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Bob Ross: Breathing life into the soothing joy of painting

July 4, On This Day

While famous in life, American painter, art instructor, and television host was fated to become even more popular posthumously on the internet. In fact, his videos have become hugely beloved for devotees of autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR, which is a pleasant form of paresthesia (or tingling) often brought about by specific visual or auditory stimuli. Many find that listening to Ross triggers an ASMR response!


Ross was born in Florida (USA) on October 29, 1942. He passed away at the rather young age of 52 on July 4, 1995.

As an adolescent, Ross cared for injured animals, including armadillos, snakes, alligators and squirrels, one of which was later featured in several episodes of his television show that he both created and hosted. The said instructional TV programme called The Joy of Painting aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in the United States, CBC in Canada, and similar channels in Latin America, Europe and elsewhere.


During a 20-year Air Force career starting 1961, Ross developed an interest in painting after attending an art class in Alaska.

Ross soon began painting and then successfully selling Alaskan landscapes that he would draw on novelty gold-mining pans. When he met with plenty of success doing so, he retired from the Air Force.

About his TV show, Wikipedia writes: “During each half-hour segment, Ross would instruct viewers in the quick, wet-on-wet oil painting technique, painting a scene without sketching it first, but creating the image directly from his imagination, in real time. He explained his limited paint palette, deconstructing [sic.] the process into simple steps.”


Re-runs of his show are so popularly soothing that they were even shown by BBC during the Covid pandemic lockdown in the UK.

“Art critic Mira Schor compared Ross to Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers\’ Neighborhood, noting that Ross\’s soft voice and the slow pace of his speech were similar,” it is reported.

Ross and his associates, Annette and Walt Kowalski, used his TV show to promote a line of art supplies and class recordings, building what would become a $15-million business – Bob Ross Inc. – which would ultimately expand to include classes taught by other artists trained in his methods.

Ross painted a whopping estimated 30,000 paintings during his lifetime.


Despite the unusually high supply, his original paintings are scarce on the art market, with sale prices frequently topping $10,000. Major auction houses have never sold any of Ross\’s paintings, and Bob Ross Inc. continues to own many of the ones he painted for The Joy of Painting, as Ross himself was opposed to having his work turned into financial instruments.

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