Paint by Numbers Art: A Symbol of Pop Culture

Paint by numbers art kits are popular across the globe thanks to their promising original tagline “Every man a Rembrandt.” Since their release in the 1950s, the kits have appealed to the public, especially during the post-World War II era because of the increased leisure time and people wanting to try something new. Even now, PBN kits are more popular than ever, thanks to companies releasing different variations for people to try. Moreover, people’s leisure time has increased too because of the pandemic starting last year. Now that we’re starting to go back to our old lives, it can still be stressful because the pandemic is far from over and we need to adjust to the new protocols that we have to follow. So, people are looking for new ways to destress that are affordable, less time-consuming, and productive. 

A mike von art representation of person on the wall

Paint by numbers art kits has made it to the hall of fame for their simplicity and for helping people of all ages regardless of skill level and age to hone their painting abilities. Everyone seems to know PBN kits and the well-beloved techniques. Almost every arts and crafts store has them and plenty of stores online sell these kits. Thus, we can see these kits not just in canvases but also coloring books and even gadget applications or PBN online. So in this regard, what makes paint by numbers art kits a symbol of pop culture? That’s what we’ll know more today so continue reading to find out more.


Pop Culture Hall of Fame: Paint by Numbers Art Kits

A completed green tree painting with yellow sunset flowers placed on a wooden art stand

PBN took the world by storm in the 1950s thanks to the clever marketing strategies of the founder, Dan Robbins. The decade was a prosperous year so businesses were back to the way they were: supplying people what they want. At the time, people wanted hobby kits.

The first few tries of PBN kits weren’t an instant success, especially when the kits being sold were abstract designs. Then, Robbins was able to conceptualize portraits and landscapes that could help in selling more kits. Turns out that at the time, people preferred nature images, animals, pictures of children, historical scenes, and sky images.

The subsequent years after the success and boom of the paint by numbers industry were kind of political; as it divided the public’s opinions. Critics vile them while hobby enthusiasts adored them, painting and finishing the canvas, and enthusiastically hanging the finished canvas on their wall afterward. According to most critics, the “number painting” is a symbol of how mindless America had become. Ironically, the hobbyists thought the contrary. They were happy with the paint by numbers technique because it allowed non-painters to hold a paint brush and create beautiful paintings. Hence, PBN art kits became an American virtue. Since its release up to now, millions of kits have been sold worldwide regardless of their design: truly a worldwide phenomenon and a symbol of pop culture.

More Cool Facts About Paint by Numbers Art Kits

A photo of a living room with some art paintings on the wall

    1.  A 1967 issue of Esquire magazine featured an unfinished PBN work  of President Lyndon Johnson:

The cover of Esquire magazine’s June 1967 issue was award-winning and even record-breaking. Despite being booted from the cover at the last minute, Hess and Esquire art director Samuel N. Antupit’s layout went on to win several design prizes and was showcased at the Louvre in Paris.

    2.  Some Paint by Number art kits became collectible and valuable:

In 1978, an artist named Paul Bridgewater designed five abstract paint-by-number kits that could be presented as sculptures or finished to be displayed as paintings. Each package included an instruction booklet, premixed paints, and two brushes created from the artist’s own hair, all coiled up in a plastic tube. Bridgewater’s kits were inspired by their predecessors’ do-it-yourself popularity. Andy Warhol purchased one of the kits created.

    3.  There was a gallery exhibit in the White House dedicated to PBN kits:

Paint by number kits was so popular at one point that they reached every stratum of American culture. The hobby’s peak was shown at the Eisenhower White House when presidential appointment secretary Thomas Edwin Stephens built a collection of paint-by-number and beginner artworks by government employees and associates.

A photo of six assorted paintings on easels

    4.  Paint by numbers were originally abstract:

The paint-by-numbers art kits produced were an ode to the abstract expressionism movement in the 1950s. They were called Abstract no. 1. However, these kits weren’t appealing to the public so as a marketing strategy, Robbins made representational art and still life for the beloved painting kits.

Yellow red and blue abstract painting

    5.  Pop Art icon Andy Warhol loved the concept of painting by numbers:

World-renowned pop art artist Andy Warhol loved PBN due to his love for repetition in art. He dedicated a five-part series to the kit, featuring images of flowers, seascape, etc. in 1962. This series of paintings was featured in different exhibits. Do It Yourself (Sailboats) was featured in the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s exhibit Seestücke from June 8, 2007, to September 16, 2007, as one of the important pieces of Pop Art on the theme. Warhol’s Do It Yourself (Landscape) and Do It Yourself (Flowers) are part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s inaugural digital exhibit, Color Chart: Reinventing Color 1950 to Today, which has been on view since 2008.

A free warhol multi colored painting on the wall

Key Takeaways

Paint by numbers art kits has become a part of art history regardless of the mixed opinions it has received since the time of its release. Love it or hate it, it gave so many people the opportunity to paint regardless of skills, age, and budget. We hope that this discussion about PBN kits as a part of art history inspires you to grab your kit so that you can become a better painter. 

Grab yours today and see the magic of painting. Have a great time with your artistic journey!

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