PHOENIX (AP) — I’m not alone in confessing that I have always enjoyed those Bob Ross instructional painting programs that ran on PBS for many years. Perhaps it was his soothing voice as a tree appeared like magic on a lake with the flick of his wrist. Maybe it was his Mr. Rogers-like guidance that there were no mistakes, “just happy little accidents.”

Bob died 25 years ago. But his legacy lives on, thanks to YouTube videos, books, even a collection of T-shirts.

Sometime in March or April (who can remember anymore?), as it became clear that the coronavirus pandemic was going to be keeping us out of movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls and ballparks, we came across a Bob Ross video as we searched through our obscene number of cable channels and streaming services.

“Did you know, I used to enjoy doing paint-by-numbers when I was a kid,” I said to my sweetheart, the person destined to share our couch for more hours than we had ever contemplated. “You should do it again,” she said. “You’re getting ready to retire, and this might be something you would enjoy. Besides, what else do you have to do?”

In an instant, she was searching the internet for paint-by-numbers kits. Turns out that craft supplies, like many things in the pandemic’s early days, were hard to come by. We finally came across a modestly priced painting of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” cover that could be obtained in a week to 10 days.

“Sure, order it,” I said almost dismissively. “I’ll give it a try.”


Before long, a 16×20 blank canvas with John, Paul, George and Ringo had arrived with two dozen tiny paint containers, each embossed with a number to guide you down the long and winding road. I learned quickly that this was not going to come together in the half hour that old Bob Ross took to create one of his babbling brook masterpieces. But where was I going, anyway?

Little by little, the No. 2 black filled in Paul’s pants legs, No. 12 yellow brought the Volkswagen parked up the street to life, and Nos. 12, 16, 18 and 19 of various shades of green helped the trees frame the Fab Four on their stroll across the legendary London crosswalk. With daily encouragement from my muse, it was finished. She ordered a wooden frame to give the work a proper place in our alcove.

I was hooked.

Soon, we found an online paint-by-numbers company that had more products ready to ship. Next: a bucolic scene of an old red barn adorned with a faded American flag and a rusting old farm truck sitting in a field nearby. I was on my way. Streaks of reddish brown came down the barn; tiny birds found themselves flying across a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds.

Then, as I was nearly finished, disaster struck. I had put some of the dark blue paint for the truck on a paper plate and laid it on a corner of the painting. It seeped through the plate, leaving a streak of navy blue running through the clouds and into some trees. I was distraught.

Then I remembered Bob Ross. I got out some very fine sandpaper, gently sanded away the blue, then took some white and painted two coats over the scar. After it dried, I restored the sky without numbers to guide me. The trees came back to life with a little freehand technique I had seen on those shows.

When I was finished, no one would know how close I came to tossing the picture, and the hobby, in the trash. But I was inspired by the rescue and am now working on more masterpieces.

No mistakes. Just “happy little accidents.”


Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. West Desk editor Frank Eltman retires from AP today after 32 years. Follow him on Twitter at