Born: October 29, 1942, Daytona Beach
Died: July 4, 1995, New Smyrna Beach
Height: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
Artwork: Northern Lights, The old mill, Mountain Retreat, Alaskan Waterfall, More
Spouse: Jane Ross, Lynda Brown
Children: Steven Ross
Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 after graduating from Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, and was living in Florida early in his military career when the Air Force transferred him to Eielson Air Force Base (in Alaska), where he first saw the snow and mountains that later became recurring themes in his artwork. He developed his quick-painting technique in order to be able to create art for sale in brief daily work breaks. Having held military positions that required him to be, in his own words, "mean" and "tough," "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," Ross decided that if he ever moved on from the military, "it wasn't going to be that way any more," "vowing never to scream again."
Ross discovered that he was soon able to earn more from selling his work than from his Air Force position. After leaving the Air Force, he studied with Bill Alexander before becoming famous worldwide with his own television program, The Joy of Painting.
Ross had a son, Steven, from his first marriage to Lynda Brown. Steven occasionally appeared on The Joy of Painting and is a Bob Ross–certified instructor. Ross and Lynda's marriage ended in divorce in 1981. Ross's second wife, Jane, died of cancer in 1993, and Ross suffered from lymphoma in his later years. In early 1994, Ross canceled The Joy of Painting to continue battling the disease, with his final show airing on May 17, 1994. On July 4, 1995, Ross died at home. His remains are interred at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha, Florida.
Ross was the host of the public television series The Joy of Painting. The show ran from January 11, 1983, to May 17, 1994, and still appears in reruns in many broadcast areas and countries , including the PBS oriented Create, and is a popular YouTube presence. During each half-hour segment, Ross would instruct viewers in oil painting using a quick-study technique that used a limited palette of paints in each work and broke down the process into simple steps. Art critic Mira Schor compared him to Fred Rogers, another PBS television host, noting that the softness of Ross's voice and the slow pace of his speech was similar.
Ross later founded his own successful line of art supplies and how-to books, and also offered painting classes taught by instructors trained in the "Bob Ross method," building a $15 million business. In a 1990 interview, Ross mentioned that all his paintings were donated to PBS stations and that his earnings came instead from sales of his 20 books and 100 videotapes (the total to that date), as well as profits from some 150 Bob Ross–trained teachers and a line of art materials sold through a national supplier. Ross also talked about the donated paintings on the show Towering Glacier (#2341), on which he said that they were to help the stations out.
Ross also filmed wildlife footage, squirrels in particular, usually from his own garden. Small animals often appeared on his show, even during some of his trickier works, as he would often take in injured or abandoned squirrels and other assorted wildlife and look after them.
Ross utilized the wet-on-wet oil painting technique, in which the painter continues adding paint on top of still-wet paint rather than waiting a lengthy amount of time to allow each layer of paint to dry. From the beginning, the program kept the selection of tools and colors simple so that viewers wouldn't have to make large investments in them. Ross frequently recommended odorless paint thinner for brush cleaning. Combining the painting method with the use of one- and two-inch brushes as well as painting knives allowed Ross to paint trees, water, clouds, and mountains in a matter of seconds. Each painting would start with simple strokes that appeared to be nothing more than colored smudges. As he added more and more strokes, the blotches transformed into intricate landscapes. Ross dedicated the first episode of the second season of The Joy of Painting to William Alexander, explaining that "years ago, Bill taught me this fantastic [wet-on-wet] technique, and I feel as though he gave me a precious gift, and I'd like to share that gift with you [the viewer]".
Ross noted that the landscapes he painted—typically mountains, lakes, snow, and log cabin scenes—were strongly influenced by his years living in Alaska, where he was stationed for the majority of his Air Force career. He repeatedly stated on the show his belief that everyone had inherent artistic talent and could become an accomplished artist given time, practice, and encouragement, and to this end was often fond of saying, "We don't have mistakes here, we just have happy accidents."
Ross was well known for other catch phrases he used while painting as he crafted "happy little trees." In most episodes of The Joy of Painting, he noted that one of his favorite parts of painting was cleaning the brush, specifically his method of drying off a brush, which he had dipped in odorless thinner, by striking it against the thinner can and easel. He would smile and often laugh aloud as he "beat the devil out of it." He also used a palette that had been lightly sanded down, which was necessary to avoid catching the reflections of strong studio lighting. At the end of each episode, Ross was known for saying, "so from all of us here, I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend."
When asked about his laid-back approach to painting and eternally calm and contented demeanor, he once commented: "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."
Relationship with William Alexander
Bob Ross was a student of William Alexander, who hosted the public television series The Magic of Oil Painting from the early 1970s until 1982. On his show, Alexander highlighted his use of the alla prima or wet-on-wet style of oiI painting in order to promote his paint-supply business, Alexander Art, and his painting classes. Ross later became a Bill Alexander instructor. Ross's program was picked up by many of the PBS stations that carried The Magic of Oil Painting.
At the beginning of The Joy of Painting's second season in 1984, Ross dedicated the show to Alexander, who filmed a promo for his former student: "I hand off my mighty brush to a mighty man, and that is Bob Ross."In 1987 someone from Alexander Art told Ross that they could not keep up with the demand generated by the The Joy of Painting and suggested that Ross start his own line of art supplies. As Bob Ross Incorporated grew into a $15-million-a-year business, Alexander told the New York Times that he felt betrayed by his former student: "He betrayed me. I invented 'wet on wet.' I trained him and he is copying me—what bothers me is not just that he betrayed me, but that he thinks he can do it better."