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Bob Ross: A Master

Updated on September 29, 2016

Mastery by Robert Greene

The cover of the book that this article responds to.
The cover of the book that this article responds to. | Source


Bob Ross, the painter everyone is familiar with, right? Well, maybe if one explains that he was the guy who painted happy trees and had an afro, then everyone knows who he is even though most people do not even recognize his name. Despite the fact that most people hardly recognize the name “Bob Ross,” he is a cultural icon, and even more than that, he is a master. He not only mastered painting but also teaching people to paint in a simple way. He began the path to mastery of these things in the middle of his life and, it is his mastery indeed that makes him a valid candidate to be considered as a mentor for someone working to become an art teacher.

His Journey

In the beginning, Bob Ross, native to Daytona, Florida, was born to a carpenter (Stanley). Not much is said about his actual childhood except that he loved animals (Morfit; Stanley). He ended dropping out of high school his freshman year (Stanley). He never was a fan of following the crowd, anyway. Not long after that he joined the Air Force at eighteen years old and was stationed in Alaska (Stanley). He would stay with the Air Force for some twenty years, to the point that he had acquired the title of Master Sergeant (“Famous”). Although this is the time in his life that he refers to as the, half of his life he spent “doing somebody else’s thing,” it was during this time that he painted for the first time (“The”; Stanley). His first painting class was the point that he realized that he was on a false path and really made strides in his search for his life’s task. After he first discovered his joy for painting he took as many classes as he could (Stanley). These classes represent the apprenticeship phase on his road to the mastery of painting. Take note that he has not even realized the other aspects of his life’s task, because although a life’s task sounds like one thing, it is really one thing made up of many happy little things. While taking classes, Ross grew frustrated with the technicality of the classes and the lack of simplicity, which ultimately lead him to his mentor, Bill Alexander. Alexander is the one who claims to have “‘invented wet on wet’” painting technique that Bob Ross was known for (Stanley). Ross working under Alexander as a mentor was his next step towards mastery. He would eventually become so good and so well known that his mentor became his enemy of sorts and claimed to have been “‘betrayed’” by Ross because of his large success (Stanley). Once Ross truly had mastered the techniques of wet on wet oil painting, he began teaching classes, which is how he met his eventual business partner, Annette Kowalski (Harris). Together they started the Bob Ross Company and got his teaching show, “The Joys of Painting” on television Ross. And that is where Ross truly found his niche. He was able to do all of what he loved: painting and making people happy. He noted in one episode how much he loved getting letters from all sorts of fans (“The”). He acknowledged and even liked the fact that most of his viewers didn’t even paint, they just watched to listen to him talk. Even blind people came forward and said that they liked Bob Ross because of the hope he gave them (Stanley).

Top Notch Fella

At this point Ross had far surpassed, if one really can, mastery of wet on wet oil painting, and had achieved mastery of teaching and simplicity. All of these things go hand in hand for Ross. He teaches painting in a simple way. Ross inspired so many people. Because of him, art was introduced into the lives of many people who would have never dreamed that they could do so much on a canvas (Stanley). Ross’ personality, in general, plays a huge role in his success. He has high social intelligence, which is one of the keys to mastery. He truly cares for people, and it really showed. He believed that as long as he was making people happy, everything would work out (Morfit). All of these things, not just his mastery of painting, but his mastery of life, his personality and the way he inspired people, make him the perfect mentor.

