Using 'Paint by Numbers'

Using a ‘paint by the numbers’ kit was so popular several decades ago. Young and old alike tried their hand at producing some hand-painted artwork to be hung proudly. There could be some still hanging in family homes or storage in the attic.

The kits started back in the 1950s by a commercial artist named Dan Robbins in Michigan. He had been in the art departments of car manufacturers for years but in 1949, his career shifted. That was the year he worked with Max Klein, founder of the Palmer Show Card Paint Company. He first did illustrations for children’s books then Max Klein assigned Dan the task of finding a way to sell more art paint. He took a lesson from what the artist Leonardo da Vinci did with his students. They used numbered sheets where specific colors were to be applied. So Dan came up with the original artwork he painted, then created a kit and made an outline of the artwork with outlines of sections that were to get a specific color painted there. Each section was marked with a number to the color.

The new kits were put out on the market with the saying ‘Every Man a Rembrandt.’ Additional painting kits done by a new team of artists were released and sold very quickly. The Palmer Show Card Paint Company changed its name to ‘Craft Master’ and employed 800 people by 1955 who created some 50,000 Paint by Number kits daily.

Other companies created their own versions of paint by number kits. People loved creating their own artwork but noted artists of the time criticized the kits. Dan later stated “I never claim that painting by number is art. It is the experience of art, and it brings that experience to the individual who would normally not pick up a brush, not dip it in the paint.”

Paint by Numbers kits by other companies are still available, prices ranging $8 to $25, for kids and adults. So what a great way to experience a pastime enjoyed by your ancestors that you can do today.

Photo: Paint by Numbers artist board and paint.

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