Bob Ross might be one of the last names you’d think of when considering all the celebrities that have served. The videos of him “painting a happy little bush in the corner right there” exude calmness and tranquility — exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a training instructor turned hardened, twenty-year First Sergeant turned retiree, but that’s exactly who he is.
What makes Bob Ross’s story even more awesome to the military community is that nearly every aspect of his hallmark zen was directly inspired by — or intentionally the exact opposite of — his time spent as First Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson AFB, Alaska.
His choice in scenery
As you can imagine, at Eielson AFB, there’s nothing but the Last Frontier for as far as the eye can see. It’s 26 miles from Fairbanks and another thousands before you reach what most consider normal civilization.
While Bob Ross was stationed there, this was his view — and it’s what inspired him to draw. A beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains and rivers flowing through verdant woods just needed to be captured somehow. The world needed to see the majesty that he saw.
His quick art style
As the first sergeant of an entire medical facility, he needed to find some sort of distraction from the constant stress. He found his outlet one day at the Anchorage USO Club when he attended an art class. Drawing became his passion and he would often paint during his brief lunch breaks.
Within his hour of break for lunch, he’d have to finish an entire painting — and eat. This time constraint proved handy later on. He was already trained in creating an entire painting within brief, half-hour episodes when it came time to create the show.
His soft voice
Bob Ross served many years as a training instructor and yet found no pleasure in raising his voice to give orders. He swore to himself that when he retired out of the Air Force, he’d never yell again. After twenty years of service, he retired in 1981 and kept his word.
His soft voice was the tune to which many picking up painting as a hobby. As anyone who’s drawn or painted knows, you will often make mistakes while creating art. You’ll crumple the paper up or set fire to the easel because you got one line wrong. But that’s not the Ross way. According to First Sergeant Bob Ross (Ret.), “there are no mistakes. Only happy accidents.”
His signature hairdo and beard
Today, he’s known as the man with the poofiest perm and a glorious vet beard, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, for a long time after his retirement, he kept up a professionally done crew cut and would shave every week. But times were tough for Ross.
He would have to skip a hair cut every other week until, eventually, he started skipping them altogether. All the while, he was trying to get the first version of The Joy of Painting on the air. By the time he was able to support himself through the show and associated art supplies, his ‘fro and beard had become part of his identity. This look stuck with him, no matter how much he wanted to shave it and go back to the crew cut.
His desire to teach
Deciding to leave the military and start a public access show about painting isn’t part of anyone’s get-rich-quick scheme. He did it because it was one of his proudest moments of being in the Air Force: being an instructor, only now he could do it without raising his voice.
Later on, Bob Ross Inc. paint supplies and books brought in money, but that’s never what mattered most to him — he donated plenty of it away. He was just a veteran who wanted to share his Joy of Painting with the world.
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