Ponderings from an Oil Manufacturer

Colleen-Maxey- From the Train berwick Upon Tweed Near Border Area between England and Scotland

A View From the Train

I am writing this from an express train traveling from London to Edinburgh. It is the third week of January and the snow is unusually deep here in Britain. I am on an adventure from my home base at Jack Richeson and Co., Inc.in Kimberly Wisconsin to visit retailers and suppliers in Britain and then on to the famous Paperworld Exhibition in Frankfurt Germany where I will visit with more suppliers and potential suppliers as well as have never ending cups of Coffee and Tea with Retailer Friends and Competitor Friends I happen across at the Exhibition.

When I first considered making a contribution to the blog, it was with the thought of talking about the amazing and exceptional way Richeson manufactures our Oil Paint. I say that a bit tongue in cheek, because as a salesperson I know virtually every manufacturer will say the same. From my comfortable perch on this train I feel far more inclined to delay what I truly believe is a justifiable “sell job” for a future blog. Instead I would prefer to share with you a secret about the many many manufacturers and retailers that make or sell the many ranges of Mediums you use in the pursuit of your passion.

Colleen-Maxey-Scenic Brook in Northumberland near Unison

Scenic Brook in Northumberland near Unison

The secret – we love making and or selling paint! Most of us are passionate about what we do. In my work I have the pleasure of talking to Retailers and Manufacturer Competitors from all over this globe. I am struck by a common thread ……the vast majority (there will always be exceptions) are not in the business of manufacturing or selling artist materials to become wealthy. Make no mistake….yes …..we all want to make a living….put a roof over our heads and feed our families…..but get wealthy…….not in Artist Materials. Rather for the majority I believe it is for the passion of serving the artist. For the passion of the art.

You see……many are artists in their own right who have ventured into the strange land of making or selling art materials out of a desire to stay close to the artist community as they earn a living and yet while under cover of darkness they pursue their art after working hours. I also know many folks involved in manufacturing who got their start as frustrated artists desperate to improve the quality of a medium but were frustrated with the materials available to them.

Colleen-Maxey-Visiting the Unison Factory Northumberland England

Visiting the Unison Factory Northumberland England

Others are “technicians” such as myself who admire artists, love spending time with those with artistic talent….feeling that somehow if we spend time with these amazing people that just by being in their presence and basking in the glow of their talent, we could have a bit of it rub off on us. Speaking for myself, I love seeing the world through the eyes of my artist friends. They have taught me to see colors and shapes in a mystical magical way I had not been able to see them previously.

There is however a dark side to the secret I share with you. An ugliness has been creeping into the passionate Retailer and Manufacturer’s pursuit to serve the Artist Community. The never ending push to drive down the cost of artist materials over the recent years is at risk of seriously impacting quality. You may well ask……Is competitive price reduction such a bad thing? After all…..I confess…..I too must shop for the best value I can afford.

Colleen-Maxey-Fir in the pub  B and B after my long train ride

Fir in the pub B and B after my long train ride

The answer I believe is “it can be a bad thing”….. competitive price reduction crosses the line of being beneficial when quality is sacrificed. As the market pushes price lower and lower quality eventually diminishes. I recall a phone call I received on day from a very frustrated University Instructor. She had just purchased one of our 12 inch manikins from a local retailer. It seems she paid somewhere around $8.95. She felt the need to express her disappointment in the quality change over the last twenty years. It just wasn’t what it used to be….and she was understandably irritated. I agreed with her. The quality of manikins is NOT what it was twenty years ago. Twenty years ago the same manikins cost $24.95. As price was forced down, quality went out the window in order to produce a manikin that could sell to artists at $8.95. The market would no longer accept a manikin even at a high quality that was significantly more expensive than $8.95.

Colleen-Maxey-Crossing the Border from England to Scotland January 2013

Crossing the Border from England to Scotland January 2013

Personally I despise where the market is driving the quality of materials with lower and lower prices. I know many others in the Retail and Manufacturing end of the business who feel exactly the same way. Our company as well as many others fight to maintain the quality of our color, brush, and easel line. Purist Retail friends ache to offer quality materials, however the word on the streets is the consumer wants price at any cost. By that I refer to the cost to quality. In addition retailer after retailer are disappearing from our Main Streets as the drive to the bottom forces them to close their doors.

So where is all this rambling on a long train ride from London to Edinburgh heading? It leads me first to reflect on my own guilt at too often purchasing solely on price and neglecting quality, only to later grumble and moan because the silly thing has not functioned or lasted as I expected. I chide myself and renew a commitment to purchase the finest quality widget or thing I can possibly afford for the money available to me.

Colleen-Maxey-English Pub B and B near Unison Pastel factory

English Pub B and B near Unison Pastel factory

Secondly it leads me to urge you to demand the highest quality artist materials available for the pursuit of your art. Your reputation as a painter hinges on more than your talent. The person buying your work expects it to survive on the wall for years and years to come. Learn all you can about the materials you desire to use. Imagine – you, a spouse, or a friend are a passionate golfer. High quality gear is widely accepted as desirable to accomplish a good game. Why would you settle for anything less to accomplish a well done painting?

Enough rambling from my seat on a train in the British Countryside. Next time I will expound on our passion at Richeson for producing only the finest Oils available at a price that is affordable without the need to take out a second mortgage!!!!

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  • Colleen, I think your post is a very thought provoking one. I did share it on my Facebook page. I no longer purchase on-line from the lower cost mega discount stores. I am supporting my local art store in Atlanta, Binders. They are good to me and always look out for the best they can offer in quality and pricing. I know this is not the same as the material quality you speak of, but it goes right along with it. To purchase online just to save a few dollars… and I really mean just a few … does not keep our “local” art store in business. I hope you receive many comments and artists that want all manufacturers to create a quality product at the best price while being able to continue to manufacturer the quality and keep people working also. Thanks for the post.

  • @ Marsha Hamby Savage: Thank you for making this point and reminder. Colleen, you raise an interesting dilemma. Looking forward to your continuing posts, as you travel. Envious of your train trip

  • well said, Colleen and Marsha! I just wish I had a local art store to support. Several have tried and failed to compete with Hobby Lobby and online ‘sales’. Brings up another pet peeve of mine…artists who use the absolute cheapest materials, price their original ‘art’ for under $100 and sell. We don’t have any real galleries here that seem to know the difference.

  • Kathaleen Brewer

    Dear Colleen,

    I just wish the manufactures would put a flip lid on oil paints. Lost and junky lids are huge problem, especially since I teach and do a lot of plein air.

    Best wishes,
    Kathaleen Brewer