Wednesday, February 10, 2021

By the Numbers

All of my working life, I had a dream: when I retired, I was going to take up painting. It was a dream that sustained me through many long years of gainful employment, thinking about what I could accomplish once I no longer needed to earn a living.

And so, one happy day, I retired, and my dream immediately foundered on the rocky shores of reality. Not only did I lack the time, I also found myself bereft of talent, or any noticeable desire. After all those years, it turns out I didn’t really want to paint a picture. My feelings about art, instead, mirrored those of the many who say, “When I retire, I’m going to write a novel,” which is to say, I wanted to have painted a picture.

Many happy years have come and gone since then, and my determination to not paint has served me well. Painting takes up space, and the more you do it, the more space it takes up. We might live in a small flat, but no amount of writing is going to fill up my tiny office the way even a casual interest in acrylics might.

However, shit—as they say—happens, which, in this case, takes the form of Lockdown Number Three. Being shut up inside for six weeks and counting (again) had me looking around for some additional diversion. For Christmas, my wife had given me, as a sort of joke, a dot-to-dot book for adults (not to be confused with Adult Dot-to-Dot; Google carefully) and I found that to be a soothing diversion. So, when I finished it, I looked around for something to fill the time it used to take up and, somehow, I came to the notion that there ought to be paint-by-number sets for adults (not to be confused with Adult Paint-by-Numbers; Google carefully) and, sure enough, there are. (Suggested motto: Paint-by-Numbers, because real art is hard.)

Be careful how you Google.

Having memories of the paint-by-number sets of my youth, I was slightly skeptical, but these new, more mature sets, really tick the boxes. They are not, as I feared, the rigid,10x12 inch boards that I remember. These are 16x20 inch canvases that come rolled up, along with little plastic containers of the necessary paint, and three brushes. They take up little room and, when you are done, you can toss the whole thing in the bin.

That is the best bit. You don’t have to worry about where you are going to hang your masterpiece because, when you finish, you’re more likely to find that your efforts look less like the Mona Lisa and more like someone tied paint brushes to a terror of toddlers (that is the collective noun for toddlers, isn’t it?) and let them roll around on the canvas. But the point isn’t the finished product, it’s the zen-time spent dabbing paint on a brush and trying to stay inside the lines. You can do that perfectly (spoiler alert: you won’t) and you’ll still end up with something you really should hide away somewhere.

The problem is the way they are made, which is also the great thing about them. The canvases are printed by a computer program that scans a real painting, recognizes color and pattern and translates it onto a canvas. As with many automated tasks, however, the outcome is only as good as the software, and sometimes this translates to an overcast sky you are instructed to paint lime-green, or distant objects that disappear. The upside is, this makes these sets inexpensive enough that you won’t mind chucking them out (or at least rolling them up and stuffing them behind a bookcase) when you finish.

What the detail in the picture looks like          what the detail on the canvas looks like

Admittedly, my experience is limited. I’m only on my second picture and both have come from the same company. There may be others that have better software but, as I’ve noted above, that is hardly the point.

Even so, when I order more, I may go with another, more expensive, company to see if there is an upgraded version of the software that might render a picture more accurately. But until then, I’m content painting my skies green, and doing what I can to fill in the gaps.

So if, like me, you find yourself at a loose end this lockdown, you could do worse than try a paint-by-numbers kit. Unless, of course, you are really working on that novel.

Hmm, I wonder if the world is ready for a novel-by-numbers kit.