What I Learned About Myself Through Paint-By-Numbers

January 7, 2021

I have to be honest.

Last year when my friend Nathalie told me about her latest hobby, I made fun of her.

I know. That’s not very nice of me.

But… the hobby she mentioned was…. Paint-by-Numbers.

I mean, come on… hahahahaha!

What middle-aged woman Bob Ross wannabe spends her evenings with Paint-by-Numbers?

Nathalie, I guess. And then, because the joke’s on me… ME.

Now that’s funny.

What’s not funny is the result of my 2020 “hobbies.” Apparently, boozing and banana-breading (the art of making not entirely tasty banana bread but eating it all anyway…) are not all that effective for long-term stress relief. And the opposite of effective for such important things as… pants.

Would it hurt to try something new?

Might I find it relaxing? Would I summon my inner Picasso? Could I create a masterpiece?

My daughter, a natural artist, expressed interest. So I invested in a holiday gift for the two of us – a set of four Paint-by-Number kits (buy 3, get one free!)

The gift missed its Hanukkah deadline. Blame the USPS. But finally, it arrived.

While my daughter started on a painting depicting the canals of Venice, I would paint the Eiffel Tower in spring.

This is what the enclosed image of the final product promised:

Painting of paris in spring

What The Finished Product Should Look Like

This is what it actually looked like, in raw form:

Paris sketch what i learned about myself through paint-by-numbers

Can You Even See The Numbers?

This was going to be harder than I thought.

I set out an old sheet on our dining room table. I expected a mess. I made one.

My daughter is experienced in acrylics and watercolors and basics like how much paint to put on the brush and why you should not pet the dog prior to painting.

I’m not.

But I can follow simple instructions:  Match the number on the small paint samples with the numbers on the canvas. Start in the upper left if you’re right-handed. Fill in larger spaces first. Smaller ones next. Clean the brush in between colors.

It was kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, searching for and filling in the tiny areas, some so small I could barely make out the number without snapping a photo and enlarging it on my phone.

Middle-aged Bob Ross wannabe asks, “Is that a 3 or an 8?”

My favorite color was #7, a light lavender. I accidentally left my least favorite, #22 – a poop-like brown, open one night and found it solid and crusted the next day. Appropriate.

Progress was slow at first. It looked nothing like it should. Yet, sitting with my daughter at our dining room table –  sometimes listening to her preferred music, often in silence – was far more productive than binging on Netflix and less caloric than banana bread.

It was… relaxing. And fun.

With strokes even and sure, her Venice canal quickly came to life.

My Eiffel Tower? Not so much.

A bit… splotchy.

If you look up close, you can see where I had too much paint on my brush or not enough. It’s clear where I couldn’t stay in the lines or where I neglected to completely fill the space.

Also, there might be an embedded dog hair or two.

Paris cu 2 what i learned about myself through paint-by-numbers

Does It Look Like The Eiffel Tower?

But here’s the amazing thing… If you take a step back and look at the canvas from across the room, you don’t see splotchy strokes. Or mistakes. Or dog hair.

You see… the Eiffel Tower.

I mean, it actually kind of looks like the example in the instructions! How crazy is that?

From afar, anyway. Back it up to the next room, it gets even better.

Paris finished what i learned about myself through paint-by-numbers

It Kind Of Looks Like… The Eiffel Tower!

And this got me thinking, as I often do, about how this story applies to the rest of our lives.

Much like running for a hotdog at the ballgame or trying to save a ladybug in the bathtub or listening to some cackling sea gulls… there’s always a greater takeaway.

Looking at my canvas up close and with a very critical eye, it’s easy to see all the flaws.

But from afar, it’s a much prettier picture.

Much like using one of those awful magnifying mirrors to illuminate every wrinkle and clogged pore and bit of facial fuzz.

Why do we do that?

Why do we insist on examining our imperfections with a microscope? Why do we berate ourselves for things barely visible to the eye?

Why not step back and get a look at the big picture?

After all, perfection is the killer of creativity. (And self-esteem!)

How are you viewing yourself?

With an overly critical close-up? Or as a full individual whose sum is a wonderful combination of all its parts?

Consider yourself as others do, without the microscope on the minutiae. You, my friend, are a thing of beauty.

Maybe you don’t need to change YOU at all. Maybe you only need to change how you view yourself. Back it up a bit.

Maybe I should get back to finishing this painting. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done. I’m almost there.

Although I’ll miss this time at the dining room table with my daughter, creating Paris in spring with my Paint-by-Numbers kit, we did use the image as inspiration to discuss a future trip together to see Paris in person.

And that will be a beautiful sight.

Valerie gordon old headshot what i learned about myself through paint-by-numbers Valerie Gordon is a former Emmy-award-winning producer, a lifelong storyteller, and the founder of career and communications strategy firm The Storytelling Strategist. She’s a speaker, trainer and coach who uses the power of story to grow authentic leaders and build teams. Her next painting project is her (currently orange) living room into a more eye-pleasing neutral.


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