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"Happy Little Trees"

November 4, 2015




I had surgery in the late nineties and was home for a few weeks convalescing. Daytime television was a nightmare and I was constantly flipping channels to find something better to watch than soap operas and Andy Griffith reruns. I landed on PBS, where a soft-spoken man with a funny afro was showing viewers how to paint. The program was called The Joy of Painting. In my opinion, the canvas he was working on was competent but uninspired—hotel art. I was about to continue my search for something better to watch when I was lulled by the gentle rhythm of his voice. I felt like I was being hugged and soon forgot the lingering discomfort from my surgery. This was my first exposure to Bob Ross.


It’s ironic that Bob was a retired Air Force master sergeant, and hard to imagine him barking at recruits, screaming for them to drop and do push-ups or clean latrines. When he retired, he vowed he’d never scream again. He’d been stationed primarily in Alaska, whose forests, mountains and lakes would later regularly appear in his paintings. A lack of money prompted him to perm his hair, which he figured would be cheaper to maintain than constant haircuts. He was never paid for his paintings or appearances on PBS.


Bob had passed away from lymphoma by the time I encountered him on PBS reruns; his last show aired on May 17th, 1994. He died at the age of 52 in 1995, but I can still close my eyes and hear that mellifluous voice:


“Our mountain lake looks a bit lonely.

Let’s give it a happy tree, and another

to keep the first company.”




“We don’t make mistakes;

we just have happy accidents.”



He’d load a palette knife with dark paint and effortlessly scratch the trunk of a tree near the bank of the lake, and with a few strokes add branches and leaves. He made it look so easy, and I envied him for being satisfied with such superficial imagery. I knew that paintings like this were not art—factories churn out an endless supply of this kitsch—but while Bob added happy clouds to his paintings, his voice reached through the TV convincing me that, in spite of my deep rooted cynicism, the world was a place of awe and beauty.


Bob’s goal was to convince everyone to set aside the notion that only artists paint, and only after years of study. He was a spiritual man. At the conclusion of each episode he’d say, “So from all of us here, I’d like to wish you a happy painting, and God bless, my friends.”


Bob Ross would have turned 73 in 2015, and to commemorate his birthday, Twitch TV is airing all 403 episodes of his iconic show The Joy of Painting. Bob won’t make you a great artist, but if you’re feeling low and need to inject a few moments of happiness into your life, Bob, the gentle painter with the Fred Rogers voice, is the man to provide it.




One of Bob Ross' 30,000 paintings





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I remember him... while channel surfing, I discovered his show. I was amazed at how he made it seem simple. It is not simple. I did not know he was a military man. On TV he came across as a gentle soul.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 4, 2015
Oh...I know him well. Actually I found his soft voice a little...creepy to me, like he was going to pull out an axe but that is my cynicism showing. I know he was a gentle man and I even tried his style of $39.99 paintings and picked up some tips. Painting is soothing...creating is soothing and it was such a shame when he passed away-way too young
By: Birgit on November 4, 2015
My youngest brother was addicted to his program and my youngest brother never painted anything in his life. I think he was therapy for the busy non-artists. I can see the "hotel art" aspect, but some of us just don't quite have it!
By: Tabor on November 4, 2015
I found his program also while channel surfing. I was in awe at how simple he made it seem, but his voice just nearly put me to sleep. I never watched another one. RIP Bob Ross.
By: Linda on November 4, 2015
A classic! I posted on him myself, very similar to your take except from a non-artist point of view.
By: cranky on November 4, 2015
While not great art, it has endured, and that says something. He never got paid for that show? Now that's dedication.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on November 4, 2015
I always wondered who that man was! Have a great day painting or ?
By: Kathe W. on November 4, 2015
It was amazing how easy he made it look. I had no idea the hair wasn't natural.
By: PT Dilloway on November 4, 2015
Now that is just the kind of painting my husband would call 'real art'. To him it's not art unless you can tell what it is when you look at it -- and if it's a landscape so much the better!!!!
By: The Broad on November 4, 2015
How do you actually define "fine art"?
By: fishducky on November 4, 2015
I think many of us who are not painters or artists were fascinated and entertained by Ross. With 30 thousand paintings he must be one of the most prolific.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 4, 2015
I loved watching his show along with the other artists on PBS while eating lunch. It had such a calming effect. Almost as good as meditation.
By: Mike Irwin on November 4, 2015
I loved watching him way back when because I can't paint or draw and was fascinated with how easy he made it look. I never knew he didn't get any monies. Sad. Great lesson about him too.
By: Bouncin Barb on November 4, 2015
i remember seeing a few of his episodes and was amazed at his freeness. loved it.
By: TexWisGirl on November 4, 2015
I never encountered Bob on TV, but I've heard many people say they loved him. As for Mr. Rogers, I adored him. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood . . . I thought it was hilarious when Eddie Murphy did his version of Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Rogers visited Eddie and gave him a hug. Now, that's a happy memory. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 4, 2015
It looks like bob's paintings would also make one feel comfortable and happy.
By: red on November 4, 2015
I'm going to email you a couple of pictures a friend of mine posted on Facebook recently of him bearing a striking resemblance to Ross.
By: Catalyst on November 4, 2015
Bob may not have been a great painter, but if he inspired people to have fun painting for themselves, then he was a success.
By: messymimi on November 4, 2015
I think Jilda watched him when she was learning her chops...I mean strokes. I think sharing the love painting is itself a gift. R
By: Rick on November 4, 2015
He must have been a wizard at teaching, because my sister painted a cabin in the snow, AND I COULD TELL WHAT IT WAS!
By: Val on November 4, 2015
Coincidentally, the person who won a Halloween costume contest at a local bar I visited on Halloween, was Bob. He did an awesome job and looked just like him. Sad that the man died so young.
By: Robyn Engel on November 4, 2015
Art is a good tool in therapy, and sounds as if it gave Bob the way in to spread his brand of it. Looks like a lovely man from his photo.
By: Jenny Woolf on November 5, 2015
I've heard people mock him and I don't get that. He seemed to be such a kind, patient man and his art was much better than people give him credit.
By: Cherdo on November 5, 2015
Stephen: Feel better soon! What an interesting story. I laughed aloud at "hotel art". But you really presented Bob well. I never knew of him before reading this post. You should be on PBS. I think you'd be great! :)
By: Michael Manning on November 5, 2015
I'd never heard of him before, but it's too bad he died so soon. Nowadays, people make tons of money on YouTube speaking to people about anything in soothing, calming voices.
By: Pixel Peeper on November 5, 2015
I never saw the show, but this last year I have been seeing tons of memes on Facebook with his picture. I honestly didn't know who he was until I read your post. Thanks for sharing the info!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on November 5, 2015
I don't think I ever saw him, but it sounds as if his show was helpful for many and that's a lasting legend
By: Sage on November 6, 2015
I had a petulant resentment of Bob Ross. But my mother loved him and really enjoyed the "tricks" she learned from him. Thank YOU for enlightening me. I learned to appreciate what he did to inspire and encourage so many people, but I now have a new respect for him. You're a good man, Mrs. C's husband.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 9, 2015

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