Art Supply Insiders Podcast

ASI 64 Cranfield Colours, manufacturers of Oil Paints and Printmaking Inks

May 14, 2023 Jeff Morrow
ASI 64 Cranfield Colours, manufacturers of Oil Paints and Printmaking Inks
Art Supply Insiders Podcast
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Art Supply Insiders Podcast
ASI 64 Cranfield Colours, manufacturers of Oil Paints and Printmaking Inks
May 14, 2023
Jeff Morrow

Colour has been in the Cranfield family’s blood since the late 1920s. Cranfield has never forgotten its artisan background. The machines and principles they use are the same as used generations ago – not through simple nostalgia, but because they are the best tools for the job.

Today Cranfield combine their extensive know-how of both the artistic and commercial worlds, allowing artists to trust their materials and enjoy exceptional, long-lasting colours.

Whether you’re a fine-art printmaker, an artist, or just want to know more about Cranfields colours, they'd love to hear from you. Their open and friendly team are on hand to tackle any paint and ink challenges you may encounter.

Click here to go to the Cranfield website.

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Show Notes Transcript

Colour has been in the Cranfield family’s blood since the late 1920s. Cranfield has never forgotten its artisan background. The machines and principles they use are the same as used generations ago – not through simple nostalgia, but because they are the best tools for the job.

Today Cranfield combine their extensive know-how of both the artistic and commercial worlds, allowing artists to trust their materials and enjoy exceptional, long-lasting colours.

Whether you’re a fine-art printmaker, an artist, or just want to know more about Cranfields colours, they'd love to hear from you. Their open and friendly team are on hand to tackle any paint and ink challenges you may encounter.

Click here to go to the Cranfield website.

Art Supply Insiders
Click here to subscribe & follow (and be notified of every new podcast): Subscribe & Follow
Please leave a comment (we love feedback!): Comments

Support the Show.

Welcome back to our supply insiders. My name is Jeff Morrow, and today we're talking with Cranfield colors, and I had the. Really wonderful opportunity to talk with Cranfield when we were back at the NATA Convention and I got to talk with Michael Crane, who is the managing director of Cranfield. Michael, how are you doing today?

Thank you very much indeed. Lovely to to see you there Jeff. And thank you for getting up early on my behalf. Oh, my pleasure. We in your met in your time zone last time. It's the end of my working day and the beginning of yours, so thank you for, for rising early. 

So you're in Great Britain. What time is it in Great Britain right now?

So it's five 30 and it's the end of another perfect day as you could imagine. 

So Michael, tell me a little bit about who is Cranfield colors? What is it that you guys do? 

Yeah, well we are very traditional, Jeff. We are, uh, what you describe as a color house. And that means that we produce basically anything, uh, involving pigment and, but primarily that's artist oil paints and printmaking, inks.

All of our products are oil based and, um, the, in the oil that we generally use is linseed oil. And thankfully the linseeds that are used in both oil and, uh, oil paints and printmaking, inks. Ah, similar. So that's our output. We are based in South Wales, in Great Britain. I don't know if you know the map of the uk, but that's a bit on the left hand side and good.

If you don't know, it's its own country. And whilst we're part of the United Kingdom, we have our own government in our capital city. Cardiff. And we have our own language. Um, but I will not be speaking any Welsh today because I'm not a Welsh speaker, I'm afraid. But that's where the Thank you. 

I, I have a hard time understanding English, so if you got into another language, 

uh, I'll spare you that.


Now you, you have a really interesting background. You were telling me at NAMTA, you're, uh, what a third generation color 

man. Yes, you're right. So my father before me and, uh, my grandfather too, and I have four sons and I don't know what the future holds, but, um, it's a strange thing, this notion of being a color man, because dealing with pigment producing color.

Is a fascinating thing. And to be honest, I think we'd keep making in campaigns, even if no one ever used them, because we see it as the center of the universe. And it's interesting when you go, you and I met at a trade fair, of course Namta and it was a large room full of people who make their living and have their find.

Their fascination is in artist materials. But that same conference center the following week was dealing with a different clientele entirely. I don't know what it may have been, furniture manufacturers or people from the clothing industry. But each of these groups think that theirs is generally, generally the center of the universe, but of course, you, you and I know it really is art materials and it's oil paint and printmaking in in particular.

