Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Visit to RandF Handmade Paints

Beautiful remnants on one of the original stone mills used by R and F for mixing encaustic paint

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting RandF Paints, the leading manufacturer of encaustic paint in the U.S. (and probably worldwide). I was there in Kingston, NY for the opening of Conversations, a group show of work by eight artists co-curated by Joanne Mattera and Laura Moriarty. Joanne Mattera has written a detailed description of the show with multiple installation and detail shots that you can read here. I will leave that aspect of my visit in her expert hands, except to say that it is a fabulous show that runs through May 14th, and if you are anywhere near Kingston, you should see it for sure. (Note: I am finding it necessary to use "RandF" instead of "RampersandF" because Blogger is corrupting it into html.)

I had never visited RandF's current location since they were in a different building when I was last in Kingston in 2004.  That launch of my career in encaustic with a three-day workshop taught by Cynthia Winika was a great experience, and the folks of RandF could not have been more friendly, helpful and totally knowledgeable about all things encaustic. They are still wonderful and a visit to RandF is like going home (only without all that nagging.)

Encaustic Home Base
The RandF building at 84 Ten Broeck Avenue is a beautiful space, industrial but homey and art-filled. The ceilings have been opened up to show white-painted beams and give an airy and spacious feeling. After looking at the show and chatting in the gallery, a group of us went on a tour of the production facility that was led by Richard Frumess, founder of RandF. I certainly can't do justice to all the information Richard imparted, so for the full story of how this wonderful company developed, I suggest you take a look at A Brief History of RandF Paints for a fascinating view of how encaustic paint came to be manufactured commercially and how the medium of encaustic achieved its place in the contemporary artworld.

A display of encaustic paint cake sizes. At the bottom left is an original package of Torch Art Supply's Encaustic Paint.

One of the important factors in RandF's commercial development of encaustic paint was the acquisition of two 3-roll mills for mixing pigment into hot wax. Previously the paint had been mixed in one of two stone mills (as pictured in the first image above), and prior to that, Richard was using kitchen blenders in his home and studio. You can see what a step up this piece of manufacturing equipment was when you compare it to something that makes smoothies. As Richard explained it (and I'm simplifying here), pigments come in different granulations depending on their source, and this mill can be set to accommodate those differences, thus resulting in smoother paint mixes with thoroughly blended pigmentation.

Richard showing the 3-roll mill on which pigment is milled into hot wax to make either encaustic paint or  pigment sticks

A closeup showing the three rollers that can be adjusted depending on the size of pigment particles to evenly distribute the pigment throughout the medium

Side view of the mill showing tubing where hot wax is pumped in

Luscious view of spills on the back of the mill

Small batches make for high-quality paint
Although the 3-roll mill may look big and complicated to the uninitiated (such as myself), Richard stressed that it was a laboratory-size mill and that big paint manufacturers actually have enormous, room-sized mills because they make huge batches of paint. RandF keeps their batches small to control the quality and give their colors the richness and depth for which they have become known. Encaustic paint is made in batches of 100 cakes, pigment sticks in batches of 300 sticks, accordiing to The Brief History.

A batch of pewter encaustic paint

A batch of alizarin orange pigment sticks

A partial batch of french mauve red encaustic paint in a mold

Stacks of paint that have been banded and are ready for bagging.

Richard showing the tour the sealed room where pigments are prepared by staff wearing bio-hazard suits

The Classroom
In response to the demand for technical information and to promote use of their paint, RandF developed workshops to teach painting techniques and the safe use of encaustic beginning in 1995. At first offered off-site, the classes soon took off in popularity and an area for teaching was set up next to RandF's production area. The classroom at Ten Broeck Avenue has 16 work stations and excellent ventilation.

View of classroom

Two of the worktables showing wooden vent hoods - the vent pipes are underneath the tables

The vent pipes go down to the basement where huge fans are set up to draw off any fumes or pollutants

Here's the vent set up for tables in the middle of the room. (Note the new metal tables, by the way.)

Backside of vent pipe at free-standing table

Another view of the classroom with the new medium heater foreground

Richard showing a chart of the variance in color of a single pigment mixed with different mediums

Student paint supply in the classroom

Student pigment stick supply in the classroom

Demo boards and experiments in the classroom

Drying rack for pigment stick works

Laura "Legs" Moriarty and Binnie Birstein (after the tour)

And Now for the Real Encaustic Porn
Of course no visit to RandF could be complete without a stop at their stockroom. It was truly ecstatic.

Entering heaven with no St. Peter in sight

Bagged wax and damar resin for making medium

Paint kits and large bars of paint

Color marking on boxes of pigment sticks (I think)

Bins of paint sorted by color

Oh, yeah!

Pictures of the retail store are missing because that was where the food and wine were set up at the opening so I couldn't get any good shots. Binnie and I did manage to visit it earlier in the day and contribute to RandF's success through our purchases. Maybe you can resist trying new colors when you see them online, but in person they are just too appealing to turn down.

Thank You
My sincere appreciation to Richard, Darin, Laura and all the other wonderful staff at RandF for a great visit!


Binnie said...

I can practically smell the wax. It is paint porn....lusciousness!!!!

Lynn said...

I could just eat that French mauve! Gorgeous. Thanks for posting your visit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this terrific step into R&F! EYEGASM!!!!!

Tamar said...

Luscious...... I don't work in encaustic but seeing shelf after shelf filled with those exquisite blocks of paint makes me salivate.

lisa said...

What fun!!
It is a great place to take pictures!
Good to seeing you also

Martha Marshall said...

What a fantastic tour and pictures. I felt like I was peeking over your shoulder, but of course I'd love to smell and see the place in person.

Liz Ruest said...

Ditto on the thank you & the yum factor. Your excitement from the visit shines through in your words -- fantastic.

Cherie Mittenthal said...

That looked like a fabulous tour. I can only imagine the lovely paint smells oozing out! Thanks for sharing.

smellofpaint said...

Hi, Nancy! catching up on your blog entries still... :-) .
Their oil sticks are truly orgasmic... I was talking with some fellow color artists the other week, and we were getting goosebumps just looking at the lusciousness that is R&F ! So really appreciated a skillful and passionate peek into their process, by a fellow color lover!