Maybe you’ve seen the Deadpool 2 promo with Deadpool dressed up like him, but why exactly is Bob Ross famous?
Bob Ross was a famous American painter, probably most well known for his television show called The Joy of Painting. Before becoming famous, Ross spent 20 years in the Air Force and was stationed in Alaska for the majority of his tenure. Then he retired from military service and pursued a career in painting, learning the alla prima style from Bill Alexander.
You can read more below about Bob Ross’s beginnings as a painter, his time studying with Bill Alexander, and his success with The Joy of Painting.
Ross Starts Out as a Painter
As mentioned above, Bob Ross wasn’t always a painter. He was stationed with the Air Force at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska; approximately 26 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska.
While he was stationed there, he attended an art class that was hosted through the United Services Organisation’s Anchorage, Alaska club. After the class, he decided to take up painting as a pastime.
Early on in his pursuit of painting, he noted that a lot of his teachers would teach him abstractions. However, they could never give him a straight answer on how to paint something material, like a tree.
It was around this time of frustrations from art instructors that he stumbled upon a PBS show called The Magic of Oil Painting. The show was hosted by a German man named Bill Alexander who taught viewers how to paint using the alla prima style of painting.
Alla Prima painting is a “wet-on-wet” style of painting that allows the painter to finish their work in as short of a period of time as 30-minutes. Bob Ross caught onto it quickly and soon mastered it.
You can watch Bill Alexander painting alla prima in the below video.
Through his mastering of the style, he began Alaskan landscape paintings on novelty gold mining pans. He soon made enough money from this side hustle to retire from the Air Force and move to Florida to study in person with his mentor Bill Alexander.
Studying With Bill Alexander
When Ross left the Air Force, he probably had no idea to what extent his career would reach as headed to Florida.
While he was in Florida, Bob Ross also had the opportunity to become employed by Bill Alexander’s company Alexander Magic Art Supplies Company. Ross would travel and sell art supplies.
Then Bill Alexander decided to turn over all of his workshop classes to his new protege, Bob Ross. This was how Bob met Annette Kowalski and something much bigger was born.
In an interview with NPR, Annette Kowalski recalls that she was set to attend a Bill Alexander workshop when she was notified that a student of his would-be teaching it instead. She didn’t want to attend, but her husband made her go.
She then goes on to recall seeing Ross on stage “I was so mesmerized by Bob. Somehow, he lifted me up out of that depression. I just think that Bob knew how to woo people. I said, ‘Let’s put it in a bottle and sell it.’”
The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross
It was after the class that Annette Kowalski attended that the possibility of a TV show became an idea. Kowalski and her husband approached Bob to take him to dinner and the three of them struck a deal where Annette would be Bob’s manager.
Soon they were on the road and struggling to keep things going. They bought ad space in local newspapers to advertise Workshops but the attendance wasn’t there.
Then they filmed a commercial and aired it. From that commercial, they bought time on PBS to run their television show The Joy of Painting, where Ross showed everyday people that they too could paint amazingly at home.
The Joy of Painting was on air for over a decade from 1982 to 1994 when Bob Ross was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He passed away a year later at the age of 52.
Even though he passed away, he left a lasting impact on the world. He has been referenced over and over again in pop culture, mainly due to the soothing and happy voice he used in all of his episodes.
In 2016, Netflix released some of the episodes from The Joy of Painting on their streaming service and recordings of his voice are now being used in ASMR videos.
These trends also led to the Smithsonian Museum of American History purchasing a large selection of Bob Ross’ work.