08 September 2015

[art] Found At Powells: The Modern-Day Paint-by-Number

Coloring books have suddenly become chic, as we can see from the sudden proliferation of ads for such … but not so much for kids. Adults have become the new market for coloring books.

We shouldn't wonder, really. When we think of the value in nostalgia alone, the appeal is perhaps evident. But there's more to it than that. Our experience, as well as those of the people we know, is that while coloring outside of the lines is fun and liberating, sometimes coloring within the lines is called for, even therapeutic. My personal experience with designing heraldry in the Society for Creative Anachronism suggests that, in the power found in gaining command of an artistic mode of expression that is strictly circumscribed, a certain sense of freedom, oddly, pertains.

You know it when you get it.

On Sunday night, during a recuperative episode which required me to be in bed most of the weekend (what did not kill me should have tried harder), we trekked to Powell's City o'Books , and I did something I don't do so much anymore … browsed the art techniques section in the Pearl Room (as much for the exercise of climbing all the stairs as seeing what was on the shelf). It's not that they don't have a great selection, they do, always have, and always will, but if anyone ever saw the collection of art technique books I have, you'd know why I don't see the need to collect many more maybe.

Anyway, when browsing that wonderful aisle, I found this …

Yep. A Paint-by-Number set. The packaging presentation alone caught my eye. I brought it down to the Coffee Room so we could look it over … it wasn't sealed, was being sold used, and had all its parts.

I originally brought it down because The Wife™ had recently had some fun playing with PBN, and I figured it would delight her. Turned out, it spoke to me, which surprised me … I didn't expect that. But there it was, daring me to try it, and being used, it was at a great price. So it went home with us.

And I got it home, and here's what it had:

One brush, twelve acrylic paint pots, eight textured boards on which the patterns were printed, and a charming little book.

This little book has content written by Dan Robbins, who seems to be credited with creating the concept of PBN, which grew out of his work with producing coloring books for kids, realizing that if you put a paint brush into an adult's hand and gave them the same sort of thing, it would kick the whole thing up the the next level. So, with Leonardo da Vinci whispering into his ear, he sold, per ardua, the idea to his boss and they worked out the technical problems, and PBN, during the 50s and 60s, took the nation by storm.

I remember doing these as a kid, ruining more than one shirt with permanent acrylic highlights, much to my Mom's dismay, and them coming out pretty sad looking. That was, as they say, then.

I enjoy creating, but here, the call to imbue something already started for me with the art of my labor is intriguing and enticing, something I can lose myself in and not worry about innovating. And the vintage nature of the designs is similarly beguiling.

Sometimes, even for self-styled iconoclast, following directions is the best kind of therapy.

You'll notice, in the above display, the boards are pretty white, at that resolution, positively blank. There are lines there, though, you just have to throw a lot of light on them. I suspect that this is probably why it was returned for store credit; the guidelines are printed at a contrast that would challenge one with good eyes … never mind mine. Here's a closeup:

The lightness of the line is for real, the blur because I got the camera a little too close. They aren't really that blurry. But! I have a drawing board and a nice desk lamp with a big old magnifying glass in it. I should be able to take this on.

My goal in working any of them is to make them as perfectly covered as possible. I've now worked with acrylics; they don't scare me so much anymore. The instructions straightforward: each color is either a single color from the acrylic paint pot, or a mix of two colors (sometimes three). Fill in the lines, and take your time is the general idea.

The designs do appeal. From the Eifel Tower to the clown to the retro spaceship, I'm looking forward to how they'll look completed.

The publisher(s) are Princeton Architectural Press and Chronicle Books, and the ISBN is 0-8118-4788-8, for those who are perforce inspired to find one for themselves.

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