Series / The Joy of Painting

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Let's paint some happy little trees.

"I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friends."

The Joy of Painting is a half-hour art instruction show that originally ran from 1983 to 1994. Hosted by Bob Ross, noted for his legendarily cheery manner and soft, friendly voice, the show aimed to teach people painting techniques in the amount of time given. Ross worked in oil paints and taught a method called "wet-on-wet painting", where the canvas would be coated with a wet base paint which other colors were laid over, allowing for a variety of blending techniques. The show was very minimalist, using only a black background and two camera positions. Due to his time spent being stationed in Alaska in the Air Force, all of Ross' paintings were of nature, mostly forests or mountain valleys.

Despite ending many years ago, the show has an official Twitch account that occasionally has repeated showings or marathons of the show, as well as an official YouTube channel. However, the Twitch account has began inviting Certified Ross Instructorsnote  to livestream painting on camera as well; these livestreams are often broadcast on early Friday evenings prior to repeats of The Joy of Painting.

Compare to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for a similarly healing show with an endearing, easygoing, Nice Guy host.


This show provides happy little examples of:

  • Awesome Art: Humorously invoked by Ross, noting that several art schools pooh-poohed his work but later grudgingly acknowledged that they were getting a lot more applications from people who'd been inspired by him.
  • Catch-Phrase: To name a few...
    • "From all of us here, I want to wish you happy painting and God bless, my friends."
    • "Happy little ___", usually trees, clouds, or sky. While only said on the occasion, this stuck with viewers, especially "happy little trees". The official Bob Ross website even sells a shirt that says "happy trees".
    • About once a season, at least, he'll explain how he told his son to get in tune with his painting ability: "Just pretend you are a whisper floating across a mountain."
    • When cleaning his brush, "Just beat the devil out of it" along with a good-natured giggle.
    • He would often remind the viewers of a central rule to his technique: "A thin paint will stick to a thick paint."
    • "There..."
    • "This is your world."; said when encouraging viewers to improvise rather than copy his painting.
    • "Everyone needs a friend."; said when adding a second tree/cloud/animal to his paintings.
    • "No pressure." and "Two hairs and some air." referring to his technique of painting with a paint knife by just barely letting the knife touch the canvas.
    • "Let's have some fun." / "Let's get crazy."
    • "Now then..." Anytime he transitioned from cleaning his brush to loading it up or doing something with the canvas (or any combination thereof) multiple times per episode. You'd be hard-pressed to find one where he doesn't say it.
    • "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents."
    • Referring to using thick paints when they should be thinned (via a paint thinner) as "becoming a mud mixer"
  • Chroma Key: Intros to the show (usually not on the repackaged 'Best of the Joy of Painting') has 'The Little Painter Guy' (Bob) painting a scene with a giant brush (broom) in front of a chroma key.
  • Creator Thumbprint:
    • Two things that Ross often mentioned were that most of his landscapes were influenced by his time spent in Alaska, and that his favorite part of painting was the end step of cleaning the brush: whacking it against the leg of the easel. The latter was often followed by a comment about the mess it made and/or a caution to not do it at home lest you incur your wife's wrath.
    • Drawing trees together since "everybody needs a friend".
    • Many paintings have some sort of water in them, using several layers of paint to form the waves and colour layers.
    • And nearly literally, when he signed his paintings (naturally).
    • And very literally when he'd use finger-painting to create the moon in night paintings
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: He described himself as such while he was in the Air Forcenote , which became his major motivation for leaving.
  • Drink Order: Iced tea, which he regularly encouraged viewers to have prepared alongside their art supplies, or even to have while just watching the show. He attributed his love of iced tea to his upbringing in the South.
  • Double Entendre: Bob's son Steve had a strange tendency for using very subtle but definite double entendres in describing his process. See most of them in action in this very popular fan edit.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The first season had a number of differences from later seasons. Ross had a fuller beard and wore large glasses, which made him look older than he was. His voice was also a little less relaxed and more instructive and loud in tone at first, and he had a bizarre tendency to overuse the adjective "almighty". Also, the show had background music and occasional cut edits. This was a pretty big difference from the real time and music-less version most people remember. The differences were caused by being filmed at a PBS station in Virginia instead of his long time home at WIPB in Muncie, Indiana.
    • For the first several seasons, near the end of the show, Bob would briefly go over what you would need to begin the next week's painting. He stopped this after a few seasons, probably because, as he noted in a later show, the production order wouldn't necessarily match the air date order.
