Paint-by-numbers creator calls Michigan home

Dan Robbins is mind behind iconic kit for aspiring artists

Dan Robbins (WDIV)
Dan Robbins (WDIV)

DETROIT – The concept couldn't be more simple: Just paint the color into the section with the corresponding number.

It's called paint-by-numbers and its creator lives in metro Detroit.

In 1950, Dan Robbins had an idea that would grow to inspire budding artists.

The 87-year-old proudly displays the 50s fad in his West Bloomfield home. From the very first paint by numbers image to a later Marilyn Monroe that was never marketed.

"I don't ever call them art. I call them the experience of picking up a brush, dipping it in paint," Robbins said.

The Cass Tech High School grad and Army veteran worked at the Palmer Paint Company on a washable paint set for kids. But Robbins said his boss wanted to reach more consumers and asked him to come up with something.

At first, Robbins said, he didn't have a clue on what to do. But then he remembered something about Leonardo da Vinci giving numbered assignments to his apprentices.

But not everyone caught on to the idea right away. Robbins said dealers told him it was too complicated.

Robbins explains that it's really not – artists need only to match numbers on the board with the numbers on the paint.

The kits by Craft Master hit it big time after Macy's in New York started selling them.


"The line was so hot, it took off like a rocket," Robbins said.

The company's $200,000 in annual sales jumped to $20 million thanks to paint-by-numbers.

Critics told Robbins it wasn't right to sell art in a package.

"We didn't care because we were selling a ton of them," he said.

Robbins said a paint-by-number likeness of Queen Elizabeth once sold for $1,600.


Robbins work is honored by the Detroit Historical Museum's Gallery of Innovation.