Bob Ross: Colorful Facts About the Famous Mellow Painter
How much do you really know about Bob Ross? Recognized for his iconic afro, jeans and button-down shirt, Ross welcomed everyone to paint happy mountains and trees with him on The Joy of Painting. For more than 10 years, the calm and cheerful painter mesmerized people with his demeanor and voice. The New York Times called him "the most recognized painter since Picasso."
But what was his life like before he became an international celebrity? What happened behind the scenes on the show? Let’s take a look at some colorful facts about the famous mellow painter, Bob Ross.
He Was an Air Force Master Sergeant (and Yelled A LOT)
Before Bob Ross was known for his soothing voice and gentle personality, he was a loud, ferocious officer. He joined the U.S. Air Force and became a master sergeant. Believe it or not, he ordered soldiers to scrub toilets and fix their beds. If anyone was late to work, he screamed at them.
Ross Learned Everything He Knew From the “Happy Painter”
Bill Alexander taught people how to paint on his PBS show The Magic of Oil Painting from 1974 to 1982. Ross watched the show while working as a part-time bartender, instantly becoming a fan of the cheerful painter and his "wet-on-wet" technique.
He Used Pans as Canvases
While Ross served in Alaska, he used lunch breaks to paint. He went home to eat a sandwich and let his creative juices flow. But he didn't always paint on canvases. He made beautiful landscape paintings inside gold pans.
His Teacher Let Ross Take Over His Painting Classes
Alexander was ready to retire in the early 1980s, but he wanted someone he trusted to lead his painting classes. As a result, he invited Ross to take over. Ross accepted, becoming a traveling salesman and painting teacher.
One of His Students Made Him Famous
Annette Kowalski is known as the woman who made Ross famous. After becoming a fan of The Magic of Oil Painting, she attended Alexander’s classes. However, she (and the rest of the students) found Ross leading the class instead.
Ross Got the Signature Perm Because He Was Broke
Before Ross became the famous painter that the world recognized, he was a side hustler with short hair. That's right. He didn't always have big hair. He also didn't earn a lot of money from his jobs. As a result, he learned to stretch every dollar.
He Hated That Iconic Afro
Ross kept the perm for the rest of his life. However, he reportedly disliked the hairdo after getting it. He wanted to change his hairstyle but didn't want to hurt his brand. Ross with big hair was the logo on his art supplies line.
He Never Got Paid for His TV Series
From 1983 to 1994, The Joy of Painting aired on PBS. Ross must've earned sacks of cash for years on the show, right? Nope. Ross actually worked for PBS for free. His profits came from his art supply store, Bob Ross Inc.
He Shot an Entire Season in Less Than a Week
It didn't take Ross that much time to record a whole season of The Joy of Painting. In fact, he could film 13 episodes in just two days. His quick painting skills allowed him to knock out episode after episode.
Ross Gained Worldwide Fame, Especially in Japan
Almost 95% of U.S. public television stations carried The Joy of Painting. As a result, the program reached viewers in more than 93.5 million homes across the nation. The show was also a huge success in other countries.
Fellow Artists Weren’t Fans
Fans worldwide loved to watch Ross paint and listen to his gentle, positive messages. However, fame and success come with hate. Other artists had plenty of cruel things to say about Ross. Sculptor Keith Frank said, "It is formulaic and thoughtless. Art as therapy."
He Made Fans Feel Like They Could Do the Impossible
Ross believed people could do anything, especially paint. A fan once told Ross that he could never paint because he was colorblind. In response, Ross dedicated an episode to his fan and painted only in shades of gray. He showed his fan and viewers that anyone can create a masterpiece with any color.
Ross’ Mentor Didn’t Appreciate His Success
Fellow artists weren't the only ones who had a problem with Ross. In fact, his mentor Alexander wasn't happy for Ross’ success. Alexander accused Ross of betraying him, telling The New York Times, "I invented 'wet on wet.' I trained him and he is copying me—what bothers me is not just that he betrayed me, but that he thinks he can do it better."
