17 Paint by Number Mistakes Most Beginners Make

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Keeping brushes clean as you paint by numbers is a no-brainer. So is cleaning the brushes before switching paints. Or starting with light colors and finishing with dark ones. Today, we will discuss some paint by number mistakes most beginners make.

If you’ve been painting by numbers for a while, then all these points seem obvious. But if you’re just starting out, then you’ll probably need some sort of guide on the don’ts of painting by numbers. Let’s call them “the top 17 mistakes to avoid in paint by numbers”.


Paint by Number Mistakes: #1 – Buying a cheap kit


Original paint by numbers kits blow the cheap stuff out of the water. In addition to creating awesome art, original kits are well packaged and come with good-quality tools.

Cheap kits, on the other hand, are synonymous with wrinkles on canvas, low-quality brushes, inadequate/missing paints, and poorly constructed paints. Those are all things that you want to avoid at all costs.

In other words, cheap paint by numbers kits are not worth it! The canvas is usually folded during shipping, which creates all sorts of wrinkles. No matter how many times you iron it, someone will still see creases in your final artwork. And, the low-quality brushes will fray and poke holes on your canvas.

Don’t even get me started on cheap paints. First of all, their poor construction means that numbers will show through the paint.


Pro tip: If you suspect that your paint is low-quality, cover the numbers using white out or a white pencil before painting.


Secondly, there’s every possibility that you’ll run out of paint before you finish the painting. Even worse, the kit might come with some paints missing. Therefore, it’s better to use original paint by numbers.

“Is my paint by numbers legit?”

If you bought it from Ledgebay then it’s legit.




Paint by Numbers Mistakes: #2 – Ignoring comfort


Paint by numbers is wonderfully indulging, hence you’ll often find yourself thinking about the painting more than your comfort. Ideally, your comfort should come first. It’s only when you’re feeling nice and cozy that you can produce great art.

Therefore, start by finding a comfortable, well-lit room in which to paint. You should be able to see every number and shape (on the canvas) clearly. Otherwise you might end up painting the wrong color on a shape.

In case the design is super-detailed, chances are it will feature tiny spaces to paint. In that case, you may need a lamp and magnifying glass. Better yet, you could get a magnifying headlamp.

As long as we’re talking about your comfort, make sure that you have a comfortable working surface. A desk, table or counter top will do the trick. You could also consider using an easel, especially if you have a framed paint by numbers kit. That way you’ll alternate between sitting and standing.


Mistake 3: Using a cluttered working area




Keeping your work area clean is just as important as keeping brushes clean. There are two reasons for that. First, you want to clear the space of anything that can get dirty or wet.

As many painters will tell you, paint has a way of finding its way onto everything but the canvas. For that reason, you may also want to cover the working area with some old newspapers to protect it.

Secondly, a cluttered space is distracting. Decluttering it will help you focus on your paint by numbers project more than anything else.


Mistake 4: Failing to take reference picture


Bring out your phone and take a few pics of the canvas before you start to paint. Why? Because you’ll need a permanent reference picture in case you spill paint and cover a number.

Besides, you can zoom the picture to see the really tiny shapes and numbers on the canvas. Some kits do come with a miniature version of the canvas for reference. But you can never have too many backup plans when painting by numbers.


Mistake 5: Failing to read the instruction booklet


All the best paint by numbers kits for adults and kids come with an instruction booklet among other things. Read it carefully before you start painting.

That’s where you’ll get all the important information. For example, the manufacturer will specify that if you see an unnumbered shape, then it means you shouldn’t paint it. Or if you have two numbers in one shape, that means you should mix the two paints that correspond to those numbers.


Mistake 6: Starting from the bottom


One rule of thumb when painting by numbers is to start from the top and finish at the bottom. More precisely, start from the top right corner if you’re left-handed or the top left corner if you’re right-handed. Why so?

Because that way you won’t smudge the canvas. Conversely, if you start from the bottom, your hand or sleeve might touch wet paint that’s already on the canvas as you reach for the top spots. And then it will smudge sections of the canvas, thus ruining your artwork.


Mistake 7: Starting with light colors


The conventional way of painting with oil or acrylic is to start with dark colors and move to light ones. Watercolor, in contrast, requires that you to do the opposite; i.e. move from light to dark.

However, in paint by numbers, there’s only one principle: start with dark colors and finish with light ones. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using oil, acrylic or watercolor paint.

That’s because dark colors are usually part of the background. Consequently, painting them first not only gives you an idea of how the painting will look, but it also teaches you a thing or two about color composition.


Mistake 8: Using clogged brushes (Keeping Brushes Clean)



The thing with painting by numbers is that the paint dries out very quickly, especially if it’s acrylic or watercolor. And when it does, it clogs your painting brushes. The solution? Clean your brushes.

