What the world needs now is more happy trees

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 1/5/18

“When the world was an ugly place, he reminded us that beauty is everywhere.”

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What the world needs now is more happy trees


“When the world was an ugly place, he reminded us that beauty is everywhere.”

That’s how Netflix welcomed Bob Ross to its lineup in 2016.

The streaming service now offers two seasons of Ross’ instructional painting videos. That’s 26 hours of America’s TV painter bringing forth his signature fluffy clouds, happy trees and mighty mountains.

In 2014, Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight took the time to analyze the nearly 400 paintings created by Ross between 1983 and 1994, the years that his “The Joy of Painting” aired on public television stations throughout the country.

Hickey found that 91 percent of the paintings included at least one tree. As fans of the show know, Ross felt that every tree should have a friend. According to Hickey’s analysis, there was a 93 percent chance that Ross would paint a second tree once he had finished the first one.

Even number nerds love this soft-spoken, goofy looking guy.

Zac and I became Bob Ross fans last year after watching an episode of “Chill with Bob Ross” on Netflix.

We initially tuned in to see why a man who painted on TV has such a cult following among people our age. Twenty years after his death, Ross is as popular an Internet celebrity as he was a public television personality in his lifetime.

It took us a few minutes to get past the hair, which Ross reportedly permed to save money before he hit it big.

However, the wisecracks soon stopped, and we were rendered speechless as Ross turned a blank canvas into a beautiful landscape painting in under 30 minutes.

According to the documentary “Bob Ross: The Happy Painter,” Ross painted every picture twice – once before taping to use as a reference and again once the cameras were rolling. After each 13-episode series ended, he gave the paintings to PBS stations around the country to auction as a fundraiser.

Though spontaneity seemed to be his trademark, the staying power of Ross’ show is due in part to very deliberate choices he made.

When “The Joy of Painting” was in its inception, Ross ditched his idea for an elaborate set because a bare-bones presentation would better foster intimacy between himself and the viewer.

He chose to wear a button-down shirt and jeans in every episode because he knew the look wouldn’t go out of style in syndication.

His afro did fall out of fashion, and Ross desperately wanted to do something about it. He couldn’t, however, because it was part of his brand, and he didn’t want to alienate any of his fans.

Those fans included everyone from an elderly lady, who told Ross that watching him was the best part of her day after buying one of his paintings at auction, to Marlon Brando, who called into QVC after Ross concluded an appearance on the shopping network.

While Ross was honored that celebrities like Brando and country singer Hank Snow would take note of his work, the people he most wanted to reach were the everyday Janes and Joes who thought they might like to paint but didn’t want to embarrass themselves by trying.

Ross wanted to make painting accessible to everyone. He once did a landscape in gray tones on his show after a man told him that color blindness was preventing him from painting.

Very few viewers actually paint along with Ross – only 3 percent, according to one of the interviewees in the documentary.

If a pretty picture was all that Ross had to offer, he would be a forgotten figure.

What most of us seem to need from him isn’t art instruction but an occasional reminder that beauty is everywhere and that there are no mistakes in life, just happy little accidents.

Jennifer Cohron is features editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle.