8 Happy Little Facts About Bob Ross

April 28, 2023

As I was leaving the movie theater last week, a poster of Owen Willson sporting a blonde perm holding a paint palette and brush caught my eye. “Is Owen Wilson playing Bob Ross?,” I wondered. Well, not exactly …

While the main character of 2023’s Paint hosts an instructional art show on public-access television — and has free-flowing hair — the similarities between the popular landscape artist of the 80s and 90s and Wilson’s portrayal of a present-day Carl Nargle end there. But despite the differences, there is no denying that Bob Ross is still inspiring professional and amateur creatives more than 25 years after his untimely death. 

Growing up in the eighties, to me, Bob Ross was always this dorky guy that my grandfather would watch on TV in the afternoon. Fast-forward 30 years and my 10-year-old nephew is taking Bob Ross art classes via YouTube, there are more than 3,000 CRI’s (Certified Ross Instructors) worldwide, and there are a multitude of DIY kits to inspire a Bob Ross art project or two. There was even a cute little Mountain Dew soft drink commercial featuring Bob Ross on television last year.

How did this happen? Well, Bob Ross’ rise in popularity was not just a happy little accident. Here are eight fun facts you may not know about everyone’s favorite purveyor of positivity. 

1. Let’s Start at the Beginning

Bob Ross may have received his sunny disposition from the place where he grew up. Born in Daytona Beach and raised in Orlando, the artist called the Sunshine State home.

2. On the Front Lines

Surprisingly, Ross was working in the Air Force as a drill sergeant when he learned to paint. As reported on “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,” Ross later said. “The job requires you to be a mean, tough person, and I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.” And so he picked up a paint brush and started painting the bottom of gold pans (tourist collectibles), then later moved onto canvas.

3. He Learned from TV, Too!

After taking a few art classes on the Air Force base, Ross turned to PBS for inspiration. It was on the public network that he discovered Bill Alexander, host of The Magic of Oil Painting. During the show, Alexander would use the wet-on-wet oil painting technique to create his paintings. After he retired from the Air Force, Ross took private lessons with Alexander and eventually replaced him as PBS’ resident artist. His new show, The Joy of Painting, first aired in 1983 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year!

4. Bob Ross Worked for Free

Despite teaching millions of viewers how to paint over the course of 11 years, Ross never took home a paycheck. In 1990, he told a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel: “People see you on television and they think you make the same amount of money that Clint Eastwood does. But this is PBS. All these shows are done for free.”

5. He Wanted His MTV

Crossing over into pop culture, Ross even did a few commercials for MTV in the nineties to appeal to a wider audience. According to contributing writer Scott Harris for the Washington Business Journal, these promos were a perfect fit for Generation X’s obsession with all things ironic and retro.

6. The Guy Went Viral

In 2012, Google gave Bob Ross his own Doodle on what would have been his 70th birthday. And earlier that year, PBS Digital released a video on their home page that paid homage to the iconic painter and generated more than 3 million views.

7. But What’s It Worth?

From Art in Context, the most valued piece of art by Bob Ross is considered to be his 1992 Row Boat on the Beach. Unlike most of his horizontal paintings, this one has a vertical disposition and is currently listed on Modern Artifact for $250,000. It was featured on Season 24, episode 10 of The Joy of Painting.

8. And Then, the Pandemic Happened

When we all locked ourselves in our homes for what was supposed to be two weeks, we immediately looked online for distractions and things to do. In addition to sourdough starter videos, episodes of The Joy of Painting became popular once again thanks to Ross’ signature soothing voice and sense of calm. Once the lockdown ended, the Bob Ross Experience opened in Muncie, Indiana, where his show was filmed. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian acquired more of his works. More exhibits opened at museums around the country, giving Ross fans a place to soak in his cool and happy vibe in-person, instead of only online.

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