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  • Writer's pictureMichael Skalka

Materials Marketing Mishaps

Summary: Costly and elaborate advertising materials for artists’ materials have become a rarity. Specifically, hand-painted color charts are becoming artifacts of an era that is disappearing. Affordability in making hand-painted charts and the negligible impact they may have on sales makes expensive marketing brochures items expendable despite their beauty and charm.

What is a company to do when the very essence of their expensive and upscale advertising literally falls apart? Over the course of many years visiting trade shows and manufacturing facilities, I have requested and received several hand-painted, manually assembled color charts that contain actual samples of art materials being sold. Nothing beats viewing a hand-painted color chart. The vividness and chroma of these brochures provide a view of the pigments that are in the products.

My first encounter with the process of making charts came surprisingly at the end of the tour of the Winsor and Newton factory in Harrow – Wealdstone in the UK several decades ago. While the factory is now gone and merely a memory, the tour stays in my mind, and I think of aspects of it often.

The Winsor and Newton color chart production facility was a small attic room that contained a large table where samples were painted onto thick paper. To create a usable, uniform design, the long strips of paper that contained the hand-painted colors were cut into small rectangles by a special machine. Then a bit of 19th century ingenuity was applied. A jig made of wood was outfitted with small rectangular slots that matched the size of the painted samples of paper. Each slot aligned with a position on the card stock of the brochure where the names of the color were printed.

The amazing process of assembling the color chart was done by placing a stack of samples face down in the slots that aligned with the spot on the brochure where the sample needed to be adhered. First, a brochure would be placed face up and glue was applied to the rectangles where the samples would be positioned. A mask was used to assure the glue was only put on the rectangular areas. Next, the brochure with the still wet glue would be placed face down on the wooden jig. The color samples would be adhered to the brochure by activating a foot pedal attached to rods under each rectangular slot that pushed all of the stacks of color samples up to meet the adhesive spots on the brochure. With the samples being faced down in the slots and the brochure positioned faced down, the color chart would be oriented properly when flipped over to be viewed face up.

Fast forward to today. I recently open both my Winsor and Newton acrylic paint and watercolor chart only to find all the samples had fallen from the brochure. (See the image posted for this essay.) Total glue failure was encountered. So, if I wish to restore the color chart to its past glory, the task of identify and gluing each color will be daunting. At least the color rectangles still look great despite not knowing which position on the brochure they represent.

Another company, Golden Acrylic Colors has built into their mission the production of hand-painted color charts. They rely on an interesting approach where several long slant boards hold each brochure open. Then a person holding a contain of a single color and a small brush applies a swatch of color on each chart in the proper position and then moves onto the next brochure repeating the process row by row. No two brochures are exactly alike since the paint is manually applied. Further Golden applies a swatch of their paint to the label of each product line they make.

In a similar fashion, Vasari Classic Artists’ Oil Colors hand paints paper that forms a collar around the neck of each tube of paint providing an actual sample of the hue contained in their tubes of paint. Michael Harding applies a similar collar of painted color to their products. Old Holland, Cranfield Artists’ Oil Colours and C. Roberson & Co., also applies colored painted collars. So, the application of actual paint to illustrate the color for the benefit of artists is not entirely gone, it has moved to the product rather than a brochure few rarely see.

For art material historians there is a sad note to report. Regarding the wonderful catalogs and painting method books that contain samples like the hand-painted brochures, Winsor and Newton unfortunately applied a coating of natural resin varnish to the paint samples they produced. While it must have created rich saturation since the paper most likely absorbed much of the oil in the paint leaving the surface fairly dry looking, the long-term consequences were never considered.

These amazing books all show signs of heavy yellow-brown discoloration caused by the application of the natural resin varnish. Now they only echo what must have been a vibrant kaleidoscope of hues.

The care and pride manufacturers took in making elaborate advertising materials is a thing of the past. Most manufacturers make color charts that are printed on standard 4 color presses and only approximate the hue and chroma of the products they represent.

Any product literature is rarely available to the public. It goes behind the counter at retail stores or is shoved under the paint rack display. An artist must be in proximity to a brick-and-mortar store to get close to obtaining any product brochures. This provides even more of a reason to value the literature collection that is housed in the Art Materials Collection and Study Center at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

The Syntax of Color

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1 Comment

Michael Chesley Johnson
Michael Chesley Johnson
Jun 21, 2022

I might also add that some manufacturers (and certainly the vendors) have moved to trying to represent the colors on-screen on websites. Unfortunately, given the disparity between hardware -- and the fact that most of us don't calibrate our monitors -- what you see on screen is often not what you get in the product!

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