In my time as facilitator of the art group at The Seattle School, one of the most successful events that I ever hosted was a Paint-Along-with-Bob-Ross night. Although my events were gatherings for artists at the school, it was well attended by non-artists and one of the beauties of Bob Ross’s work is that the easy-to-follow instructions in The Joy of Painting are approachable for artists of all levels and all ages.
A “Bob Ross Paint Along” party is a great theme for events for kids, grown-ups, and even events that blend age groups. It’s an easy way to occupy kids 8 and up, and makes a fun (as well as relatively cheap and relatively easy) birthday party theme. It’s equally suitable for parties for grown-ups!
Although less in fashion for adults than for kid’s parties, I’m deeply convinced that everyone loves a themed party! -And introverts, in particular, love a theme that includes something to DO. In the circles I move in, my friends tend to be introverted, and I’ve learned to care for them well by including an interactive activity at my parties. For my Parks and Rec themed party, I included a competition to see who could collage the best birthday card from a stack of random magazines. For my going away party, I brought supplies for making friendship bracelets (for me to wear on the road as reminders of my connections back home). A Bob Ross theme works in the same vein- allowing people to socialize as much or as little as they want as they paint, giggle, and snack their way through a shared project.
After hosting a couple of these Bob Ross paint along’s, here’s my step by step party prep for hosting your own paint-along party. If you want to skip over the reading, just read prep, cleanup, and review this Amazon shopping list for supplies.
1. Pick an episode
Both Youtube and Netflix have a number of full-length episodes of Bob’s show, The Joy of Painting. If you are stumped on which to choose from all 29 seasons, my events have been successful using Mighty Mountain Lake (S16:E12), for a classic Bob Ross landscape, and Island in the Wilderness (S29:E1), which offers a more colorful take on a Ross landscape.
Don’t procrastinate choosing an episode until the last minute. Required paint colors vary by episode, so choosing an episode is the first step for planning. Paint color names will display on the screen in the first two or three minutes. When they show on the screen, copy them down- and if you want to be really prepared, review the whole episode to be sure it’s a good fit for your group and so that you are familiar in advance with all the steps (this is especially helpful if you plan to play both host AND participant and try to paint along during the party).
2. Gather Supplies:
Bob consistently paints on very large canvases using large easels and oil paints. None of those are realistic supplies for a paint party- but thankfully this element of Bob’s work is really easy to scale down to party-perfect proportions.
Since oil paint is very difficult to clean up, easels are expensive, and large canvases take longer to paint- I switch this up entirely for my paint parties. The supplies list below subs these out with easy-to-clean acrylic paint, medium-small canvases (typically, we use 8×10 or 11×17) and work on a flat, protected surface. Using these supplies, it’s easy to follow along with an episode and finish a painting in an hour. Check out the detailed supply list below, OR just jump to the Amazon list I made with all the supplies you need for a Bob Ross Paint Along Party.
If it will just be 3 or 4 people painting, the easiest way to have paint on hand is to purchase this huge set of small tubes of acrylic paint in many colors, which should eliminate the extra step of listing and locating the individual colors needed for each episode. If you are hosting a larger gathering – more than 4 people- you will probably want to go ahead and purchase full-size tubes of each color of paint that Bob indicates you need for that episode’s painting.
I STRONGLY RECOMMEND Liquitex Basics paint. There are cheaper acrylic paints, but- more so than any other supply- paint quality can make the difference between this being a fun project and a group-disappointment. Cheaper paint tends to be watery, translucent, and not well pigmented. Liquitex Basics is very good paint at an affordable price that will help create paintings your guests can be proud of.
NOTE: if you can’t find the exact color specified in an episode in the Liquitex Basics color palette, you can trying checking if Golden brand paints have that color, or you can google “color substitution for <paint color name>”. Because there isn’t perfect overlap in color names available in oil paint vs acrylic, or pigments used in 1980 to pigments used in 2019, there may be one or two colors you’ll need to substitute with another color.
For painting on a tabletop, I find canvas boards a little easier to work with than stretched canvas. (Bob recommends against canvas boards- which are essentially canvas stretched over cardboard- but Bob never had to organize an event for multiple amateur painters in a space that needed to be free from paint stains at the end of the day!) You can get 24 of these bad boys for under $20 on Amazon.
PRO TIP: Have some masking tape or painters tape on hand for securing canvas boards tot he table. Kids especially will do a little better if you add a few loops of tape to the back of their canvas, so it won’t slide around on the table.
A bundle of brushes in various sizes is super helpful. There should be enough brushes for each artist to have one of each type of brush. If you need to host this party on a budget, DON’T pick brushes (or paint) as the items you buy the cheapest-possible versions of. Brush quality, like paint quality, will have a huge impact on the final painting- and thus, on party-goer’s impression of their experience. Beg, borrow, and invest in the best brushes you can and make sure they get thoroughly washed after the party so they’ll be in great shape for your next project.
