Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Search blog...

Quick Look: Download my new free book, "Advice on Painting from
John Singer Sargent"

This forty-six page digital PDF file is suitable for viewing on your computer or tablet. It contain two authenticated accounts of Sargent's teaching and painting methods, illustrated with full color paintings and annotation by Thomas Jefferson Kitts – Free and available to share with your friends!

Jul 22, 2015

LAST CALL to sign up for PLEIN AIR TUSCANY 2015...

Hey All: 

LAST CALL to sign up for PLEIN AIR TUSCANY 2015...
This outdoor painting workshop will be taught near Florence, Italy, this September 12th - 19th, 2015
We've got nine students registered and for seven days we will learn, paint, and live like Italians. And if you decide to join us who knows where you will go after your workshop? Roma... Cortona... the Amalfi Coast... Umbria... Venice... the Cinque Terre... Sicily?...

And of course, after the workshop there are all sorts of fun things to do in Italy, like riding bicycles on the ancient walls of Lucca, a favorite moment of mine from last year...



Jul 6, 2015

LSD and the Doors of Perception...(w/ apologies to Huxley and Leary)

Okay, maybe I am not actually advocating anyone should do this, but man, it is cool none-the-less. (Oh, er, and there was that one time as an undergrad when I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let's just say the airlock scene was particularly memorable...ha!)

There are a few moments when the drawings start looking like 1920's Kandinsky abstractions. Too bad this wasn't shot in color.

"Whoooooooo-aaah, colors, man!..."



Jun 23, 2015

PDX Plein Air: Next Generation Scholarship Program UPDATE...


UPDATE: The age range for this Merit Scholarship Program has been expanded to include anyone age 18 to 30...

Three outdoor painting scholarships are being offered to young artists in conjunction with Thomas’ 2015 Essential Plein Air Techniques Workshop. 

Workshop to be held August 14 - 16, 2015 in the Portland, Oregon area.

Tuition for this workshop is being funded 100% by a generous anonymous donor. Instruction will be presented outdoors in a small mixed-age group and focus on the technical and artistic requirements needed to paint the landscape en plein air. What will be taught will also apply to any other painting genre and working in the studio as well.

Portfolio Submission Deadline 
and Notification Date: 
Portfolio submissions accepted until Midnight, July 1st, 2015.  
Notification of acceptance will be announced July 10th, 2015.

Jun 12, 2015

A Statistical Analysis of the Work of Bob Ross (from the website FiveThirtyEight.com)

Hey All:

I don't often post work from other websites, but frankly, this one was just too good to pass up... (ha!)

From the Statistical Geeks at FiveThirtyEight.com... (The datawonks who bring us eerily-accurate polls that predict the odds of a presidential candidate's chances for election. This must be the kind of analysis they do between election cycles to stay sharp...heh!  –  TJK)


Bob Ross in 1985.

A Statistical Analysis of the Work of Bob Ross


Bob Ross was a consummate teacher. He guided fans along as he painted “happy trees,” “almighty mountains” and “fluffy clouds” over the course of his 11-year television career on his PBS show, “The Joy of Painting.” In total, Ross painted 381 works on the show, relying on a distinct set of elements, scenes and themes, and thereby providing thousands of data points. I decided to use that data to teach something myself: the important statistical concepts of conditional probability and clustering, as well as a lesson on the limitations of data.

So let’s perm out our hair and get ready to create some happy spreadsheets!

What I found — through data analysis and an interview with one of Ross’s closest collaborators — was a body of work that was defined by consistency and a fundamentally personal ideal. Ross was born in Daytona, Fla., and joined the Air Force at 17. He was stationed in Fairbanks and spent the next 20 years in Alaska. His time there seems to have had a significant impact on his preferred subjects of trees, mountains, clouds, lakes and 

Paintings by Bob Ross featured on PBS’s “The Joy of Painting.”


Of the 403 episodes of “The Joy of Painting” — whose first run was from 1983 to 1994 and which continues to air in reruns on PBS stations nationwide — Ross painted in 381, and the rest featured a guest, most frequently his son Steve Ross. Based on images of Bob Ross’s paintings available in the Bob Ross Inc. store, I coded all the episodes1 using 67 keywords describing content (trees, water, mountains, weather elements and man-made structures), stylistic choices in framing the paintings, and guest artists, for a grand total of 3,224 tags.2

I analyzed the data to find out exactly what Ross, who died in 1995, painted for more than a decade on TV. The top-line results are to be expected — wouldn’t you know, he did paint a bunch of mountains, trees and lakes! — but then I put some numbers to Ross’s classic figures of speech. He didn’t paint oaks or spruces, he painted “happy trees.” He favored “almighty mountains” to peaks. Once he’d painted one tree, he didn’t paint another — he painted a “friend.”

