there's a new craft in town
a diamond art story
For the last two weeks I have been, not obsessed exactly, just very actively engaged in making a diamond art painting. In case you don’t know what these are imagine paint by numbers but instead of paint you have tiny bits of coloured plastic ‘diamonds’ to stick onto a pre-glued canvas printed with any hideous, kitsch folk art and dodgy licenced image you could envisage. Each colour is coded to a letter or number and one by one you stick them down until your ‘painting’ is complete.
I first heard about them from my mum, who declared she had ‘sent for one from the internet’ (her favourite turn of phrase for ordering something online which makes it sound like she has in fact placed a mail order from a catalogue, complete with enclosed cheque). Then diamond art started appearing on my YouTube recommendations, a spin-off from the calming craft videos my girlfriend and I put on late at night to lull us to sleep. So thank you to the algorithm for that.
It was only a matter of time until the urge to try diamond art painting for myself overcame me and soon one arrived in the post — ‘sent for’ by my mum. I would say the one I have is a classic of the diamond art genre. It was as my mum described, ‘The nicest one I could find’ and yet despite this features a garish multi-coloured tree in reds and greens, leaves falling to the floor, on a lightly dappled but mostly grey background. To be fair it’s positively tasteful compared to some of the ones I had already Googled. Besides, when it comes to a diamond art painting, it’s not about the destination but the journey that really matters.
Because the process is incredibly satisfying in the way that mindless tasks can be. Even more so than cross-stitch or knitting which, for me at least, require a higher level of concentration and alarmingly, mathematics. Diamond art painting is a true brain-off activity for me. I just take my little wax-tipped pen and stab it onto one of the upright diamonds in the special ridged tray and place it on the corresponding letter. And again and again, until a whole section I have squared off is complete. Running a hand over an area of neatly filled in diamonds is like a tactile version of ASMR. A sensory joy. The image I’m making looks awful, but it feels nice, in both senses of the word.
I find further joy in browsing Amazon and the different diamond art painting kits available. I’m particularly entranced by the SEO-leaden names which attempt to encapsulate every possible search term:
MXJSUA 5D Diamond Painting Kits for Adults, Full Diamond Painting Kit Animals Cat 5D Diamond Arts Kits Adults Cat Full Drill Diamond Painting Animal Kits Diamond Painting Cat Gem Painting Kit 30x40cm
DIY 5D Diamond Painting KitsRound Full Drill Diamond Art, Perfect for Relaxation and Home Wall Decor(Mary,12x16inch)
6 Pcs 5D Diamond Painting Kits Full Drill, Giraffe, Cat, Elephant, Dandelion, Four Seasons Tree, Princess, Rhinestone Embroidery Art, DIY Craft Paintings Kits Gifts for Kids, Adults, Home Wall Decor
The ‘Mary’ in that second description is actually a picture of Super Mario rather than the holy mother of Christ. I don’t know why you need to know that but you do. And how exactly are they 5D? I don’t think these tiny chips of plastic encompass not just the fourth dimension but somehow a further one? Unless, is that time, is that the fifth dimension? Are they saying it will suck up all of my time? Because they would be right. I also enjoy the way they compete with each other for attention. One kit proclaims that it doesn’t come with the basic equipment like some of the others, but offers far superior tools and canvas:
Equally joyful are the images which defy even a basic grasp of official licensing so that Lilo and Baby Yoda can hang out and share an ice cream or slightly off-brand Pokemon can frolic in a field together. They are so obviously stock photos ripped through some software to ready them for painting and I don’t care one jot. Disney is a strong theme, as are rainbow-coloured animals and gnomes. There’s a set of Mandalorian diamond art stickers (that I want with all my heart) that have been faithfully photoshopped into stock lifestyle photography and somehow manage to be both the size of a headboard and to fit neatly onto a box of tissues. Because who wouldn’t want a baby Yoda, diamond-encrusted tissue box? I love the inclusion of the diamond art painting into chic modern living interiors so that you too might imagine how beautiful your gnome creation might look hung in your entrance way.
Look it’s easy to make fun of this kind of thing. I’m literally sticking bits of plastic one by one to a glued-up canvas to create a monstrosity I will never look at once it’s done. But still. I’m doing it, what’s more, I’m enjoying it. There’s a calmness in the repetition, a sense of achievement in each finished section. I ask my girlfriend to have a go at sticking one on and she finishes off a row ‘to help me out’. The adult craft market is huge: at its peak adult colouring books were selling millions each year. Paint by numbers and artists like Bob Ross have endured for so long because they make art seem accessible, they take away the fear of failure by giving you an assured route to follow. I find as I get older it’s more difficult to learn new skills because I have forgotten the freedom in making mistakes. That it’s fine not to be good at something right away. That, in fact, it’s fine not to be good at something ever, so long as you find pleasure in it.
Diamond art offers a relief then, in that sense for there’s nothing to be good at. You simply do it and then you are done. I’m sure you could ‘diamond art’ outside the lines if you wanted to, subvert the instructions and the carefully laid out grid of colours and letters to create whatever you wanted. But I have no interest in that, I already write which gives the entire horrible crisp whiteness of a digital page to do with what I wish. I cross-stitch and sew and very occasionally knit. I don’t need to rewrite the narrative of diamond art painting. I’m happy, simply, to be.