Paint Chip Portrait

2 Materials
10 Weeks

As a painter, my husband had amassed a huge collection of old paint chips and defunct paint decks. I also had a growing collection that I held onto from years of renovating and flipping houses. I was curious to see what one could do to recycle paint chips, so I did a Pinterest search. I came across a portrait of Marilyn Monroe done completely with paint chips and the light bulb went off: what better way to immortalize my husband, than with a paint chip portrait of himself!

DISCLAIMER: as I already had scads of old paintchips, this entire project was an exercise in upcycling what I already had. I didn't take paint chips from the paint store, so please don't do that either :)

The blog associated with the Pinterest post didn't really divulge much about how it was done so I had to make it up as I went along. With a few purchased items and a software program, such as photoshop, I knew I'd be able to figure out a method that worked! It was going to be a labour of love - extremely time consuming - but by breaking it down into smaller steps, this time-intensive project was going to be well worth it in the end.

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, then reinsert it back into the frame to complete my project.

I needed something to cut the hundreds of little pieces that make up the portrait; I found this portable plastic X-Acto paper cutter with a metal blade at the dollar store for only $3. You can't go wrong with a price like that; it was sharp and just the right size for storing after the project was completed. You'll notice I made some modifications (more about that later).

I also needed somewhere to corral all those hundreds of pieces of paint chips once they were all cut (over 800!). For that, I found this large medication organizer; it's available from, 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. Photoshop Start with a close-up picture. For demonstration purposes, I'm going to use this picture of Lady Gaga at the 73rd Golden Globe awards that I found using a Google search:

Using Photoshop I neutralized all the background. I selected any apparent black pixels that were still peeking through the strands of her hair and used the paint bucket to fill them with the same colour as the background (I wasn't too picky about capturing the lighter shades of grey). Then I cropped 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 squared 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 complete 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 when you consider that it will be seen at a distance, all the pixels will blend and the face will be totally recognizable. On my blog, I have reduced the exact same picture shown above to demonstrate this effect to show you that it will all come into focus; I love this picture of Lady Gaga!

Now for the painstaking part. I took the eyedropper in Photoshop, clicked on the first square then opened up the colour picker to find out the RGB values.

Open colour picker in Photoshop to record RGB

Head to my blog (link below this post) to see detailed instruction and pictures to explain the process once you have the RGB values.

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.


Remember the $3 paper cutter? Here's how I adapted it to cut my paint chips:

View is from underside of paper cutter

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).

Dry run without glue

Assembling the Paint Chips onto the Backer Board

Once I had all my paint chips cut and organized, I did a dry run on top of the backer board (as shown above). Head to my blog to see my tips and tricks on staying organized once you're ready to glue:

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).

All that was left to do was to hang it and enjoy. As you can see from the shot below, it was hard to get a final picture of my husband's portrait without window glare, but I love how it turned out and plan to move it into my craft studio once the basement is done!

If this project has inspired you, please pin and post. You can follow us here on Hometalk or on Birdz of a Feather to get new and exciting DIY home & garden and craft ideas. You can also follow us on:





Here's a few things you may have missed in the Craft Rehab section at Birdz of a Feather:

Suggested materials:
  • Paint chips   (Saved from paint projects)
  • Paper cutter   (Dollar store)
Birdz of a Feather
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
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3 of 52 comments
  • Tiffany TotheTop Robins Tiffany TotheTop Robins on Nov 08, 2016
    This is an incredible project!! Love it!

  • Janice wiseman Janice wiseman on Dec 01, 2016
    So does this color matching take in effect gloss and light and how it effects the same way the eye will perceive the same color on objects?I retired from doing this for a living from a major company.Color matcher and lab specialist.It might be a great method in photos but in paint or powder coatings a lot more goes into this.Reflectants for outside can be tricky due to sunlight even though you matched them they might need to be darkened or lightened .Best to go to stores that have machines and calibrate shift change with your cushion or old sample and tell them where it goes and your lighting etc.

    • Birdz of a Feather Birdz of a Feather on Dec 02, 2016
      Color matching is a whole different ballgame; it's very subjective and dependent on the technologist. Even with the machines it never comes out a perfect match. A case in point is trying to match something to a pantone colour: the machine is never going to pick up the 'true' colour. I can't even remember exactly why - a technologist explained it to my husband once and ended up talking me out of colour matching a PMS color I was trying to achieve.