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Series / The Joy of Painting

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Let's paint some happy little trees.
"Hi, I'm glad you could join me today."

The Joy of Painting is a half-hour art instruction show that originally ran on PBS and was hosted by Bob Ross, noted for his legendarily cheery manner and soft, friendly voice. The show aimed to teach people how to paint using a method for oil-based paints 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 nature landscapes, mostly forests or mountain valleys, but he'd also have "crazy days" where he'd do campfires, seascapes or other more atypical landscapes.

The show began in 1983 and ended on May 17, 1994, due to Ross being diagnosed with cancer. His illness did not become known to the wider public until he passed away from it on July 4, 1995.

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 begun 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.

Parodies of his show are so popular that they have spawned their own trope, Bob Ross Rib.

Happy little tropes:

  • Alliterative Name: Bob's real name is Robert Ross.
  • 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.
  • ASMR Video: A case can be made that it's the Ur-Example. The combination of Bob Ross's quiet, gentle narrating voice with the scrubbing sounds of paintbrushes on canvas fit the formula exactly, long before the trend was ever thought of. Many current ASMR creators intentionally pattern their videos after Ross's style.
  • Book Ends: In the very first episode of the series, Ross mentions that "You don't have to go to school for half your life, or be blessed by Michelangelo, to paint a picture." He repeats this statement in the final episode, 11 years and 30 seasons later.
  • Catchphrase: 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 some central rules to his technique:
      • "A thin paint will stick to a thick paint."
      • Not thinning paints properly would lead to you "becoming a mud mixer."
      • Similarly, pointing out that if you try one of his blending techniques on a dry canvas: "You will be in agony city."
    • "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 just barely letting the knife or brush touch the canvas when needed.
    • "Let's have some fun." / "Let's get crazy."
    • He would often refer to riskier strokes as "bravery tests."
    • "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."
    • "...something about like 'at."
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Discussed. Whenever Bob encouraged the audience to come up with stories or names for the plants in a painting, or when he made a sound effect while painting, he'd state that it's alright if people give you funny looks because artists are supposed to be a little nuts.
    Bob: You don't have to be crazy to do this, but it certainly helps.
  • Competence Porn: There’s something wonderful about watching Bob Ross calmly go from a blank canvas to a finished landscape in the space of half an hour, all while assuring the viewer that you can do it too with a little practice.
  • 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 the bristles 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".
    • Speaking of trees, he loved to put a large tree in the foreground of his paintings, often obscuring large portions of the background that he'd spent several minutes painting. He said he sometimes got complaints from viewers that doing this "ruined" the painting. His response was that if they didn't like it, then they could leave it out when they did their own paintings.
    • Many paintings have some sort of water in them, using several layers of paint to form the waves and colour layers.
    • Nearly literally, when he signed his paintings (naturally).
    • Very literally when he'd use finger-painting to create the moon in night paintings.
  • 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.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: It's hard to imagine from such a famously soft-spoken man, but he described himself as such while he was in the Air Force.note  This became his major motivation for leaving, as he said he was tired of being mean all the time.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Ross regularly encouraged viewers to have iced tea 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first season, which was produced by WNVC in Falls Church, Virginia instead of his long time home at WIPB in Muncie, Indiana, 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 tendency to overuse the adjective "almighty".note  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.
    • 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.
    • Early on, he would read the names of the paints he was going to use or it wasn't mentioned at all. Eventually, they were listed on screen at the start of the show.
    • In the first few seasons, he referred to liquid white, the paint he used to make the canvas wet before beginning the painting, as "magic white."
  • Edutainment Show: The show is designed to teach people how to paint with oil paints in the "wet-on-wet" style, along with how to use the brushes and other tools to do various painting techniques.
  • Fingore: Ross lost part of his left index finger in an accident when he was young. The missing fingertip is noticeable when the camera focuses on his palette.
  • 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.
    • He once told a story about how he had raised some chickens as part of a project when he was in 4H as a kid. He was supposed to slaughter them in the end (4H helps train farmers, after all), but he couldn't bring himself to do it, because the chickens were his friends by that point. He said that as a result of that experience, he could never eat anything with chicken in it.
  • Funny Afro: When Ross had his former teacher John Thamm on the show to paint a portrait, Bob mentioned that he suggested doing a portrait of him, only for John to joke "Well, that would be a little bit too simple because all [I]'d have to do is paint a Brillo pad and put eyes in it."
  • The Joy of X: A deliberate choice of titles; Ross made a point to emphasize having fun with painting.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Other than the Early-Installment Weirdness of him wearing glasses in the first season, Ross deliberately kept his appearance and wardrobe the same throughout the entire run, so that he'd be recognizable and not noticeably different between seasons.
  • 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. 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 and the canvas. Ross 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. Or how he's still waiting on the good times himself.
  • Nice Guy: 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 moosh 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.
    • His trees usually don't have roots — they have "foots".
  • 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. He also liked to encourage the viewer to come up with stories for the landscapes they were painting, saying that it would make the painting more "real."
  • Pet Baby Wild Animal: Ross had a fondness for rescuing injured animals, and several of them made appearances over the show's run, including squirrels, deer, raccoons, and birds. A particularly memorable one was "Peapod" the baby squirrel, who Ross fed by hand.
  • Recurrer: Bob's son Steve appears 13 times, more than every other guest appearance put together. Bob's friend and colleague Dana Jester appears three times; all other guest painters appear 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.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Whenever he paints a wave breaking, or a little waterfall along a stream, he makes a little "Choom!" sound, mimicking the splashing water.
  • Scenery Porn: He draws from scenery in Alaska for his paintings, which makes most of his landscapes look absolutely stunning.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: "I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friends."
  • Station Ident: He did one for MTV, "...the land of happy little trees."
  • Throw It In: "There's no 'mistakes' in painting, just happy accidents."
  • Title Drop: Almost every episode includes the title of the program, such as "...and that is how you experience the joy of painting". He sometimes lampshaded the title drop as something they felt like they had to do.
  • The Treachery of Images: Averted. Ross was well aware his paintings were of his own creation, but reveled in the creative freedom this allowed both him and the people who watched his show.
  • 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. So, from all of us here, I want to wish you happy painting and God bless, my friends.


Video Example(s):


Peapod the pocket squirrel

When he's not painting, Bob Ross likes to look after little wild animals, like this one.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PetBabyWildAnimal

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