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Relaxing Crafts: Paint by Numbers

Some craft projects require concentration (like following an amigurumi pattern), while other projects are relaxing in their repetitive nature (like crocheting row after row of a simple afghan pattern). I find these more relaxing crafts and projects wonderful for the times when my brain is too tired to concentrate on something complicated, but my hands still want to stay busy.

I’ve started picking up craft kits so I can try different crafts and see what appeals to me. I thought it might be fun to do a series of posts on the crafts I’m dabbling in – maybe you’ll find something you’d like to try too! (And many of these simple crafts are kid-friendly, so these could also be family craft projects, or ideas for gifts for the crafty children in your life.)

So here’s the first post in my new Relaxing Crafts series…

Paint by Numbers

I haven’t painted anything for years, and I thought that a paint by numbers kit might be a good way to practice brush technique and ease me back into the feel of painting so I could try painting something from scratch in future.

I tried the Royal & Langnickel Dolphins Painting By Numbers kit. It looked like a cute picture, and at about the size of a sheet of printer paper, I thought it’d be a manageable size.

dolphins paint by numbers kit

The design and the colour-coded numbers are pre-printed onto the canvas in pale blue, so all you need to do is grab a colour of paint and fill in all the indicated areas with that colour, then repeat for all the other colours, and you have a beautiful painting! Or do you…?

I found it more difficult than I’d expected, considering these kits are designed for kids 8 and older – surely, I should have more skill than an inexperienced 8-year old? For me, it was frustrating to have to follow the arbitrary lines separating the shading colours – for example, I think I’d have preferred to try shading the dolphins in my picture myself vs trying to follow all the jagged bands of shadow and light on the dolphins’ bodies.

dolphins paint by numbers kit
There are lots of fiddly jagged lines to follow to form this shading.

I also assumed I’d be provided with all the paint colours I needed, but there were lots of mixed colours required:

dolphins paint by numbers kit
All the areas with two numbers are colours you have to mix yourself, e.g. “10/20” means a mix of colour 10 and colour 20. It seemed like most of the colours were mixes!

dolphins paint by numbers kit
The results of some of that fiddly colour mixing are disappointingly muddy…

Some of the provided paint colours were used a lot – in mixes as well as solo – and I was always scared I’d run out, especially if I mixed too much of a certain shade and had to waste some of it. This was not a very relaxing process! But I did complete the painting…

dolphins paint by numbers kit

The end result is okay, but I feel a bit misled by the box art, which shows a coloured picture of the design, not a completed painting (and now I know to look for that, it seems that’s a common trend in these kits). The provided paint colours aren’t the same as shown in the cover picture, and the result is much less subtle, so it’s a bit disappointing.

dolphins paint by numbers kit
Where are my blue dolphins from the cover pic?!

Given all that, paint by numbers is not something I’d want to try again. If I do ever brave painting again, I’ll just sketch an outline and then attempt to paint it properly – I think I could do at least as well as following the kit!

dolphins paint by numbers kit
The painting is still kind of cute though – especially once I added a glint to each dolphin’s eye (that’s not part of the design).

I did pick up a few painting tips from this experience:

  • Low quality paint has terrible coverage – once I’d painted over each section, I could still see the numbers printed beneath the paler paint shades and had to give them a second coat (and the white paint took three coats to cover the numbers!)
  • Acrylic paint dries much darker than the colour appears when the paint is wet.
  • Painting accurate fine lines is difficult, especially at certain angles. I’m much more comfortable with a pencil than a brush.

dolphins paint by numbers kit
Look carefully and you can still see the blue lines around the edges of the paler colours, despite my best efforts to hide them 🙁

Relaxing Craft Verdict

As a relaxing craft, I’m calling Paint by Numbers a fail – for me, anyway.

  • If you’re inexperienced in painting, taking care not to stick your hand in the wet paint or paint over the lines requires a fair amount of concentration.
  • If you’re already a painter, you really don’t need a paint by numbers kit – you’d do better without one!

Maybe I was just unlucky with my choice of kits and there are better ones out there. Have you (or your kids) had any success with paint by numbers kits, or do you agree with my assessment? Let me know in the comments!

And now, my search for relaxing crafts continues. I have quite a few lined up already, but I’d love to hear your suggestions for crafts I can try – and review here for you – too. Please leave your ideas below… 🙂


  1. I recall how terrible I was when it came to painting through number keys. It felt tooo complicated. I recently rekindled my interest in origami. I had learnt to make many things as a child but had forgotten them over the years. Thanks to YouTube tutorials, I was able to recall some of the crafts.