So yes, that's my family and that's what we do, a very traditional color house here in the uk. 

Wow. So how, how long has Cranfield colors been in existence? It's, it seems like a long 

time. It is indeed. Yeah. And, and to give you a little background indeed of the whole industry, we were along with other companies shoot out of London in the 1970s.

So in my grandfather's time, he worked literally on the banks of the Thames in the east end of London, in uh, an area in the East End called Sugar House Lane. And actually it's now underneath where the Olympic village was. The Olympics were held here in the UK in I think 2012. And long before then, uh, industry had been chewed out of London for good reason because we were turning the Thames browner than it should be, or perhaps greener or bluer than it should be.

And so many industries were, uh, shoot out of London at that stage. Up until that point, very many color houses were actually in the same street. And I, as a child, remember on a Saturday morning going up to, uh, my grandfather's office, but opposite, uh, where he worked. Were a whole host of, uh, other companies.

Sadly, most of them have gone today, Jeff, through consolidation and buy ups and so on and so forth, but, We remained doggedly independent and we upticks and moved, uh, along, uh, the motor a called the M four down to South Wales in 1976. 

Wow. So for, for those people that have never visited a paint factory, what's, what's it like when, when you go out there, what does, what's 

it look like?

Yeah. Well, first of all, it should no longer remain something you haven't done. Put it on your wishlist and come and see us. We haven't opened doors policy, and I think the first thing that you will notice, this is a very common response. People expect it to be like a toothpaste factory. They expect, um, lots of stainless steel, lots of pipes.

Um, and they, they expect to see very little in a sense because they imagine that it's all behind the scenes. It's an incredibly hands-on industry. If I let you know, the, in our, uh, printmaking ranges are etching range. There are, I think 76 colors. Mm-hmm. That means by default that they have to be made in small batches.

So there is always work underway because we are using, making in small batches. There's always a machine running. So, uh, there's always a, a, a, an awful lot to see when you do visit, but you'll notice, first of all, it's very colorful. Um, the manufacturing process. We call it the three msms of mixing, milling, and matching.

And, um, when a product has been mixed, and that's simply to make the pigment wet. It's quite a crude mix. Then it goes through a three roll mill. These are fascinating machines, very large cylinders that are, uh, crushing or dispersing the pigment into the linse. So it's, it's fascinating. Visually, it's also lovely to smell.

Because linseed oil has a, I believe, a very beautiful smell. And the pigments too have unique smells. Some of my colleagues, especially some of the older members of staff, they could tell you what color is being manufactured before they even saw the mill, before they even come around the corner, because really they smell, they can indeed.

So if it's an earth color, It'll have the smell of, um, you know, after it's rained, you can smell in the air that earthy smell. Um, some of the copper containing colors have a, a unique smell. Some of the blues that are sulfurous have rather unpleasant smell. Yeah. Whatever it is. Certainly, uh, it is an awful lot to see both visually and also to smell.

And then I suppose that the third component to, uh, what you'll discover is you'll discover it is very handcrafted. And by that I mean every tube is labeled by hand. There's not a great deal of automation in our industry because our, the breadth of colors is so great. We make, one of our product is, is called callo and it's uh, a printmaking ink that you wash up with soap and water.

Now in those two ranges alone, there are 27, 28 colors. So we are making, in smaller batches, we are putting into small tubes. And every tube is labeled by hand with love. Every tube has a hand painted or a hand printed color swatch put onto it. So I think, again, people are often astonished. Um, I thought it would be very automated, and in fact they discover it's a bit more.

Like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, if you like the rolled. But, uh, so come and see and you'll, you'll discover for yourself. Yeah, 

I've always wanted to go to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, so if, if yours is similar to that, I might be over there soon. You do. 

You must. And a welcome awaits. Uh, welcome awaits.

So you guys mainly make. Oil paints and inks for print 

makers, is that correct? Yes. So, so, uh, oil paints for, um, anyone that's, uh, tend to be the fine art, right? And if you think of the, um, art materials world as being like a pyramid, because we're a smaller manufacturer, we have only 16, uh, in our 16 staff members.

