“Find freedom on this canvas.”
— Bob Ross
YOU COULD TRY to count the rings on his “happy little trees” to mark time, but something about “birthday boy” Bob Ross — the beloved and be-’froed “Joy of Painting” TV host — now seems as timeless as the urge to create. Stroke by “wet on wet” oil stroke, Ross left his indelible mark on art — and planted the seed of belief for countless aspiring artists.
In front of that easel, smiling with a relatively simple color palette at hand, Bob Ross knew what his purpose was: He wasn’t trying to be Raphael; his job was to be more like Rachael Ray.
Engage your audience members. Teach them in manageable, easy-to-digest lessons. And by the end of the hour, guide your viewers toward a finished product, so they can have the distinct satisfaction of having made something during your time together.
As a “how to” descendant of fellow public television icons Julia Child and Mr. Fred Rogers, Ross understood profoundly how to transmit his passion. He was the former Air Force man who once madly screamed at underlings to “scrub that latrine.” But in finding very different uses for a brush, he built a PBS army by becoming the incongruous counterpoint: The soft-spoken tutor who creatively sought to lead us to “the happy place” even as he painted one — his voice as gentle as his placid mountain lakes, his pace as steady as his instant towering pines.
THE VIRAL VIDEO
Bob Ross was not without commercial savvy. After his “Joy of Painting” show took off by the mid-’80s, he launched and marketed his multimillion-dollar line of art supplies and instructional materials. And those products were emblazoned with the familiar head-shot of Bob himself; he reportedly didn’t trim his trademark red-gray bushy hairstyle because he was smart enough to know he was also selling a character: Bob Ross Inc.
But all that was in service not only to his art -- he was inspired by his years stationed in Alaska, amid so much natural wonder -- but also ours. Some art scholars scoffed, but he admittedly wasn’t trying to make or teach “investment art.” (Although PBS was able to raise money by selling his paintings, which he generously donated to the network’s stations.)
Instead, his patient refrain was essentially the same as that of Child’s, or Mr. Rogers’s: “Believe.” Believe in yourself. Believe you can create something worthwhile, because you are worthwhile. “I believe talent is a pursued interest,” he said. “Anybody can do what I do.”
“People have success with this method and it gets them excited,” Ross once said of his quick-study oil technique. “It gets them hooked.”
Ross died of lymphoma, at just 52, in 1995. Three years later, Google launched its own globally popular canvas by publishing its first Doodle.
Today, on its home page, Google celebrates what would have been the Florida native’s 70th birthday -- yet another pop-culture benchmark for the how-to-paint icon that includes “The Boondocks,” “Family Guy” and Conan.
So on his birthday, we invoke his own TV show salutation to say to Bob Ross: “From all of us here, I’d like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend.”