This paint chip art is the result of a huge collection of old paint chips and defunct paint decks that Hubs amasses as a painter. I also have a growing collection from years of renovating and flipping houses. And ‘peachy’ colours I pored over to decorate my bedroom while I was still living at home! Let’s not mention my sponge painting phase!
Curious to see what one could do to recycle paint chips, I did a Pinterest search. I came across paint chip portraits done completely with paint chips. Such a novel idea! What better way to celebrate Hubs than to turn his likeness into paint swatch art?
DISCLAIMER: I already had scads of old paint chips! This entire project was an exercise in upcycling what I already had!
The blog associated with the Pinterest post didn’t really divulge much so I dove right ain. With a few purchased items and photoshop, I knew I’d be able to figure out a method that worked! It was going to be a labour of love – a.k.a time consuming. But by breaking it down into smaller steps, this time-intensive project was going to be well worth it in the end.
Picture Frame for Paint Chip Art
The first thing I did was to select my picture frame. It had to be large enough so that when I assembled the ‘pixelated’ portrait I’d be able to still see all the detail. I found a great frame at Ikea, sized 19 3/4″ x 27 1/2″. As an added bonus, I was able to glue my paint chips directly to the hardboard backing. I simply reinserted it back into the frame to complete my project.
Materials for Paint Chip Art
I needed something to cut the hundreds of little pieces that make up the portrait. The portable plastic paper cutter below was found at the dollar store. I also found this small one on Amazon (which has replaceable blades to keep it sharp). If you can find a similar one at the dollar store, you can’t go wrong with the price tag as long as it’s sharp. It’s just the right size for storing after the project is completed. You’ll notice I made some modifications (more about that later).
I also needed somewhere to corral all those hundreds of little pieces of paint chips once they were all cut (over 800!). For that, I found this large pill organizer measuring 12 1/4″ x 7 1/2″. The one pictured on the right is from Amazon.com, but I found mine at Walgreens when I was in the U.S.
The last thing I needed was a glue stick. Once I gathered all my materials, I was ready to start the graphic process.
Creating a Paint Chip Mosaic
You can probably achieve the same effect with a free pixelation program, but I use Photoshop. Start with a close-up head shot.
You’re probably not interested in duplicating the one I made of Hubs, right?? So I’m demonstrating the graphic steps with this picture of Lady Gaga at the 73rd Golden Globe awards I found on Google .
Using Photoshop I neutralize all the background:
I select any apparent black pixels that are still peeking through the strands of her hair and use the paint bucket to fill them with the same colour as the background:
Then I crop the picture very close:
Selecting Filter / Pixelate / Mosaic in Photoshop will bring up a slide adjuster you can use to adjust the size of the pixels. I played with this to get a good balance of not too many squares vs. not too much pixelation, keeping in mind the size of the frame and the need to still be able to make out the face when done! The litmus test is to look at the computer screen at a distance to see how well the squares blend.
When I did the vertical portrait of Hubs I ended up with 25 squares across the width and 33 squares in height. By cutting each paint chip into 7/8″ squares, the final size ended up filling the dimensions of the Ikea Stromby Frame almost perfectly (I had to fill in a bit of the background colour along the right and left edges). The size of the paint chip will vary according to frame size and number of ‘pixels’ you end up with.
I numbered the bottom horizontal row and also the vertical row on the left of the portrait so I would be able to keep track of each square (I didn’t fill in all the numbers up the side on the example below, but you get the idea!).
The portrait above doesn’t really look like it has much detail. But viewed at a distance, the pixels will blend and the face will be totally recognizable. I have reduced the exact same picture shown above to demonstrate this effect. As you can see, it will all come into focus; I love this picture of Lady Gaga!
The Tedious Way to Create Paint Chip Art
Now, you could eyeball the colours and go directly to cutting up your paint chips. Or you could do what I did and painstakingly colour match the RGB value of each pixel to the closest paint colour match.
I took the eyedropper (circled below), clicked on the first square then opened up the colour picker to find out the RGB values.
Once I had the RGB values, I went to a website called EasyRGB. I entered the RGB values as shown below, selected a paint manufacturer, clicked the start button and it gave me the closest four colour matches to the RGB values I input.
Here are the four colours EasyRGB determined as the closest match to the values I input in the previous example:
It’s All Relative
When you are colour matching, you need to keep in mind that everything is relative. You will never find a perfect match to the shade you’re trying to find. However, once you assemble all your paint chips, you will get the necessary amount of contrast within what’s available in the particular line of paint you’ve chosen. For example, the picture below shows a close-up of the paint chips I used to construct hub’s nose.
