`It’s a hard time in the US right now (and in many other regions that have not dealt well with COVID). Add to that the continuing Trumpist pandemonium and right wing assault on all that is good and rational, and the exhaustion of trying to do higher ed (as a student, instructor or both) by zoom, and a lot of academics are just…. fried.
I haven’t really spoken about much else in the last 8 months–my advice and the info we crowdsource through #Dispatches has all been circling around coping with the current realities. But today I want to veer off of job advice per se, and share the thing that has played a huge role in enabling me to manage my anxiety and stress: paint by numbers.
Those of you who follow me on FB know that I’ve been sharing my PBN journey there! But I get asked about it so much, and asked for links to good sites so often, that I decided to collect it all here in one place.
Why Paint by Numbers? Well, I am a very crafty person, and not at all afraid to try my hand at any new kind of art. But at the beginning of the pandemic I noticed that the single biggest problem I was coping with was decision fatigue. Every single daily act entailed so many layers of risk-evaluation and logistical planning that I found myself unable to do the complex craft projects I would normally love (these are generally mind-bogglingly minute Japanese model traditional houses that takes weeks to build).
I had to find something easier and less demanding. Something that entailed no choices whatsoever, yet still gave me the mental rest of creating something pretty with my hands.
A friend was doing paint by numbers and told me what she loved was that there was literally nothing to decide at any point in the process. Everything was there: the canvas, the numbers, the paint, and the brushes. All one needs is a cup of water to rinse your brush.
So I sprung for it. Back early in the pandemic, all they really had were impressionist knockoffs and a few classics, so I bought a couple Van Goghs and the Great Wave by Hiroshige. It was funny because the whole world apparently was doing the same thing and the poor companies (all in China) sent increasingly hysterical emails assuring us that they were doing their very best to get the orders out, given that they usually handled 30 orders a week and now they had 300 a day!
Eventually, my paintings came, and I sat down to do one, and I fell instantly in love. It was exactly what I needed. Beautiful colors, technical challenge within a very narrow and pre-ordained scope, a slow gradual process, no creative decisions, and something really pretty at the end of it all.
Pretty soon I realized that all sorts of colorful modern prints were coming available, adn I started ordering those.
Then I started noticing interesting and unusual images–things I might actually want to hang on my wall!
The four just above actually all got bought by friends–I charge $30 per painting and I send the money straight to ActBlue or now, Stacey Abrams’ Georgia GOTV organization. I donated about $200 in total from my paintings!
I did this one for Kel, who loves elephants and bunnies:
I’ve done about 20 and I do them almost every single evening, while I turn on some formulaic TV with no emotional content because I can’t handle it. My go-to: Time Team, a British archaeology documentary series that ran for 20 seasons. What a delight.
So first off here is a good place to order:
Here is another: https://paintingparts.com/product-category/new-arrivals/
Amazon also carries more and more paint by numbers.
I have the best luck by searching painstakingly through “new arrivals”. The search functions are uniformly terrible and there is really no alternative but to go page by page through the available options. There is a lot of REALLY BAD ART to wade through.
What you need to know is that the companies are both fly by night, and reliable. Which means, the Chinese companies seem to all shutter after about 2 months, and I suspect that this is because of legal issues around copyright. I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ve gotten everything I’ve ever ordered, even when it’s from a company that was closed down a few months later. The companies I’ve shared above are ones I have ordered from and would not hesitate to order from again.
What this means, though, is that if you find a print you like, order it right away. Because if you go back a week or two later, the company and the print might be gone.
This one is amazing, but not available anymore as far as I can tell:
I painted it over election day. It’s imbued with my longing for a blue wave. When I look at it, I remember just how I felt!
There is a quality difference between those that cost $19 on Amazon, those that cost about $22 on the Chinese sites, and those that cost $29. The difference is in the quality of the canvas, and more important, the quality of the paint. Overall the paints are REALLY uneven in quality, especially in bright colors and especially in the cheapest products.