Ross at Work

Bob Ross at work painting Mighty Mountain Lake
Bob Ross at work painting Mighty Mountain Lake | Source


Today, almost 19 years after his death in 1995, Ross’ legacy lives on (“Bob”). His show still plays on at least 200 channels, while in its best days it was on up to 275 channels, many of these channels in foreign countries as well as the U.S. (Bob; Morfit). There are 3,000 certified Bob Ross instructors across the world (Bob). He has his own website, phone app and even a twitter page started by fans (Bob; “Bob”). On the site one can learn how to become a certified Bob Ross instructor and purchase t-shirts and other memorabilia in addition to the art supplies (Bob). In fact, in his lifetime he painted at least 35000 paintings. Yes, there are three zeros there. In the past year even, a new book has come out titled Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon (“Happy”). Ross has even got a happy little flower named after him in Holland where his show was popular. All the way through his life to the very end, Ross loved animals and had many wildlife type “‘critters’” that he kept as pets (Stanley). Bob Ross truly left a legacy, whether everyone knows his name or not. Just knowing who he is brings them a little closer to art, which is almost always a good thing. Many hope to have a legacy like Ross, a legacy of caring for people and simply doing what they love.

Inspired Instruction

This is a painting I made (in acrylic instead of oils) while following along with Bob on his Mighty Mountain Lake painting.
This is a painting I made (in acrylic instead of oils) while following along with Bob on his Mighty Mountain Lake painting.

Writer's Comments

Personally, I aspire to be a high school art teacher. What lead me to that career choice was how much I grew as a person because of my high school art classes. I had always been creative, but I never saw myself as an artist until I took art in high school and my teacher recommended me for A.P. Art. The following 3 years I took the class and blossomed as an artist. The classes helped me realize how much natural talent I had and helped me refine that talent in many ways. The classes even helped me beyond the technical aspect of the art, they helped me develop as a person. The classes pushed students to make art that really meant something. This deep thinking for the sake of art helped me realize who I wanted to be, what I really believed in and what I wanted to show to others. I want to be able to help students, not only gain confidence as artists, but to gain confidence in themselves as people. I want to inspire people, and that’s where Bob Ross comes in as my perfect mentor. He was able to teach people skills and life lessons at the same time, and he did it all in thirty minutes or less in each of the 403 episodes (Morfit). I not only want to gain mastery of my materials, I want to master teaching people in simple ways that really resonate with students.

In my search for mastery, I think there are several strategies from Greene’s Mastery that I could employ. I already have my life’s task, so that strategy would not be one of the useful ones. However, Greene’s strategy for the “Ideal Apprenticeship” is already proving helpful. I feel like I am in all 3 modes of the apprenticeship stage at once. Art is always changing and it is very subjective, so it is possible to be passive, practicing and active all at the same time. I can observe other artists and teachers while practicing a skill in a painting that is all my own. I am also practicing the some of the strategies from chapter two, such as reverting to a feeling of inferiority. I recently got to re-experience finger painting and it brought me back to my original love of art and the initial exploration that I had as a child with mixing colors and making shapes and patterns. Bob Ross also went through the apprenticeship phase. He specifically seemed to use the strategy of valuing learning over money. Everything he did, the PBS show, art classes, etc., he did for free. He made money only after he became popular with his own line of art supplies and how-to materials (“Famous”). Another strategy I plan to use is the mentor relationship. While I plan to study Bob Ross as if he were my mentor, I also plan on finding a living mentor with whom I can follow all four strategies for deepening the mentor relationship. With Ross, I can only cover the first three strategies: Choosing a mentor, studying said mentor by looking in their mirror and transfiguring their ideas into my own work. It will take a real life mentor to complete step four which is creating a back and forth dynamic where the student and mentor help each other in discovering more and more in their field, sharing new strategies and techniques. Beyond that, I think knowing how to attain social intelligence will prove beneficial, especially in a classroom full of high schoolers.

See for Yourself


In conclusion, Bob Ross would truly fit the needs of people who aspire to be art teachers as their mentor. His path to mastery gives one a lot to learn from, from the time he discovered his life’s task all the way until he had achieved an ultimate level of mastery. Hopefully, people can learn much from his life and his teachings on “The Joys of Painting” as they strive for mastery of their own.

Where in the World was He Painting?

Daytona, Florida:
Daytona, Daytona Beach, FL 32114, USA

get directions

Ross' Hometown. Many paintings were inspired by Florida

Alaska, USA

get directions

Ross was also very inspired by Alaska



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