We have to be in the top part of that pyramid. We can't simply produce enough to be lower down the pyramid where you have to make vast quantities. We can't do that, so we're at the top end, so it's high quality and it would be an aspirational brand. By that I mean that if someone wants to use artist oil, which is, as you'll be aware, the higher end they can afford to transition across to, to Crown Field.

Printmaking is a little different because printmaking, um, is especially through the pandemic where, um, it was introduced to people who discovered that they could print their kitchen table using a small bit of lineo, and if they didn't have a press, they could use the back of a spoon on, on paper, it introduced us to the hobby.

Artists as well. So printmaking is a, a very large SEC sector for us, uh, where we supply both the professionals and the growing number of hobby users. 

I, I guess I really don't understand the difference between an oil paint and an ink for print makers. What, what, what's the major 

difference there? Yeah, very, very delicious question.

Really good. So the first and second, third and fourth answer are all tied up in the word ology, R H E O L O G Y. rheology. And rheology is about the science of flow. I'm afraid to say various listeners will now be turning off. If I give an example of rheology, think of diarrhea, I'm afraid to say that's all about flow.

Um, but that's essentially what we are looking at at the way the product moves. And when we think of the science of flow, for us there are two component parts. The first is viscosity. Mm-hmm. And that's the reluctance to how something flows. And the second is tack that stickiness. Mm-hmm. And the two are not related.

They're not even cousins. They're not even on speaking terms. Now they may both be high and they may both be low, but that is entirely coincidental. I'm gonna give you a couple of examples from your fridge at home if you were to take some butter out of the fridge. Sadly, I have high cholesterol and I'm not allowed butter, but I can look at it and there on the slab when it's cold, it has very high viscosity.

It's not flowing anywhere. But it has very low tack. If I run my finger over the top of the butter it, there's no stickiness at all. In fact, I could even use the butter to lubricate a squeaky door if I wanted. Now, if I also think of something else, another product from your kitchen, but this time, think of some clear Canadian maple syrup.

Now there, if I take the lid off it, the viscosity is very, Hello. It will pour out of the jar, but if I stick my finger in the top of it, it's very tacky. It's very sticky. So there you have two products that have diametrically opposed radiological footprints if you like. Now, when we make a paint, we allow the paint to, or the pigment to play to its strengths, if you like, and, and so each paint will be marginally different because of the absorption.

Of the, uh, pigment when we are making an ink, especially if the printmaker is gonna print a wet ink on top of a wet ink, it's really important that the rheology, the, the science of how it flows and behaves. Is very similar across the different colors in a range, because otherwise you may print down your first color, which may be a light blue, and then if you use a very sticky red over the wet light blue, guess what?

It's gonna take it all off the paper. So a very long-winded answer, but it's all down to theology. Now you'll, you'll see that instantly that if you open a tin of oil paint, And you turn it upside down, it really won't flow out right. If you take the lid off a, an, an ink, there certainly is a lot more flow there intentionally.

But we try and, um, balance through both the, the viscosity and the T. So when you come and see us, you'll see we have some really obscure testing equipment in our laboratory to try and tease some of these differences out. It's a big problem today because our industry. Is has shrunk to quite a small base of Yeah.

Good. A hardy remnant, if you like, getting hold of this kind of laboratory equipment is, is almost impossible because there aren't many of us left. So we have to have things specially made. And some of them do look very bizarre, but they do the job, they make sure that, uh, the product is as anticipated and it's, and it's behaving well.


fascinating. And it, it, it is so enlightening to hear that you have so much history and you take such detailed attention to what it is that you manufacture. Um, you know, we're in a. Fast paced world where they make all sorts of stuff in a fast paced way. Artists really love the manufacturers that take their time to make 

product, don't they?

That you are right. And I think that especially, um, at the higher end, artists are aware of the longevity. Of the artwork, they're go going to produce. And indeed they expect the same of us in the raw materials that we hand to them. I dunno if you are familiar with the phrase lifecycle analysis. Sure. But it's, it's, it's simply a, um, a system of checking is the packaging, um, is the formulation commensurate with how long the product is going to last?

So if you think of a really bad example, it may be a, an insole for a shoe made out of foam. Everything about it is environmentally disastrous, right? Because it's made from things which are gonna go to landfill within six months or a year. They're all plastics. It's carried in a plastic bag. So the life cycle of a a, a shoe, uh, insole is really poor.