  2. Jennifer said

    I would really recommend weaving on some type of little loom, such as the potholder looms sold in the Friendly Loom line by Harrisville Designs (no affiliation or anything, just a super satisfied customer, because they have really quality products and all their loops fit etc.!) I have several different types of little looms from them (tapestry, lap loom, small rigid heddle) that I want to learn to use, but at the moment the one I’ve really gotten to use (and find very relaxing!) is to use the potholder loom with their cotton loops. It’s so fun to put together different color ideas and see how they look when woven! Harrisville also has a free on-line potholder design wizard so you can try out your color and pattern idea on the computer if you want to before you start to weave it (or you can just go for it and watch your design develop as you weave). And the looms don’t have to be used exclusively with pre-made loops, or exclusively for potholders. You can just use regular yarn with them, and even weave other shaped pieces like triangles etc. on them. One place to start for information on various possibilities for these other aspects is the blog called Tottie Talks Crafts, written by Noreen Crone-Findlay (search for the term potholder loom in the search box on her blog to sort it out, because she also blogs about a number of other crafts). Anyway, I knit, crochet, and do fine art, but in the past couple of years when I want something fun, easy, and pretty instant gratification I make something on the potholder loom!

  3. Claire Best said

    Hi June
    I tried Kumihimo – Japanese braiding – last year and that was relaxing. I haven’t made very complicated pieces, yet, but I could do it sitting in my armchair with my feet up and a mug of tea beside me!

    Or maybe Macramé? Most people think of those awful macramé hanging plant pot holders from the 70s, but I watched an elderly genfleman working it on a flat board, and making beautiful belts and bracelets.


  4. Sara Branch said

    I’m sorry that the Paint By Numbers ended up being such a flop for you! My mother’s friend used to do them and had some just amazing pieces, but this was her main form of relaxation so I think she knew what to look for in kits. For myself, I paint miniatures when I can get a week or two of time. The average human figures are about 1.5″ tall and the larger dragons can be up to 15″ tall/wide. To ensure that you don’t have any white lines between colors, you’re actually supposed to slop the paint over the lines of the bottom-most layers. When I get frustrated with detail work, I start a new piece so I can slop and I don’t have to be careful. I just finished some My Little Pony minis which were very enjoyable to do because they had simple lines, little fine detail and no shading.

    • June said

      Ooh, now miniatures are something I’ve always been too scared to try – I imagine it’s quite difficult to paint in the details like faces and have them look good(?) But if you find it relaxing then maybe I will too – I’ll give it a go, as we’ve just bought a resin 3D printer, so I could print some miniatures to paint…

  5. Dianne U said

    I forgot to add that once you get good at quilling, you can take it to amazing places – 3-D, huge mosaics, etc., etc. Like I said before – you are only limited by your imagination. The colors of paper available are amazing and nearly unlimited and you could also make your own – harder but fulfilling too. Give quilling a try. I promise you’ll love it!!

  6. Dianne U said

    You asked for suggestions on crafts to try. I do quilling. (Not QuilTing) It requires paper strips (1/4″ or 1/8″ wide but can be wider) that you coil up on a tool, pin, or with your fingers. Then you glue the shape, pinch it into different shapes and glue them together. Sounds much harder than it is, believe me. I picked up this craft when I was pregnant with my 1st child because it seemed easy, was cheap, and didn’t take a lot of equipment. Paper, glue, tool. Something to glue your piece onto. There are lots of websites to show you patterns you could follow, but once you start it’s hard to stop and the ideas flow like crazy. I highly recommend it!! Kids can do it and unless you have problems with your fingers, most people can do it easily. Give it a try. If you don’t like it, you aren’t out much in money. And your kids/grands might love it.

    • June said

      Funny you should mention quilling, Dianne – I actually still have the remains of a quilled butterfly kit from when I was a kid! It’d take the prize for longest project completion time ever if it’s still in useable condition – I must have started it well over 30 years ago 😀

  7. Cindi said

    Nope! Didn’t like them at all…unfortunately, I also can’t draw or even paint a wall! The only other crafts I do are counted cross-stitch, and learning to sew coasters!:joy_cat:

    • June said

      I am glad it’s not just me, Cindi! And I’m a long-time fan of cross-stitch too 🙂

  8. Marilyn said

    Such a great post! I couldn’t help but laugh. I can see paint by numbers being a total fail for me, too. I do think geting kits is a good way to try new crafts and such. I watch a lot of the zoom classes given by No matter the craft, I get excited to try it, go buy the supplies…. then lose interest.

    • June said

      Maybe it’s a good thing to lose interest in some crafts; there aren’t enough hours in the day to get good at everything! (And I also want to try eeeeeeveerything out there!) Hopefully my posts will help some people decide whether it’s a good idea to invest (or not) in another new craft 😀

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