Because I only really do pictures in super-ultra-bright colors — it’s the color that relaxes and rejuvenates me — I’ve learned that I improve my experience by buying quality acrylics and mixing my own colors where necessary. Golden is a terrific brand, and I’ve bought about 15 colors now, piece by piece, mainly in yellow, orange, red, and greens — all shades that tend to be way too sheer in the cheap paints that come with the kits. Trust me when I tell you, don’t bother with other, cheaper acrylics brands. Cheaper alternatives (including Liquitex Basics–a very reputable student collection) won’t cover any better than what you get with the sets. You have to spring for the artist-quality if you want a significant reduction in frustration! And some other pricey brands that I tried are too matte and don’t match the satin sheen of the rest of the paint. So… trust me and just go for Golden Fluid Acrylics (not Open, or Heavy Body!)
This is the one I just finished, which needed a lot of custom paint-tweaking:
There are other tweaks and I’m going to share them with you.
For PBN to be truly enjoyable :
- I buy quality detail brushes: Princeton Select Petite Spotter 10/0 and 20/0; Princeton VelvetTouch Spotter in 18/0; Royal and Langnickel Zen Spotter in 5/0 and 10/0. Here is one example. The good kits come with two sets of brushes–the basic blue ones are worthless, but the black wooden sets are usable for larger brush sizes when you are painting large background areas. If you end up doing a lot of paintings, don’t hesitate to replace your brushes regularly–they do fail after awhile!
- I absolutely depend on Golden High Flow Medium to make the paint that comes with the kits usable. it is not possible to do this hobby without Golden High Flow Medium. I drip in as much as will fit in the tiny tubs and mix with a bamboo skewer. It vastly improves cover and paintability, and can rescue dried out paints as well.
- I keep a collection of old whites, creams, and beiges, as well as Liquitex Basics Titanium White that I use to cover the numbers so they don’t show through the paint. You do need to cover the numbers if you want a quality final product. The companies sell a white pencil for this as well, but i find the paint works better.
- I invested in a good craft light/magnifier.
- As I said above, I learned that certain colors, especially in the orange and green realm, tend to be uniformly terrible so buying Golden Liquid Acrylics (not Open or Heavy Body) and mixing my own makes the experience more fun and relaxing by removing frustration. I discovered I’m quite a good color-mixer and I enjoy that challenge. I can look at a color and say: i think this needs deep violet with a few drops of brown and a tiny fleck of Titanium White–and voila it’s a great match! It helps that the stakes are non-existent of course. I mean, it’s a paint by number lol.
- I asked Kel to get me this ridiculous brush holder thingie I saw on Instagram, and it’s been AMAZING.
Here’s my space. I love it so much!
Anyway, it has rescued me. Truly. And I encourage you to try. Not everyone likes it of course. I’ve had two friends try and then say, no way, and give me their canvases to finish, lol!
If you decide to join me in the world of PBN, please share your creations here in comments!
Thanks for this Karen, I bought a PBN and some of the supplies you recommended as a Christmas gift! How much of the high flow medium do you use in the little pots of supplied paint? When you cover over the numbers, how long do you need to wait to paint, and how do you keep track of what is supposed to go there?
Karen Kelsky says
I love PBN questions!! I put in as much of the medium as will fit and stir well with a bamboo skewer. It can be a b it messy. Usually just a few drops to start and then as the paint gets older and drier, more. The paint dries very fast so usually if you white out a whole series of #1s, for ex, in one quadrant of the canvas, by the time you’re done, the first ones will be dry enough to start painting, as long as you use a thin coat. Generally speaking you don’t have to white a number out completely unless the paint color is very sheer. Of course a lot is trial and error. Good luck! Pls share your creations!
Kate McN says
Thanks for your generosity in sharing this detailed information! I’d be glad to post my first completed painting. It’s just the thing to distract from the stress and news overload these days.
Andrea Line says
My sister bought me 2 kits for Christmas. I’ve done those plus 4 more and I’m working on 2. Guess what everyone is going to get for Christmas? Yes, all framed. My first one is hanging over my bed, one is in my living room. The 2 I’m working on are the harbor in Malta and glass bottles.