The life cycle of a good artist's paint is magnificent. Because the products are sustainable, that is made upon linseed oil. Uh, and indeed our pigments are sourced from, uh, very trustworthy, uh, sources. The tube and the metal tin it goes in are totally, uh, recyclable. But best of all, the product, the life.

Time, the life cycle of a good ink or a paint is in decades. So it doesn't let us get away with murder, Jeff, but it does mean that actually it's worth us investing in a really good product. It's worth the artist buying a really good product and the lifecycle of both our paint and the work they produce with it justify, uh, the manufacturer and the packaging of it.

I was looking 

on your website just before we, uh, came on here and I saw there was a couple of videos that, one, there was a video that talked about, uh, the life cycle of what it is that, that you all do. It kind of brings to mind that your website is a wealth of knowledge and. Uh, I was fascinated. In fact, I had to get off of it so that we could do this, this interview.

So could you give our audience your web address and how they can see your website and all these wonderful 

products? That's great. Of course. So the website is www dot cranfield, which is C R A N F I E L D -, that's the waist high dash colors. Now is the colors with the British spelling of c o l o u r s. and on our website, we have intentionally not sought to promote or sell our own products, but to inspire people in particular disciplines. And you'll find many of the interviews we conduct on the podcasts we have are on the films we have on there. And the blogs, they're not, you know, by more cranfield, it's not come on in the waters.

Lovely. As it used to say on the postcard, it's, why don't you try printmaking? Why don't you try painting? And Jeff, we are so fortunate that in this industry, especially with print makers, they love to help one another. Painters are perhaps a more solitary lot. They live in the moment for the, uh, paint, leaving the brush going onto the canvass.

But print makers, they are artists, but they're also engineers. They are also invariably very optimistic, and they believe that tomorrow they're gonna make the perfect print. And as a consequence, they, you know, they do love helping themselves and helping one another. And, and there's so many websites for Printmakers and Facebook, uh, families.

Where people are providing, um, their own experience and things they've learned and tips and, and it's our delight to be part of that. And we sponsor, um, various programs, a a around the world. We are happy to speak at events to whether they be painting or, uh, printmaking related just to, uh, just to sh to spread the message that, um, uh, aiming high is, is the best way, both in raw materials and indeed in cooperating with one another.

No. Do 

you guys manufacture any acrylic 

products at all? Yes, we do. Um, now I'm afraid to say because, uh, acrylics are quite easy to emulate. Yeah, because you may be aware that with an oil based product, the structure. Of the paint, for example, let's stick with paints for a moment. The structure is very much dictated by the amount of solid content in there.

And for us, because we don't use fillers, that means the amount of pigment and because of that, there is a demand for good paints around the world. So that means we can export to Australia, to the States, to Scandinavia, to Spain, wherever it happens to be. With acrylic paint, the structure is added by the addition of a thickening agent.

And so that means that in a sense, it's more of a chemical construct than an oil-based product. And if I'm honest, there are an awful lot. Of perfectly good acrylic manufacturers between me and where you are sitting over there. So yes, we tend to export very comparatively little acrylics, but yes, no, we do.

We do make them. Yeah. 

And, uh, what about mediums? Do you guys get into different mediums, the SSOs and, and the dryers and those kinds of things? 

Yeah, we do indeed. Yep. Uh, mediums is a big, uh, player, especially on printmaking for us because there are less players in printmaking. Um, uh, we are, people will turn to us more regularly, um, to ask us to overcome particular problems.

So we do the standard paint mediums, um, but on the printmaking mediums, we do quite a few to overcome challenges that print makers face. One example would be we make and supply a print maker's wax. Dryer medium. And that's really to overcome a relatively recent phenomena that print makers are facing.

It's for laudable reasons that paper manufacturers are supplying more and more paper with recycled content. Yeah. Now that's should be a good thing and we put a big chick against that. But the trouble is with every recycling of paper, the fiber length gets shorter and shorter. Yep. And you can guess where I'm going with this.

Uh, printmaking Ink. It's an oil-based product you printed onto the Victoria Sponge. That is a good bit of paper and the oil. Ought to be pulled away by the fibers. The fibers should be nice and long. They remember the day when they were once in a tree and they have a large hole up the middle of them called a lumen, and that's where the oil should go.

