The Fascinating History of “Paint-by-Numbers” Kits

You may recall “Paint-by-Numbers” sets from your adolescence, but do you know the history? Painting by numbers, a cross in a coloring book, and painting on canvases enable anybody to produce a complex creation of art, regardless of having taken an art lesson. Simple art kits were established in the 1950s and are still trendy with both youngsters and adults present. but the history of the kit is still blurry and the most important man who contributed to this fascinating idea is founder Dan Robbins. Also check out: Paint by Number Accessories

Robbins’ approach was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s teaching system, which included numbered areas of his canvases for students to finish.

In his autobiography, Robbins recounts, “I recalled reading about how Leonardo da Vinci would encourage his trainees or apprentices with imaginative challenges.” “He’d pass out numerical patterns showing where certain colors should be utilized in various tasks like underpainting, initial background colors, or other smaller works that didn’t require his urgent attention.”

Robbins was a professional artist located in Detroit who began his career in the art department of major vehicle manufacturers. He began working at Palmer Show Card Paint marketing Company in 1949, with the founder of the company, Max Klein. Initially engaged to design kids’ stories, Robbins was soon saddled with a new, more pressing task: sell extra paint. His idea was to develop a hobby kit to boost the consumption of Klein’s paints.

To make each set, Robbins first created an original piece of artwork, then covered it with a sheet of plastic and sketched the outlines for every color and tone. Each section was then assigned a number and a color.

After much experimentation, Robbins’ Paint-by-Numbers sets were produced and offered to the world with the slogan “Every man a Rembrandt.” They were introduced post-war when Americans had more opportunities for recreational activities, and the notion rapidly became a pop culture phenomenon.

First painting 

Abstract No. One was Robbins’ first Paint-by-Numbers set, and it was a vivid, surreal static life that paid tribute to the abstract expressionists of the day. However, the concept was not commercially viable enough just to attract the general public, so Robbins, Klein, and a new team of artists began producing less surreal landscape and portrait hobby models, which proved to be more successful.

The Public’s Reaction

Following the popularity of paint by numbers, the palmer show card industry began to expand dramatically.

Around 20 million sets were sold around the World, and completed works were proudly displayed in households across the country. Even President Eisenhower’s secretary, Thomas Edwin Stephens, arranged a museum of Paint by Number paintings created by White House personnel.

What did the art industry think of it?

While the customer perception was encouraging, the art world reacted strongly to Paint-by-Number kits. They were chastised for trivializing artistic thinking and undervaluing “genuine” artists’ efforts.

“I don’t know what Society has come to when hundreds of individuals, many of them grownups, are prepared to be ordered into brushing paint on a puzzle miscellany of specific shapes and all by repetition,” wrote one anonymous reviewer in American Art. “Can’t you save a few of these souls—or should I say idiots ?'”

Paint-by-Number kits allowed art to be indefinitely replicated, leading many to question whether it could even be considered art at all.

Regardless of the criticism, Robbins was unconcerned about the unfavorable reaction of art critics since he had realized his ambition of exposing painting to the public.