Keeping brushes clean prevents them from clogging. Additionally, you won’t mistakenly mix paints as you switch the brush from one paint container to another.

Pro tip: if your brush clogs, use a thinner (like nail polish, for example) to remove the thick paint.


Mistake 9: Using paper towels to clean brushes




So, keeping brushes clean is an important part of the paint by numbers process. But how do you that? Definitely not with paper towels.

While they may do a decent job in keeping brushes clean, paper towels wear off quickly. In contrast, a piece of cloth will last longer and do an excellent job.

Simply dip the brush in water and then dry off thoroughly with the cloth towel. As you’ve probably already guessed, you’ll need a small bowl of water for this part of the exercise.

Alternatively, you can keep the cloth constantly wet so that you don’t dip the brush in water every time. That’s an easier way of keeping brushes clean without spending all your paper towels.


Mistake 10: Using one brush for big and small shapes


Your typical paint by numbers canvas will have big and small shapes to paint. For that reason, you may need a brush for big shapes and a different brush for small shapes.

That’s because big brushes (those designed for big shapes) often paint outside the borders of small shapes. As a result, they tend to compromise the look of your final artwork.

Rather than taking that (unnecessary) risk, consider using a small, medium and large brush for small, medium and large shapes, they’ll also give you crispness, sharpness and softness respectively.


Mistake 11: Not buying your own set of brushes



Even if you’re a beginner, you should always stock extra sets of paint by numbers brushes. For one, the brushes that come with the kit could be too bad for your liking.

Also, the kit may contain just one large brush. Remember mistake #10? You’ll need a second, smaller brush for small shapes. And that’s where your own-bought set of paint by numbers brushes comes in.

You’ll feel even better painting with your own brushes if you’ve ever used them before. That’s because you’re more familiar with them, which means better control.


Pro tip: use a toothpick for the extremely tiny spaces in case you can’t find a suitable brush.


Mistake 12: Leaving paint lids open



Closing the paint container when you’re not using it is probably the top two tip to remember alongside keeping brushes clean. Just like watercolor, acrylic paint dries out very quickly when the lid stays open. Oil may take some time but it too will dry.

Therefore, make sure that you close all the paint containers when you’re not using them. Once you’re done with the artwork, save any extra paint for the future by sealing the containers and storing them safely. You may need to do some touch ups to the painting or possibly use the paints for another project all together.


Pro tip: if your acrylic or watercolor paint dries out, add some warm water into the pod to restore it. Both are water-soluble. Use an oil thinner like turpentine for oil paint.


Mistake 13: Using too much paint


Do not use too much paint because the canvas may fail to absorb all the excess. Consequently, the paint will remain wet for longer, and you don’t want that.

When paint dries out, it not only prevents smudging, but you also get to finish the artwork faster. Therefore, use each paint as conservatively as possible.

Pro tip: moisten the tip of your brush with water before dipping it in paint. It will pick just enough paint; not excess.


Mistake 14: Not thinning thick paint


The problem with thick paint is that it takes too long to dry. As a result, the artwork will constantly be prone to smudging for as long as you’re working on it. Thin the paint to avoid that unpleasant scenario.

Thin paint dries out quicker. And the best part is that you can use water to thin acrylic and watercolor paints. If you’re using oil, then turpentine or white spirit will do.


Mistake 15: Crippling fear of making mistakes


You’re allowed to make mistakes when creating art. Sounds ironic considering our topic, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, mistakes help you learn, experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, mistakes are easy to correct when painting by numbers. And that’s why you shouldn’t panic when you make one.

Painted the wrong color on a shape? Wait for it to dry and then overlay that color with the correct one. if you can still see the underlying color, wait for the shape to dry completely and then add a second layer of the correct paint.


Mistake 16: Fear of experimenting


As long as we’re talking about fear, do not be afraid to experiment. Experimenting has the same good effect as mistakes; i.e. it helps you learn and grasp the key concepts of real painting.

You can get the gist of balance, contrast, harmony, proportion, scale and repetition – all of which are principles of real painting – just by playing around with your paint by numbers project.

For example, you can paint a thin outline of a darker color around a shape to give it a richer depth. If the shape is, say blue, you can outline it with a hue of black to give it more depth. Such subtle “lessons” are the reason why paint by numbers is among the best gateways to real painting.


Mistake 17: Burning out


Michelangelo took 4 years to complete the Sistine Chapel. Same as Leonardo da Vinci with the Mona Lisa – roughly 4 years. Van Gogh took 12 months to paint the Starry Night while Picasso spent 3 weeks working on the Guernica.

If history has taught us anything it’s that it takes time to create good art. So, if you feel tired, take a break, have some coffee, get some sleep, go out and then resume when you’re feeling fresh.

Most importantly, enjoy the process. All the 17 tips for painting by numbers are not nearly as important as having fun. You’ll love the final artwork a lot more if you delight in this amazing form of art.



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