When you think of Bob Ross, you may initially think of his popular television series and calming voice while he painted landscapes.
However, he wasn’t known for lavish paintings displayed in museums or for grandiose art shows that he invited fans to attend.
He also didn’t make a particularly large sum of money or stand out in a crowd of celebrities.
He had the disadvantage of not being taken seriously by his art peers who viewed him as a television celebrity more than an artist.
The reasoning behind why this man holds such influence and popularity 20+ years after his death is somewhat of a mystery.
Why Is Bob Ross So Popular?
He is famous because the painter attracted his fan base with his calming personality and encouraging words during his half-hour-long episodes.
His favorite phrases like “happy little trees” and “you can do it” were frequently heard during his shows.
The popularity of his television series eventually led to the creation of Bob Ross Inc.
(BRI), trained instructors on the Bob Ross method so that classes could be taught across the nation.
The creation of the company helped expand his influence and provide artistic opportunities to more people everywhere.
Even after his death, his name and the company name are still held in high regard.
PBS Television Series: “The Joy Of Painting”
Bob Ross is most well known for his widely popular television show, “The Joy of Painting.”
The show premiered on PBS in 1983 and continued to be produced until 1994.
In fact, despite his cancer diagnosis and declining health, the painter continued to do the show without letting his fan base know of his illness.
Through his show, he became a beloved painting instructor to many households across the United States.
His specialty was an oil painting technique called “wet-on-wet” which involved applying oil paint in layers on top of a still-wet oil base.
This allowed the painting to be finished within the half-hour timeframe of his show.
This technique was looked down upon in the art world and not taken seriously, however, Bob’s use of it made it a popular option for those looking to learn how to paint.
He was known for his minimalistic materials, only utilizing canvas, a paintbrush, and a palette knife to spread the paint.
The painter frequently referred to whatever he was painting as a “happy little” tree or bird, for example.
This phrasing has inspired many people and has been printed on clothing, cookbooks, and more.
Overall, what made “The Joy of Painting” so popular and widely enjoyed was that it was not all about the painting process.
The show was not solely meant to be instructional.
Rather, the message Bob tried to impress upon his viewers was one of acquiring self-confidence and allowing oneself to try new things.
Another fact that surprises many is that Bob Ross did the series for free.
Any income he received during this time came from Bob Ross Inc., which sold art supplies, videos, and other promotional materials.
Bob also traveled around the country teaching workshops.
Additionally, for the most part, Bob did not sell any of his paintings.
Although, during his time in the military, he painted on gold pans which he sold to tourists for a small fee.
The artist appeared to live a simple, minimalistic lifestyle and was not known for being incredibly wealthy.
Ross’s Personality Drew People In
Anyone can have their own television show, but what really drew in spectators was his personality and classic look.
Bob’s classic look can be described as “hippie,” which was thanks to his continuously permed afro hairstyle and his love of chambray shirts and jeans.
Even toward the end of his life when cancer was affecting him, he continued to wear a wig that closely resembled his normal afro.
He had a very soothing voice which gave audiences the feeling that they were taking a one-on-one painting class despite it being through a television screen.
In an interview with CBS News, Jessica Jenkins calls Bob Ross the “King of Chill” and described his essence as relaxed and chill.
She believed that one reason the painter is still popular today is that the nation has been living in a time of stress and feeling frantic.
Taking an art class with Bob, whether it was through the television screen or an in-person workshop, allowed his fans to step back from the everyday stress of life and appreciate the simple experience of painting on a canvas.
Since his death and with the production of the documentary “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed,” it has become known that Bob’s life was not as calm as it appeared on his show.
He played the relaxed persona well, and rarely delved into any family drama or personal feelings that may have indicated his life was anything other than stress-free.
Bob Ross Incorporated And The Introduction Of Workshops
As his popularity on television grew, Bob Ross and his business partners, the Kowalskis, created Bob Ross Inc.
Together, they trained new instructors on Bob Ross’s wet-on-wet technique so that they could fulfill demand around the United States for in-person classes.
Instructors were also taught and highly encouraged to use a calming voice throughout their classes, inspired by Bob’s calming presence on television.
The company sells instructional painting books, videos, and Ross’s line of art supplies, and hosts painting workshops.
These workshops are led by a Certified Ross Instructor.
Bob Ross Inc. continues to increase interest in Bob Ross by recently releasing a cookbook filled with comfort food recipes accompanied by Bob’s pictures.
“The Bob Ross Cookbook: Happy Little Recipes For Family & Friends” encourages readers to cook by the motto “if what you’re doing doesn’t make you happy, you’re doing it wrong.”
These workshops are still highly attended today and are a popular option for those interested in experiencing Bob Ross’s instructional process but who didn’t have the chance to meet him while he was still alive.
Introduction Of Streaming Platforms
With the introduction of streaming platforms, “The Joy of Painting” became more accessible to viewers.
They no longer had to wait for it to air on television—they could watch it on the go and whenever they chose.
YouTube is widely used by viewers to watch the show on demand.
There is also a podcast on Spotify inspired by Bob Ross called A Happy Little Podcast.
This podcast was created in collaboration with Bob Ross Inc. and is still in its infancy.
Additionally, the platform Twitch airs marathons of the television show every Friday.
At this time, “The Joy of Painting” is not on Netflix.
However, Netflix users do have access to the documentary “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal, & Greed.”
Those fans interested in experiencing Bob’s painting process have a multitude of options to choose from.
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal, And Greed
The documentary, released in 2021 on Netflix, was produced by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone.
The release of the documentary reignited fans’ interest in Bob Ross particularly because it shed light on the not-so-happy moments experienced by the seemingly always-happy painter.
