The Chemistry of Bob Ross
Let’s have a happy little accident or two and talk about the chemicals that make up pigments
I am an unabashed level 99 Bob Ross fanboy.
I can’t get enough of his quips — you know, “criss-cross strokes,” “two hairs and some air,” and “happy little accidents.” Even without those soft-spoken one-liners, Bob Ross was the PBS equivalent of a motivational speaker whose message went far beyond the realm of oil painting and the TV studio. I think that’s probably what fueled his popularity. His overflowing optimism and overwhelming encouragement continue to motivate audiences to this day, especially since his media has transitioned to livestreaming every weekend on Twitch and a dedicated YouTube channel.
Then, there’s the drama of how his family (namely his son) was frozen out of the family enterprise by the Kowalskis — a whole other saga that is covered by numerous documentaries (please don’t sue me!). That facet of the legend throws more fuel on fire as far as expanding the myth of Bob Ross.
Recently, I did an article about the chemistry of the color of life — the science behind coloration of blood. I briefly touched into the realm of Bob Ross by talking about a permanent staple of the Bob Ross palette, phthalo blue, and how it is related to hemoglobin and the group of atoms responsible for the red color called a heme group.
That article made me think about how chemicals are responsible for colors in general, and what a better jumping off point into the chemistry of colors than other staples of Bob Ross’ palette!
How do colors work anyway?
In its simplest form, the way humans “interpret” colors is that light of a certain wavelength hits (or excites, if you prefer a more scientific term) a specific type of protein in our retinal cells. This causes a cascade of signals that eventually reaches our brain, which then “interprets” that light as a certain color (or mixture of colors). Understanding the origination of that specific wavelength of light would then give us the full picture of how colors work. It’s actually pretty simple, and…