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A happy little chalk drawing

“I can't think of anything more rewarding than being able to express yourself

to others through painting. Exercising the imagination, experimenting with talents, being creative; these things, to me, are truly the windows to your soul.”

— Bob Ross, “The Joy of Painting.”

When I say I'm a self-taught artist, that's not entirely true. Back in second or third grade, my parents enrolled me in some classes at a neighborhood art store. The place smelled of kneaded rubber erasers and tempera paint (Mmmmmm!), but that's where I first really learned about shading and perspective and created my own cartoon character -- Duckbot (yes, you guessed it ... he was half duck, half robot.)

At about the same time, this bushy-haired man named Bob Ross first appeared on Channel 13 on Sunday afternoons, and, in his gentle voice, told both kids and adults that they, too, could paint almighty pictures. There were no mistakes, just happy accidents. His landscapes were dotted with fluffy clouds, happy little trees or crooked old cabins. You could do anything you wanted on the canvas because it was your world!

"The Joy of Painting" aired on PBS stations from 1983 to 1994. A year later, Bob died of lymphoma at the age of 52. Nearly a quarter of a century after, though, Bob remains an icon forever in our hearts and emblazoned on Funko Pop dolls, YouTube remix videos, graphic T-shirts, coffee mugs, Chia pets and more. His old episodes are even on Netflix now, which my daughters will sit down and watch with me to see what Bob creates next.

​​This weekend at the Suncoast Arts Festival in Wesley Chapel, Florida, it was time to finally pay tribute to Bob. I also knew he was buried not too far from there in Gotha (just outside Orlando), thanks to a little bit of Google research. After a 90-minute drive from Tampa, I pulled into Woodlawn Cemetery. There, appropriately enough, Bob rests forever beneath a happy little tree:

His grave is adorned with coins from around the world and figurines of the woodland creatures he loved so much (he had a pet squirrel named Peapod, for goodness sake!) I added a pastel stick of Mount Vision 693 as a tribute to Bob from me -- as well as other street painters from around the world:

At the arts festival, it was time to get down to work, and I had a little bit of Bob watching over my drawing (big thanks to B.K. Lyons for offering up her Bob -- I left mine sitting on my desk at work):

As the crowds came by that day, it was heartwarming to hear teens who knew who Bob was, how "that guy on TV with the big hair" had inspired someone's grandmother to paint, how when a mother couldn't sleep at night, she'd turn on an episode and use Bob's voice as a lullaby.

The world could use more Bobs right now. I don't mean more instructional videos online. I mean more people like Bob, with a gentle voice full of peace, full of inspiration, full of happiness, full of love, full of belief.

“The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe.”

— Bob Ross

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