Ross’s ascent to fame began with The Joy of Painting, a public access show where he famously guided viewers through painting things like “happy little trees.” He was quick with his brush and clear with his instructions. By the end of each 26-minute episode, he’d completed an idyllic forest scene, a secluded beachscape, or, his personal favorite, a dramatic mountain vista bordered by miniature clouds, conifers, and the occasional soaring bird.
But as pretty as Ross’s canvases were, and as quickly as he worked, viewers fell for Ross himself. His permed mop of hair was equal parts funny and charming, an anachronistic relic of 1970s hippiedom. So was his laid-back get-up (chambray shirt casually unbuttoned to the mid-chest, jeans), his soothing voice (once compared to the effects of Demerol), and his signature words of encouragement: “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”
Ross’s accessible traits could make a person feel comfortable, calm, included, and confident. Even today, over 20 years after his death and the final airings of TheJoy of Painting in 1994, his following remains strong (spurred recently by the availability of all 403 of his episodes on YouTube and some on Netflix).