Bob Ross' time in the Air Force influenced him in 'The Joy of Painting,' pal says

Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc., shares memories of her beloved pal

Before Bob Ross introduced the world to “The Joy of Painting,” he served in the Air Force where he discovered happy trees and almighty mountains.

The beloved artist and TV icon previously spent two decades in the United States Air Force, where he reached the rank of Master Sergeant before retiring in 1981, Biography.com reported.

His pal Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc., told Fox News that it was during the star’s time in the Air Force that he fell in love with the Alaskan landscape, compelling him to paint.

“First and foremost, he was stationed in Alaska and that landscape just moved him with the incredible mountains and snow caps,” she explained. “Those paintings that Bob [made], those are real, incredible scenes that you would see in Alaska. And that really affected him being stationed there.”

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TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross painting one of his landscapes as his pet crow holds a paintbrush in its beak while perched on top of an easel in his studio home.

TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross painting one of his landscapes as his pet crow holds a paintbrush in its beak while perched on top of an easel in his studio home. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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Kowalski said while serving our country, Ross discovered a more gentle approach to teaching, which he would later embrace as a painting instructor. His signature soothing tone is one of the many reasons his series continues to fascinate fans today.

“Even though painting on television is a whole different ball game from being in the Air Force and commanding people to do certain things, it did give Bob the ability to communicate with people … how to do things quietly,” she said. “The way he talked on television was very planned. He wanted the steps to be so simple that anybody could do it. And so any repetitiveness, I think, was also something that made people… learn how to paint. And those are things that he learned in the Air Force - to be able to communicate in that way.”

The host passed away from cancer on July 4, 1995, at age 52. “The Joy of Painting,” which originally aired from 1983 until 1994, remains one of the most popular and well-known shows on public television today. Tubi, a free streaming service, will have over 30 seasons and nearly 400 episodes of “The Joy of Painting,” by the end of July.

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Bob Ross passed away on July 4, 1995, at age 52 from cancer.

Bob Ross passed away on July 4, 1995, at age 52 from cancer. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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“The Joy of Painting” was launched by Ross, as well as Kowalski’s parents, Annette and Walt Kowalski. He believed that given half an hour -- the length of an episode -- anyone could paint by following his simple, step-by-step instructions.

Ross previously studied with William Alexander, whose own painting show on public television became a rival of his, the New York Times reported.

“The first thing I can tell you without any doubt is he was literally just like he was on television,” said Kowalski. “That was not an act. He was like that when the cameras turned off. He was that way all the time. [He] was pretty demanding about how things should be but in the nicest way possible. It was my mother and father and Bob and his wife, Jane, that form this little company and they sort of took this thing to the next level -- all four of them. And they were always able to stay on track with Bob encouraging everyone.”

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TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross examining a piece from his collection of turn-of-the-century Victorian opalescent glass next to a cabinet full of decanters & dishes at home. 

TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross examining a piece from his collection of turn-of-the-century Victorian opalescent glass next to a cabinet full of decanters & dishes at home.  (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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“You know, there were tough times… [but] the big thing he used to always say was the money will come if you are comfortable with what you’re doing,” she shared. “He used to say that a lot.”

After Ross’ show launched in 1983, he led a multimillion-dollar business that included how-to books, a line of art supplies, as well as courses in which instructors were trained in his method, the New York Times reported.

Ross once told the outlet he made nearly 30,000 paintings. And while his pieces are still sought-after by art collectors and fans alike, none -- at least no authentic ones -- are for sale. Today, his creations are protected and organized at Bob Ross Inc. in Virginia.

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TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross jubilantly holding up paint pallette & brushes as he stands in front of a wall covered with his landscape paintings in his studio.

TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross jubilantly holding up paint pallette & brushes as he stands in front of a wall covered with his landscape paintings in his studio. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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“There are a lot of Bob Ross paintings because he painted every day,” said Kowalski. “He practiced every day. Even though he was a star on television, he still painted every day. He sold some, but not many. He gave a lot of paintings away to people. He was very generous like that. But the thing about Bob is he wasn’t really that interested in his finished product. He was more interested in the process and teaching other people how to do it. That was really what motivated him.”

But the one thing Ross was reportedly ready to change was his famous perm -- but the look stayed with him. The bushy mane was originally for Ross to save up on haircuts and instead, use the extra time to paint.

“No, he couldn’t [change it],” Kowalski chuckled. “We had little logos, all crafted with the big round hair and everything. I don’t think he had intended to keep it…. He thought [getting a perm] would mean he didn’t have to take time to get haircuts. He could keep going with painting and teaching… [But] there was no going back. That round hair is his trademark symbol… He was stuck with it.”

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TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross hand-feeding his pet crow as it perches on his hand at home.

TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross hand-feeding his pet crow as it perches on his hand at home. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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Today, Kowalski encourages viewers to not only pick up a brush but also find a sense of comfort from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“[People] are telling us that Bob Ross is literally saving their lives during this pandemic, especially being able to stay at home, watch him 24/7,” she said. “It just calms everything down, brings everything down. [It] helps you find things inside your creativity that make you happy. This pandemic has just made everybody remember how much they love this man.”

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