Bob Ross, a very popular TV artist encouraged all who watched to join him in his enjoyment of painting on his “Joy of Painting” TV show. The phrase “joy of painting” became a brand by which he is known. He is also known for his light hearted and encouraging comments such as “happy little tree”, “happy little rock”, “happy little cloud”, and “happy little accidents”. These comments were often made as he painted. The comment “happy little accidents” referenced mistakes made such as inadvertently mixing colors when applying paint to the canvas or other unintended actions that occur during the painting process.

 I believe Bob Ross wanted us to know that even the most accomplished people make mistakes and recognize that at times the result of the mistaken action produced a very positive result.

Johann Jacob Diesbach, a Swiss pigment and dye producer is known for first synthesizing a blue pigment known as Prussian blue (also known as Iron blue or Berlin blue). However, he did not intend to produce a blue color at all. The story goes that in 1703, Diesbach was late with a customer’s order and rushing to complete the job. To make the red, he needed dried cochineal, iron sulfate and potash. Fortunately for future artists, he didn’t have potash on hand. There are several urban legend-style versions attesting to what happened next, but the result was that Diesbach got his hands on some contaminated potash, which, when combined with the cochineal and iron sulfate the mixture turned to an unusual and distinctive blue instead of red.

 When he saw this, Diesbach forgot all about making red and began to experiment to determine how this new blue had occurred. What he had accidentally created was a chemical reaction so complicated that it might not have been discovered at all.

 Apparently, the potash he used had animal blood in it, which contains iron. The iron had reacted with the potash to change the potash into potassium ferrocyanide. When he mixed this with the iron sulfate, he accidentally created another compound, iron ferrocyanide producing what we know as “Prussian Blue”. Even though he knew how to create it, he still had no idea why it had turned blue.

 Initially, Diesbach kept the formula to himself, but the fellow who may have sold him the contaminated potash, Johann Konrad Dippel, sorted it out and by 1710, was selling the new color himself. It was an instant sensation. The reasons for this response included the paint’s deep, intense blue, great transparency and great strength. Additionally, it was a tenth of the price of frequently used and much more expensive ultramarine blue.

 Because it was the first truly synthetic color, it was easy to supply it to artists worldwide, who’d been waiting for literally centuries for a strong, non-toxic blue. It is also credited with reviving the Japanese woodblock industry, which then influenced the French Impressionists, whose work and colors inspired so much of modern art–all thanks to Prussian blue!

 In conclusion, whatever you are doing, do not be discouraged or disheartened by a mistake. See it as a learning experience – and evaluate the results of the mistake. You might just discover that your “happy little accident” created something great!

 To date, the painting below titled "Entombment of Christ", dated 1709 by Pieter van der Werff (Picture Gallery, Sanssouci, Potsdam) is the oldest known painting where Prussian blue has been used.

The sources of this story include “The Artist Network”, Wikipedia, and other online sites.