Here’s how often each tag that appeared more than five times showed up over the 381 episodes:

Now that we know the basic probabilities of individual tags, we can also find the joint probabilities of some of these events. For instance, how often do a deciduous tree and a coniferous tree appear in the same painting? We know that 57 percent of paintings contain a deciduous tree and 53 percent of paintings contain a coniferous tree. According to our data set, 20 percent of paintings contain at least one of each.

What’s more, we can also find the probability that Ross painted something given that he painted something else, a statistic that’s called conditional probability.

Conditional probability can be a bit tricky. We know that 44 percent of Ross’s paintings contain clouds, 9 percent contain the beach and 7 percent contain both the clouds and the beach. We can use this information to figure out two things: the probability that Ross painted a cloud given that he painted a beach, and the probability that he painted a beach given that he painted a cloud. You divide the joint probability — 7 percent in this case — by the probability of the given — 44 percent or 9 percent, depending on whether you want to know the probability of a beach given a cloud or a cloud given a beach.

The biggest pitfall people often face is assuming the two probabilities are the same. The probability that Ross painted a cloud given that he painted the beach — essentially, how many beach paintings have clouds — is (0.07)/(0.09), which is 78 percent. The vast majority of beach scenes contain clouds. However, the probability that Ross painted a beach given that he painted a cloud — or, how many cloud paintings contain a beach — is (0.07)/(0.44), or 16 percent. So the vast majority of cloud paintings don’t have beaches.

I figured out the conditional probability of every Bob Ross tag against every other tag to answer the following pressing questions.

What is the probability, given that Ross painted a happy tree, that he then painted a friend for that tree?
There’s a 93 percent chance that Ross paints a second tree given that he has painted a first.

What percentage of Bob Ross paintings contain an almighty mountain?
About 39 percent prominently feature a mountain.

What percentage of those paintings contain several almighty mountains?
Ross was also amenable to painting friends for mountains. Sixty percent of paintings with one mountain in them have at least two mountains.

In what percentage of those paintings is a mountain covered with snow?
Given that Ross painted a mountain, there is a 66 percent chance there is snow on it.

What about footy little hills?
Hills appear in 4 percent of Ross’s paintings. He clearly preferred almighty mountains.

How about happy little clouds?
Excellent question, as 44 percent of Ross’s paintings prominently feature at least one cloud. Given that there is a painted cloud, there’s a 47 percent chance it is a distinctly cumulus one. There’s only a 14 percent chance that a painted cloud is a distinctly cirrus one.

What about charming little cabins?
About 18 percent of his paintings feature a cabin. Given that Ross painted a cabin, there’s a 35 percent chance that it’s on a lake, and a 40 percent chance there’s snow on the ground. While 72 percent of cabins are in the same painting as conifers, only 63 percent are near deciduous trees.

How often did he paint water?
All the time! About 34 percent of Ross’s paintings contain a lake, 33 percent contain a river or stream, and 9 percent contain the ocean.

Sounds like he didn’t like the beach.
Much to the contrary. You can see the beach in 75 percent of Ross’s seaside paintings, but the sun in only 31 percent of them. If there’s an ocean, it’s probably choppy: 97 percent of ocean paintings have waves. Ross’s 36 ocean paintings were also more likely to feature cliffs, clouds and rocks than the average painting.

What about Steve Ross?
Steve seemed to prefer lakes far more than Bob. While only 34 percent of Bob’s paintings have a lake in them, 91 percent of Steve’s paintings do.

One useful lens we can apply to this sort of data — where we’re comparing vectors of information — is a clustering tool. The idea behind clustering is to determine how close certain groups of data are to other points in the data set. Researchers use clustering analysis in all sorts of areas — from biology to consumer marketing — as a way of segmenting a population of, say, plants or people. It allows us to find interesting subsets of data based on how similar or different certain subgroups are from the rest of the set.

I used an algorithm to divide the entire set of 403 paintings from “The Joy of Painting” into clusters of similar paintings. I wanted to know whether it was possible to identify the 10 basic paintings featured on the PBS series. To do this, I ran a k-means clustering analysis of the paintings.3 The results were mixed...

So hey, if you are a fan of Bob Ross – or even if you are not – click below to keep reading. It just keeps getting better and better!

