Bob Ross was an Air Force Drill Instructor before becoming television's most beloved painter
“I was 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. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.”
Bob Ross is known for producing beautiful landscapes, his soft-spoken demeanor, and bushy facial hair. Whenever anyone mentions the joy they get from painting, it’s tough not to think of Ross smiling at a camera and filling hundreds of canvases with happy clouds, secret trees, and accidental bushes. Even if you aren’t a student of art, putting on an episode of “The Joy of Painting” will lull anyone into a total state of serenity. What many people don’t know is that one of the biggest influences on Ross’s persona and painting technique was the twenty years he spent in the Air Force, especially his time as a drill sergeant.
Born Robert Norman Ross and raised in Orlando, Florida, his first career move was enlisting in the Air Force at the age of 18. He was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska which is where he saw snow and mountains for the first time. In order to paint as much as he wanted, he developed quick-painting techniques including wet-on-wet oil painting. Ross credited William Alexander with teaching him the wet-on-wet technique, which enabled him to paint 25 to 30 thousand paintings over the course of his lifetime.
During his twenty years in the Air Force, Ross reached the rank of Master Sergeant. He often commented in “The Joy of Painting” that his landscape choices were influenced by his time in Alaska. ”I developed ways of painting extremely fast,” Ross said. ”I used to go home at lunch and do a couple while I had my sandwich. I’d take them back that afternoon and sell them.” Ross eventually discovered that he could earn more selling paintings than he could in the Air Force and quit.
Upon his return to civilian life, Ross launched his famous program, “The Joy of Painting.” Each episode could be filmed about as quickly as he could paint, and he did the entire thing for free. His main source of income stemmed from the Bob Ross Foundation which sold art supplies and taught painting. Ross subsequently earned widespread fame and success but kept a low profile. He passed away in 1995 from lymphoma, but his legacy endures.
Here’s a short video of Bob Ross painting a landscape:
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