Monday, August 27, 2012

Venus DIY Paint by Number

How was your weekend? I celebrated a friend's birthday, enjoyed Keith's teriyaki pan-seared tuna steaks, and finished this small painting of Venus from Botticelli's Primavera mural. Maybe I went a bit overboard on those big doe eyes and that little Clara Bow mouth, but isn't she cute? She's part two of a trio of close-ups from Primavera. You can see the first painting in the trio, a detail of the Graces dancing, here. And as always, I'm sharing my template, so you can make one too! Except for carbon paper, all the supplies are available at Michael's, Jo-Ann Fabrics, or any other craft store.
Supply List:
one 8 by 8 inch pre-primed canvas
carbon paper, one colored pencil, tape, and
three paintbrushes (small, smaller, and smallest)
acrylic paint in black, white, red, purple, pale blue, Caucasian flesh tone, and various browns and beiges

Let's get started!

1. Save these images and print them on standard-size printer paper. Choose the "full page photo" setting, and DO NOT check the box that says "Fit picture to frame." You want two nice, large 8 by 8 inch square images. 

2. Trim the excess paper from the black and white image so you have a perfect square.

3. Tape the carbon paper securely to your canvas, carbon-side down. Make absolutely sure the black carbon side is down; otherwise the image won't transfer. Yes, I once traced an entire painting with the wrong side down, and it's infuriating. Tape the black and white image over the carbon paper, so the image stays securely in place.

4. Use the colored pencil to trace over ALL the lines on the black and white image. Why use colored pencil? Then you can easily see what you've already traced. This part takes about 20 minutes, and it's tedious relaxing.

5. Gently loosen the tape and remove the black and white image and the carbon paper. Your canvas should now look like this. Yay! It looks cool but kind of weird, right? Don't worry! Just keep going.

6. Now it's time for the fun part. You get to be creative, because I don't put numbers on my templates. I want you to have creative license! This is especially important if you want your painting to match your room, or if you want to customize the picture in some other way. Just use the colored template as a guide, and paint your canvas to match (or not). Here's my advice:
  • Paint in sections. I started with the blue sky on the left, then painted her hair, next her face, then her dress, and the background last.
  • I advise painting the eyes and mouth freehand. I didn't like using a flesh tone for the whites of her eyes, and I wanted to line her eyes to give them more definition. I also thought her mouth was too indistinct on the template.
  • Begin with the lightest color in a section, and work with successively darker colors.
  • Mix your paints to get the color you want. If you want a natural looking painting, mix colors that are very similar, especially when painting flesh tones. If you want a more stylized or dramatic painting, then use colors with more contrast.
  • The first few colors you apply will look really dark and dramatic. Don't panic! It's just because they contrast so starkly with the white canvas. As you add more colors, your image will look more natural.
  • If you apply a color and you don't like it, that's okay. Let it dry, remix your paint, and paint over it. But don't rework the area while the paint is still wet. Acrylics get gloppy when you do that.
  • You do NOT have to do this all at once. I did this project over four days.
This is how the painting progressed:

I was excited that her hair matched the template almost perfectly...
And then I freaked out. This looked WEIRD. Hi, Blobface. I don't like you.
Never mind! Hellooooo, pretty lady! I'm SO GLAD I decided to paint her eyes and mouth freehand. 
And... finished! Just one more painting to go before this trio is complete. 

Feel free to use this template for personal use and modify it however you like, but please don't use it for commercial projects. If you do try this project, send me a picture! I'd love to see your finished painting and link up to your blog.


  1. I really love these tutorials! Paint-by-number is so sweet looking, but half the time the pictures are really terrible (or they are super expensive - wtf is up with that?). Your classics are so beautiful and, well, classic :)

    1. Thanks! Yeah, don't most of the available designs suck? I've seen a lot of ugly, overpriced horse templates. NAY. (hahahahahaha!) That's why I started making my own. I wanted something really girly and instantly recognizable.

      I like posting free templates for public use, so if you have any requests, send 'em my way! What should be next--50s pinups? Animals? Awkward family photos?

  2. I love this! Would you share how you made the black and white line drawing? I want to do a family pet paint by numbers and want to use my own photo. This is just great. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Sure! I posted a full tutorial on the technique here:

      The black and white line drawing is generated in Photoshop, so no major artistic skill is required. :) Enjoy!


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