Michael Skalka and The Syntax of Color
Michael Skalka: I fell in love with art materials at an early age. My sister was responsible for this. She must have had an art class in high school. I recall that she had a small watercolor set and she used a clear plastic egg holder that was sold to put into a refrigerator to hold raw eggs for safekeeping as a reservoir to hold colors and mix them. I was mystified by the range of colors in each of those shallow depressions meant to hold eggs securely. It was magical. From then on whenever my mother took me to the toy department in Bloomingdales in New York City, I would focus on the bright red metal boxes of Caran d' Ache watercolor sets. The boxes of watercolors had big round 50 cent size pans of color. I always wondered what an artist could make with all those colors. I also encountered a dilemma, the classic "having your cake and eating it too," paradigm, I loved those boxes of colors but if I ever got one I would be horrified to use it and alter the aesthetic beauty of the box in its unused, virgin state.
My first art class was a short 3 week summer session in Junior High School. We painted plein air, still life subjects and even our own hands to round out the "portrait" phase of our brief experience. That was the first and last training, if you could call it that, I ever received. Everything else is self-taught.
My passion for art materials was fulfilled when my boss, Ross Merrill, the late Chief of Conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington took up painting again in the late 1980s after a long hiatus. We talked at length about art materials and techniques artist used to create masterworks. Ross was the conduit to staff at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA that eventually led to being contacted by Zora Pinney who owned a fabulous collection of art materials that she grew out of removing samples of her stock from the art materials supply store she owned and operated with her husband, Edward in Santa Monica, CA. Zora became my mentor when we accepted the initial gift of art materials that has become the Art Materials Collection and Study Center housed in the Conservation Division at the National Gallery of Art. While attending National Art Materials Trade Association shows, Zora introduced me to so many manufacturers who have since become my friends. Zora was a character know throughout the art materials industry. She played a critical role in the early years of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM International) along with others to create the quality standards we have today.
So since 1993, I have been engaged in learning and sharing with others the love I have for art materials. When the late Mark Gottsegen decided to step down from being the Chairman of ASTM D01.57, Artists' Materials, the subcommittee that creates and oversees art material manufacturing standards, I took over the role of Chairman and have provided guidance to maintaining and initiating new standards for the art materials world.
This website is a tribute to my passion for this industry and the wonderful people that I have met over many years who work in this noble profession. Some are artists. Some are just gifted business people. A few are visionaries and being with them offers a glimpse into how really great minds function.
Enjoy this site. All of the reviews seek to find positive aspects for all art materials offered on the market. If you are looking for critical testing and harsh critiques of art materials, you won't find it here. If a product is truly flawed or not intended for the serious fine artist, I won't waste my time writing about it. My hope is to provide some insight into what some of the products sold today can do to expand your vocabulary on techniques. This will also serve as a forum for reaching out to members of the industry and artists who have an interest in art materials and want to share information with a broad audience. This will also be a repository for all the past and future Syntax of Color articles. I have been asked repeatedly to allow people who came late to my email broadcasts of these articles to catch up and see past articles. See the Syntax of Color opening page to learn more about the genesis of the Syntax of Color essays on the history of art materials and the discoveries in chemistry and manufacturing that made it possible to be where we are today.
My best to all of you.