Are you looking for a fun new activity that is low cost and easy to learn? Then try paint by number. It’s easy to become a master artist regardless of your age and create beautiful wall art even if you don’t consider yourself artistic. There are countless scenes to choose from and paint-by-number kits normally include canvas, paint and brushes at a reasonable cost. My mother-in-law was 95 when she passed away last December, and she always loved to paint by number. She would paint for hours at a time and complete a piece every couple of weeks. Toward the end, she had limited mobility and could not paint anymore so I decided to try it and painted my first picture for her that she hung on her wall. After that, I was hooked and started painting more while at home during the pandemic.
How It All Began
Although the first patent was filed in 1923, paint by number in its current form was created by the Palmer Paint Company in 1950. The owner, Max Klein and his employee Dan Robbins, had an idea for the product and after several attempts, the Craft Master brand was introduced in 1951. The company went on to sell more than 20 million kits and Robbins said that his inspiration came from Leonardo da Vinci, who was rumored to have used numbered background patterns for his students. The success of Craft Master prompted other companies to develop their own versions, which allowed more and more people to become artists with little or no experience with painting.
After Max Klein passed away in 1993, his daughter Jacquelyn Schiffman donated the Palmer Paint Company archives to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Museum of Modern Art in New York accepted four designs by Klein for its Department of Architecture and Design, also donated by Schiffman. In 2011, Robbins and Palmer Paint developed a new 60th anniversary paint-by-number set created in memory of those who lost their lives and survivors of 9/11. Robbins passed away April 1, 2019, at age 93.
How to Get Started
There are many companies that sell paint-by-number kits in stores and on the Internet, however, my personal favorite is available at Herrschners.com. They have an outstanding selection of designs at reasonable prices and they’ll ship it to your door in a matter of days. You don’t have to sign up for an account, just order and pay online. Amazon.com and Hobby Lobby stores also carry a wide variety of paint-by-number kits.
Once you receive your kit, I like to study the finished picture on the box and compare it to the print canvas inside. This gives you a good visual of the final product and will guide you through the painting process. The paints come in small plastic bottles—connected by plastic tabs—and are usually numbered from 1 to 16. I like to detach each bottle and set them in chronological order with the paint brushes nearby. You also get a sheet of paper that has both numbers and letters in columns. The letters represent the “mixed” colors and the more complex the painting, the more mixed colors. You’ll also need some tin foil cut in small squares to mix your paint, about 20 toothpicks to blend the colors, a paper towel, and small cup of water to wash your brush.
After reviewing the canvas, look for areas that have a lot of one numbers. I like to start painting all of the numbers first, then move on to the letters. That way you don’t have to mix the colors until later on in the painting. The mixing process takes longer plus it can get messy. I try to estimate the amount of paint I will need for each letter and drip two separate piles of paint, then stir with a toothpick.
Find a comfortable spot to work, put on some background music and pour your favorite beverage for maximum enjoyment. Then paint away! It usually takes 2-3 weeks to complete a painting, working on it about an hour every other night. A technique that really helps me is to think of my breathing, exhaling and thinking of the word “balance” as I follow close to the lines with the paint brush. The main goal is to enjoy the experience and immerse yourself in the creation of art.
Dale Bohm is the advertising representative for 3rd Act Magazine and has 15 years of experience in the senior care industry. He has recently completed his third paint-by-number masterpiece.