You know how sometimes when you work hard on something and then, in the click of a mouse, you destroy it? Yeah, so this post was originally from June 28, 2015. Without getting too deep into my saga, I accidentally deleted it. Cue panic and more than a few of the stages of grief. I was devastated and actually lost interest in my whole project here on coolfinds.ca. It just really sucked. However, about a month ago I started using Microsoft Outlook again after a long hiatus. And there it was, the entire text of the post that I had emailed to myself. The images were gone and many links were broken. Nevertheless, I have rescued the post from the past. Some things have changed since 2015 (some might say the whole world has changed in 2018…) so I’ve added updates and removed the dead stuff.
On an epic thrifting adventure this weekend (late June 2015) I came across a vintage paint-by-numbers painting. I was so taken with it, I couldn’t look away. It’s no Van Gogh, but there was something engaging about it nonetheless. I pulled it off the shelf and said to the man at the cash, “store this for me, sir, I’ll be back for it!” A few minutes later, I walked back. “By the way, how much is it?” (Thank goodness he said “$4”. How embarrassing to have to put it back after that!)
What’s so special?
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything more campy than paint-by-numbers art. These paintings are the classic Mid-century modern “artifact”. Those pioneers of mass production brought the same ethos to their “art”. For the first time, people had free time on their hands and they chose to spend it much like we do today: making stuff to show off to their friends.
Cool thing about mass-produced things? There’s usually a catalog. You can go to the Paint By Numbers Museum and do an online search for your painting. I just typed in “house, bridge, trees” and mine came up. It’s called “Summer in the Country” from 1960 and it’s by Craftint out of Cleveland, OH. It’s considered king size at 18″ x 24″. Cool!
But why have these much-maligned images found their way back into our hearts? Well, I can think of a few reasons why Pinterest and Etsy are lighting up with PBN “masterpieces”. (Yep, it’s been acronym-ized already. Where you bin? Lost in the halcyon days of 2015 no doubt.)
Why Paint-by-numbers and why now?
1. The world is flat. Graphic design trends are currently clean and crisp, leaning towards simple design over extreme realism. (In 2015 this was a new trend. In 2018 it’s still around. It’s been updated a bit, but it’s been surprisingly resilient.) Think “The Simpsons” vs. “Avatar”. Websites are doing the flat thing with streamlined graphics and line art. Call it a renaissance of the one-dimensional. In the very moment when technology has achieved the ability to look shockingly authentic, the design philosophy proclaims “Don’t pretend it’s a real 3D object popping off the screen when all we know it’s just a digital representation of one. Make it look really fake!”.
2. Honesty of materials. PBN fits right in with the move towards knowing what your product is made of, where it came from and who made it. These paintings were never trying to be anything but an amateur craft. There is zero chance of confusing them for the real thing. People who spend hours plotting the brush strokes of the masters are showing their appreciation at the same time as they are self-deprecatingly admitting their unworthiness. So very self-aware…
3. Adult colouring books are a thing. (See: CNN’s “Adult Coloring Books Topping Bestseller Lists” – April 2015) We’re that stressed out that we need to get out our crayons and follow the lines. Art Therapy ain’t just for geriatrics any more. It’s in our nature to want to show off our craft. And frame it. Here’s just one of the many modern PBN kits available at Amazon.
4. Technology. Using your phone or tablet to photo edit is a global pastime. Turning selfies into paintings? Totally saw that coming.
Does this statement from the Smithsonian’s 2001 exhibition on the pastime sound familiar? “One grateful hobbyist likened the process to an addiction. ‘Why oh why didn’t you … tell me before this how much fun it is to use these wonderful ‘paint by number’ sets? … am on my fifth set and just can’t leave them alone.'” Paint-by-numbers was the 1950s version of Candy Crush. Not sure how to update this fad for 2018…maybe checking Trump tweets?
5. Scalability. If there’s one thing we like, it’s BIG art. Thanks to our technological advancements and the scalability of line art (you can take a PDF of a PBN kit and size it indefinitely, or get out your ol’ school projector), well, I have two words for you: wall mural. (Here’s another great mural example by 421 Design.)
What’s it worth?
About $50+ (I paid $4 at a church yard sale so good deals are out there.)
A version of my painting is currently selling on Etsy for $146 CAD, but then, it also sold in February 2018 for $49.95 USD so there are bargains to be had. Regardless, mine is hanging in my kitchen and it is easily giving me hundreds of dollars worth of joy. Especially now that it no longer reminds of the trauma of losing this post!
Vintage pieces are selling on Etsy for anywhere from $20 to $50 (make that up to $200) depending on size, and occasionally higher for a desirable subject matter. Mine is on the large side at 18″ x 24″ not including the frame. The quality of work – staying in the lines – is exceptional. Somebody had a steady hand! This was the first time I had seen a PBN in the thrifting market around here. I haven’t seen any pop up on my local Kijiji or Craigslist, nor at garage sales. I’m sure they’re still buried in the basement with no assumed value. I look forward to seeing them unearthed.
The value of some paintings can get into the hundreds. Designs by certain artists like Dan Robbins, the first designer and inventor of the activity can fetch in the hundreds.
Find out more about Vintage Paint-by-Numbers
- The Smithsonian did an exhibition on the paint-by-numbers craze in 2001 and the website material is still available here.
- Visit the Paint-by-number online museum and see if you can find your painting there.
What is it? Vintage Paint-by-numbers
What’s so special? It’s the perfect reflection of our honest, imperfect selves.
What’s it worth? $30-$50 for your average piece. Closer to $100 for a large, quality piece (now upwards of $150 – $200). More for rare pieces by known artists like Dan Robbins and Adam Grant, for example.