In the episode Bob Ross - Ebony Sunset (Season 1 Episode 3) a black canvas is used. I was following along painting my own version of the painting, but found that I obtained a dull brown when I added cadmium yellow near the beginning.

On top of the base black is a layer of alizarin crimson. I started with a white canvas, and added a layer of midnight black. Without waiting for the layer of black to dry, I added the layer of alizarin crimson, then some Van Dyke brown around the edges, and then the yellow.

Seeing that I had made a brown mess, I allowed the paint to dry and I retried applying alizarin crimson followed by the yellow and achieved the gradient of red-to-orange-to-yellow I had hoped for.

Is it correct that for this painting one should ensure that the black base coat has dried before starting to follow along with the video?


1 Answer 1


Bob Ross usually starts his paintings with a completely dried base coat. He starts this particular episode explaining that he already prepared a coat of alizarin crimson, but that should make the canvas red, not black.

What I assume he did is:

  1. Prepare the canvas with a black base coat and let it dry completely
  2. Right before the show, add a thin layer of alizarin crimson. He most likely did it in the exact same way he shows how to add the vandyke brown, only spread over the entire canvas instead of just the edges. It's vitally important that this layer is very thin, but at the same time covering the entire canvas.
  3. (This is where the show starts) Add an equally thin layer of vandyke brown to the edges of the canvas and blend it with the crimson.
  4. Paint the sun with cadnium yellow, moving the brush from the center of the sun to the outside in a circular motion. That leaves a lot of yellow paint in the center that doesn't mix with the crimson + brown base coat. Around the center, the brush picks up more and more of the crimson + brown base and it gets evenly mixed with the yellow, creating a soft transition.

To keep the colors of a painting vibrant, you mustn't mix them with black. So working on a fresh black base coat will inevitably make the colors muddy and brown because the brush always picks up some of the base coat.

If your light colors (white, yellow, etc) still come out muted even after you let the base coat dry, the paint you're using might be low quality. Painting light colors over a dark background requires a lot of pigments to cover up alle the black, but pigments are the most expensive ingredient in paints. So cheap paints usually contain less pigments and more fillers than expensive paints, which makes them less opaque.

  • 3
    He actually describes the canvas preparation explicitly at 7:13.
    – larsks
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 1:44
  • 1
    @larsks Nice find! I guess it would be advisable to watch the video all the way through before trying to follow along.
    – Galen
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 3:26

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