And on a lovely structured printmaking paper where the fibers are nice and long. The oil is pulled away, leaving less. Inky Gloopy oily pigment mix, uh, in and on the paper to dry. Now when those fiber lengths get shorter and shorter, the oil is not wick wicked away anywhere. So the, the ink stays mo more coherent, stays together, and as a consequence, the drying time extends tremendously.

So what can you do about it when you could complain to the paper maker, but paper is not really a variable. No one's gonna change the, uh, formulation, no o o of paper. But ink of course, is a variable. Now we are reluctant add extra dryers to the ink at the factory because if the ink is being used in Brazil, it's gonna dry, uh, too quickly with dryers in.

So what we've produced is a beautiful wax drier medium because it's the same structure. And returning to this word rheology it's a similar rheology to. Ink itself, it's really easy for the printmaker to add. If you ask a printmaker to add a liquid, that's quite difficult. We have great old-fashioned terms in this industry, and the term for that is it, it makes the ink liver.

And liver is simply means it's you. Remember? Uh, you and I are old enough to remember the butchers who used to put the meat out on the trays. Oh yeah. Horrible slabs of liver would move over one another. Well, that's essentially if you try and add a liquid of cobalt dryer to an ink, for example, or a magnesium NPH anate dryer.

You are trying to mix it in, but actually the liquid is s flushing off one way and slabs of ink flying around. But of course, if we give it to them in a tube and the wax is a landline, a sheep's, uh, wool wax, um, and a dryer, then they're easy to squeeze out. You only need to add three or 4% and it'll both increase the, uh, speed of drying and it'll also give a greater protection to the print that it dries.

So, The answer to your question is, yeah, mediums, we certainly do. We are not in the pile them high, sell it cheap, medium market because again, there are plenty of people there, right? But we're in the sector where a specialist product is required to overcome a known and perhaps a new problem or phenomenon.

It doesn't matter if you're an oil painter or a a print maker. All of these artists can go to your website to find out a whole lot more about these products. Do you have any publications or books out there that, that you've produced and done that they could learn more from? 

Well if, if people are happy to be patient, um, professor Steven Hoskins, who's, uh, an author and a lecturer here at the University of the West of England in the uk and myself, uh, we are writing a book on printmaking, inks at the moment.

Wow. We do realize. That it's going to be specialist interest. Yeah. But, um, it's, it's gonna be, uh, published in the New Year by Blooms Spree. So, um, perhaps when we speak next, well, I'll send you a link and, uh, when that's, uh, printed, it'll be available. And our hope is it'll be of interest for, for printmakers generally an understanding of raw materials.

Helps in any discipline. You don't necessarily need to know the data on a daily basis, but certainly, uh, I think providing, uh, the, the printer a printmaker or indeed the artist with, um, the full picture, the full story, then certainly then can influence their discipline for the better. 

So it looks like that will be published at the end of 2023.

Is that what we're 

talking about as a timeframe? I, I think we have, I don't know if you're familiar with these things. It's terrifying. Yes. Because you, you are given deadlines. Yes. The um, I love the quote of Douglas Adams who said, I love. Deadlines. I love the washing sound they make when they go by. Well, the same is true for publishers' deadlines.

We have to have it in by the end of the year, and we are looking to have it printed and published in 2024. 

Now here's a question that we, that we get from, from our, our listeners out there, and, and, and I'm sure it relates to oil paints and, and inks too. The word non-toxic is thrown around a lot. What does non-toxic mean in the.

World of art materials. 

Yeah, a brilliant question. Now I'm going to be quite controversial in this, and I say this because Cranfield has indeed won many ward awards for our products, which certainly help, um, improve the studio and deal with this issue of the desire to reduce, uh, exposure to anything toxic to painter.

Or print maker. We're always fat cautious of the term, non-toxic because to be honest, there's no such thing as a safe chemical, just a safe way of handling them. And it is important that people don't knowingly use any dangerous product. So, I would suggest there is no excuse to have in any studio in any circumstances.

