Today is October 4 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you practicing?” People who navigate the chaos understand that practicing something new and risk taking are prerequisites to forward progress. Military career professional turned professional artist Bob Ross believed in himself as he navigated the chaos.
According to Ross: “The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe…Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”
In 1961, 18-year-old Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force and was put into service as a medical records technician. 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. He honed his quick painting technique during brief daily work breaks. 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 his 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 with reruns still in circulation. 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.
Bob Ross achieved fame for his PBS show, but it did not pay the bills. Ross said that he never got paid for his Joy of Painting program. He said: "People see you on television and they think you make the same amount of money that Clint Eastwood does. But this is PBS. All these shows are done for free." Ross made his money teaching, and selling books, and of course selling some of his paintings. Ross also sold videos of his painting system which were three-hour workshops that went into more detail on his style.
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 at the age of 52, on July 4, 1995 due to complications from lymphoma, ownership of the company was passed to the Kowalskis.
Bob Ross practiced his art of wet-on-wet painting so much that he was able to sustain a living off of his work.
How often are you practicing?