No, it’s not the guy from Fight Club. That’s Robert Paulson.
I’m referring to the patriarch of paint, the boss of the brush, the wizard of wet-on-wet…
Ever since he lost his courageous battle with cancer in 1995, I feel as if there has been a void in my life. Every time I turn the TV to PBS looking to see his oversized palette, his 2 1/2 inch brush, and his amazingly awesome afro I find myself on the verge of tears.
Though I’ve concealed this anguish from all those close to me for the last 16 years, I can no longer bear this burden.
I would like to take this time to reminisce and guide you on a journey into a world of magical artistry…
My World: With and Without Bob Ross
It wasn’t long after my 4th birthday that I began watching public television on a regular basis. Cable existed only in the future so I had to rely on the tuning ability of the old rabbit ears for my visual stimulation.
I started off small; Sesame Street, maybe a little Reading Rainbow from time to time. I was learning how to read and count, so these were suitable for my needs. The Count’s numbering system appeared complex at first, but with a little practice before and after nap time I was soon counting past 20 with ease.
It was at this point I knew I needed more. More content, more depth.
I left the comfort of Sesame Street to venture into a new neighborhood. One ruled by a man they called “Mister Rogers.”
At first, his bright colored sweaters startled me. His need to change shoes at the beginning of every episode left me perplexed. But soon I felt like I belonged, like Mister Rogers’ neighborhood was also my hood. Fred and I became pretty tight… until the incessant urge for more struck again.
I was 6 now, and nothing could satisfy the hunger stirring in the depths of my mind and soul.
I searched far and wide for a woman named Carmen Sandiego. But after learning more about her profession, I didn’t want to be in cahoots with a criminal. I was young and had my whole life ahead of me. The moment she stole Mt. Rushmore, we were through. Who steals a national monument? That bitch.
My search for intellectual satisfaction continued.
I couldn’t stop singing a song that never ends on Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. I turned to the loveable purple dinosaur known as Barney; only to receive an eerie feeling that he might touch me where my bathing suit covers if I got too close.
My last hope lay in the hands of a school teacher who drove a Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle was the only person that could keep me from changing the TV dial from PBS… forever.
While the scientific content was far greater than previous shows I had watched, there was a lack of life lessons, no emotional pull.
All hope was lost. Until that one day…
The Clock Read 2:31 PM, Time Stood Still
I had gotten home from school early because of a slight tickle in my throat, so I began channel surfing a little before schedule. Due to my latest research of the channel lineup, I was less enthusiastic than normal knowing there was only low quality content on public television.
Little did I know that an earth shattering experience lay only moments ahead.
It was as if I was turning the knob that changed the channel in slow motion. Then it happened.
The knob locked in place on channel 6 and my pupils dilated to the size of quarters. What was this new visual sensation in front of me? I was seeing new colors that couldn’t be found in the standard Crayola box with built-in sharpener. From titanium white and thalo green, to prussian blue and alizarin crimson.
Before this moment I was blind, but now I could see!
The screen was gloriously lit with colors bold and bright, but they were only the beginning. Then I heard a voice. A calm, soothing voice provided instructions interlaced with positive encouragement. What divine creature was capable of such auditory modulation?
He turned from his canvas to face the camera and shot a smile out to his adoring fans. I felt as if he was smiling just for me.
I had found a diamond in the rough. My search for high quality public television was over. My savior? Robert Norman Ross and The Joy of Painting.
The next 30 minutes felt like a lifetime.
Oh, The Moments We Shared
It wasn’t everyday Bob and I hung out, only when I didn’t have soccer practice or a play date with one of my best friends.
Our time apart made each episode that much more special.
In all honesty, I never even painted along with him. I was too enthralled, too hypnotized by his mannerisms and overall demeanor.
How could one man be so happy all of the time? Was it real? If so, what the fiddle sticks was his secret?
He kept me intrigued with his simplistic style. Only using the same 12 colors, three brushes, and a palette knife each week.
