Creativity (By Numbers)

A week or so ago I was wandering around Fred Aldous, a Manchester icon that you should 100% visit if you’re in the city or just fancy buying a bizarre plaster cast of someone’s hand or 10,000 sheets of coloured paper, and I spotted the scraper foils I used to love as a child. If you’re not familiar with them, it’s basically a sheet of black card with silver or gold underneath and you gradually scrape away a pattern printed on the black to reveal the colour underneath; my Mum still has one of silver seahorses I did for her birthday when I was about twelve. Sitting next to them were several paint by numbers kits and similar guided artistic kits of kids. Long story short, I bought a paint by numbers set and it’s the best thing ever.

Paint by numbers as an adult

Despite being aimed at children, it actually reminds me a great deal of the adult colouring books that were all the rage a few years ago. I had one of them back then, and used it a bit but my felt tips kept drying up so I abandoned it. Painting on the other hand, is much more exciting. I have teeny-tiny pots of colour coded colours that occasionally I have to mix and it’s all very thrilling. I realise that to anyone who frequently partakes in any real artistic pursuits I sound like a complete buffoon, but I really am thoroughly enjoying it.

It’s the complete antithesis of art, and isn’t at all creative, but that’s not why I bought it. Rather than being an expression of a feeling or thought in the way art is, it’s a removal of it. I can tune out while painting, searching for every tiny instance of the number five, while my paint brush, dipped in green, hovers above the canvas. It’s an exercise in relaxation and one I’ve been really enjoying. Sitting by the kitchen window with the light streaming in the early afternoon, some music playing in the background as I paint fields in three different shades of green: it’s bliss. In many ways I find it similar to meditation; my hand moves almost automatically and my mind is focused on a single digit, meaning there’s very little room for my thoughts to wander.

Sure, my hand cramps up and I’ve got blue paint on the wall, but I’m loving it. I also feel an odd sense of shame about it; I have a friend who is an accomplished artist and illustrator, and as much as I endeavour not to compare myself to anyone, the difference in our abilities is glaring. The pinnacle of my artistic achievement was a grotesque teapot in the shape of an elephant’s head that I made in Year 9 Art. I’m not artistic but I am creative; in the gifted and talented school scheme I was classed as gifted but not talented, which I remember being outraged by. Ultimately, I can’t compared myself to anyone or I’ll go mad. I enjoy painting but don’t have the idea or skill to execute it well, so paint by numbers is a perfect fit.

If you’re looking for a new way to relax, or just like playing with paint but don’t have any actual artistic talent, I’d recommend it. Has anyone else found structured art like this relaxing? And who else still has things like scraper foils on display in their childhood homes?

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