White man with an afro, a valium voice, and the uncanny ability to create a breath-taking landscape painting within a half hour PBS program.
Using knife edge and push brush techniques, Bob made it look as though a two year old could accomplish the same with ease.

It was not that easy!

Bob Ross is dead now, but hundreds of thousands of his paintings still walk the earth.


Bob Ross (born October 29, 1942, in Daytona Beach, Florida; retired from the United States Air Force in 1981; died July 4, 1995 of cancer, at the age of 52) was a painter whose "Joy of Painting" television series on PBS gained a sort of cult following. The program started in 1983, ran new episodes until 1995 (when Ross' death prevented the production of episodes), and reruns are still on the air in some places (always on public television).

Ross was known for his soft, gentle voice and his calm, peaceful manner. Any errors he made weren't mistakes, but "happy accidents", which he soon turned into beauty. Trees he painted were "happy little trees" and he didn't like to just draw one tree, since it would get lonely, so he gave it a friend or two.

He was morally the equivalent of Barney and Mister Rogers, but yet he was still cool. I watched him as a teen who knew nothing about painting and even now can only draw a decent stick figure. Watching "Joy of Painting" wasn't so much about the actual painting or the technique. It was a great relaxer and emotional release, like meditation.

According to bobross.com (the website of his company, which still sells his painting kits and related products), Ross used a rather unique wet-on-wet technique, which eliminated waiting for a layer of paint to dry. This allowed Ross (and presumably those who buy/bought his kits) to complete a painting in under 30 minutes. For your tranquil pleasure, DVDs featuring 3-hour-long tutorials Ross made when he was still alive are available for purchase on his website.

Apparently, much of the materials he used were rather unique, and not typical paintbrushes and tools. The website alludes to "a specially formulated substance" to initially cover the canvas, "special natural bristle brushes" which create effects different from normal brushes, and "uniquely-formulated oil paints" which are firmer than regular paint.

But I didn't care about any of that. I just liked watching and listening to this fuzzy-haired (as lawnjart wrote above, he did look like he had an afro), gentle, gentle man create beautiful nature scenes before my eyes. And for those 30 minutes a day, everything seemed right and at peace.

Hopefully, Bob Ross is at eternal peace now.

Thanks to Netflix, another generation, including me, have discovered the absolutely surreal universe of Bob Ross' work.

Called, "The Joy of Painting" - which is the most perfect and apt title since "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", a combination of a unique personality and the surreal production values of the early 1990s created an absolutely fascinating show that worth a look just for the experience.

The 1980s experimented with video effects, in the UK referred to as "Quantel". You got a lot of "fizzy" backgrounds and strange effects from chroma-key which usually resulted in the picture being slightly off. Though Ross worked with an entirely black background, it was unlit in such a way that Ross and his canvas were literally suspended in a void. And the effect of the 1990s video technology plus tape artifacts means that there's a generalized hypnotic low level visual and auditory "hum" throughout the proceedings familiar to anyone who's drug their parents' old VCR out of the attic and had to play with the "tracking" knob.

Along with a metal easel and a standard pre-stretched, pre-gesso'd canvas, there was nothing else but Bob himself. With his kind, reassuring smile and his pouffy, Q-Tip like Afro (he was white), he always wore the same pastel blue shirt whose collar almost suggested a 1970s airplane wing collar. A quiet, gentle man, he was the sort of inoffensive nice that walks the uncanny valley between "I'd like to meet the guy" and being slightly uncomfortable at his mentions that he lives with his mother and has the neighborhood children over to see his squirrels.

EDIT: Straight from user TheCustodian:

a) he hated the Afro but was too good a marketer to change his image
b) he made tons of $ from selling the supplies listed in the show
c) he was a drill sergeant in the USAF stationed in Alaska, and once mentioned that when he got out he 'never wanted to scream at anyone again.'


But the real magic happened when he started painting.

To him, painting was not a function of examining a subject and reproducing what he saw, something that many a budding artist has tried to do and cried over the results. To him - it was about the sheer experience of taking a blank white surface, and turning it into something that suggested a space. With a few brushstrokes in a "wet on wet" technique, he'd turn a few smears of oil paint into the suggestion of a morning sky. He would quietly patter away as he went, basically encouraging people with how easy it was. All he had to do was mix in a bit of this color with that color, use a filbert brush to dab it in, and then blend it with a two inch brush. Or even a one inch brush. Or use more crimson if you want. It's your world.

His painting was not so much impressionist as it was using a "visual shorthand". Scumbling some bright green over darker green made a "happy little tree". A simple liner brush made a brown line which was "a tree trunk that just catches the light". It was not so much that he was doing this to teach people how to copy nature - but, like a Zen master takes a raw material and with slight prunings creates his idea of "tree" creating a bonsai - his was demonstrating that it's no more than a dab with the side of a brush like so, or a curve with a fanbrush like this, or scumbling/pushing the paint in like that - that turns a raw splotch of pigment and binder into something that suggests a tree, or a cabin, or a crashing wave.

His voice was quiet, soothing, meditative, calming. Reassuring. This was a happy little tree. Let's put up a lonely little bird. It's your world. You can do this if you wish, or do something totally else, it's your painting and your world. Painting a seascape, he'd make crashing wave noises and weave a synaesthesia of onomatopoeia, words and pigment to suggest a crashing surf on a gentle beach.

And remember, all of this was in the context of a black background so black it was VOID. Like that substance MIT just discovered that EATS light, darker than dark - making Hot Topic bid on it to create a color Goths will replace their entire wardrobes with.

All there was was a world slowly taking shape, a gentle hypnotic pattern of words and sound, and a reassuring, uplifting message. This is fun. You can do this. Create your world. Make it yours. Listening to him keep up that patter, while at the same time making a painting is like watching a skilled drummer playing different rhythms with each hand. He was masterful at it.

If there was something very time consuming that would otherwise bore the viewer, he'd show a small part of it, then cut to extreme close up footage of him feeding baby squirrels that he'd rescued. Watching the series as a whole, you get to watch the squirrels grow up, fill out, and get fur. It's an intriguing device - cutting to a newborn squirrel gleefully sucking milk out of a syringe while making happy chirping noises to mentally fill in the time between him starting on a time consuming process, and the final part of that process.

At the end of the 30 minutes, he'd have a painting. Okay, so it looked like a cross between a Thomas Kinkcade painting and a 1970s prog rock album cover, and spawned a cottage industry of similar art that you can buy by the pound at the occasional hotel ballroom "art sale", but again - for Ross it was less about where you got to and more about how you got there.

I'm hooked. I'll never pick up a paintbrush but there is something soothing about watching a world take shape, with him talking about "those little devils" or what have you when describing scumbling leaves on a "happy little tree". He emphasized that there's no wrong move, just "happy accidents". It's really uplifting, calming and meditative. And contemplative.

Bob Ross died of lymphoma and made sure his paintings would never be offered for sale. That seems right. To him it was not about the painting, but the joy of painting. RIP Mr. Ross. I hope you and your squirrels are happy in Heaven.

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