Homemade Paint-By-Number

Sometimes you just need a project.  You know, to keep yourself from trolling Craigslist for furniture that could potentially work for a house that you could potentially buy in a couple of months.. if you know what I mean.  And/or stressing over said house and all the little roller coaster rides that accompany the process.  Let’s just say – rural house buying with just a little acreage ain’t the faint of heart.  So many emails.  So many phone calls. “I have no idea what fire protection zone its in, should I?” Ugh.

This project started with an impromptu trip to the thrift store and ended up as a custom paint-by-number-ish bluebird painting.


I took some inspiration from this paint-by-number mural. (Super cool for a kids room right?)  I love that vintage look and thought it would be easy to duplicate with a little help from photoshop.  And, its a pretty simple process that can be easily duplicated by anyone with some time on their hands.  To make it even more awesome, you could use a photo that you actually took, or one of a meaningful place, etc.  Pet portrait?

Ok, I’m putting a break in so I don’t consume the entire front page of the blog. Click through to see what I did, step by step with tons of pictures. Yay!

Step 1.  Find a photo that you like.  I’d recommend finding a photo that’s

  • all in focus
  • little to no shadowy areas
  • has sharp color contrast

I just snagged one from Google Images, like so:


Step 2.  Fire up photoshop and run that photo through the ‘Cutout’ filter.  Your end result should be something like this.


Step 3.  Print out the resulting image and trace it on a piece of glass that you swiped from an unsuspecting picture frame.  I used a finetip sharpie to trace. (It wiped off with windex so no harm done.)


Step 4.  Use an old-school projector to project your traced image-on-glass onto your canvas.  (What? My house is full of such things.)  This time, I traced in pencil. Tip: Write faintly if possible – pencil is kind of hard to paint over.  (Alternative:  If you have access to a digital projector you could just go straight from photoshop to here, and probably get a better end result. Lots of details were lost in the translation from computer to printout to sharpie-on-glass to pencil-on-plywood.


Step 5.  Round up a selection of colors, preferably decent quality paint.  I used a mix of low end acrylic from the art section of Michaels, and low end craft paint from the craft section.  (Notice a theme here, readers?)  The craft paint required every bit of 3 coats to get good coverage and typically you don’t want to be doing 2nd and 3rd coats over things whilst painting a masterpiece.  So, I recommend you stock up on 40% off coupons and at least buy the low end art paint.

Step 6. Paint each section according to your printout.  I did a lot of custom color mixing as needed.  That part was easier than I expected.  I only had to toss and start over a few times.  Sometimes I started with light colors in a section, sometimes I started with dark, didn’t seem to matter.


That’s all there is to it. The bird and the branches were very easy. The flowers were kinda hard. I ended up fudging things quite a bit on the flowers, to make them look more like ‘dogwood flowers’ and less like ‘pink blobs’.  I think these flowers had too much detail and not enough color contrast for the Photoshop ‘cutout’ filter to do a good job.  I like ’em though, especially from a distance.  They are a little wonky close up.

And now what?  I need another project.


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About Mary-Hall

loyal southerner, exceedingly frugal, compulsive DIYer

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