He served in the U.S. Air Force. During this period, he first experienced the Alaskan landscape when he was stationed on Elmendorf Air Force Base. Alaska would become a recurring theme in his artistic work. He was inspired to paint after seeing The Magic World of Oil Painting, the show hosted by his Future mentor, Bill Alexander.
He used his television fame to launch a successful brand of art supplies and instructional books.
He grew up with a half-brother, Jim, whom he would reference on his show. He was married two times, to women named Jane and Vicky. He had three children: Bob, Morgan and Steve.
His warm, soft-spoken instructional style bears comparison to that of fellow television personality Mr. Rogers.