Post a Reminiscence
I read about your web site in the NEA Today
magazine and was in hopes of seeing a large sample
of photos of those kits of yore. Do you have such a
My father, a rancher in Wyoming, did some oil
painting of horses, mountain views, etc. but I just
observed. After we moved to Tucson, AZ because of my
twin sister's asthma, the two of us often received a
paint-by-number kit for Christmas. Mom wanted
something to keep us occupied over Winter Vacation.
Our big challenge was who got what picture to paint,
as many kits had a set of 2 pictures. As a young
artist, I sometimes wanted more freedom than allowed
in the kit, but I did learn about the wide variety
of hues involved in painting---moving from flat to
3-D which opened my eyes as I continued to develop
my artistic talents.
I was hoping to see a large gallery of such
paintings, possibly finding samples of ones we had
done over the years. Any help would be appreciated.
September 1, 2001
Dear Janice, You might try Ed Derwent's http://www.paintbynumberz.com
(listed on the links page). The exhibit catalog, Paint
by Number: The How-To Craze That Swept the Nation
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001) has
upwards of 200 figures.
Thanks for the show at the Smithsonian and the
web site!!!! I too was a "numberer" back
when I was a kid . . . 7-14 year old . . . and it
did inspire me to "do my own thing" in
art, both in high school classes, a minor at UMASS,
and now as an adult who DOES art as well as being a
certified N-12 art teacher.
I have many fond memories of sitting with a tray
table in front of me (certainly a 50s THING), with
the TV on (the beginning of my multitasking
abilities!), painting those small spots that
demanded certain numbered paints. After realizing
that this wasn't challenging enough (even with some
of those TINY spots!), my interest in art grew. The
very fact that some of the choices were from the
great masters of art gave me the chance to have
those paintings in my room when mass-produced copies
at affordable prices were just beginning to come to
the consumers' reach.
My dear great Aunt Lila was the epitome of the
avid paint-by-number artist. She voraciously
finished one after another, anxious to begin the
next one she had obtained. I have such warm fuzzy
memories of visiting "the farm" knowing
there would be another piece of HER great art on yet
another space on the wall. She spent MANY hours of
her widowhood, with her three sons grown, families
of their own, sitting at her old sewing table
painting away, and yes, with her TV on too. When she
passed (at age 90) to join those OTHER great masters
in heaven, her many, many "canvases" were
lovingly passed on to the next generations who
appreciated the fact that SHE had done them so
lovingly. They truly were a sign of the times but
for all of us, they were HER.
What kind of art do I do now? Not 2-D painting
actually, but baskets, quilts, pottery, wire/bead
and polymer jewelry mostly. Most of my painting now
seems to include the actual walls of a house, not
framed pieces. Hopefully, I have encouraged many
students to do 2-D work even though I don't use the
paint-by-numbers style any more!!!!
Thanks again for taking this proletarian
introduction to the arts and feeling it worthy
enough to exhibit as both "art" and a sign
of popular culture in the 50s and 60s!!!!!
Ah, the memories!
September 3, 2001
Didn't know if you were still accepting paint-by
number memories, but here is mine. (Great exhibit,
by the way!)
When I was 5, I watched my aunt, Lilly, working
on a paint-by-number kit--a picture of Jesus. Little
by little, rich colors filled the tiny, intricate
spaces. A few years later, she decided to work on a
set called "The Four Seasons." My
favorite, "Spring," showed a swan on a
lake, nearby trees showing bright pink blossoms.
"Summer" depicted a boy fishing.
"Autumn" had all the traditional and
seasonal colors, with turkeys in a farmyard.
"Winter" was a forest scene, with snow,
and a solitary deer. After Lilly finished, she
framed them. For years, they had a place on the
dining room wall. The colors have faded now . . .
My own paint-by-number creations were much less
dramatic--collie puppies, a Siamese cat. I really
didn't have the patience for it. It was hard to stay
within the lines, and I kept smudging things.
Years later, I ran across a paint-by-number
autumn scene, complete with vibrant oranges,
yellows, reds, and browns. My uncle, who lived in
another state, would surely enjoy this picture of a
mill, I thought. I plunged in, determined not to
give up this time. It was actually relaxing--a way
of leaving the office behind. Lilly helped out when
my hands tired. I finished it well before Christmas,
put it in a frame, and included it in his holiday
package. I made mistakes with this one, too.
But they were well hidden.
My uncle placed it over his favorite chair in his
living room, where he could admire it best.
Falls Church, VA
September 3, 2001
How well I remember getting my first paint set
for my birthday at age 10. That was the year 1970.