Many fans rallied together in support and criticism of Bob Ross Inc.
The documentary delved deeper into what it was like to be Bob Ross and included character testimonies from friends and family.
In general, the documentary is very critical of Bob Ross Inc.
Steve Ross, Bob’s son, speaks frequently in the documentary about what occurred after his father’s death.
To summarize, the Kowalskis, Bob’s business partners, took sole ownership of the name “Bob Ross” and now are fully responsible for the multi-million-dollar empire.
Steve states that they did this against Bob’s wishes for how the company would operate after his death.
The film producers reported that they had difficulty convincing many influential figures to speak about BRI in the documentary due to fear of legal retaliation from the company.
Although, a statement emailed to Vanity Fair by Jimmie Cox, the brother of Bob, denied any fear and said that he had simply preferred not to do an interview.
While Bob Ross Inc. declined to be interviewed for the documentary, they did speak with Vanity Fair about their experience as a result of the release.
Joan Kowalski, the current owner of BRI and daughter of Bob’s original partners, told Vanity Fair that her family’s personal emails and photos were being spread on social media.
The company also regularly received criticism from fans via phone calls or emails.
The family even received threats for a time after the documentary was released, although that has since slowed down.
Interestingly, the documentary was successful in reigniting Bob Ross’s popularity even after his death.
Despite the negative feedback and criticism, Bob Ross Inc. hasn’t reported any decline in sales or business, nor has the company lost any business partners as a result.
Smithsonian’s Display Of Bob’s Work
Unfortunately, Bob Ross did not receive much credit or recognition from those in the art industry.
This was mainly because of his television appearances and use of the wet-on-wet technique.
In an interview on The Phil Donahue Show, the host confronted Bob and commented that he would never be good enough to have his art displayed in a museum.
The painter responded by stating that he didn’t expect his art to be displayed in many museums, particularly the Smithsonian.
He never tried to pass his art off as being the fine or traditional art often found in museums.
Rather, he described his art style as being a way for people to put their dreams onto a canvas.
He was proven wrong when in 2020, two of his paintings and paint materials were donated by BRI to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
Items in the donated collection include a 1994 painting called “Blue Ridge Falls,” a 1988 painting called “On a Clear Day,” a stepladder used in his television show, notebooks, and fan letters that had been written to the painter before his death in 1995.
Throughout his career, Bob Ross painted thousands of canvases.
The majority that remains is owned by BRI and located within their headquarters in northern Virginia.
These paintings are supposedly kept in a storage unit in the headquarters and are not available for display to the public.
However, the few that have somehow made their way into the hands of fans have been found on eBay where they are marked up as high as $65,000.
However, it is difficult to know whether the paintings being sold on secondary marketplaces are originals or copycats.
The Bob Ross Experience
The Bob Ross Experience is an experience in the Minnetrista Museum, located in Muncie, Indiana.
This was the same location where “The Joy of Painting” was filmed.
The experience allows fans to see inside the filming studio where the painter spent a significant amount of time recording his popular half-hour-long television shows.
It also offers customers the chance to participate in a variety of workshops where they can practice their paintings alongside Ross Certified Instructors®.
The museum is not what many expect when visiting a typical art or science museum.
Rather, it is a home, and the filming studio where Bob spent his time was in the living room.
Creative Uses For Bob Ross’s Look
In the 2000s, it became common for fans to dress up as Bob Ross for Halloween and themed parties.
The painter’s iconic afro and frequent denim outfits have become a well-known option for those looking to create a unique, do-it-yourself costume.
Spirit Halloween even has a Bob Ross collection with a full outfit including a wig and beard, a painting, and a paint palette to complete the look.
Another fun way this blogger celebrates and honors Bob Ross is by throwing Bob Ross-themed paint parties for guests.
Guests can channel their inner Bob Ross by dressing up and following along with one of his painting tutorials found on YouTube.
If you want to be truly authentic, you can purchase Bob Ross’s paint and materials to use from Bob Ross Inc. to complete the ensemble.
Bob Ross’s Humanitarian Work
Besides filming his popular television show and traveling around the nation leading workshops, Bob was also known for his humanitarian work with Greater Muncie Indiana Habitat for Humanity.
The Bob Ross Experience in the Minnetrista Museum displays a scrapbook that shows photos of Bob working alongside Muncie Habitat.
He also held local events throughout the Muncie community where he mentored community members.
The Greater Muncie Indiana group continues to show their support for Bob Ross to this day with tours and events inspired by him.
Today’s Artists Replicate Bob Ross
During the filming of “The Joy of Painting,” live-streaming services like YouTube were not as common.
Today, artists attempting to gain fame online can create and post on their own YouTube channels.
One such artist is Kevin Hill, who was inspired by Bob Ross and has gained popularity using his YouTube channel to release tutorials on creating landscape paintings like cozy farmhouses and snowy mountains.
The Bob Ross Challenge
Another way that Bob Ross continues to remain popular is through The Bob Ross Challenge.
The challenge was created by Mark Stetson and Micah Sherman, who invite special guests like well-known celebrities to paint alongside episodes of “The Joy of Painting.”
The creators of the challenge were inspired by Bob Ross and their fond memories of watching the television show.
Stetson’s father passed away from lymphoma like Ross, and Stetson had the desire to find a way to support and fundraise for a cause.
The challenge is meant to raise awareness and money for organizations that support those who have leukemia and lymphoma.
Celebrities who have taken on this challenge include comedian Erin Jackson, “Paid Off” host Michael Torpey, and actor Josh Hurley.