Welcome to Paint the Calder!

PtC was a 1,500+ person paint-by-number painting project completed at ArtPrize 2023!

The painting will be featured in a new facility of the Public Works Department of Grand Rapids!

Follow the journey in my Project Journal as I describe the design, building and public participation during ArtPrize.

The final painting:

A video time-lapse from beginning to end:

What’s This Idea About Painting the Calder?

No, this project is NOT about putting paint on the Calder sculpture!

Thank you for visiting! My name is Howard Wright and I’m a Grand Rapids-based commercial artist. My project was a 6′ x 12′, colorful paint-by-number painting that was painted by 1,500 people who attended ArtPrize. It depicts a vibrant version of the Alexander Calder sculpture, La Grande Vitesse. The painting was made up of 1,500 numbered areas that were each roughly 2″ x 3″ in size. It was a fully collaborative project that encapsulated the spirit of community.

Alexander Calder completed the sculpture for Grand Rapids in 1969. Read more about its history in this MLive article.

This concept view shows all 1,500 numbered areas.

This concept view shows the vibrant final painting.

Each participant was shown the ten color paint swatches and corresponding numbers. Once they chose a color, they were given a small cup of paint and a brush. I would take their photo for the Artist Mosaic poster after they were given an I Painted the Calder sticker. Each participant painted one numbered area (though some got carried away and painted more!).

Participants of all ages were welcome to paint, regardless of physical ability. Lower spots were available for anyone unable to reach higher areas.

The finish painting celebrates a true community icon and the spirit of Grand Rapids. With memories still fresh of the pandemic and social distancing, it’s a project about bringing all of us together on a fun, bold project which celebrates the artist in each of us!

This view shows our setup outside the Hyatt Place Downtown GR entrance while painting was still happening. Posters about Alexander Calder, the Artist Mosaic and the posted painting times were set up. Our bin of 200+ foam brushes and cups of paint are visible. We had roughly 50 paint cups per session. A session happened every two hours. The bucket under the table contained used brushes in water.

Painting proved very popular on the weekends, with multiple people all painting at once.

Just a few of the hundreds of faces we met! The Artist Mosaic poster showcases faces of the 1,500+ people who enjoyed being a part of Paint the Calder! If ArtPrize were judged on the number of smiles given, we’d be the clear winner! Check out our photo gallery for more faces!


Day Two – First Friday

Day Two – First Friday

After a successful first evening, we had the process down with regard to handing out paint and getting a photo of each face. We'd gotten in the habit of washing the day's used brushes in the evening but had enough initially to last for a full day (bin of new, clean...

A Need for Signage

A Need for Signage

One of my first realizations after day one was the need to communicate clearer and quicker about the project. The first things I added were two small print-outs of what the final painting was going to look like. During the first day, I heard a few different people ask...

Day One – It Starts

Day One – It Starts

Thursday evening (9/14): After we saw Dante paint his spot on the canvas, we saw a series of people walk by with varying looks on their faces. The area off the sidewalk that the canvas sat in was a bit hidden from south-bound foot traffic, so the canvas was a...

Thank You Dante

Thank You Dante

After Deb and I carted the canvas and easels to the Hyatt Place lobby, we sat it in a temporarily open space and were glad it was sitting safe and stable. I had an interview with a cameraman from Fox 17 the next day and met him on Wednesday the 13th of September to...

A Colorful Couple of Evenings

A Colorful Couple of Evenings

Working with the paint part of the project was certain to take some thought and effort. From selecting the color swatches, determining how much paint would be needed, to transferring the paint into hundreds of small cups, it would be the last major effort before the...

Radio Interview with Shelley Irwin at WGVU

Radio Interview with Shelley Irwin at WGVU

I had an exciting interview with Shelley Irwin on her morning show where I got to describe the project and a bit about my intentions with it. I visited the WGVU studio and spent about ten minutes sharing information about the the painting process how the project came...

Providing an ArtPrize experience like no other!

Artist Statement

My first experience with paint-by-numbers was as a child with my mother. They were always fun projects to do yet little did I know at the time that I would someday go to art school at Kendall College of Art and Design and pursue a career in commercial art. I remember the smell of the paints in the little connected plastic containers. The paintings were an early lesson in how focusing on small sections could end up resulting in a satisfying final painting.

