Monday, September 10, 2012

DIY Paint-By-Number

Back in the good ol' days of college, during my junior year at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (go Dawgs!) I was the undergraduate assistant to the Advanced Painting professor, Najjar Abdul-Mussawir.  When the students decided they didn't want to keep their work, he would bring them back to the studio and I would prime over them and he would re-use them for his own work.

I expressed an interest in keeping one of the pieces - a large 46" x 46" oil painting of green peppers.  It wasn't particularly good, but it was big, and when you have literally no money to decorate your apartment and can get a big piece like that for free, you take it anyway.

That painting made it from my house in Carbondale, to our apartment in Murphysboro, to our apartment in Huntingburg, Indiana to our house in Jasper, to our apartment in Loveland, Ohio and is now at our current rental house here in Milford.  Knowing that we would be buying a house (and moving yet again!) in a couple of months, I couldn't stand the thought of moving those ugly peppers one more time.

The resurgence of vintage paint by numbers is everywhere.  I had been stalking some animal portraits on Etsy, and finding that none of them would have the big impact of a large painting for the price I wanted to pay, I decided to do one of my own.




I'm a sucker for anything with an animal on it, and according to Flea Market Style magazine, animals are one of the top trends in collectible items for 2012.  Over on my Pinterest Color Inspiration board, I've had a photo of this Swiss Brown cow pinned for several weeks, because I love the colors in it (and just look at how beautiful she is!)

So this is the photo I used to create my own paint-by-number inspired work of art.

This is how it turned out.

And here's how I did it:

1.  Print out the photo you want to use at full 8.5" x 11" size.

2.  Print a piece of grid paper to use as a guide.  I did mine with 1" grid squares.  Print the image below at 100% and they should come out to be 1" apart on a full size sheet of paper.  Standard grid paper that you buy is at 1/4" squares, so if you use purchased grid paper, mark every fourth line and you'll have 1".

3.  Lay the grid paper on top of your photo and tape together with tape that you can easily remove, like non-permanent satin gift wrap tape.

4.  Tape both pieces of paper onto a sunny window and trace over the image, ignoring the grid lines.  Follow the lines of the photo where two colors meet to give a rough shape to the image.  Remember, paint-by-numbers are just simple outlines of color boundaries that are painted in with one solid color.  Because your photo may have gradual changes in shades, rather than hard edges, you'll have to take a little bit of artistic liberty so that you have clear lines.  Don't forget to incorporate the highlights in the photo - that's what gives an image its dimension.  You will now have the outline of your photo with the grid going through it, dividing it up into squares.

5.  When you have your photo outlined on the graph paper, you can start to make a corresponding grid on your canvas.  To blow my image up from 8.5" x 11" to 46"x46", I multiplied my dimensions by 5.75, so each 1" square on my paper would correspond to 5 3/4" on my canvas.  Because I started with a rectangular photo and I was putting it onto a square canvas, I knew that I was only going to use 8" x 8" of the original photo, so part of the top and bottom was cut off.

6.  Take a tape measure and a carpentry square or a T square and measure out your new grid on the canvas.  Starting in the upper left corner, use a pencil to make a light mark every 5.75" from left to right along the top edge of the canvas. Repeat along the bottom edge of the canvas, using the square to make sure the lines are perpendicular to the edge.  Connect the marks to create the vertical grid lines.

7.  Repeat this step for the horizontal grid lines, starting at the top left corner of the canvas and marking down the edge, then moving to the right side of the canvas and start measuring from the top, marking every 5.75" down to the bottom corner.  Connect the marks to create the horizontal grid lines.

8.  Now you should have a grid that corresponds to your photo on the canvas.  Starting along the top of the piece of paper, label each horizontal space from left to right with a letter (A, B, C etc).  Label each vertical space along the left edge with a number, going down the canvas.  Do the same on the canvas.

9.  You will now have a way of quickly referencing a particular area of the photo and matching it to where it corresponds on your canvas.

10.  Use a pencil to fill in the squares on the canvas with the lines from the grid paper.  It doesn't have to be perfect, just use the grid as a guide.  The lines should flow from one square to the other, so don't worry about getting each individual square exactly as it is on the paper.

11.  Once the image is sketched in on the canvas, you need to select 6-10 colors that you're going to use to fill in the painting.  I used 8.  The goal of paint-by-numbers is a flat, folk-art look where the paint is consistent from one area to the other, so I used pre-mixed acrylic paints from Hobby Lobby, matching them in the store to my photo as best I could.  You will probably only need one of the little bottles per color, but I bought 2 of each since I had such a big canvas.

12.  Label the areas of the painting with a specific number for each of the colors you're using.  I labeled the tops of all my bottles with the corresponding number so I could look quickly and see which color I needed.

13.  Begin by filling in all the areas that are labeled 1, then 2, then so on.  Pay particular attention to the edges of the color area, and use a fine, tapered tip brush for accuracy.  You can fill the larger areas in with a 1/2 - 1" flat edge brush.

14.  Depending on the color, you may need to go back in and put a second (or a third for white) coat once it's all dry.  Acrylics dry quickly, so you will probably be able to start the second coat on color #1 by time you've worked your way through all the other colors.

I'm going to do another one, not quite as big though.  I'll be sure to photograph the progress as I'm doing it and post everything when it's done.  I think I'm going to do a sheep next time.

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