Special Tools: Fan Brushes and Palette Knives
Bob Ross often uses fan brushes and palette knives on his episodes. These aren’t popular tools, apart from professional artists, but they can be purchased online or at any craft store. Though handy to have on hand, if you skip on these specialty items, you probably won’t notice much difference in the finished product.
NOTE: if you pick an episode in which bob uses the pallet knife, have something available as a substitute. Business cards, pieces of heavy cardstock, or even plastic rulers work well in a pinch.
Brushes will need to be washed during the event, and individual paint cups will become too pigment-saturated to be useful for washing. I find it helpful to have two buckets ready: a dirty water bucket painters can dump their dirty water into, and a clean water bucket where they can scoop up fresh water.
Reusable mason jars or single-use solo cups work great for paint water- make them available at each place setting for quickly rinsing brushes or diluting paint.
If you want to splurge on these cups designed for use with paint, the investment will pay off in stable, wide bottom cups resistant to tipping over and a little bigger- so they’ll need less water refills.
You can purchase paint mixing palettes at a very reasonable price (about 50 cents each), or for a semi-renewable option, prep regular plates to be used as paint palettes by placing a layer of Glad Press N Seal over each plate- I made a quick tutorial on this DIY method. The plastic barrier stays put and provides a surface for paint mixing that, after the party, can be peeled off and discarded.
TIP: Thrifted plates, trays, and muffin tins also work great as paint palettes!
+ SUPPLIES TO PREP FOR EASY CLEANUP:
With good preparation, this party is a quick-cleanup, but you’ll need to plan ahead to avoid disaster:
Cover tables and surfaces with plastic or heavy kraft paper (note that a spilled paint-water cup could mean a stain wet enough to saturate kraft paper- so use plastic sheets if your table surface is sensitive). I usually use giant trash bags cut up the side and bottom, to form thin sheets that I tape over tabletops using painter’s tape.
Depending on the age group you are painting with, and if they’ll arrive in paint-safe clothes, you’ll want to provide protection for guest’s clothing. This can vary from providing aprons to inviting participants to make their own smock by cutting head and arm holes in a plastic garbage bag.
PRO TIP: If acrylic paint gets on a fabric, get the stain and surrounding area very wet and keep it wet until it can be washed! Standard laundry detergent and a wash cycle will remove acrylic paint, but only if it hasn’t had the chance to dry.
Once you’ve gathered supplies, set up your workspace with “place settings” for each person. Place a canvas, a paint cup, brushes, and a palatte at each seat.
Queue up your Bob Ross episode. Expect that Bob will progress through the episode MUCH faster than the amateur painters at your event, so plan ahead for a way to easily pause and rewind. If using a TV you can place the remote in a plastic bag or plastic wrap to keep it clean, or, when I use a computer and overhead projector for this project, I prep a bluetooth keyboard and shortcut keys to make it easy to pause, rewind, and replay. Bob’s episodes are about 30 minutes, and most hobby painters will need 45-90 minutes to recreate a painting in his style- so feel free to slow it down and replay a LOT.
Introducing the Project
Before you begin the episode, adult artists usually appreciate kind words about “process vs product,” when it comes to making art in public. Remind guests it’s about having FUN, experimenting, and play. You’ll want to remind them that Bob will paint lots faster than them and that’s ok. Let your guests know how they can signal you to have you pause or rewind the episode.
I usually include in the instructions that people may feel free to paint *anything,* and that the episode is just a guideline. This caveat has resulted in participants in my events creating Bob Ross inspired abstract paintings, Bob-Ross-style fantasy paintings, and many other fun variations.
Endings and Cleanup
At the end of the party, most paintings will still be very wet. If possible, let them dry overnight for pickup later- but if you can’t, here are a few tricks for same-day take-home. Acrylic paint dries rapidly under ideal circumstances, so prep to have good drying conditions ready: a fan, blow dryer, and warm, dry space will prompt the fastest drying. Leaving paintings on a (protected from wet paint!) surface in front of a heating vent, for example, should result in dry-to-the-touch paintings in 20 minutes-ish (depending on how thickly the wet paint has been applied).
The easiest cleanup for this event is asking each artist to clear their own area. A large trashcan or large cardboard box lined with a waterproof trash bag is the easiest way to ensure the event gets cleaned up without paint spills in the process.
Remember that after painting, paintbrushes need washed thoroughly and stored bristles-up in order to remain in good condition ready for the next round of painting.
With these tips, you can create a paint-party for any age group. This interactive party theme creates a playful shared experience that’s fun for artists and non-artists alike!