Bob Ross and the Joy of Painting (1983) Retro TV Review

By: Karl Stern (@wiwcool,

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What a wonderful show this is. I review so much retro television that turns out to be worse than I remember and along comes Bob Ross to chill me out, paint some trees, and bring me back to center. So, grab some alizarin red and your almighty easel and let’s knock some happy little trees out of those paint brush bristles with Bob Ross.

The Joy of Painting was a half-hour television show hosted by Bob Ross which ran from January 11, 1983 until May 17, 1994. During each episode, Bob Ross taught techniques for oil painting and completed a painting in each session. Bob Ross used the same colors and equipment in each episode making it easy for novices to follow along. The program followed the same format as its predecessor, The Magic of Oil Painting, hosted by Bob Ross's mentor Bill Alexander.

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Each show usually began with Bob Ross in front of a blank canvas. Then Ross would use a wet-on-wet oil painting technique, in which the painter continues adding paint on top of still-wet paint rather than waiting for each layer of paint to dry. This method, with the use of two-inch and other types of brushes, as well as painting knives, allowed him to paint trees, water, clouds, and mountains in a short amount of time. The calm and passive Ross would gently coach his viewers step by step through each stage of the painting process.

As he painted, Ross added comments describing the "happy little clouds" and "happy little trees" that he was painting. Each program was shot in real time with two cameras. At the end of each episode, Bob Ross was known for saying something akin to, "So, from all of us here, I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend".

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While people obviously tuned into the show to learn how to paint, an equally big draw to the program was the passive and peaceful Bob Ross himself. His background, however, was not always one of tranquility. In 1961 Bob Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force and served as a medical records technician.

Bob Ross rose to the rank of master sergeant and served as the first sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska where he saw the snow and mountains that later became themes in his paintings. His military status often called for him to be, in his own words, "tough" and "mean", "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 left the military, he would never yell or raise his voice again. Ross kept that promise by becoming an icon of calmness.

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Ross was well known for his catchphrases such as "happy little trees". Bob Ross also wore clothes that he believed would be a "timeless look" such as jeans and a button-down shirt. He also used a minimalist set and spoke as if he were only addressing one viewer giving his show a timeless and simplistic charm.

It’s hard to have a bad day after watching Bob Ross and honestly, we could all strive for that being our goal in life. Bob Ross sadly died in May of 1994. Ross was diagnosed with lymphoma in the spring of 1994 and the final episode of The Joy of Painting aired on May 17, 1994. He was only 52 years old when he died on July 4, 1995. Ross had kept his diagnosis a secret from the general public, and his lymphoma was not known outside of his circle of family and friends until after his death.

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