You wouldn’t think such a wide range of contrasts would work when you’re trying to put together ‘flesh tones’, but when the portrait was complete (and mounted a good distance away from where it will be viewed) it just really worked. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t sweat the small stuff; you’re not looking for perfection with your colour matching!
Since EasyRGB didn’t have all the particular brands of paint I was looking for, I also did a search online for colour-matching apps that many of the paint manufacturers now have. Some are available at a modest fee, but most are free. I was able to literally open up my picture on my IPad, enlarge it and then tap each square to find my paint match.
Use an Excel Spreadsheet
Once a match is found, you’ll want to write it down to record it. I made myself an excel spreadsheet with numbered rows and columns to correspond to those I previously added onto the pixelated portrait. Sitting at my desktop computer, I used an Ipad to colour-match, while recording the colour in Excel. Every time I colour matched a square, I would record it on the spread sheet.
When I was ready to cut the paint chips, I duplicated the page. Then I was able to sort one of the sheets so that I would know how many pieces of the same colour I would need to complete the portrait. The spread sheet also acted as a road map (when unsorted) to place each chip in place for assembly purposes.
Cutting Method for Paint Chip Art
Remember the $3 paper cutter? Here’s how I adapted it to cut my paint chips:
I laid two strips of plywood onto the back (I had to shim it to keep it level); I literally just double face taped everything onto the cutter. Then I flipped it over and added a cross piece that was perpendicular and 7/8″ away from the cutting blade (also fastened with heavy duty double face tape). The setup is similar to having a fence extension on a mitre saw; the strip of plywood acts as a stop edge that keeps all paint chips consistently 7/8″. Once each strip was cut, I turned it 90 degrees and then cut it again for a perfect square.
I cut as many pieces of one colour as I needed and then grouped them into stacked piles beside my work space (labeled with the colour number so I could refer back to my excel sheet).
Back to the one I did of Hubs. Once all my pieces were cut, I ordered them – according to my excel sheet – into rows and placed them into the pill organizer. I had more rows than space available in the organizer so I had to double up some of the sections (I put a divider between the stacks and wrote the row number on it so I could keep track).
Assembling Paint Chip Art onto a Backer Board
After all the paint chips are cut and organized, do a dry run on top of the backer board (as shown above) to make sure it will all work out in the width and length. I did a final ‘squint check’ to see if I should replace any odd looking colour chips (better to do it before it’s all glued down!). I swapped out a few of the chips with better colours just by eyeballing it.
Now I was ready to glue. If you don’t have a busy household you could leave the chips on the board until you can glue them all. Realistically though, I knew that wasn’t a good option. So I carefully re-stacked the paint chips and placed them back into the organizer in the same order they were removed.
Starting at the lower left edge, I applied glue stick onto the back of the first paint chip and place it firmly onto the board. I proceeded the same way with the remainder of the row making sure each chip was tight up against the other. It would just snowball if I left any gaps, so I took my time.
Whenever I took a break or got bored, I closed the lid of the medicine organizer. I just put the cap on the glue stick until I was ready to start up again. It’s convenient to have a closed container to keep the dust off! That allowed me to plug away sporadically for weeks on end!
Once everything was glued down to the backer board I simply put it back into the Stromby frame I purchased and added wire onto the back to hang (per Ikea’s assembly instructions).
Hanging Tips for Paint Chip Craft
Hang it where you can see it at a distance. Before completing my craft studio, I had the paint chip portrait hanging upstairs in a bedroom. It was hard to get a final picture of Hubs’ portrait without window glare and reflection from the blinds, so when Hubs built my new craft studio, I moved it. Now I can gaze upon it unfettered by window glare (‘tho I still have pot lights to contend with)!
Paint Chip Wall Art
Now it’s the perfect distance at which to view. The paint chips can blend without ‘pixelation’ from the individual chips. Nothing makes me happier than seeing Hubs’ face smiling back at me when I enter my craft room!
Although I didn’t fabricate it, pictured below is how Lady Gaga’s portrait would look once framed and hung.
If this project has inspired you, go ahead and pin one of these to Pinterest or share on Facebook!
Before you go, here’s one more wall decor idea – Expand Your Horizons: Propel Your Bulkhead into the Spotlight.