Published on July 18, 2016
Robert Norman “Bob” Ross
(October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was an American painter, art instructor, and television host. He was best known as the creator and host of The Joy of Painting, an instructional television program that aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in the United States, and also aired in Canada, Latin America and Europe.
While staying in Alaska, Ross was working as a part-time bartender when he discovered a TV show called The Magic of Oil Painting, hosted by German painter Bill Alexander.:17–18 Ross studied with Alexander and afterwards discovered that he was able to earn more from selling his artwork than his position in the Air Force. Ross retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service, having the rank of Master Sergeant, and became famous worldwide for creating and hosting the TV program The Joy of Painting.
Before the show launched, Ross tried to promote his painting technique but was met with little interest. He also had to find ways to cut back on spending, so he decided to have his hair permed just to save money on haircuts. The perm hairstyle was not comfortable for Ross, but it became an iconic feature of his image and brand.:19
The show had its first run from January 11, 1983, to May 17, 1994, but reruns still continue to appear in many broadcast areas and countries, including the PBS-oriented network Create. During each half-hour segment, Ross would instruct viewers in oil painting using a quick-study technique from the imagination that used a limited palette of paints and broke down the process into simple steps. Art critic Mira Schor compared him to Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, noting that Ross’s soft voice and the slow pace of his speech were similar.
Ross later found success in building a $15 million business by creating his own line of art supplies and how-to books, and also offering painting classes taught by instructors trained in the “Bob Ross method”. In a 1990 interview, Ross mentioned that all his paintings were donated to PBS stations; his earnings came 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), saying they would help the station out.
Ross also filmed wildlife, squirrels in particular, usually from his garden. Small animals often appeared on The Joy of Painting, even during some of his trickier works, as he would often take in injured or abandoned squirrels and other wildlife.