Updated: Mar 6, 2021
"There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend."
Bob Ross? The guy that almost every artist loves to make fun of? Not so fast! There is more than a grain of truth in that folksy voice…
“It’s funny to talk to these people…” said Joan Kowalski, the media director of Bob Ross Inc. “…they think they’re the only ones who turn on the show to take a nap.” Bob knew about this. People would come up to him and say, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you’ve been putting me to sleep for 10 years.” He loved it.”
I didn’t nap. I watched. And as I watched, I saw a whole painted world materialize in ½ an hour - mountains, clouds, streams, cabin, bushes and paths. I was mesmerized.
No single person in the history of art has brought more people to the world of painting than Bob Ross. I was one. I set out to paint and soon realized it was much harder than it looked. People may joke about him and his cozy talk and his hippy swagger but he brought a lot to the table (easel). Painting is hard no matter how you face it. There seems to be miles and miles of distance between what he does and what someone like Clyde Aspevig does, but truthfully, they are closer than you think.
“There are people who just like to hear him talk,” one station manager said. “We even get letters from blind people who say they tune in because he gives them hope.” He certainly gave me hope and helped me feel like I could. Anybody that can make you feel like a winner is a cool cat in my book. I met Bob at an art trade show long ago and all I could do was thank him.
Here are 5 things you didn’t know about Bob Ross.
HE WAS A MILITARY MAN. Before Ross became a painter, he spent 20 years in the United States Air Force and retired with the rank of master sergeant. “I was 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.” When Ross retired from the Air Force, he allegedly vowed never to scream again. This was the impedance for his soft demeanour.
HE DID IT FOR FREE. The Joy of Painting ran new seasons on PBS from 1983 to 1994, so a few years of fat stacks of cash? Not quite. Ross actually did the series for free. His income came from Bob Ross Inc., selling art supplies and how-to videotapes, teaching classes, and even doing the trade show circuit. How did he find the time to tape all of those shows? He recorded a season almost as fast as he could paint. Ross could bang out an entire 13-episode season of The Joy of Painting in just over two days, which freed him up to get back to teaching. And you thought I painted fast…
HE DIDN’T SELL HIS PAINTINGS. In a 1991 interview with the New York Times, Ross claimed he’d made over 30,000 paintings since he was an 18-year-old stationed in Alaska with the Air Force. When Ross died of lymphoma in 1995, most of his paintings either ended up in the hands of charity or PBS. That’s not to say there aren’t any Ross paintings floating around. While he generally didn’t sell his canvasses, Ross did sell some souvenir gold pans during his stint in Alaska. At the time, the amateur artist got $25 a pop for a gold pan with an Alaskan scene painted in the bottom.
HE DIDN’T LOVE THE FRO. It’s hard to think of Bob Ross and not immediately key in on the giant bushy mushroom cloud of hair that exploded off of his head, and Ross knew it. Unfortunately, he also supposedly hated the haircut. Ross had an uncanny knack for marketing, however, so he knew that trimming his fro to a more conservative look would likely undercut his business. Ross decided to stick with the stylin’ locks and even had his permed visage emblazoned on every tube of Bob Ross painting he sold.
AT THE BEGINNING of The Joy of Painting’s second season in 1984, Ross dedicated the show to William Alexander. The man who got him started in all this, who filmed a promo for his former student: “I hand off my mighty brush to a mighty man, and that is Bob Ross.” That was that. The new area had begun. In 1987 someone from Alexander Art told Ross that they could not keep up with the demand generated by The Joy of Painting and suggested that Ross start his own line of art supplies. He never looked back after that.
Let's finish off with a few brilliant quotes from the great instructor.
That’ll be our little secret.
You know me, I gotta put in a big tree.
Any way you want it to be, that’s just right.
Let’s just blend this little rascal here, ha! Happy as we can be.
People might look at you a bit funny, but it’s okay. Artists are allowed to be a bit different
Shwooop. Hehe. You have to make those little noises, or it just doesn’t work.
Talk to the tree, make friends with it.
That’s a crooked tree. We’ll send him to Washington.
There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.
Roll it in a little bright red and let's sign this right in here. Luckily I have a short name so it’s easy to sign.
Your friend in art, Doug.
P.S. There are so many more little tidbits about Mr. Ross. For example, did you know that he used to love filming little animals such as squirrels and that his wife died exactly a year after his death? Share your own Bob Ross story below.