Friday, November 19, 2021

What's Old is New


For the third time that I have been living with my parents, there was an episode of Shark Tank with an art based business. A pair of women were looking for financing for their art business, which were essentially paint by number kits.  This is not really a new idea. If you are not familiar with the idea, a line drawing is purchased, printed in black on a white surface, typically a piece of canvas board.  Within each white space of that drawing is a small number, which corresponds to one of the small capped containers of water based paint.  Using provided brushes, the owner of the kit fills in the color specified by the number.  Using this method, the whole piece is eventually filled in, and the owner now has a painted version of the original artwork.  This spares the "artist" the problem of having to sketch out the desired composition, or mixing the specific colors.  The two owners claimed they had made a large amount of money so far selling these through boutiques and such, but were still seeking a better retail location.  One shark pointed out an obvious problem- how do you control any business that uses a method that has been known for decades and can't be copyrighted?  

There's a point to that question, as the concept has been around and known for a long time- anyone with rights to a famous image can produce such a kit.  (the business owners in this case were using original artworks, so they didn't have that expense) And there is some demand for art results that don't take much skill.  As a young child I remember doing a paint by numbers version of the opening scene from the SuperFriends, a cartoon version of the Justice League that ran on Saturday mornings for years.  It didn't look nearly as good as the version that I saw on television, but I had fewer art skills then.  When I worked for a human services agency in Ocean Twp in the early 21st century, we had a client who used to do paint by numbers projects on his own time, better than my early try, but I didn't consider these to be true fine art.  In between I remember a group staying at the vacation house I used to be the live in caretaker for, where the staff went out to the store to get supplies for the group in the house, and came back with those, plus a paint by numbers project for themselves, which they did that night sitting out on our deck.  I suppose it's more creative than watching tv, which is what most people to came to the house did to amuse themselves.  

Can this idea be used in other real art?  One such example is a train station mural we worked on back in 2014 at the Belmar Art Council.  We had agreed to produce one though first we had to resheathe the whole building with new painted panels.  Like many others I was begged to produce a submission for a proposal, and as expected, my proposal was pushed aside for what they wanted to do all along- brought in a commercial artist with a plan.  What she did was create a large color drawing and a large paint by number plan. These drawings were put (by the artist) on a type of nylon with numbers representing premixed colors of a suitable paint, and the community was invited to come in and fill all those blanks.  (see above and below)

The next step was to install all those painted fabrics (done the previous winter and spring) on the new panels all over the station, using essentially wallpaper paste.

With a lot of help we got it all up in a few days, which is good considering that the station was still functioning at the same time, and it's a busy station.  Just in time for the planned train theme show.  As far as I know it is still there, so I guess that big paint by numbers project was a big success.   And while my design was not used for the mural,  I had the last laugh.  I was asked to design the postcard (see the photo original and the resulting woodcut at the top of this post) which was also used to make an outdoor banner, and two of those were made- one for the gallery building, and one hung at the station itself to build interest.  Since our banner was hung well in advance of the show, for a while, mine was the only train mural to be seen there. 

At the same time, I have to consider whether what I do is paint by number, at least those times I work in color.  My usual process is to cut the block and print it as a black and white proof using oil based ink, and a few days later, had color it with watercolors.

The difference here is that I create all the colors as I go, each mixed for the intended space and applied by hand to get exactly the effect I want.  No one tells me what to put and where.  So for now, I can still call what I do art.  And I will still call paint by numbers and activity. Perhaps more productive than watching reality tv.  


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