It was something I had wanted for a long time. My
parents got me the dog set. After I finished it, I
convinced them to get me the horse set. I then
proceeded to the more difficult ones that had more
colors and smaller spaces. I even remember trying to
be careful because some of the spaces were so small
the numbers were in different sections with an arrow
pointing to space that needed that color. I enjoyed
them very much and decided to take Art in school and
continue to enjoy "creative" endeavors
because of those paint sets.
Thanks for letting me share my memories with you,
September 9, 2001
I always enjoyed doing the paint by number
projects. I took on a very big one, the four seasons
(set of 4). My mother, who suffered from
Huntington's Disease, wanted to help me, and I let
her. I was a little upset at the time, because when
she finished, it wasn't as "perfect" as I
wanted the picture to be. But now, since my mother
has passed away, every time I looked at the one she
worked on, I would think of her, and of how petty I
was at the time. Fortunately, I never mentioned
anything to her about her work on my picture. I
could never forgive myself if I had.
September 14, 2001
I enjoyed the article about paint-by-number in
the Smithsonian Magazine and now this . . . I
received several kits when a child. Doing the
paintings was fun until you had to do the tiny
spots; too difficult to do.....on the other hand my
father and my grandmother had a good time doing the
paint by numbers. It was a good form of relaxation
for my father. In the 1970's when he had health
problems, paint-by-numbers painting provided him
with a diversion. My father, Jim, died of cancer in
1975....his paintings hang proudly in my den. I sit
and look at those wonderful landscapes enjoying a
temporary escape to a quiet spot and remember him
My grandmother took the paint-by-number projects
to a new level to create her "dot"
pictures. Using the paint-by-number canvas she would
search through magazine pictures to find the desired
colors. Then painstakingly use a hole punch and make
"dots." The dots of color would be
attached to the canvas one at a time. To attach the
dots, my Grandmother Elizabeth would use a tooth
pick, dip it in household glue and pick up her dots
of color. As a result of the dots, the
paint-by-numbers would have more depth and texture.
I am the proud owner of one of those "dot"
pictures. It hangs in my den along with my father's
Thank you for a nice trip down memory lane.
Taylors, South Carolina
October 12, 2001
I am a fifty-something wife, mother and customer
services representative with Amtrak. I have been
doing paint by numbers since early childhood. I also
remember doing colored pencil by number and even
string, stones, glitter and glue. I find this to be
very relaxing. I went through a particularly bad
time when I lost my mother and my husband in the
same month. I don't think I slept unless I painted
first. I couldn't concentrate on books or TV. I was
a mess. I was able to relax only when painting. The
neighbor's young son of 10 would join me and sit
quietly (something he rarely does) and paint with
I noticed the paint by numbers these days are
mostly acrylics. Do you know how I can get more of a
selection of oils? Is it possible to have a print
converted to paint by numbers?
October 24, 2001
I do not know of any manufacturers making paint
kits in oils. Several outfits on the Web will
generate a paint kit from a photograph, for a fee.
I am writing a piece on the Paint by Number
exhibit and phenomenon for Bark, the magazine of
modern dog culture -- with, as you might guess, a
special emphasis on dog images. I'm not able to get
to Washington at present, but have enjoyed William
Bird's book tremendously, and have found it fun and
nostalgia-twinging to learn more about the world of
Is any info available about pbn dog images-- how
many different designs may have been produced? (a
local collector says he has seen at least 100);
artists who may have specialized in dog pictures?
Anyone care to venture an opinion on the reason for
the popularity of painting dogs?
Also, can you tell me whether the exhibit is
scheduled to move on anywhere after the Smithsonian,
and exactly when it closes?
Thank you for your help!
October 24, 2001
No one knows for sure, so your friend may be
correct--there probably are about 100 different dog
images, as animals and pets make up a significant
portion of the paint by number oeuvre.
We are considering taking the present exhibition
on the road, and will soon make a decision.
In the late 1960's I was Sales Promotion Manager
for Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising in
Ohio. Our Toledo Ohio manager, Joe Conway worked
with Dan Robbins to have an outdoor "Painted
Bulletin" (Billboard) Paint By Number erected
as an advertising promotion. A sign painter worked
on the board, painting some every day for several
days until the project was complete.
October 28, 2001
Dan writes about the billboard in his book, Whatever
Happened to Paint-By-Numbers?
When I was in elementary school in the late
1950s, I wanted very badly to draw horses as well as
some of my friends could. I tried and tried, but my
lopsided renditions just didn't communicate the
grace and beauty of the real thing. So my first
paint by number, and my second, and probably even
more, was the head of a horse--chestnut, with a
white patch and a flowing mane. I didn't exactly
stay within the lines, but that didn't matter at
October 31, 2001