Learning to paint
Raised in Florida, Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force at the age of 18, before transferring to an airbase in Alaska. His love for painting first developed upon taking a painting lesson at a U. S. O Club in Anchorage, where he then began to sell landscapes painted on gold-mining pans to visiting tourists. He also took on a part-time job as a bartender, and the two combined allowed him to raise some extra income on top of his Air Force salary. His discovery for the “wet-on-wet” painting technique took place when watching german painter Bill Alexander, who hosted his own television show The Magic of Oil Painting (1974-1982). He practised working with this technique, (also known as “direct painting” or “alla prima”), during his time in the military, experimenting and refining it to suit him, creating custom paints, brushes and knives. This 16th century approach to art allows one to craft a painting in as little as 30 minutes and has been employed by various famous artists throughout history, from Jan van Eyck, to Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent and can even be seen in the post-impressionist work of Vincent van Gogh. His retirement from the Air Force in 1981 allowed his return home to Florida, attending many art schools and painting classes where he then began working privately alongside Bill Alexander and became a travelling salesman and tutor.
Teaching others to paint
Ross’s passion and love for painting lead him to starting his own show on television: the Joy of Painting. He began teaching small groups of students in shopping centres and art shops across America as a way of promoting his tv show to a wider audience. More than 400 episodes of the Joy of Painting were recorded, with the show premiering in 1983 and running until May of 1994. Reruns of episodes from all 31 seasons of the show continue to be broadcasted as it remains extremely popular on public television. Fans return to watch Ross as he paints quick, effortless scenes directly from his own imagination, all the while offering simple advice and encouraging his audience to follow along with him.
His media journey
Throughout the years, Ross has influenced many to pick up the paintbrush, and thousands of instructors now teach his “wet-on-wet” technique to students around the world. One of the most beloved and well-known features in his episodes was the inclusion of the “happy little trees” which were added to all of his landscapes. That, along with the friendly clouds, happy accidents and “beating the devil out of the brush”, were just some of the reasons why fans, (many of whom include Baby Boomers, Millennials and Generation Zs), fell in love with Ross’ personality. His seemingly shy persona however, was far out-weighed by his savvy media personality. Live studio audiences were delighted by his frequent appearance on the numerous talk shows he was asked to be on. He also partnered with the new and growing MTV network to record a promo for them. Ross’ soothing, intimate voice led him to be seen by many as the “Father of ASMR”. His gentle speaking manner alongside the sound of his painting triggered an autonomous sensory meridian response in some viewers at a time before the sensation became popularised by the media.
His legacy lives on
Bob Ross’ popularity and legacy has been carried through to the 21st century. Part of which is thanks to the Joy of Painting being available to watch on a Youtube channel set up for him in 2011. It has now acquired over 4.5 million subscribers and a total of 420 million views. The interest didn’t stop there however, as Twitch followed suit and launched a channel for Bob Ross in 2015, streaming a nine-day marathon of the Joy of Painting. Reportedly 5.6 million viewers tuned in to watch and thousands of requests emerged for it to continue once the series was finished. Popular culture has also embraced his image with tributes for him appearing in shows such as Family Guy and even in the film Deadpool 2. Many of his paintings have been donated to public television stations to assist with fundraising, though many have been kept by Bob Ross’ company. A large collection of his paintings are held in the Bob Ross Workshop in New Smyrna Beach, Florida which has remained open since 1992 and is open to visitors. The Workshop also offers landscape, seascape, floral and wildlife classes which are hosted by guest artists from around the world which can be taken to become a certified Bob Ross instructor.