If you don’t know his name, perhaps you’re at least familiar with some of his mannerisms, or the bushel of permed hair that crowns his head. Bob Ross, a master painter in the wet-on-wet technique, passed away on July 4th, 1995, leaving behind him a legacy of excellence in art and teaching. Bob Ross was no ordinary artist selling his talents on TV; Bob Ross was a unique soul who would uniquely inspire thousands to take up the painter’s brush themselves through his show The Joy of Painting.
A Military Man
Bob Ross was born in 1942 in Florida, the same state that he would, at the age of 52, pass away in. At age 18 Ross enlisted in the Air Force and found himself stationed at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. He began his career as a medical records technician but would rise through the ranks to become the master sergeant of Eielson’s clinic. Ross would later say of his military positions that he often had to be “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.” He claimed that he would never scream again after leaving the military, and given his tranquil and impeccably unperturbed TV demeanor, he likely never did.
While in Alaska, Ross discovered Bill Alexander and his TV show The Magic of Oil Painting, and would study with him until his retirement from the Air Force. Ross would eventually launch his own TV show, The Joy of Painting, but before its success he had to limit his financial spending. One of his techniques for saving money included perming his hair so he would not have to cut it. He did not like this hairstyle, but as it would quickly become an icon of himself and his particular character, it certainly worked in his favor. Later he would make money marketing his own art supply line, how-to books, and instructional classes.
Bob Ross used the wet-on-wet oil painting technique which involves the painter continuously adding wet paint on top of wet paint. Other techniques require you to allow each layer to dry, but this technique gives you the ability to create something quickly, and something uniquely different. Ross used odorless paint thinner for brush cleaning on his one- and two-inch brushes. He also used painting knives, and very little other than that, in order to make it as easy as possible for those following along. Each episode of The Joy of Painting is a marvel unto itself because of this technique. Vague outlines and impressions become shockingly detailed and intricate objects in a matter of seconds as strokes are added on top of one another.
Almost every episode of The Joy of Painting includes a statement from Bob Ross about how everyone can paint well given the right amount of practice and encouragement. Every episode is also filled to the brim with Ross’ personal quirky style, difficult to describe to those uninitiated. Ross estimated that he created over a staggering 30,000 paintings in his lifetime, and it shows. His work is astounding and simultaneously accessible- beautiful, but doable. Ross made art relatable in a way that no one has since, bringing a hobby to countless people who have used it to enhance the joy and wonder of their own lives. Ross may have passed away from lymphoma in 1995, but his artistic ghost will linger well on into this century.