When I was a young girl, my family looked forward to the annual summer vacation. Two glorious weeks at the beach filled with sunny days and warm nights at the boardwalk. All was well, of course, as long as the weather cooperated. What do you do with a roomful of giggling and energetic children when the weather turns nasty at the beach? My mother had a solution: Paint by Number Kits!
It was on just such a rainy week at the beach that I was given my very first paint by number kit. I still remember the crisp canvas board with shapes drawn all over them in pale blue with little numbers inside the shapes indicating what color they should be painted. Each number had a corresponding tiny bottle of oil paint and the kit was complete with a paint brush or two.
The instructions were easy enough for an eight year old girl to follow and I remember, as I filled in each area with a different color, realizing that trees and rocks and mountains were not all just one color. They were actually shapes of different colors put side by side and, when you looked at them from a distance, the colors melted into each other and became realistic. They had depth and shadow. What a revelation to an eight year old. I never colored anything again with just one color. I had graduated to shades!
Imagine my delight when I discovered a new book and kit released by Dan Robbins in my local bookstore. Robbins was the artist who was responsible for the very first Paint by Number picture entitled “Abstract No. 1” in 1950. It remains a painting that is considered highly collectible among paint by number enthusiasts.
After the initial release of paint by number kits, Dan went on to produce many other pictures for the Palmer Paint Company. Along with company owner Max Klein, Robbins is credited with the beginning of a painting craze that swept the nation. Advertisements for the kits promised that anyone could achieve professional looking results without training, and the slogan for Paint by Number became “Every Man a Rembrandt”. For the next twenty or so years, Paint by Number was considered the most popular of the leisure arts.
Paint by number kits are still being produced today. They have expanded into using acrylic paints, as well as oil, and some have more elaborate subjects but I remain devoted to the earlier works. Many of the vintage paintings can be still be found with a quick search on eBay and, Diamond art for all if you are very lucky, you might even find an unpainted vintage kit or two.
If you are considered a baby boomer, your mom might have saved some of your old masterpieces in the attic. Younger would-be collectors might ask their grandparents if they still have a few hidden away or you could go to your local hobby store and pick up a new kit. But be careful! It might become habit forming.