He didn’t make any money from his PBS show
Bob Ross achieved fame for his PBS show, but it didn’t pay the bills. In case you forgot, PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service—as in a nonprofit station that gets 15 percent of its funding from the government. So obviously Ross wasn’t swimming in it as a PBS star, but he had to make something, right? Eh … not really.
Ross said that he never got paid for his Joy of Painting program. As in nothing. “People see you on television and they think you make the same amount of money that Clint Eastwood does,” he said. “But this is PBS. All these shows are done for free.” No wonder Clint Eastwood never permed his hair! Ross made his money teaching and selling books, and of course, selling some of his paintings. Ross also sold videos (remember those?) of his painting system—which were really three-hour workshops that went into more detail on his style.
He almost never painted people.
In 2014, the statistical website FiveThirtyEight finally answered the paradox that has kept the mortal man up all night: What exactly did Bob Ross paint? Joy of Painting aired 403 times—Ross only painted 381 times (the others featured guests). As FiveThirtyEight explains, there were 3,224 possibilities for his paintings (they’re detailed oriented). Do you know what Bob liked? Trees. A whopping 91 percent of his paintings contained at least one tree. Do you know what Bob didn’t like? Flowers. Flowers are for suckers. Only 2 percent of his paintings contained flowers. He only painted palm trees 2 percent of the time also, but what do you expect? They’re everywhere in Florida. He was probably sick of ’em.
If Ross painted a tree (singular), there is a 93 percent chance he’d paint a second tree. Because trees shouldn’t be alone, obviously. Surprisingly, for a guy known for his “happy little clouds,” his paintings only featured clouds 44 percent of the time. But the only thing he hated more than flowers and palm trees were people. In his 381 paintings, only one featured a person. It was in silhouette against a tree—a lonely cowboy. And of the 18 percent of the time that he painted cabins, only one had a chimney. Must be pretty cold in Bob Rossland.
His originals are worth bank
Actually coming across an original Bob Ross isn’t as easy as it seems. In the 381 programs he recorded (thanks again, geeks at FiveThirtyEight!), he painted three per show—one he painted on camera, one beforehand that he used as a guide, and one for close-ups and photography later (ah, the magic of editing). That means he produced 1,143 paintings during his show. Where are they?
For starters, he donated most to PBS stations, who auctioned them off. That presents a little bit of a problem in the art world. Provenance is a fancy word in the art world for “I got this from the artist, here’s the proof.” The “I bought it from the PBS station in Peoria” isn’t going to cut it. But if somehow you have provenance or just a lot of cash around, you can purchase an original Bob Ross—and they ain’t cheap. A Ross can run over $10,000. That’s a whole lot of happy trees.