Current Obsessions – Paint by Number Art

via TheDooWopShop on Etsy

Yep.  I love ’em.  No, I mean really.  Cheery little canvases with simple animal scenes or landscapes made out in brilliant, chunky blocks of color.  There’s nothing better.  I am currently in search of an old kit after a recent search found a sad, modern offering of Thomas Kinkade-esque compositions that look nothing like their ancestors.

On Pinterest via Rosehilde on Etsy
Via The Paint By Number Museum

Developed in 1950 by engineer Max S. Klein, these kits contained an outlined composition, with each space numbered.  The number corresponded to a paint color to be used for that area.  Suddenly, everyone could be Rembrandt.  In fact, the paint kit box tops themselves decreed it so!

By 1954, Max Klein’s company, Palmer Paint (under the Craft Master label) had sold over 12 million kits.  Of course, the pop culture phenomenon was panned by art critics, who pooh-poohed the trend as an uncreative wave of mindless consumerism.  Especially since trade-show demonstrators promised to reveal how easy art could be, for absolutely anyone.


The hobby continued to explode, and seemingly everyone, from every walk of life, had their home walls adorned with their own paint-by-number creations.  Businessmen – even U.S. presidents – were getting in on the action, feeling a sense of bewildered pride toward their new creations.

In the end, the kitschy paint-by-number art movement of the 1950’s came to represent a calmer, more prosperous, postwar America, content to explore the leisure life had to offer.  Today, contemporary artists, like Jenn Jarnot or Trey Speegle, utilize the innocent simplicity of these works to make modern statements.


Additionally, these “original” creations are now being coveted as wonderful expressions of mid-century Americana.  Since the 1990’s, they have been popping up again, either discovered in a relative’s attic or more recently sold on Ebay and Etsy.  And they are not just paintings anymore.  They are being re-purposed and re-imagined as new creations, used to lovingly remember a simpler time in history.  Buntings, fabrics, and phone covers adorned with the vibrant works, often incomplete to partially reveal the numbered composition beneath, are now being seen.  A new revival of the amateur genre has come to 21st century pop culture.

So come on!  Because this bandwagon promises to be a fun ride…

Via Pinterest