Before & After: Paint-By-Number Wall Mural

published Aug 16, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Time to do laundry because Curtis Robertson is about to knock your socks off! His niece and her husband just moved into their first home and he wanted to do something special for his great nephew’s room. With two vintage eBay paint-by-number paintings as his guide he meticulously recreated them in an incredible whole room mural. It’s a must see:

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Once we found our socks, we asked Curtis some questions about this terrific, super-sized project:

Where did you get the idea to create a mural from paint-by-numbers paintings?
My major in college was Art, and I’ve always enjoyed decorative painting, including things like faux finishes (back when they were more popular), and other wall treatments, including making my old bathroom look like a subway station, which was great fun. But I really liked doing murals, like the ones I did for my nieces’ rooms in my sister’s house, which I made look like a farmhouse porch and a gazebo when they were little. It was very easy to talk my sister into that, because she completely trusted my taste and ability, so although she was blown away, she wasn’t really shocked that I could make it happen.

But at some point I got the idea that making walls look wallpapered would be fun, and I saw a Landscape Wallcovering show at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, and I thought how great some of those Zuber Brothers panoramic landscape wallpapers looked, which were wood-cut-printed and had a lot of colors, but still a somewhat limited palette.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Another ‘after’ shot showing the second painting writ large. THEN… a friend went to D.C. and saw an exhibit about paint-by-numbers at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and I thought, AHA! That would be a great way to do a mural! It was a) already drawn and composed, b) already had a specific limited color palette, c) could be easily transferred to a wall with no real surprises, d) there are many kinds of subject matter already existing out there, e) it would be Warhol-ish, in its way, f) the change of scale would sort of “elevate” the medium a bid, g) it would be somewhat nostalgic for people my age and older… and the list of reasons why just kept growing. So… actually THIS one is my 6th, altogether.

The one that I did for myself is a similarly vintage subject matter, I think from 1962 and it’s Paris at night with wet streets, and AT did a House Tour that included it. And Maxwell included it in his book Apartment Therapy Presents: Real People, Real Homes, Hundreds of Real Design Solutions. It’s the 6th one (they did it alphabetically by first name) in there.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Getting started with a grid. I also did a paint-by-number mural in the first Bloomingdales’ Big Window Challenge contest, and my entry was
“Bridget’s Bridge” and that particular scene was based on a 1948 paint-by-number painting.

How long did this project take to complete?
When I went down South last week to visit my family on Friday the 5th we hadn’t even narrowed it down to which scene it would be, but by the afternoon of Monday the 8th I was actually starting, and I worked as late as I could each day, and began work as early as I could each morning through late Thursday night, August 11th until 3:00am Friday. My sister (the “grandmaw” of Little Man) worked at my side as much as she could, helping fill in the numbered spaces that painted onto the wall. Actually the entire family helped. Her husband helped prime, Little Man’s father painted the red barn color on the door-and-closet wall, our parents, and my niece and her sister and brother all helped at various points, and there were moments when there 4 of them with me at a time, quietly painting altogether.

The big goal was to finish it in time for me to see the nearly-four-year-old’s expression on his face when he would see it. My flight was to be on Friday the 12th. And we did get it to point that he would think it was finished, but my sister and I did another 6 hours of post-reveal tweaking, making sure that all the colors were completely opaquely solid, and re-painted the baseboards to cover the drips, etc.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
The outline being darkened with paint.

Any tips for someone who wants to attempt this in their own home? Be committed and determined or don’t start it. Make your own little list of the colors in the scene that you’re modeling it on, and then match up the colors to paint chips, and just know that the minimum paint can is a quart, so you’re going to have a LOT of paint. That’s one reason why I ended up painting the whole room — 18 colors = 18 quarts = 4.5 gallons and that’s too much paint NOT to paint the whole room, so I decided that for this farm theme, the sliding closet doors should be a barn door. My sister actually has a real barn with vertical siding. And it seemed that the window with the horizontal blinds needed to look like the side of a house that had horizontal siding.

To transfer the image to the wall, I did it “old school”, which was to scale the drawing to the wall and do a grid on a color photocopy of the (pair of) painting(s) that I used, and then draw a grid on the wall with yellow chalk, and then sketch it in with turquoise chalk, and then solidify the lines with turquoise paint, so it would really look and feel like the vintage paint-by-number kits, and then look VERY carefully to make sure you assign the color numbers as close to the original as possible.

Will the furnishings/decor in your great nephew’s room relate to the mural in any way?
At least some it, yes. There’s a little junior bed that his aunt occupied as a toddler that has a bit of a picket-fence look to it, and he may end up with that, or perhaps some bunk beds that were in my father’s room when he was a kid. Those were dark wood and could look good in there, too. And the corner may have some kind of John Deere themed bucket, just to slightly obscure the corner of the floor, to help the panoramic illusion.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
The numbered segments being painted in – the whole family helped!

Are you for hire and how could someone get in touch with you? Yes. I love doing these, but the best use of my time and a clients’ funds would be for them have me help them select the subject and have me basically create a big “paint by number kit” on walls, and then have THEM fill it in. Then, if they want to hire me again at the end to tweak it, I can. (email NYC-based Curtis to discuss!)

Anything else you’d like to share about the project?
This kind of project doesn’t necessarily have to be for a kid’s room. Like I said, my own 20 foot wall has Paris on it, done like this, but there are lots of potential themes that kids would like. One thing I like about this one, is that actually a farm scene isn’t really all that juvenile and could actually grow up with him pretty well, at least for a while.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
Curtis surveying his work (hopefully pre-cocktail!) If you want to see all the in-process photos of this paint-by-number wall mural (you’ll be simultaneously inspired and vicariously exhausted), visit Curtis’s

Thanks Curtis!

(Images: Curtis Robertson, used with permission)