Bob Ross

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For other people named Bob Ross, see Bob Ross (disambiguation).
Bob Ross
Bob at Easel.jpg
Bob Ross at his easel
Born Robert Norman Ross
(1942-10-29)October 29, 1942
Daytona Beach, Florida
Died July 4, 1995(1995-07-04) (aged 52)
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Nationality United States
Known for Painter, art instructor, television host
Spouse(s) Lynda Brown (?–1981) (divorced)
Jane Ross (?–1993) (her death)
Military career
Allegiance  USA
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1961–1981
Rank E7a USAF MSGT.svg Master Sergeant

Robert Norman "Bob" Ross (October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was an American painter, art instructor, and television host.[1] He was best known as the creator and host of The Joy of Painting, a television program that aired on PBS in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Early life[edit]

Bob Ross was born on October 29, 1942 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Ross was raised in Orlando, Florida.[2] Ross had a half brother Jim, whom he mentioned in passing on his show.[3] While working as a carpenter with his father, Ross lost part of his left index finger. It did not affect the way he held his palette while painting.

Military career[edit]

Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 18 and went on to serve as a medical records technician.[4] He eventually rose to the rank of master sergeant and served as the first sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.[5][6] In Alaska, Ross first saw the snow and mountains that later became recurring themes in his artwork. He developed his quick-painting technique to create art for sale in brief daily work breaks.[7] Having held military positions that required him to be, in his own words, "mean" and "tough", "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work", Ross decided that if he ever moved on from the military, he would never scream again.[6]

Career as a painter[edit]

During Ross' stay in Alaska, he worked as a bartender part-time, when he discovered a TV show that was called The Magic World of Oil Painting, hosted by a German painter named Bill Alexander.[citation needed]

After studying with Bill Alexander, Ross discovered that he was soon able to earn more from selling his work than from his Air Force position. Ross then retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service with the rank of Master Sergeant[6] and became famous worldwide hosting The Joy of Painting.[1]

Before the show launched, Ross would try to promote the painting technique but with little interest. He also had to find a way to cut back on spending, so he decided to have his hair permed, just so he could save money on haircuts. The perm hairstyle was not comfortable for Ross, but ultimately became an iconic feature of the painter.[8]

Ross was the host of public broadcasting series The Joy of Painting. The show had its first run from January 11, 1983, to May 17, 1994, but still continues to appear in reruns in many broadcast areas and countries, including the PBS oriented Create. During each half-hour segment, Ross would instruct viewers in oil painting using a quick-study technique that used a limited palette of paints in each work and broke down the process into simple steps. Art critic Mira Schor compared him to Fred Rogers, another PBS television host, noting that the softness of Ross's voice and the slow pace of his speech were similar.[9]

Ross later founded his own successful line of art supplies and how-to books, and also offered painting classes taught by instructors trained in a "Bob Ross method", building a $15 million business.[10] In a 1990 interview, Ross mentioned that all his paintings were donated to PBS stations and that his earnings came instead from sales of his 20 books and 100 videotapes (the total to that date), as well as profits from some 150 Bob Ross–trained teachers and a line of art materials sold through a national supplier.[7] Ross also talked about the donated paintings on the show Towering Glacier (#2341), on which he said that they were to help the stations out.[11]

Ross also filmed wildlife footage, squirrels in particular, usually from his own garden. Small animals often appeared on his show, even during some of his trickier works, as he would often take in injured or abandoned squirrels and other assorted wildlife and look after them.[7]

Technique, style and influences[edit]

Ross used the wet-on-wet oil painting technique, in which the painter continues adding paint on top of still-wet paint rather than waiting a lengthy amount of time to allow each layer of paint to dry. From the beginning, the program kept the selection of tools and colors simple so that viewers wouldn't have to make large investments in expensive equipment. Ross frequently recommended odorless paint thinner (aka odorless mineral spirits) for brush cleaning. Combining the painting method with the use of one- and two-inch brushes as well as painting knives allowed Ross to paint trees, water, clouds, and mountains in a matter of seconds. Each painting would start with simple strokes that appeared to be nothing more than colored smudges. As he added more and more strokes, the blotches transformed into intricate landscapes.[12][10] Ross dedicated the first episode of the second season of The Joy of Painting to William Alexander, explaining that "years ago, Bill taught me this fantastic [wet-on-wet] technique, and I feel as though he gave me a precious gift, and I'd like to share that gift with you [the viewer]".[13]

Statistical analysis of the content of Ross' paintings from The Joy of Painting, published in 2014 by the blog FiveThirtyEight.

Ross noted that the landscapes he painted—typically mountains, lakes, snow, and log cabin scenes—were strongly influenced by his years living in Alaska, where he was stationed for the majority of his Air Force career. He repeatedly stated on the show his belief that everyone had inherent artistic talent and could become an accomplished artist given time, practice, and encouragement, and to this end was often fond of saying, "We don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents."[14] In 2014 the blog FiveThirtyEight conducted a statistical analysis of the 381 episodes in which Ross painted live, concluding that 91 percent of Ross' paintings from those episodes contain at least one tree, 44 percent include clouds, 39 percent include mountains and 34 percent include mountain lakes. By his own estimation, Ross completed more than 30,000 paintings in his lifetime.[15]

Ross was well known for other catchphrases he used while painting such as "happy little trees".[16] In most episodes of The Joy of Painting, he noted that one of his favorite parts of painting was cleaning the brush, specifically his method of drying off a brush, which he had dipped in odorless thinner, by striking it against the thinner can and easel. He would smile and often laugh aloud as he "beat the devil out of it". He also used a palette that had been lightly sanded down, which was necessary to avoid catching the reflections of strong studio lighting. At the end of each episode, Ross was best known for saying, "so from all of us here, I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend."

