Famous Veterans Birthdays – October 29th
Famous Veterans Celebrating Birthdays Today (October 29th):
Famous Veterans Born October 29, 1942:
Bob Ross – Painter, Television Host: The Joy of Painting – (Air Force 1961–1981) – Died: July 4, 1995
(partial source: Wikipedia) Today we celebrate what would have been Bob Ross’ birthday! Whether you dug him for his curly, permed hair (yes his hair was naturally straight)… his paintings… or the calming way he talked about “wispy clouds” as the art instructor/television host of the show “The Joy of Painting”… today we celebrate the life—and military career—of Bob Ross!
Bob Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, to Jack and Ollie Ross, a carpenter and a waitress respectively, and raised in Orlando, Florida. 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. He had a half-brother, Jim, whom he mentioned in passing on his show. Ross dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. While working as a carpenter with his father, he lost part of his left index finger, which did not affect his ability to later hold a palette while painting.
In 1961, 18-year-old Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force and was put into service as a medical records technician. He rose to the rank of master sergeant and served as the first sergeant of the clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where he first saw the snow and mountains that later appear as recurring themes in his paintings. He developed his quick painting technique during brief daily work breaks.
Career as a painter:
During his 20-year Air Force career, Ross developed an interest in painting after attending an art class at the Anchorage U.S.O. club. He found himself frequently at odds with many of his painting instructors, who were more interested in abstract painting. Ross said, “They’d tell you what makes a tree, but they wouldn’t tell you how to paint a tree.”
Ross was working as a part-time bartender when he discovered a TV show called The Magic of Oil Painting, hosted by German painter Bill Alexander. Alexander used a 16th-century painting style called “alla prima” (Italian for “first attempt”), widely known as “wet-on-wet”, that allowed him to create a painting within thirty minutes. Ross studied and mastered the technique, began painting and then successfully selling Alaskan landscapes that he would paint on novelty gold-mining pans. Eventually, Ross’s income from sales surpassed his military salary. He retired from the Air Force in 1981 as a master sergeant.
He returned to Florida, studied painting with Alexander, joined his “Alexander Magic Art Supplies Company” and became a traveling salesman and tutor. Annette Kowalski, who had attended one of his sessions in Clearwater, Florida, convinced Ross he could succeed on his own. She, along with Ross and his wife, pooled their savings to create his company, which struggled at first.
The origins of the TV show The Joy of Painting are unclear. It was filmed at the studio of the PBS station WIPB in Muncie, Indiana.
The show ran from January 11, 1983 to May 17, 1994, but reruns still continue to appear in many broadcast areas and countries, including the non-commercial digital subchannel network Create. In the United Kingdom, the BBC re-ran episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 while most viewers were in lockdown at home.
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 the process into simple steps.
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.
With help from Annette and Walt Kowalski, Ross used his television 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. Following Ross’s death, ownership of the company was passed to the Kowalskis.
Ross also filmed wildlife, squirrels in particular, usually in his garden, and he would often take in injured or abandoned squirrels and other animals. Small animals often appeared on his Joy of Painting canvasses.
A few interesting facts about Bob Ross:
- Ross was noted for his permed hair, which he ultimately disliked but kept after he had integrated it into the company logo.
- Ross’ calm on air personality was directly attributed to his time in the USAF: having held military positions that required him to act 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 he wouldn’t raise his voice when he left the military.
- Ross’ quick painting style was formed while serving… the short breaks he was allotted while on duty pushed him to create his paintings swiftly.
- Being born and raised in Central Florida, Ross’ first introduction to snow and mountains came while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
- Ross used a wet-on-wet oil painting technique of painting over a thin base layer of wet paint. The painting could progress without first drying. The technique used a limited selection of tools and colors that didn’t require a large investments in expensive equipment. Ross frequently recommended odorless paint thinner (odorless mineral spirits) for brush cleaning.
- Combining the wet painting method with the use of large one- and two-inch brushes, as well as painting knives, allowed Ross to quickly complete a landscape scene.
- Ross painted three versions of almost every painting featured on his show. The first was painted prior to taping and sat on an easel off-camera during filming, where Ross used it as a reference to create the second copy which viewers actually watched him paint. After filming the episode, he painted a more detailed version for inclusion in his instructional books. The versions were each marked on the side or back of the canvas: “Kowalski” for the initial version, “tv” for the version painted during the TV show and “book” for the book version.
- Ross died at the age of 52 on July 4, 1995 due to complications from lymphoma. His remains are interred at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha, Florida under a plaque marked “Bob Ross; Television Artist”. Ross kept his diagnosis a secret from the general public; his lymphoma was not known outside of his circle of family and friends until after his death
Bob Ross… another celebrity who—not only served his country prior to fame and fortune—but whose time in service also helped mold him into the celebrity he became!
Happy Angel Birthday, Bob Ross. And thank you for your service!
- Famous Veterans