His “Happy” Comments Were Well Thought Out
Ross’ friendly, conversational personality was part of his legacy, but many of his remarks weren't random. Staying up all night, Ross planned what he was going to say in every episode — down to the very last word. He thought about everything he was going to do as well.
He Lost Part of His Finger
Ross was a talented painter, making beautiful works of art using his hands. Believe it or not, he was missing part of his left index finger. It's easy to miss because he used his left hand to hold his palette on the show.
He Didn’t Paint People on Purpose
Trees and wildlife often filled up Ross’ paintings. However, there was one living creature he rarely included in his work: people. In fact, he intentionally left humans out of his paintings. Many fans requested landscapes and nature scenes.
He Was a Wildlife Whisperer
The painter befriended many animals. His love for creatures actually started at a very young age. In fact, his mom caught him in the bathroom tending to an alligator. Yikes! However, The Joy of Painting frequently featured adorable little animals, including raccoons, owls, deer and squirrels.
Most Viewers Didn’t Paint With Him
The Joy of Painting was a popular series that encouraged people to paint along with Ross. However, most fans didn’t watch it with hopes of becoming the next Bob Ross. Only 10% of viewers were actually engaged in painting with him.
Trees Were His Top “Friends”
Ross was crazy about trees, which were popular details in his work. According to a poll site called FiveThirtyEight, almost 91% of Ross' art on The Joy of Painting featured a tree. If there was one "happy little tree," he most likely painted another because everyone needs a "friend."
Nintendo Planned to Make Bob Ross Games
At one point, Nintendo was working on a video game series based on The Joy of Painting. Many people believed it was an April Fools’ joke, but it was true! The idea was to release games on Wii, the Nintendo DS and PC.
He’s the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response “Godfather”
Today, Ross is considered an ASMR king. According to Dictionary.com, ASMR "is a calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation." It can be triggered in different ways, such as by physical touch or sounds.
Ross Knew His Show Made People Fall Asleep
Are you suffering from insomnia? No problem; just tune into The Joy of Painting and you may hit the sack faster. It wasn't unusual for fans to admit to Ross that the show put them to sleep. Ross wasn't surprised by their comments.
He Didn’t Sell His Artwork From the Show
Ross' income came from the services and products sold by Bob Ross Inc. He didn't sell his paintings from The Joy of Painting to make a profit. According to Ross, many people asked, "If that's the case, what happened to the paintings?"
13 Stolen Paintings Were Found on the Black Market
Although Ross didn't seek to make a profit from his paintings, other people tried to sell his work. As a matter of fact, more than a dozen of his paintings were found on the black market. How did these works of art get there?
He Made More Than 30,000 Paintings
If Ross filmed 403 episodes of The Joy of Painting, he must have 403 paintings, right? Not quite. Ross actually created three of the same painting for each episode. The first was used as a reference and the second was painted while filming.
Holland Made a Bob Ross-inspired Radio Show
It was clear that watching a man paint on TV was appealing to viewers. But what about listening to a man paint on the radio? Ross' massive success on PBS inspired Holland to make its own version into a radio show.
He Was Secretive
Although Ross reached international fame, he was rarely asked for interviews. That didn't bother him because he liked living in privacy. Some of his interviews were with his close friends and family. Even now, Bob Ross Inc. is known to protect his intellectual property and privacy.
His Son Is Also a Talented Ross-certified Painter
The painting gene runs in the family. Ross’ son Steve made a few guest appearances on The Joy of Painting. He also took over some episodes for his dad. Why not? Steve was a Ross-certified instructor, after all.
After Death, He Made a Comeback as a 21st-century Pop Culture Celeb
It's no surprise that Ross is still powerful and popular, even after death. Fans fell in love with his kindness and talent all over again on Twitch. In 2015, Twitch live-streamed The Joy of Painting for a week and drew in 5.6 million viewers.
See His Work Across Platforms and the Country
Are you interested in seeing Ross' finished masterpieces? Fortunately, you can find all 403 paintings on the website Two Inch Brush — named after Ross' favorite paintbrush. The site is an unofficial archive for The Joy of Painting.