How The Joy Of Painting's First Episode Differs From The Rest

One of the most iconic shows of the '80s and early '90s was the PBS Network's The Joy of Painting. The instructional painting show had 31 seasons and ran from 1983 until 1994. The show's beloved creator and host, Bob Ross, was a recognizable face of the how-to series and one of the most readily identifiable painters of that time. Wearing his signature light blue denim shirt and jeans, and speaking in his calming voice, Ross instructed millions of Americans at home on the basics of painting for 30 minutes every week. Always kicking off with a blank canvas, by the end of the show Ross would reveal a stunning landscape.

The very first episode of The Joy of Painting, titled "A Walk in the Woods" (posted on YouTube), premiered on January 11, 1983. A younger Ross is introduced and is seen wearing glasses and standing in front of a blank canvas hoisted atop a small stool. He spends a half hour walking viewers through what he is about to paint. His set is just him and his canvas as he goes back and forth between his palette and the work in progress. The set background is just black. He goes into detail about his colors, how he mixes them, the different brushes he uses and the effects they can create, and most importantly, where he is making strokes on the canvas.

The show ends with Ross signing his art, wishing viewers "happy painting," and hoping to see them again the following week.

How the final episode differed from the first

The last episode of The Joy of Painting was titled "Wilderness Day." It aired 11 years after the first one, on May 11, 1994. Ross is much older and not wearing the glasses he sported when he first introduced himself to viewers. His curly afro is still reddish brown color, but his beard is noticeably grayer. 

But his clothing is slightly different. Ross did not abandon his love for blue, but his shirt in the final show is not denim like his jeans. It's an obviously lighter fabric and color, and even his jeans are a lighter-washed style. When he begins painting, however, he doesn't start on a blank canvas as he normally did in his earlier shows. Ross starts with an already completed black and white painting, but little by little he instructs as he adds color to it. The table easel his canvas is held up on is also different from his very first, and more modern-looking. 

His style of instructing in a calm voice remained the same, but one big change is that the paint color names he often mentioned throughout the show are written out in large yellow captions. In the early episodes of the show, Ross would only say the names.

The final episode retained elements of the first

Despite some slight changes, the show maintained its original format: Ross instructing would-be painters every step of the way. His back is somewhat turned, and for a significant portion of the show, the camera shows the right side of his body as he paints. Like his first show, the focus is just him and his painting on a set with a black background. When the camera zooms in, it's to show his palette and an up-close look at the painting and the progress. And when the camera pans back it's to either show Ross at work, or him looking directly to the lens to explain and talk to his viewers. In typical fashion, he signs his name on the finished painting and closes off the show by wishing viewers "happy painting."

"Wilderness Day" (also posted on YouTube) was the final episode of the 31st season, and evidently the final episode of the entire show. The show would not come back for another season, and it would be Ross's final appearance. PBS had to cancel the show, as Ross dealt with health issues. He died at the age of 54 on July 4, 1995, per Biography.