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Mention the phrase “happy trees” to just about anyone, and they’re going to think of one of the world’s most inspirational artists — Bob Ross.

Ross was an incredibly talented celebrity painter, but his true talent was bringing peace and happiness to his audience. 

Ross focused on the way creating art makes you feel. He wanted to share that inner peace and tranquility that comes with the creative process of painting. He spent 20 years in the military, but discovered his gift while he was serving. He shared that gift with the world, and ended up painting more pieces than some of the greatest artists in history.

Who is Bob Ross? 

Bob Ross
Bob Ross | Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Bob Ross was born in Daytona, Florida in 1942. He grew up in Orlando, but dropped out of high school his freshman year. He enlisted in the Air Force when he turned 18, and served for 20 years. 

It was during his time in the Air Force that he discovered his passion for painting. He was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, when he took his first painting class. He was awed and inspired by the beautiful scenery of mountains and snow. 

When he finished serving, he pursued his interest in art. He attended a number of art schools, eventually learning the “wet-on-wet” technique that allowed him to create intricate landscapes in just a fraction of the time it would take with traditional techniques. 

‘We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents’

In 1983, Ross’ iconic television show, The Joy of Painting, aired on PBS. Not only did Ross offer fans fantastic lessons in painting, he also created a seriously Zen atmosphere that instantly relaxed anyone watching. It was impossible to watch Ross and not feel at peace and inspired by his uplifting words and his calm, serene voice. 

In fact, PBS claims that about 90% of the show’s viewers never even made any artwork. They didn’t tune in to paint along with Ross, they simply watched because he provided a pleasant escape from the stress of the real world. His show was a pleasant, positive alternative to a lot of television programming. PBS still airs the series today, and viewers still find comfort in Ross’ happy trees and clouds.

Ross was never paid for any episodes of The Joy of Painting. He received income from the sale of his products, and the show definitely helped promote those products. Eventually, he became such a pop culture icon that he had a vast empire of products, including videos, books, and games (there was even a Bob Ross Chia Pet!). 

He made more paintings in his lifetime than Picasso


How Did The Bob Ross Revival Start?

Bob Ross is believed to have created about 30,000 paintings in his lifetime — that’s nearly three times what Picasso painted. To be fair, though, Picasso dabbled in a lot of different types of art, so he also has sculptures, prints, and illustrations out there. 

When you really think about it, it’s not surprising that Ross painted that much. After all, he created three new paintings in each episode of his show, and he’d been painting already for years before that even started. Add in everything he worked on in his free time, and that’s quite a bit. So with at least 30,000 paintings out there, you’d think it would be easy to find (and purchase) an original Bob Ross. Well, you’d be wrong. 

It’s actually pretty hard to find a Bob Ross painting for sale–anywhere–and if you do find one, you’ll be looking at a price tag around $10,000. Major auction houses like Sotheby’s have no record of any Bob Ross sales, there are no listings on Craigslist, and eBay has only had three sales in the last few months. So where are they hiding? 

Some are being housed at the headquarters of Bob Ross, Inc–a little over 1,000 paintings are stashed away in cardboard boxes. The company also leases several paintings out to museums around the country. Ross himself gave away and sold numerous pieces. He often sold his work at flea markets, fairs, and malls before he became famous. 

The difference between Bob Ross and most artists is that Ross wasn’t very interested in the finished product. His passion was in teaching people, sharing his gift, and helping others find the inner peace that art can bring.