made his lessons both accessible and affordable to novice painters, as well as relaxing to enjoy.

Here are some supplies and a video of how to mix paint.

Compare Bob Ross oil color charts for landscape, floral, and wildlife palettes. This palette is for portraits.

Creating skin tones is a challenge even with basic ranges of peach, tawny, ruddy, brown, and black. Add crayon soups and it gets much more complicated. Rob Ross was one of the first artists to make concerted efforts to paint models with visible manifestations of all kinds, and certainly the most famous to put those efforts in front of the public. T-America has him to thank for figuring out how to paint soups.

Enjoy Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 for alla prima portraits.

This pattern shows the layout for a Bob Ross landscape palette, and here is a precolored palette. You can see some electronic palettes here.

Read about the benefits of using a limited palette in painting.

You can paint most Bob Ross landscapes with just four tools: a 2" brush, a palette knife, a fan brush, and a filbert brush. This minimalist approach to tool selection makes it easy and affordable for novices. It's also great preparation for plein air painting, where you have to work fast and you do not want to lug 60 pounds of gear into the woods.

This large set of brushes gives you more sizes of the main tools while adding a few new ones. There are also sets for floral brushes and wildlife brushes.

See a supply list for hosting your own Bob Ross workshop.

Here is Shiv's coffee cup with the Bob Ross paint colors. This one has the "happy accidents" quote. In Terramagne, this mug blinks three different quotes.

Worth mentioning is that Shiv's paintings can be identified because he always includes something sharp in them. It's his way of personalizing a style of expressive art that so many people have mocked as commercialized and repetitive. Look closely, and you'll never mistake his for anyone else's. There's an edge to his art that Rob Ross just doesn't have, let alone random art students.

Shiv's T-shirt says, "Whatever Makes You Happy You Put in Your World."

“Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere — you only have to look to see it.”
Bob Ross

“You need the dark in order to show the light.”
Bob Ross

“This is your world. You’re the creator. Find freedom on this canvas. Believe, that you can do it, ‘cuz you can do it.”
Bob Ross

“Ever make mistakes in life? Let’s make them birds. Yeah, they’re birds now.”
Bob Ross

“We want happy paintings. Happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news.”
Bob Ross

The book Happy Little Accidents collects some quotes and paintings by Bob Ross. It's a good addition to an emotional first aid kit.

EDIT 4/17/20 -- There is now fanart of "Happy Goddamn Trees" by [personal profile] shadowdreamer. \o/</user></user></user></user></user></user>
Tags: art, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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