After participating in the first ArtPrize as the conceptual artist behind “The Grand Dance” sculpture that was placed in the Grand River, I hoped I would someday move forward with my own entry. I had an idea to do a community paint-by-number painting that would involve hundreds of people, though I initially considered the idea as likely unoriginal. In recent years, the pandemic separated us like never before while our wider community continues to be separated by politics, class, race and a number of other issues. The time seemed right to focus on a project that could bring people together, even for a few moments at a time.

Deciding to focus on the Calder sculpture was an easy choice. It’s such a powerful icon of Grand Rapids and made an immediate impression on me when I moved here to go to college in 1984. A community that embraced such an iconic piece of art must certainly possess an appreciation for bold ideas.  The view I chose emphasizes the grandeur and size and begins to feel a bit abstract, just as the sculpture itself.

As the pandemic slowly became a memory, the idea of a community project seemed more important than ever and a logical pursuit for me and a reignited ArtPrize. I’m excited to provide an art experience for 1,200 of my fellow artists and non-artists to experience. Each small area painted by a fellow citizen will become part of a final image that symbolizes the spirit of community and our appreciation for being bold.

Photo Gallery

Visit our growing photo gallery that has just a few of the hundreds of faces and photos from the event!

A community-centered event celebrating a true icon!

What’s So Cool About Paint-by-Numbers?

I’ve kept these two paint-by-number paintings of dogs since childhood and they bring back fond memories of being an eight year old and spending time with my mother. They were still in their dusty old broken frames until I recently re-framed them.

She would buy these type of kits for the two of us to do to past time together. I’m sure she ended up contributing most of the brush strokes, but I learned to take my time and try and be as detailed and careful as she had been.

I heard that sales of paint-by-number kits increased during the pandemic, which makes sense since it’s a great activity for people of all ages.

Two paint-by-number paintings my mother and I completed over 45 years ago.

Spots for 1,500 artists (and non-artists)!

My Art Journey

Besides my early “training” with paint-by-numbers, I discovered a love for drawing while being a shy kid and changing schools frequently. It wasn’t until high school that I considered pursuing a possible career in it. My parents and art teachers were supportive and I entered a few drawings in a Scholastic Art Competition while attending Ferndale High School where I won a couple awards, including a small scholarship to Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. My family moved during my senior year and I attended Roscommon High School where I became known as the “new kid who could draw”. 

I decided to attend Kendall in the fall of 1984 where I went on to meet my future wife my junior year and settle down in the area after graduation, working in the graphics department of a local engineering firm.

Now working for myself, I’ve enjoyed a 35-year career as a graphic artist and still serve local and national customers in a variety of services including graphic design, illustration, web design, animation and more.

In 2009, I was asked to provide conceptual ideas for David Lubber’s entry, The Grand Dance, for the inaugural year of ArtPrize. It was thrilling to be a part of the team and see the community embrace art and our project in particular, while the city welcomed the tourism the event resulted in.

To see samples of my commercial work, visit my HOW DESIGNWORKS website.

My old college I.D.

My three kids taking in the first ArtPrize and posing with The Grand Dance behind them.

Our group of Kendall friends and their families visiting the Calder 30 years after our graduation.

Being a part of ArtPrize is as easy as 1, 2, 3… or 1,500!

Over 1,500 Participants!

A major aspect of the project was having 1,500 participants assist with painting the large 6′ x 12′ depiction of the sculpture. They were shown a collection of the ten possible color choices with the cooresponding number.

Participants were welcome to paint, regardless of physical ability. Lower spots were available for anyone unable to reach higher areas.

Volunteers were available to assist with locating the numbered areas, providing the paint cup and brush, and assisting with the flow of participants.

Fifty participants per session were able to paint over the first two weekends of ArtPrize.

The completed  “Artist Mosaic” poster includes a photo of each participant’s face. It’s a great companion record of all who put brush to canvas!

The Artist Mosaic poster is complete! See above. Nearly 1,500 faces appear (minus those that we missed or didn’t want to be photographed).

Spots may fill quickly once ArtPrize begins. Arrive early!

The Venue

The location of Paint the Calder was outside of the entrance of the new Hyatt Place Downtown hotel at 140 Ottawa Ave NW. The location featured generous space for participants to gather to paint. The space is just south of the Calder sculpture itself and within eyeshot! The painting was visible inside the lobby during off-hours.

Color the Calder!

For kids and artists of all ages, I provided a “color-by-number” coloring page of the painting here, and also made them available during ArtPrize.

Follow the Project on Instagram

Coming to ArtPrize 2023 at the Hyatt Place Downtown!

For more information, media contacts purchasing, email Howard Wright