What I Learned from Bob Ross

When was the last time you sat and watched Bob Ross? You know, the Happy Little Trees guy? He’s a staple on public broadcasting.

With his symmetrical afro and soothing tones, he astonishes me with his ability to create a tranquil nature scene on canvas in under an hour. As a child I remember sitting in awe as mountains, lakes, and forests emerged under the skill of his brush and blade.

Today I was putting Silas to sleep, and the TV was stuck on PBS. Muted, denying me the running commentary, I watched as this painting icon transformed blank fabric into his own happy little world.

And I learned a few life lessons…

1. The main thing isn’t always what it seems

Ross began his picture by covering the canvas in muted blues and peaches; it looked like an ocean scene. Then, mixing brown, black, green and blue together, a majestic mountain emerged out of the mist and seemed to hover over the waters. Creating highlights and shadows with a flick of his wrist, I thought the portrait would be of a great mountain range.

Grabbing what looked like a giant house painting brush, Ross dabbed at the base of the mountain, creating a dark stripe across the middle of the picture. With a few more adept strokes that stripe became foothills, their heights reflected in the ocean turned lake.

Over the course of the hour the pictures focus and theme changed multiple times. Just when I thought I had a handle on all the elements, something unforeseen would appear and the whole thing would change again.

I frequently get it wrong when I guess and assume what the main focus of my life needs to be. That’s because I don’t fully grasp the whole picture. This is where my reliance on God takes precedence. In His omnipotence, He understands what will be primary and what’s just background filler.

2. Be willing to ruin it all

After creating a magnificent scene composed of a looming mountain, tree-covered foothills and serene lake surface, Ross took his big house painting brush and created a giant dark blue square over the middle of the lake.

I was horror-striken. He had taken a painting that I never could have duplicated, and made what looked like a silly little four sided house on it. I definitely could have created that house.

Then, he began to paint over the “house” with downward strokes of white. Before I guessed it, a waterfall appeared. Taking more dark paint, Ross created shapeless black lumps on each side of the waterfall. Those lumps would eventually become cliffs covered in happy little trees and bushes.


I’m sure Ross knew what he was doing when he made that navy blue square, but I wonder if he had any anxiety {even for a second} about adding it to the picture.

Risks are difficult, even when we think we see what’s ahead. Ross would have had a nice little picture without creating that waterfall, but it was the unexpectedness of it that captured my attention. Risks bring the unexpected, because we push ourselves out of comfortable into sink or swim territory.

3. Don’t be afraid of what other people think

One thing I noticed in watching Bob Ross paint, and it’s something I’ve noticed in watching others artists work, is that those who are confident in their abilities are able to withstand the anxiety of others.

Multiple times in painting his picture I thought, “Why did he cover up that beautiful work?” I’m sure that the question was posed to him many times by people watching him in person. It’s terrifying to see someone messing up their art.

He knew something better was coming.

If I’m going to submit my life to God, I have to be confident in Him that something better is coming. There has been {and will be} times when what He asks me to do is illogical. Others will view my decisions as ushering in my doom.

Confidence is required to withstand the warnings and opinions of others. Not confidence in my own abilities or wisdom, but in the One who is directing my feet.

4. Everyone needs companionship

If Bob Ross adds one happy little tree, happy little bush or happy little bird to his painting, he usually adds a second…to give him a friend.

We all need people to lean on, stand beside and soar with. People who challenge, support and encourage us in our walk with God. Friends, family, pastors and others have been an invaluable part of my journey. Through them I gain perspective and insight.

Don’t try to walk on your own. Get yourself a happy little community.

I scoured the interwebs to post the picture he painted, but all I could find was an imitation. Apparently I’m not the only one who learned something from Bob Ross…


* Get my posts by email

* Subscribe in a reader

* Follow me on Facebook or Twitter

8 thoughts on “What I Learned from Bob Ross

  1. I love Bob Ross, his voice always had such a calming effect on me and I loved his happy littles! I tell ya’, who knew one hour of Bob Ross could teach you so much, great insights! I really enjoyed this post.

  2. I LOVE this! We got Bob Ross videos for my son-in-law a few Christmases ago – we loved watching them – he was AMAZING!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this – just brilliant!

    1. Is your son-in-law a painter, or does he just like Bob Ross? :) It amused me that I was so drawn in by the show; I don’t paint. Haha!

  3. I love the story of Bob’s life. He was a guy that lived out the things he believed in and seemed from all accounts to be a very generous man.

    I’m glad God gave you such a powerful lesson through that episode of The Joy of Painting.

Comments are closed.