  • Fingore: Ross lost his left index finger in an accident when he was young. The missing digit is noticeable if viewers focus on his palette.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: One of the last things he did before passing away was to certify other people to teach his painting methods.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Ross was a really nice guy. This can't be stressed enough. He left his position in the Air Force because he didn't want to become "mean". He sometimes brought small animals on the show, as he usually took in injured ones he found.
    • Ross wasn't too far off from the image in the linked trope page, as he once told of how he would release the animals he helped out into the wilds around his home in Florida, but they would stick around anyway, always coming back to his house. He said he would often leave food out for them.
  • Funny Afro: When he started out on his show after retiring from the USAF, he had his hair permed to save money on haircuts. He later disliked the result, but by that time his big poofy hair had become part of his iconic image, and so he kept it through the entire run of the show.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: "Make love to the canvas..."
  • The Joy of X: A deliberate choice of titles; Ross made a point to emphasize having fun with painting.
  • Minimalism: Ross didn't paint in this style, but the show itself fits the bill. The background behind the canvas was uniformly dark black, to keep focus on the canvas. Bob Ross (or whoever else was painting that week) was uniformly the only person on the set during the entire runtime. The only props used were the painting tools Ross used, and the canvas. He was also noted for spending hours picking what to wear because he didn't want to date the episodes.
  • Mood Whiplash: Bob Ross is always pleasantly content, and always talks in a soothingly content tone. Even when he starts talking about the poor animals he and the animal lady have saved from near-death, about how a friend who runs a zoo that is free to the public has a terminal illness, and about how there are dark and bad times to contrast the bright and good times. And how he's still waiting on the good times himself.
  • Mr. Imagination: Averted. Ross' loosely-controlled imagination spawned such lovely paintings.
  • Nice Guy/Perpetual Smiler: Both on and off camera, Bob was always said to be a very amiable person. More than one person has drawn a comparison between him and fellow PBS star Fred Rogers.
  • Once a Season:
    • Every series would start with him welcoming us to another series of 13 episodes, and would finish with thanking us for watching it.
    • At some point in the middle of the series, he would show us how to paint the image in the animated opening for the series. He would always stress that it wouldn't be an exact copy, as he never perfectly duplicated a painting.
    • "Every series has to have a crazy painting. Maybe this will be that one."
    • Steve didn't show up every season, but when he did, it was never more than once.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word:
    • A "cabinectomy" is when a paint knife is used to cut off the bottom of a painted cabin, giving the image of the cabin having a foundation in the ground.
    • "My son, Steve says, 'Just smoosh it in there'. Nobody knows what it means, but they seem to understand."
    • Often mentions that he'll put some "little do-ers" on the canvas. Whether this refers to rocks, bushes, grass, Happy Clouds®, etc. depends entirely on whatever he's thinking at the moment.
  • The Power of Creation: Though he had Alaska as an inspiration, Bob did not paint from life, but rather created his own landscapes. He expounded on the fact that there are no limits to what you can make, and "[the painting] is your world," creating the impression he was generating whole realities with his brush.
  • Recurrer: Bob's son Steve appeared 13 times, more than every other guest appearance put together. Bob's friend and colleague Dana Jester appeared three times; all other guest painters appeared once.
  • Rule of Three: Bob always did three copies of the same painting: one for reference, one for the taping, and one for his artbooks.
  • Scenery Porn: He draws from scenery in Alaska for his paintings, which makes most of his landscapes look absolutely stunning.
  • Something Completely Different:
    • Sometimes Ross allowed other artists onto the show, including Audrey Goldwin, Joyce Hortner, and, several times, his own son. Even more irregular was one guest artist drew a person rather than a landscape.
    • The Twitch channel has branched out from airing repeats to also inviting Certified Ross Instructors to stream their paintings live. note 
    • The show had a definite formula, but at times, Bob deviated from the normal color setup including a notable early episode entirely in greyscale.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Magic of Oil Painting, another PBS painting instructional show hosted by Bob Ross' mentor, Bill Alexander.
  • Station Ident: He did one for MTV, "...the land of happy little trees."
  • The Treachery of Images: Averted. Ross was well aware about how his paintings were of his own creation, but reveled in the creative freedom this allowed both him and and the people who watched his show.
  • Throw It In!: "There's no 'mistakes' in painting, just happy accidents."
  • True Art Is Angsty: Invoked only to be defied by Ross, who said, "We want happy paintings. Happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news." The show is called "The Joy of Painting," after all; what did you expect?
  • Voice Clip Song: "Happy Little Clouds" features several AutoTuned clips of Ross speaking. It was commissioned by PBS themselves, from the guy who does Symphony of Science.


Aaand we'll finish off our trope page with... a happy little joke. And that'll just be our little secret. :)


Alternative Title(s): Bob Ross

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