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The Life and Story of Bob Ross

Friday, 05 December 2014 00:00  by Erin L.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, finding that moment to unwind is crucial. Many women turn to painting to find relief from overwhelming depression, anxiety and daily stress. Brookhaven Retreat hosts painting classes for women to channel their energy and feelings through the brushstrokes on a canvas. Even the least artistic person can benefit from this form of artistic therapy, a concept that really became popular thanks to American artist and pop culture icon, Bob Ross.

Born in Florida, the famous artist, Bob Ross began a life very different than what the public saw on his television series The Joy of Painting. As a young man, he was working as a carpenter with his father until, while doing so; he lost his left index finger. This is something that many people don’t notice while watching the show as it was hidden under his palette while he painted. At seventeen, he joined the Air Force, which transferred him to Alaska. It was while living here that he saw the snow and mountains that would become recurring themes in his art for the rest of his life.

While in Alaska, acting as Master Sergeant, he also worked as a bartender part-time. It was while working that job that he discovered the TV show called The Magic World of Oil Painting, hosted by Bill Alexander with whom he eventually took on as a mentor. This discovery of painting lead to him selling his work and he soon discovered that he was able to earn more from selling his artwork than from working for the Air Force. Ross then retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service and began reframing his world around art instead.

Bob Ross did the series The Joy of Painting for free. He lived off of his income from Bob Ross Inc., a company through which he sold art supplies and how-to videotapes, taught classes, and even built up an ensemble of traveling art instructors who traveled the world teaching painting in his place. It was a very smart business plan because the show acted as an advertisement for these products and investments. Clearly, the man had a knack for marketing. Furthermore, despite the little known fact that he supposedly hated his frizzy perm that made his hair so iconic, he decided to stick with this trademark look and had his silhouette celebrated on every product listed on Bob Ross Inc.’s art supplies.

On his unrehearsed, low budget, and unedited TV show he found an evolved identity as a soft spoken guy with an “easy-does-it” approach and a quiet, nurturing character giving his audience encouraging words and saying “you can do it!” This new way of life became an eleven-year career on a public television series called The Joy of Painting that had its first run from January 11, 1983 and lasted through until May 17, 1994. On it, he used using a quick-study technique that used a limited palette of paints in each work and broke down the process into simple step-by-step instructions. This technique was called wet-on-wet which is used mostly in oil painting and is applied through layers of wet paint that are applied to previous layers of wet paint. This is a method of painting that can be very forgiving.

Many years later, he stated in the Orlando Sentinel, "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 to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it.” Bob vowed, when he retired from the military, he would never scream again and that is what lead to his new disposition that the public came to know on TV. It was a disposition that the world found to be therapeutic to watch. He once mentioned, in response to being asked about his laid-back approach to painting and calm and contented demeanor: "I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, 'Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.' That's for sure. That's why I paint. It's because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news."

Art critics compared him to Mister Rogers, another PBS television host who was a child psychologist (and often featured Judy Rubin on his show who is a pivotal contributor as an Art Therapist), citing that the softness of Ross's voice and the slow pace of his speech were similar. Bob was well known for the many catch phrases he used while painting because as he crafted each painting, he also birthed timeless and ever-so-popular sayings. In the process of doing so, he was unknowingly one of the first public artists to pave the way to the general public acknowledgement that art making, and even watching the art making process, can be therapeutic.

Again and again on his show, he stated his belief that everyone had inherent artistic talent and could become an accomplished artist given time, practice, and encouragement. He said, “Talent is a pursued interest. In other words, anything that you are willing to practice, you can do”. Also, repeatedly, he was heard saying, "We don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents." A phrase you will hear paraphrased to this day from the mouths of art therapists everywhere who believe that there are no mistakes in art. So, the man who painted “happy trees,” “almighty mountains,” and “fluffy clouds” was once a Master Sergeant, barking military orders, who found himself through painting to be, underneath it all, the man who once he’d painted one tree, didn’t paint another tree but painted the tree a “friend.” Above all, throughout the process of becoming, Bob Ross took ownership with a vision that he passed on to his viewers as he reminded them: “this is your world;” you can make it as happy as you want it.

Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 05:28

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