Paint-By-Numbers & Coloring Books

I just read about a local artist who has set up art classes, for a small fee, in cafés and wine bars for people who might not paint otherwise. As a fan of art for everyone, I thought this sounded like a great idea. The description of the classes, however, made it sound like the artist would paint a stroke, and the students would mimic the stroke. She made Coit Tower; they made Coit Tower. Perhaps someone who has never held a paintbrush and who was previously intimated by paint could feel proud of their creation. Perhaps this was like the classical way of teaching art: copy the master and you can learn.

I've always been resistant to copying and using pre-designed templates as ways to learn to make art. This might be a way to learn technique, but can someone really feel proud of a picture when someone else has made all the choices for them? I like to think of art as being about choices. I read a review that said a certain instructional craft book, "didn't teach me how to make anything." I realized that this person wanted someone else to make their choices; they wanted to know how to make a valentine tea cozy or a book about coffee with the parts drawn, the writing done, and the pieces ready to cut out and assemble. That's all good if you want to put together an IKEA chair…

Which made me think of the coloring books I was not allowed to have as a child. The only exception was during the "phonics" part of the kindergarten day where all the children would color in a letter. I'm not sure this helped anyone learn to read. It certainly didn't help anyone learn to make art, but it did help us practice staying between the lines, something all good drivers should do.

Later, someone gave me a coloring book (or "un" coloring book) that I enjoyed. It was full of patterns, geometric shapes, and other designs that changed depending upon how you colored them in. I did a quick search but couldn't find the book online. Here's an approximation of a page. I colored in some sections (all done using Adobe Illustrator, I confess); the same repeating pattern makes chains, stars, links, flowers, and even a turtle. It was fun. Kids could do this for a math + art project since it teaches how to see differently.

The teacher of "Art a la Cart" was quoted as saying "I like to think of it [the class] as paint-by-numbers for adults. A way for anyone to create art." I have to admit, all those people holding up the same painting on the website sure do look happy. Like the coloring book, it may or may not be art, but the happiness it brings is worth something.

If you would like to color the "uncoloring" page I designed, you can download it here, and then print it out.


ersi marina said…
I had a book like that too when I was little. I used to spend hours colouring in the forms and I had great fun exploring all the different things that came out of it. Usually, when I got tired of the book, I started free-drawing my discoveries on separate pieces of paper. There the stars and the houses and the butterflies were freed of their tight outlines and became sketchy and blotty. I may even have that book still somewhere... It's been fun remembering that!
Anonymous said…
These geometric coloring books are available through
Just type in coloring books in the search area and there are quite a few

Nina Fenner said…
(I know this is an ancient blog post!) Someone I know (not very well) gave me a link to a similar (the same?) painting class thinking I would find it inspiring (I teach classes). I didn't get it at all, but yes, like you say the participants look pleased with their paintings, and they seem to keep filling the classes. Takes all sorts.