There’s something about Thanksgiving and Christmas time that brings out our love for all things nostalgic, so I thought it would be seasonally appropriate to write about one of my favorite styles of art: paint-by-number. Maybe it’s because I get to spend all my holidays in the picturesque ski town of Stowe, Vermont, but I’ve always loved the unique retro vibe of a scenic paint-by-number landscape, and have no qualms with calling it art.
Paint-by-number was the hobby that swept the nation in the 1950s, thanks to Max Klein and Dan Robbins of the Palmer Paint Company, who’s $2.50 kits included brushes, a pre-drawn canvas, and a set of standard paint colors to coordinate with the muted shades of typical décor from that era. The controversy over whether this genre can be considered art lies between the idea that this style of painting exemplifies the mind-numbing conformity of mid-century America and the more positive notion that with a paint-by-number kit, anyone could engage in creative activity and become an artist. In either case, paint-by-number has definitely carved out a little place in American art history and continues to influence many present-day artists and craftsmen.
To me, the smooth lines that result from a paint-by-number piece feel like a modern, stylized approach to capturing a rural vista, for example, and so in that way it holds up well with today’s reimagined vintage aesthetic. The creative folks at Etsy have a paint-by-number mural in the lounge at their headquarters, painted by Cabin Collective, and even the stylish Honestly…WTF recently blogged about a paint-by-number find! For more history, visit the Paint by Number Museum.