The other day I had the honor to tour through the Natural Pigments paint factory in Willits, California, which is in the heart of California’s wine country. The company is owned and run by George O’Hanlon and his wife Tatiana Zaytseva. I came across Natural Pigments a couple of years ago when I was looking into aluminum composite materials or ACM to use as supports for my paintings. I got a few sample pieces from a store online and tried to figure out how to gesso or apply canvas to them. I quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing and that it would be a good idea to find someone to show me how to do it properly. That is when I came across the Natural Pigments Best Practices Workshop. It is a three day course that covers everything from the leading causes in paint cracking, various kinds of supports, such as ACM’s, different characteristics in paints and mediums, brushes, varnishes, understanding labels, pigments, studio safety and well all the best practices artist should practice, thus the name of the workshop. Not only did I learn all about ACM’s, but I started experimenting with their paints and many of their other products. Their Rublev oil paints are different than any other paints out there because they use historic pigments like those used by the old masters. They use no modern additives, only pigment and oil. Over the last few years their paints have pretty much replaced all the other paints on my pallet. So, when I had a chance to go to their factory, I jumped on it.
Here they have bag and bags of pigments that come from all over the world.
This is their new grinding machine which has three rollers. The paint is added into the first roller which rotates at a slow pace. The paint then flows to the second roller which rotates faster then the first. Finally, the paint gets to the third and fastest roller before it is collected into the pot below. I was watching them grind their Lead White 2. With this color the process is generally repeated twice. However, some colors will be put through the grinder several more times.
The grinding process was amazing to see. Even though they are using machines, it still is pretty much done by hand, no automation. Each batch of paint is carefully watched to make sure it has the right consistency that George is looking for.
This is the room where they use color swatches to check the consistency of the paint and to experiment with other colors.
As the company has grown, they have been adding new lines of products such as their ACM panels called Artefex. These are aluminum composite panels that have either gesso or canvas placed onto them. I was even shown some panels with watercolor paper adhered to them. You can buy these pre-prepared panels in a variety of sizes and you can even call up and order a size of your choosing. They are sturdy supports for your paintings. I’ve painted on them and found that they are wonderful to use.
Here is their website for Artefex Panels:
Here are a bunch of brand new panels laid out on the prep table. Each one is hand prepared and made to the highest standards.
I like the way this rack holds the canvas roll and also has a bar for the adhesive. The adhesive that they use is called Beva, which you can buy at their site. I think I would like to copy this set up in my studio, as it is a great way to hold your canvas and easily roll out what you need.
Natural Pigments is a relatively new company. They have been around for about ten years or so. They specialize in providing artist materials similar to those that were used in historic paintings. They have done thorough and rigorous research to make sure that they stay true to how paints were made before modern additives and dryers were added to paint tubes. They’ve traveled the world so they can bring art materials directly from mines found in Afghanistan, Chile, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, to name a few. The company just doesn’t sell products for oil painters, but also for artists that use encaustic, watercolor, tempera painting and fresco. They even give fresco workshops. They are very approachable and will answer any questions you have. And of course, their Best Practices Workshops are a must to attend.
I had a great time visiting their factory. We had loads of great conversations about art, travel, history and wine.
If you would like to learn more, check out their website at:
If you are interested in attending one of the Best Practices Workshops, here is a link to their schedule page: