Bob Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, and attended school until the ninth grade. Raised in Orlando Florida, He enlisted in the U. S. Air Force at age 18 and was living in Florida early in his military career when the Air Force transferred him to Eielson AFB (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 after beginning his sideline in painting 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©.
Bob had a son, Steven, from his first marriage to Lynda Brown. Steven occasionally appeared on The Joy of Painting® and is a Bob Ross CRI® (certified instructor). Bob and Lynda’s marriage ended in divorce in 1981. Ross married again, this time to Jane. Jane died of cancer in 1993, and Ross himself suffered from lymphoma in his later years. In early 1994, Ross cancelled 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 and was survived by his ex-wife Lynda, his son Steve, a half-brother, and a full brother. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha, Florida.
Bob 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. Combining this method with the use of two inch and other types of 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 and with his load and touch technique, the canvas’s quickly transformed into intricate landscapes. Bob dedicated the first episode of the second season of “The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross®” 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 make mistakes here, we just have happy accidents”. Well known for other catchphrases 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 cleaning his brush, which he had dipped in odorless thinner, by striking it against his ladder like easel. He would smile and often laugh aloud as he “beat the devil out of it.” He also used a palette which 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.”