Bob Ross was a staple on PBS in the 80s and early 90s. An artist for the people, he turned a blank canvas into a beautiful painting right before our eyes on the 30 minute “The Joy Of Painting” show.
Known for his calming voice and patient teaching style, he was an inspiration to any budding artist who couldn’t afford art lessons.
Bob Ross’ Early Years
Bob Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida on October 29, 1942. In his early life, he worked as a carpenter with his dad and lost the tip of his left index finger. Obviously it had no effect on his ability to paint! He eventually joined the Air Force at age 18 and was stationed in Alaska. He took up painting in his spare time at the USO, and was inspired by the beauty of the Alaskan landscape.
Frustrated with the more abstract painting that was being taught, he came across a technique called “wet on wet” being taught by a German artist on a TV show. This technique, also called “alla prima” (first attempt), allowed him to complete a painting in just 30 minutes by layering wet paint on wet paint. This technique was often used by artists like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet.
It is quite different from the “Old Masters” technique, in which multiple different layers are applied after the previous layer dries.
Ross started a small art business, painting Alaskan landscapes on a variety of mediums, including gold-mining pans. It was so financially successful that he retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service.
The Joy Of Painting
Bob Ross learned his “wet on wet” technique from a German artist named Bill Alexander. When he got out of the service, he went to work for him and sold art supplies and did tutoring. Realizing that he could do the same thing for himself, he eventually started his own company. Later, when “The Joy Of Painting” became so popular, he and Alexander had a falling out. Alexander felt that Ross had “stolen” his idea. At the time of Ross’ death, his company was worth 15 million dollars.
The PBS show “The Joy Of Painting” aired the first time in January, 1983. Ross had a unique style that became both endearing and the source of comedy. He was gentle, patient, and soft-spoken, the best kind of teacher. He would show all the paints that he was using for a given painting, and list them on the screen for students to follow. He was explicit about the kind of brush to use and the importance of cleaning them between colors. He would whack them against the side of the easel to get all the thinner off, or as he liked to say, “beat the devil out of it!” And when he was blending the colors, he would often say, “Let’s blend that up like ‘at.”
Most of his paintings were landscapes: mountains, meadows, beach scenes, and lakes. He truly believed that anyone, with proper practice and training, could become an artist, and that’s why his shows were basic yet detailed, allowing the viewer to follow along and understand how he was creating his paintings. The shows are actually even more useful today, when people can watch them repeatedly to learn the technique or copy a painting.
Bob Ross’ Legacy
The final show of “the Joy Of Painting” aired in May of 1994, but like so many quality shows, it developed such a cult following over the years, that it still airs on PBS and Youtube. Bob Ross died much too young on July 4, 1995 from lymphoma.
Learning to paint has become a bucket list item for a lot of men and women in the Manopause generation, and what better way to dive in than with Bob Ross and his brilliant series.