Bob Ross

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Whether or not you’re artistically inclined, there’s a good chance that you, like millions of others, have been captivated by Bob Ross’s instructional landscape paintings and soothing voice.

In fact, it was his dulcet tones that caught Annette Kowalski’s attention. Kowalski—credited as the woman who "discovered" Bob Ross—took a five-day instructional course with Ross in 1982. The classes had originally been the brainchild of Bill Alexander, an Emmy Award-winning TV painter who used a more exuberant version of Ross’s positive patter. When Alexander stopped teaching, he tapped Ross, his protégé, to take over.

Though Kowalski had originally hoped to take the course with Alexander, she quickly became enamored with Ross’s calming voice and positive messages. In addition to newfound painting skills, Kowalski left the class with a new client—she became Ross’s manager, helping him broker the deal for The Joy of Painting television show with PBS, and later, a line of Bob Ross art supplies.

Though Ross's shows seemed effortless, the paintings didn’t come as easy as they appeared to. Though he liked to talk about “happy accidents” on camera, Ross was a perfectionist. He recreated each painting on his show at least three times: One was used off-camera as a reference for the seemingly impromptu painting he did on-air; he painted the second one during the show; and he created a third, more detailed version for his instruction books.

His lines about happy trees and friendly clouds weren't ad-libbed, either. “He told me he would lay in bed at night and plan every word. He knew exactly what he was doing,” Kowalski has said.

The careful planning paid off. A hit with artists and non-artists alike, The Joy of Painting ran for an impressive 403 episodes over 31 seasons. Ross knew his pieces weren’t exactly Van Goghs, but that was never the goal. Most people, he said, didn’t watch the show with the goal of learning to paint like the masters—they simply watched to unwind: “We’ve gotten letters from people who say they sleep better when the show is on.”

The Happy Painter had more up his sleeve—a non-painting children's show was in the works, for one—when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994. The Joy of Painting was canceled in order to give Ross time to focus on his health, but he passed away the following year, at the age of 52.

Stacy Conradt

If you'd like to pay your respects—maybe with some cheerful little woodland creatures like the ones above—you can find Bob Ross at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha, Florida. While his headstone may be understated and unassuming, there's no doubt who it belongs to.

Turn Your Favorite Photos Into Works of Art With Google’s Art App

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If your local art museum is closed, a new app from Google Arts & Culture will make the photos in your camera roll worthy of gallery consideration. As Gizmodo reports, the Art Transfer feature uses artificial intelligence to reimagine any image you upload in the style of a famous artist.

If you've already downloaded Arts & Culture for Android or iOS, hit the camera icon at the bottom of the app and select Art Transfer. From here, you can either snap a photo or choose an existing picture saved on your phone. Google then gives you a variety of art styles to choose from. You can transform your cat into Edvard Munch's The Scream, for example, or turn your brunch pic from last month into a piece of Yayoi Kusama pop art.

The feature doesn't just apply filters; it uses machine learning to edit the colors, textures, and even shapes in the image you upload.

Dog image inspired by Man from Naples.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Pizza picture inspired by The Scream.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Two years ago, Google Arts & Culture rolled out a similar feature that matched users' selfies to their art lookalikes. The difference with this one is that instead of showing you existing art, it creates an entirely new image by combining your photo with a famous artwork.

You can download Arts & Culture for free today from the App Store or Google Play. After having fun with the new feature, you can use the app to virtually explore landmarks, museums, and other cultural institutions from the comfort of your home.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Kids Can Join Children's Book Author Mo Willems for Daily "Lunch Doodles" on YouTube

Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube

For children interested in taking drawing lessons, there are few better teachers than Mo Willems. The bestselling author and illustrator has been charming young readers for years with his Pigeon picture book series. Now, from the Kennedy Center, where he's currently the artist-in-residence, Willems is hosting daily "Lunch Doodles" videos that viewers can take part in wherever they are. New lessons are posted to the Kennedy Center's YouTube channel each weekday at 1:00 p.m. EST.

With the novel coronavirus outbreak closing schools across the country, many kids are now expected to continue their education from home. For the next several weeks, Willems will be sharing his time and talents with bored kids (and their overworked parents) in the form of "Lunch Doodles" episodes that last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. In the videos, Willems demonstrates drawing techniques, shares insights into his process, and encourages kids to come up with stories to go along with their creations.

"With millions of learners attempting to grow and educate themselves in new circumstances, I have decided to invite everyone into my studio once a day for the next few weeks," Willems writes for the center's blog. "Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons. We are going to doodle together and explore ways of writing and making."

If kids don't want to doodle during lunch, the videos will remain on YouTube for them to tune in at any time. The Kennedy Center is also publishing downloadable activity pages to go with each episode on its website [PDF]. For more ways to entertain children in quarantine or isolation, check out these livestreams from zoos, cultural institutions, and celebrities.

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