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TV Artist Teaches Germans the Joy of Painting

U.S. painter, Bob Ross, has amassed a large German fan base, thanks to the success of his late-night instructional TV show. While most just watch to relax, many fans are discovering the joy of painting for themselves.


The late Bob Ross lives on through his TV show and his fans.

The late-night TV offerings in Germany are slim pickings. Ancient American sitcoms, bad B movies and soft-core erotica are typical fare. But now, there's Bob. Part hobby artist, part self-help guru, Bob Ross is the man behind the highly successful U.S. public TV series, "The Joy of Painting."

The show, which began airing in the 1980's, has made the soft-spoken Florida native a celebrity throughout North America, Asia, Australia, and parts of Europe. But only in the last five years have Germans been introduced to Bob Ross, via two German TV channels -- Spreekanal, a local Berlin station, and Bavaria's BR Alpha. There, it originally occupied the midnight slot, and was seen mainly by an audience of insomniacs zapping through the channels in the hope of finding something to lull them to sleep.

Happy little clouds

Instead, they found Ross, with his trademark halo of fuzzy hair, standing beside a bare canvas, brush in hand. By the end of the half-hour show, he's got a finished landscape, such as a mountain range fading gently into a misty lake, or a lonely cabin in the woods.

Hütte im Schnee Winterlandschaft Bob Ross

A winter scene by Bob Ross.

All the while, Ross talks to his viewers in reassuring tones. "This is where you take out all your frustrations and hostilities, and you don't hurt a thing," he drawls while dragging his knife across the canvas. Ross paints "happy little clouds" in his skies, and "happy little bushes" in his fields where he imagines a family of rabbits might live. And it's his way of talking, just as much as his way of painting, that's got more and more Germans hooked on his show.

"When I watch the show, I often lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and just enjoy the symbiosis of his words and the sounds of the brushes and soft scraping of the knife," 34-year old Torsten wrote on an Internet fan site. "It's unmistakeable, it sends shivers down my spine. It's great! I hope this show will never be cancelled."

Torsten is one of the many fans who tune into "The Joy of Painting" just to chill out and relax. But the show has also created a growing demand in Germany for Bob Ross painting classes, says Ryanne Draad, a certified Bob Ross method instructor at Atelier Syrah in the Netherlands. Since the show is relatively new in Germany, there's a lack of instructors. Draad regularly visits here to give weekend courses.

Her German students, she says, are often skeptical that painting can be as easy as Ross makes it look, but in the end, he wins them over. "His personality is very charming," Draad said. "He makes contact with the people, he convinces them that everybody can learn to paint, and it's really true!"

Spreading the joy

Lilo Prophet, a newly qualified Bob Ross instructor who offers lessons at her art supply shop near Berlin's Alexanderplatz, agrees. "He emanates this air of calm, and he has such ease with the brush and the paint, it's fascinating. Many of the people who come here to take the course have never held a paintbrush in their hand before. But they go home with a finished painting, and the feeling that they've really achieved something," Prophet said.

Prophet's shop is licensed to sell the specially developed Bob Ross paints, brushes, and instruction manuals, many of which are only now being translated into German. They often draw sneers from the professional artists who drop by her shop to pick up supplies.

Landschaft Bob Ross

A typical Bob Ross landscape.

"They come here and look at the paintings from course participants that we have on display, and they criticize," Prophet said. "But I notice that they really look carefully, and in conversation, it often emerges that they've seen the show and are really interested, but they won't admit it. That's too bad, but what can you do?" she shrugged.

Because of its popularity, "The Joy of Painting" has picked up additional slots during the more viewer-friendly evening hours, ensuring that Prophet has a steady stream of customers interested in learning to paint like Ross. But because the show is new for them, they're often unaware that Ross died in 1995.

"I once had an older lady come here to take the course, and when I told her that he'd died, she started crying," Prophet said. "She thought Bob Ross was still alive, and she was so crushed, she just broke down, right here."

Such reactions demonstrate the power of Ross's message. In his world, you can do anything you believe you can do, and there are no mistakes, only "happy accidents." Painting, he says, can even make you a better person. It's a message his German fans are only too willing to believe.

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