I learned a few things about Bob I did not know – things which now cannot be unknown!



May 15, 2015

How to Keep Your Oil Painting Brushes Clean...

Hey all, here is a quick studio trick for all the oil painters!

Why? Because I am lazy...




Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

May 14, 2015

On Writing and Painting...

If you have ever met me in person then you know I am all about the cross-disciplinary approach to making art. Filmmaking, photography and design can inform the painter, as well as music, theater, and dance, plus the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy – and even individual or team sports, to mention a few.

And then there is writing. Both fiction and non-fiction. In the end it all comes down to creating interesting associations within the mind of your audience, and maintaining a semblance of clarity as you do so.

In that spirit here is some terrific advice on writing from William Zinsser's book, "On Writing Well." 

Wait...okay, so what does this have to do with painting? Well, if you simply substitute the word painting for the word writing, and are willing to make a few other metaphorical leaps from the pen to the brush, then what Zinsser has to say turns into sound advice for the young artist as well. 

Because when teaching writing, Zinsser valued simplicity, efficiency, and enthusiasm. All of which are essential to the painter as well. Here is his checklist:
1. Don’t make lazy word choices: “You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.” 
2. On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.” 
3. Writing is hard work: “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.” 
4. Write in the first person: “Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.” 
5. And the more you keep in first person and true to yourself, the sooner you will find your style: “Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.” 
6. Don’t ask who your audience is…you are the audience: “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.” 
7. Study the masters but also your contemporaries: “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.” 
8. Yes, the thesaurus is your friend: “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter–a reminder of all the choices–and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.” 
9. Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound: “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.” 
10. And don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive: “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.”

In my mind, after reading this it would be a mistake to think one artistic pursuit is inherently more unique than any other.

May 12, 2015

Announcing Three Portland-Area Plein Air Scholarships for the Young Artist!...

These merit-based outdoor painting scholarships are being offered to young artists in conjuction with Thomas’ 2015 Essential Plein Air Techniques Workshop. 

These scholarships are open to anyone age 18 to 30.

The outdoor instruction will be offered August 14 - 16, 2015 in the Portland, Oregon area.

Submission Deadline and Notification Date: 
Portfolio submissions will be accepted until midnight, July 1st, 2015.  
Notification of acceptance will be announced July 10th, 2015.

Tuition for this workshop is being funded 100% by a generous anonymous donor. Instruction will be presented outdoors in a small mixed-age group and focus on the technical and artistic requirements needed to paint the landscape from life. What will be taught will also apply to other painting genres and working in the studio as well.

How to apply...
Application requirements: (Please read carefully...)
1. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age. Proof of age will be required after portfolio review, before final acceptance. 
2. Applicants must show a strong desire to paint directly from life, as well a strong interest in painting the Pacific Northwest landscape. Applicants do not need to have previous experience painting en plein air (outdoors on location), but they must demonstrate a high level of interest in doing so. 
3. Some experience with oil painting is recommended, but is not required. Applicants must provide 6 examples of recent work; 3 paintings and 3 drawings, executed from life without the aid of any mechanical device or photograph. Size of the work submitted does not matter. Subject matter does not need to be limited to landscape, but all portfolios will be evaluated for the applicant’s understanding of color, form, and drawing level. Remember, this is a merit scholarship. 
4. Applicants must live in the Pacific Northwest area. They also must be able to provide their own transportation to the painting locations during the workshop. 
5. Applicants, if accepted, must agree to attend all three days of the workshop. If necessary, field easels can be provided during the workshop. Also, if needed, a second scholarship may be provided for materials used during the workshop.

Portfolio Submissions are being accepted now:
To submit a portfolio for consideration:
Please email 3 paintings and 3 drawings from life, with titles, sizes, and painting media,  in the form of a jpeg to:

Submission Deadline and Notification Date: 
Portfolio submissions will be accepted until midnight, July 1st, 2015.  
Notification of acceptance will be announced July 10th, 2015.

I hope some of you young painters out there in the Pacific Northwest will participate!

Thomas Jefferson Kitts


About Thomas: Thomas is a Signature Member of the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painters Association, a member of the California Art Club, the Oil Painters of America, and the American Impressionist Society. He has taught at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, now teaches small private groups, and is a repeat lecturer at the Plein Air Convention & Expo. He regularly writes articles or appears in artist publications  such as PleinAir Magazine, OutdoorPainter.com, and PleinAir Today. Thomas travels extensively to paint and maintains an active and distinguished exhibition history. His work is widely collected throughout North America.