Wall-Sized Paint-By-Number

Sometime around last March or April, I got a crazy idea to paint a giant paint-by-number image on one of the walls of our bedroom. We’d been talking about how that wall was so blank and really needed something. Then we’d been at a friend’s sister’s house and liked the giant vinyl self-adhesive trees that she had on her wall, so I started browsing the internet for something similar and stumbled onto a couple of blog posts where people had done giant paint-by-numbers (see here, here, here, and here). I quickly became obsessed with this idea.

In all my browsing, the best place to find images was at The Paint By Number Museum, but you can also search for paint by numbers on places like Ebay and Etsy, though the images may not be as clear. I quickly realized that if I had to distort or crop the image to fit on the wall, it usually ruined the aesthetics of the image. So, I measured my wall and then looked for images that were similar proportions. I settled on this image:

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I debated several options for getting the image on the wall, including using an overhead projector (remember those?) and projecting the image onto the wall directly from my computer. In the end, I couldn’t figure out how to get the image enlarged to wall size with one of those methods. Nor could I figure out how to do it a piece at a time while making sure it was enlarged to exactly wall size. So I opted to go old school.

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I got out the tracing paper from one of my art classes, converted the image slightly to make sure it was the same proportions as my wall, and then traced it using a light box (you can do this on a window as well). Then I created a grid on another sheet of tracing paper marked off so that every box would be a square foot on my wall, except for the bottom and right edges. I then overlaid this onto my tracing. I did this on separate page so I wouldn’t get confused about which lines were grid versus the drawing.

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Then I needed to transfer it to the wall. I marked off the ends of the grid lines along the four sides of my wall. Then I used black thread and taped it at the ends to create the grid lines. This way I could remove the grid lines after the drawing was transferred and I wouldn’t get confused about what the drawing areas were.

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I then drew the traced image freehand onto the wall by consulting my tracing. I recommend a really hard pencil, because it will leave thin, light lines. Again, I had a nice 2H pencil and kneaded eraser hanging around from an art class.

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It was basically impossible to get a picture of the wall with the image drawn on it. It just didn’t show up. But here’s a close up of a little section:

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Now it was time to sort out how many colors the picture had and what colors I would need. I started by scanning my tracing and printing a copy on white paper. I then sat down with a big set of colored pencils and started coloring in all the different colors, one color at a time, making sure I got every section. I didn’t aim to to be accurate in the colors I was using — I was more interested in being able to tell them apart later. Here’s the end result with what turned out to be 17 colors.

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I thought it would be too hard to work off this dense image, and I didn’t want to label the sections on the wall with the numbers. I was afraid that not all the colors would cover the numbers well. So, I divided the colors up onto six separate print-outs of the tracing to make them easier to see.

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Time to choose paints! Based on my calculations, one of these 7.5 ounce test-size containers would give me more than enough total paint. The question remained whether for the colors with more surface area if I would have enough. Turns out I did! I got the eggshell, which has a nice bit of sheen, but not too much.

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Choosing paint colors was kind of tedious. I went to the Home Depot and picked up a few (ahem) paint chips.

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I compared these to the print out of the image that I had, and picked colors. Here are my final picks.

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And here’s the full set of paints!

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Some of the info I had seen indicated that people used sponge brushes to put the paint on the walls. I tried this, and it really was awful. It could be because our walls are kind of textured. But whatever the reason, I went with brushes.

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I used the two that are second and third from the left for a while until I pretty much destroyed them (those bristles are totally splayed out!). These are all cheap brushes, again from some general purpose set of brushes from some art class. Nothing special. After I killed those, I moved on to the two next to them. Occasionally I needed to paint large sections and I swished the next to last brush. In one tiny section I used the little brush on the right, but I tried not to be that picky about it most of the time.

I used disposable plastic cups for the paint and paper plates for putting my brushes on.

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In the end I put two coats of paint on everything, and three coats on the two yellowish greens at the bottom of the second column in the photo above. They covered really poorly.

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I estimate that the painting along took me about 60 hours, plus all the hours I spent figuring out the best way to approach each step of the project.

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I found the painting very meditating to do — a total surprise to me, since knitting and sewing usually involve lots of cursing.

And here’s the final result!

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And just for fun, I created this animation of all the photos I took along the way.

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