The product which has the warning symbol of the exploding heart, you've probably seen it. It's the worst of the, uh, can cause death. Really, we have to find ways round problems, but nor am I careless enough to say you can be given something which is entirely safe, so you no longer take any care. An example would be, for example, the use of anything which removes the skin's natural protection.

Hmm. And that includes perfectly healthy products and, and uh, ordinary soaps, anything like that. Anything that reduces or re removes the skin's natural protection is a hazard. My fear is that with some of these non-toxic, uh, products and we produce, uh, such things that do away with mineral solvents, for example, so our cgo ink washes up with soap and water.

It's made from linseed, um, which people merrily put on their breakfast cereal. Um, they contain, uh, non-toxic pigments, but you still need to wash your hands. And so we just need to be careful that we send out, uh, the message that we take care with everything and anything. Some of the studio solvents that contain citrus uh, products, absolutely great because it reduces the reliance on, uh, hydrocarbons, but.

To make them work. Many of them do still contain hydrocarbons, so it's worth the printmaker or the painter checking the label. So even though it smells lovely, if it takes ink off a slab or paint off a brush, it will also take the skin's natural sebum protection off your hands. Our four bears did not have access to one thing that we have, which gives a real problem in this area, and that's hot water.

They simply didn't have the luxury of the hot water that we have. And people, artists today are very often washing their hands with very hot water and they're removing the skin's natural protection, and they really do need to replace it with a bit of moisturizer, some sort of hand cream just to make sure that they, um, seal their skin properly.

Occasionally I'm asked to give talks on this area and, um, if I'm speaking in the UK I'll often ask people, what do you think are the two most dangerous? Liquid chemicals in the UK that cause the greatest number of deaths each year. M. And the answer comes as a surprise. It is alcohol is the first, and that's through drink related illness and indeed, uh, through unintended consequences of car accidents and that sort of thing.

And the other is water. Through drownings. So neither of those are gonna be banned, but we just have to put these things into context that there is no such thing as a safe chemical, just a safe way of handling them. So, um, we are really keen to be part of the non-toxic movement. It was our Caligo inks that really took printmaking on leaps and bounds, uh, 20 years ago, um, by providing, uh, part of the armory for the printmaker to make their studio safer.

But I think we just need to, to use the term carefully and sensibly, uh, that all of these things, whatever it happens to be, needs to be, uh, handled with care and appropriately. That's why we are so pleased to, to support the better labeling of products that we not only give, uh, the hazard, but we also list and explain that the scenario in which the hazard might come to light and why care needs to be taken.

Gosh, there's 

just so much to talk with you about cuz you're such a wealth of incredible information and we're, we're coming to the close of this particular show. Um, I would love to have you back to talk more on depth in a number of things. Would that be something that you would be amenable to? 

I'd be delighted.

And Jeff, very cleverly you've asked me that question whilst we're still running the recording. So of course I obliged to say yes, but genuinely it, it will be a delight. I'd love to talk further with you. So 

give us our, the, our listeners, the, uh, web address again. 

So it's Cranfield, C R A N F I E L D, hyphen colours with the British

As most of our audience knows, we're located in the United States. And if they wanted to buy your product here in the United States, would they go to a retailer? Do they go to your website? Do they go to Amazon? Where do they go to to, to buy this 

product? Right. Okay. Well, to keep the list nice and short and simple, if you want everything, then you go to somebody like BL Art materials.

Um, if you are interested in printmaking, you can go to them or you can go to people like McLean who McClain's, who deal with, um, relief printing, and there are plenty of others like tac. Press and Renaissances and, uh, others too who, um, will take the product, uh, uh, and, and supply it on to end users. A h Apps would be another lovely group who, uh, take the, uh, our inks and these can all be found through our website.

So if you simply go onto the where to buy, you'll find a, a list of somebody close to you who takes our products. We'd be delighted. Well, 

I, I don't know much about, uh, Paints that for, for print makers or inks for print makers. Uh, but I do know about oils and when I was in your booth in nata, uh, my goodness, what vibrant colors you have, uh, what a wonderful looking product.

So you really do need to go to their website. It is, has a wealth of information and you will not be sorry. Uh, Michael, thank you again for taking the time to talk with us today. 

No, it's been great. Uh, very grateful for you having me onto the show, and it's been a, a, a right, uh, honor to, to chat with you and a delight too.

Well, thank 

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