He always created “almighty” mountains with his “almighty” palette knife. I didn’t know trees and clouds could be so “happy” until I watched Bob create them one by one on his canvas.
Years later, one lesson he taught me would prove to be invaluable as I faced the challenge of painting my own trees in art class. As I struggled to put brush to paper, his inspirational words rang in my head,
“These little trees live in your fan brush and you have to scare them out sometimes.”
So scare I did. That picture still hangs in my room to this very day.
Those were the golden days.
But like all else, good things must eventually come to an end.
I Wanted To Throw My Almighty Easel Off of an Almighty Mountain
The news anchor was making her usual shift from one story to the next. “On a sad note, beloved artist and host of PBS’s The Joy of Painting…”
My ears perked.
I darted to the television and listened intently as she continued her story. “… died in his home today after a long and brave battle with lymphoma. He was 52.”
My heart sank. I felt like the fat man at the circus. The one who takes a cannon ball right in the gut from point blank range. Only I had no rolls of fat to cushion the blow. The crushing impact deflated my spirit and left me to flail across the room like a popped balloon.
It was July 4, 1995. A day that will be forever remembered by the beloved fans of Bob Ross.
I know we can’t live in the past, I just miss my friend; my TV companion.
We need you Bob, hell I need you Bob. I’m a mess without you. I miss being with you. I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss your scent… I miss your musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think you and me should get an apartment together!
Oh dear lord, listen to me!
I lost my composure. I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry. Be strong, Steve. Just hold it back…
I couldn’t. That right there, that single “b” is a symbol. It was typed by the force of a lone tear that struck my keyboard, wept from my left eyeball. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, yet your paintings left me speechless. It wasn’t just your raw talent for creating a 30 minute masterpiece.
It was your kind and soothing voice.
It was your belief that I too could one day paint as magnificently as you.
And of course, it was your extraordinarily robust and symmetrical afro that I loved.
You will live on in the hearts of your adoring fans.
The Man, The Pioneer, The Legend
Bob spent much of his youth in sunny Florida until he joined the United States Air Force at age 18. That’s right, the Air Force. He was eventually transferred to a base in Alaska where he first gazed at the snow capped peaks that would serve as motivation during his painting career.
The soft spoken, gentle giant was known amongst his military peers as the guy who was “mean” and “tough”, dishing out verbal punishment if you showed up late or failed to make your bed correctly. These moments would later define his outlook on life as he vowed to never scream again.
A principle that apparently worked out fantastically.
But let’s look a little deeper, let’s distill this character to his core.
Bob Ross was a pioneer. But not just of his calm and quick painting method. He broke new ground and unknowingly established the basics of the HoboDrifter movement: simplicity, humor, change, and love.
Just as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg did for the Beat Generation, Ross laid the foundation for a new generation solely by living his life. He planted the seed in this young boy’s heart every time I switched to channel 6 for the most inspiring after school programming available in 1990.
He silently built a $15 million empire. You might be wondering, “how the hell do you make 15 million dollars hosting a show on PBS?” You don’t.
He never charged a dime for a single episode of The Joy of Painting that aired on PBS for 11 years. He made his money from instructional video tapes, books, and classes taught by instructors trained in the “Bob Ross Method.”
He had a lot of brains behind that afro.
That’s the lifestyle I’m desperately trying to achieve; an eclectic character whose passion for life overshadows the entrepreneurial endeavors that quietly make his fortune and positively influence the lives of others.
The essence of Bob Ross is best described by a response he once gave to a fan that asked about his calm and laid-back approach to both painting and life in general:
“I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”
Those are the words of a simple man who knew you could alter your perspective to make the world any way you desired.
I know that if Bob were here today he would join me in saying,
Enjoy the Journey and Keep Drifting.
*for more information about Bob Ross and his business, feel free to visit www.bobross.com. If you never had the chance to see his masterful artistic wizardry unravel before your eyes, I suggest you immediately drop what you are doing and take a moment (or 26 of them) to check out one of his earlier episodes: Season 2, Episode 1.