Dan Robbins is the inventor of paint-by-number art.

Paint-by-number kits have a longer history than you might think! The invention of paint-by-number goes all the way back to Leonardo Da Vinci. He would give his art students canvases that were numbered in correspondence to the type of painting they should do in that area — think underpainting, background colors, and the like. Dan Robbins took this idea and built an entire craft world around it.

Dan Robbins’ Love’s Tribute executed by an unknown painter, 1951. Courtesy of 20 North Gallery. Dan Robbins has said he believes this was the most popular paint-by-number design he ever made.

"Although painting by numbers, (like coloring books) is not a panacea for creative artistic expression, it does teach that single random colors, brought together in a controlled way can produce a beautiful picture, in much the same manner that a single musical instrument playing notes to a chord, can combine with others to produce a beautiful symphony."

- Dan Robbins, inventor of paint-by-number

about Dan Robbins

Robbins got his start working for the Palmer Paint Co under Max Klein in 1949. It was there that Robbins developed his idea for adult-centric paint kits after working on wipe-off paint kits for kids. He was reminded of the fact that adults also love to color and decided to pitch his idea to Klein.

Dan Robbins with his original paint-by-number design, Abstract No. 1. Photo by Adam Baudoux

Klein loved the idea but hated the initial finished painting that Robbins had drafted — an abstract artwork along the lines of something Picasso would paint. They decided to change the subjects to more general, adult-friendly pictures and charged ahead. While filing the patents for their kits they learned that there were already patents for paint-by-number painting sets filed as early as 1923, but they decided to just go for it.

  • Matterhorn
    - Dan Robbins

  • Marine Fantasy
    - Dan Robbins

  • Fishermen

    - Dan Robbins

After they rounded out their ideas, then came the hard part of actually manufacturing and selling their kits. The wrinkle in their plans started with the production costs associated with the kits, in order to make them profitable the costs had to be low — lower than Robbins imagined. The creative and imaginative solutions that Klein and Robbins employed to make the kits a reality are truly astounding. Instead of packaging paint in glass jars, they used pill capsules. Numbering each capsule would cost too much, so they created a numbered paint “palette” that all the pills were placed in. They rolled the canvas (which was made of window shade material) instead of stretching it and used their in-house paint production team to color-match the more expensive oil paints that Dan had used to create each design. The kits that resulted from these efforts were sold under the Craft Master brand name and are still sought after today.

It is because of the hard work and ingenuity of Robbins and Klein that our company exists today! It’s amazing how similar some of the production issues that Robbins and Klein experienced are to our own experience at Elle Crée, but thanks to their trial and error, we can avoid a few of the pitfalls. We’re so happy to be a part of the fun and interesting legacy of paint-by-number that allows anyone the opportunity to be an artist!

Dan Robbins with paint-by-numbers self portrait, Alamy