Once when I was working on a documentary in Holland, I was able to make a side trip to Schevenigen to the place where Old Holland made its artists’ oil paint. At that time, they were in a tiny building doing everything by hand. The paint was only available in one store in America — David Davis. They have since moved to Driebergen and are available everywhere. I had tried to make paint myself and having experienced some of the difficulties of grinding my own paint, I was excited to see how the professionals did it.
For my own work I use a variety of manufactures of paint, as each brand has different qualities. Mostly for reasons of availability I have stuck with Winsor and Newton. Recently they have been bought out by ColArt and the quality of their paint has changed. A painter relies on the feel, color and quality of the paint used. Certain colors will have no consistency from one manufacture to another. So, you not only have to know the name of the color you want, but also the manufacture. For my taste, Sennelier is too oily and Williamsburg is too dry. I am always searching for the paint that is just right. Sometimes “just right” is just not affordable. Finally I have found both.
During a studio conversation with artist Evan Wilson debating the quality of different whites, he suggested that I visit RGH Artists’ Oil Paint in Albany, New York, about an hour from my studio. He was very pleased with their quality and thought I would be also. After a few detours through neighborhoods with row on row of beautiful Arts and Crafts cottages compliments of my GPS (make note, there are two Railroad Avenues in Albany, but in different zip codes), I finally found my way to a small, industrial neighborhood where in an unassuming brick building with the storage area of a semi-truck parked in the yard Rolf Haerem leaned out his unmarked door and invited me in.
His modest shop was almost exactly like the Old Holland one I visited years before. Clearly the methods for making paint haven’t changed in centuries. There were barrels and bags of pigment, a barrel of oil, a mixer and the mill — a grinder of several metal rolls.
RGH Artists Oil Paints Inc. started in 1989. When Rolf lived in New York, he had some friends who made paints for Milton Resnick. They taught him how to make paint and eventually he bought a mill and started to make paint first for himself and then for other artists. For his own work, Rolf needed professional quality paint in large quantities that were also affordable. Who among us doesn’t need that. Artists flocked to him and his business grew.
Rolf now makes and sells over 120 different colored paints. He will make customized paints for individual artists requiring specific colors for themselves and their students. He also sells the pigments. While having professional grade paint in large quantities at affordable prices is an irresistible combination, what knocks my socks off is the consistency of the paint. For me it is ideal — not too wet, not too dry, just right. As Rolf explained it to me, when he makes the paint he first combines it with the oil in a mixer. One would be tempted to leave the paint like that. It looks great, feels great, but over time the pigment separates from the oil, which is called flocculation. Flocculation is also what will make paint gritty over time. Each molecule of pigment needs to be surrounded by the oil and to achieve that it has to be ground. Rolf doesn’t put any extenders in his paint, as extenders reduce the paints tinting strength.
The bane of his existence is his pigment suppliers. Pigments are used is all sorts of manufacture; its use in artists’ oil paints is only a tiny part of the market. Therefore, it is sometimes impossible to get the relatively small amount of pigment he needs at a good price. I asked him how he could be sure of the quality of the pigment. Rolf said that all the pigments come with a MSDS certificate — material safety data sheet — which gives you the exact chemical composition and light fastness of the pigment. There was a time when searching for affordable pigments he ordered some from China, but he found them to be inferior, so he doesn’t use them.
I asked him if he did his mixing by feel. Rolf said that when he was learning how to make paint, he was told to make a formula and stick to it. And that is what he does. The paint is made in batches of a gallon and a half. Of course, standing over each batch, as he does, if adjustments need to be made, he can make them. What really needs his attention, however, are the transparent colors. Their pigments are so light, they are a bit tricky to deal with and have to be nursed through the grinding process.
I didn’t want to post anything about these paints until I tried them myself. I can only share with you the benefit of one day of working with them, but I am thrilled. The paints I used have a nice buttery consistency. They are not as stiff as paints with extenders in them.
You can currently buy RGH paints in jars of 1/8 of a pint to 1/4, 1/2 and full pints to a quart, 1/2 gallon and gallon. Eventually Rolf will be selling his paint in tubes, but as his first priority was to supply large quantity of affordable paint jars and cans won out as a means of delivery.
You can order RGH Paints on line at RGH Artists’ Oil Paints Mention that you heard about him from me and he will sweeten your order — no, not with candy, with paint.
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