When asked about his laid-back approach to painting and calm and contented demeanor, he once commented, "I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, 'Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.' That's for sure. That's why I paint. It's because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news."[17]

Other media appearances[edit]

Ross was a big fan of country music and in 1987, he was invited on stage by Hank Snow at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The audience gave him a huge ovation and Ross himself was a little nervous at first, but felt better after cracking a joke to the crowd. Snow was also given a private painting lesson by Ross, along with his business partner, Annette Kowalski.[citation needed]

Ross visited New York City to promote his hardcover book, called The Best of the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross,[18] and painting techniques to a studio audience several times. One visit was in 1989 when he appeared on The Joan Rivers Show, another was in 1992 on a live show with hosts Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford and there was one in 1994, when Phil Donahue, who watched his videos and loved his painting technique, invited him to the show to promote his work. Ross took five audience members to come on stage and do a painting; even Phil himself did a painting and showed it publicly in that episode. Ross at one time got an invitation to appear on Oprah, but declined the offer because Ross wanted to do paintings for the audience, while the show wanted to focus on couples who are in business together, but do not live together.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, Ross filmed several MTV promotional spots that according to the Washington Business Journal, "dovetailed perfectly with Generation X's burgeoning obsession with all things ironic and retro."[19]

Personal life[edit]

Ross had two sons, Bob and Steven, with his first wife, Lynda Brown. Steven occasionally appeared on The Joy of Painting and became a Bob Ross-certified instructor.[1] The last episode of Season 1 was a question-and-answer forum in which Steven read a series of general "how-to" questions sent in by viewers during the season, and Bob answered them one at a time, technique by technique, until he had completed an entire painting. Ross and Lynda's marriage ended in divorce in 1981.

Ross and his second wife, Jane, had one son, Morgan, who is also an accomplished painter.[1] In 1993, Jane died from cancer, and Ross did not remarry.

Illness and death[edit]

Ross was diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 1990s, which eventually forced his retirement after The Joy of Painting's final episode aired on May 17, 1994. He died at the age of 52 on July 4, 1995. [20][21] His remains are interred at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha, Florida.[22]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Google celebrated the 70th anniversary of his birthday with a Google Doodle on October 29, 2012. It portrayed Ross painting a depiction of the letter "g" with a landscape in the background.[23][24]


  1. ^ a b c d "Bob Ross, 52, Dies; Was Painter on TV". The New York Times. July 13, 1995. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ "Bob Ross, Television’s Favorite Artist". Bob Ross Incorporated. Retrieved January 24, 2011. 
  3. ^ Schenck, Sally (director) (April 19, 2008). "Home Before Nightfall". The Joy of Painting. Season 28. Episode 13. 2:48 minutes in. PBS. 
  4. ^ Congdon, Kristin G.; Blandy, Doug; Coeyman, Danny (April 21, 2014). Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon. University Press of Mississippi. Archived at Google Books. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  5. ^ "Before they were famous, Airman edition". U.S. Air Force Live. 
  6. ^ a b c 5things (2009-11-13). "5 (Happy Little) Things You Didn't Know About Bob Ross". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2013-12-10. 
  7. ^ a b c Linda, Shrieves (July 7, 1990). "Bob Ross uses his brush to spread paint and joy". Orlando Sentinel. 
  8. ^ Danny Coeyman (2014). Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon. University Press of Mississippi. p. 19. ISBN 1617039950. 
  9. ^ Schor, Mira (1997). Wet: on painting, feminism, and art culture. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0-8223-1915-2. 
  10. ^ a b Stanley, Alessandra (December 22, 1991). "Bob Ross, the Frugal Gourmet of Painting". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2011. 
  11. ^ Series 11 Disk 2 (DVD) Episode "Towering Glacier"
  12. ^ Thill, Scott (September 5, 2008). "Annuals + Bob Ross = Such Fun". Wired. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  13. ^ The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross: Meadow Lake, season 2, episode November 1, 1983
  14. ^ Bennett, Kaylen (2005). Rick Benzel, ed. Inspiring Creativity: An Anthology of Powerful Insights And Practical Ideas to Guide You to Successful Creating. Playa del Rey: Creativity Coaching Assoc. Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-9767371-0-8. 
  15. ^ Rife, Katie (April 16, 2014). "Study the happy little numbers with a statistical analysis of Bob Ross’ Joy Of Painting". The A.V. Club..
  16. ^ Pegley, Kip (2008). Coming to wherever you are: MuchMusic, MTV, and youth identities. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-8195-6870-8. 
  17. ^ (Joy Of Painting, Season 15, Episode 12- Forest Lake)
  18. ^ Bob Ross; Annette Kowalski (1989) The Best of the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, W. Morrow, NY ISBN 978-0-68809-246-7
  19. ^ Harris, Scott (February 9, 2009) "Happy accidents and the legacy of Bob Ross". Washington Business Journal
  20. ^ Linda, Shrieves (July 8, 1995). "Painter Bob Ross Dies At 52". Orlando Sentinel. 
  21. ^ "Bob Ross 52, Dies; was a painter on TV". The New York Times. July 13, 1995. Retrieved 2011-10-02. 
  22. ^ Morfit, Cameron (November 18, 2001). "The Mellow, and Undying, Magic of Happy Little Trees". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2011. 
  23. ^ Albanesius, Chloe (October 29, 2012). "Bob Ross Paints 'Happy Little Trees' for Google Doodle". PC Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2012. 
  24. ^ Driscoll, Molly, "Bob Ross: How did he get so mellow? (+video)", Christian Science Monitor, October 29, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-29.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External video
(July 26, 2012). "Bob Ross Remixed – Happy Little Clouds." on YouTube Public Broadcasting Service Digital Studios.