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143rd blog

Shortages of art supplies

I think we have all read about the shortage of supplies in our shops. Most of us have seen empty shelves in our supermarkets and all manner of excuses have been put forward as to why this is happening. Brexit is the most common, along with Covid-19, too and having read a number of these types of articles I decided to do a bit more research.

Why? Because I am very aware that we artists are being affected by low supplies of paper, paint, frames, canvases etc.

My initial interest was sparked by a friend who recently moved house and wanted to erect a new art studio in her garden. To begin with, her builder couldn’t get his hands on any cement but having chosen her studio and paid a deposit she was very keen to keep the project moving forward. Eventually the cement became available but by then the dreamed of art studio was no longer available and the company had to refund her deposit.

It turned out that part of the problem was down to Ever Given, the container ship which got stuck in the Suez Canal back in March. Ships were backed up for weeks delaying supplies of raw materials, including sand and cement, from getting through to their destinations. In addition, it turned out that the wood for this particular art studio comes from Croatia and as so many people were hit by the Corona virus, trees were not being felled. Once they got back to work felling trees, the wood had to be cured; green wood shrinks and warps so the end product would not be up to standard.  Erecting a studio of this type should normally take about six weeks. For my friend this project has now taken nearly 12 months.

my paint supplies

Problems are arising with the production of internal frames for canvases as well as wood for picture frames and there is a shortage of birchwood panels for artists, too.

There are also huge problems with paint and supplies around the world are running low. This means that with the forces of supply and demand coming into play, manufacturers are increasing their prices and we all know they are unlikely to ever come back down. This is really the time to take advantage of any discounts on quality paint, if you can find any.

But let me explain to you exactly what is happening here because it really is going to affect us artists in the coming year. The shortages are entirely due to the lack of people working in our fields, factories and mines around the world due to Covid-19.

The entire industry is suffering as not only are pigments affected but polymer binders for paints, gums and resins as well as linen, cotton and wood. These materials all need human beings to farm, mine and process them to turn them into produce the whole world desires. The staff shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic have hugely affected industries in which people cannot work from home.

A side note here, the Premium Bond office which deals with bereavement issues is, apparently, located in India (or so Mr. S has been told). Because of the masses of people affected by Covid-19 there, the office has been closed since May. Having lost my father-in-law in April and my father in May, my husband and I have been trying to settle their affairs, but nothing has been done and the backlog is building. Apparently, National Savings and Investments are trying to obtain the paperwork to bring it back to the UK for processing but even that takes time, so we do just have to understand the impact Covid-19 is having on the world.

Back to our beloved paint. We also need to be aware that it is not just artists wanting to buy paint. The car industry needs it for their body parts. Granted, they use cheaper pigments than artists, but once those cheaper pigments are depleted, understandably manufacturers are buying the next price level up to fulfill their orders.

Sadly too, just as when people panic and buy everything in sight at the supermarkets, manufacturers stockpile raw materials to ensure they have a good supply. All this does is push up the price and we consumers will suffer from greater shortages, more delays and higher prices. What kind of supply issues you face may well depend on where you live in the world and where your favoured paints (and other products) are made.

Verbund_site_Ludwigshafen.

There has been another issue, too. The world’s largest integrated chemical site, situated in Germany, suffered a fire on March 3, 2021. According to their website: “…a product release of methyl diethanolamine and oxogas as well as a subsequent fire occurred in a plant in the North section of the BASF SE site in Ludwigshafen. The cause is still under investigation.” This incident has had an impact on the production and supply of resins and monomers used to make acrylic paint.

In Texas, the USA’s largest area for petroleum refining, was badly affected by the snow and cold which hit them in February. Petroleum is essential for manufacturing paint. Windsor and Newton’s watercolour and acrylic paint, Liquitex acrylic paints and products have all been affected and prices on these products are set to increase between 3% and 10%.

Compared to mass production companies, the smaller, specialist companies making artists’ paint don’t have vast arrays of production machines. So, what they do is to make their paint in batches of one colour at a time. Starting with the lightest colours first and working towards the darkest, they follow a practice called ‘colour runs’ whereby they clean the machines between colours (and often have a dedicated machine for whites), but by starting off production with the lightest colour first they reduce the possibility of contaminating the lighter hues. Cleaning the machines between colour runs can take days, hence producing about six months’ worth of a colour at a time.

Having sorted out the paint production, there is another problem. All that lovely paint needs to be packaged and currently there is a lid shortage! Lids, it turns out, are made from acrylic which in turn is a by-product of petroleum which, as I have said, has taken a hit in Europe and the USA.

The next big issue is getting those products to your door. We are all aware of issues arising from Brexit and anything produced in Europe is being slapped with additional customs charges. The customs clearance process has caused massive delays at the ports which, in turn, has pushed up the cost of shipping goods. As has, apparently, a shortage of qualified goods vehicle drivers. The nightmare goes on and on.  

playing with the paints I have

There is a moral to this catalogue of doom and gloom. Don’t give up. I am sure you have paints in your supply that you rarely use, so get them out and have a play. You might discover a whole new direction to take your artwork in. Understanding why these problems are happening may help you cope with any frustrations you’re experiencing but they won’t solve them. It’s up to you to find your own inspired solutions.

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