Brexit and COVID-19 have impacted upon art material supplies at a time when demand has also surged as more people have had time to engage with their creativity. However as lockdown restrictions gradually ease and more companies resume normal operations, we thought we’d put a small explanation together as to why problems with some products still persist.
The sourcing of raw materials for art supplies manufacture was substantially impacted upon by the pandemic, the repercussions of which are still being felt across the industry. Pigments, drying oils, resins, polymer binders, gums, linens, cottons, wood and so on, all require people power to get them sourced and processed so that they are ready to be used in the manufacture of art materials. As we are all aware, the extent and timing of how the pandemic has and might affect us has often been very hard to predict, causing staff shortages and impacting on productivity, especially in industries where working from home is not an option. Added to this is the fact that many ingredients vital for making art materials are used in other industries, such as car manufacture, where pigments are required for colouring tyres and car body paint. When the supply of cheap pigments required for other industries depleted, the demand for more expensive pigments rose, affecting pigment supply even further for fine art paint-makers. Where supply is low, the trend for stockpiling materials rises, leading to shortages and price increases, as well as further delays.
Why are some brands affected by raw materials shortage and others not?
It all depends on whether the manufacturer has been able to source raw materials, which can be down to how big the company is and whether they are able to stockpile the raw materials. Additionally the factories producing the art materials for the leading fine art brands may be in countries closer or further away to the sources for raw materials, meaning that some brands will endure longer delays than others.
Most Notable Shortages
There is currently a notable shortage of monomers and resins used in the manufacture of artists’ acrylic paint, in part due to a recent fire at the BASF SE site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, which produces acrylic emulsion products. A recent statement from Winsor and Newton explained that surges in demand coupled with ‘several force majeure events declared by key suppliers across Europe, as well as an interruption to the supply chain in Texas due to the unseasonably cold weather which (has) caused production sites to close.’ While resin and monomer supplies with Winsor and Newton are currently healthy, they anticipate stocks to become depleted and as a result, shortages in acrylic paint are expected in May/June. In the meantime their teams in Procurement and Manufacturing will be researching alternative suppliers of these materials, but this in itself will contribute to additional costs in manufacture which are likely to force the retail products of paint to rise in the coming months.
Art materials manufacture may involve big machines, but it can rarely be described as mass production to rival fast fashion or the food you might see in a supermarket. It takes time and attention to detail to produce quality art materials, and in many cases the manufacturers have limited machinery and so can only produce paints one colour at a time.
Colour-makers Cranfield offered this explanation:
‘We have many hundreds of product lines in a range of packaging sizes that all have to squeeze (literally) through the same machinery. As a consequence, for generations, artist colour makers have followed ‘colour runs’.
We start with the cleanest and lightest colours and work our way through to the darkest and strongest colours. We then deep clean the mixers, mills, pans and tools (a process that can run into days) and start again. We normally make about 6 months’ worth of stock of each colour in a batch. We are fortunate to have a well-equipped factory and across our seven mills we would ‘normally’ have a four month cycle to complete the process before we start again. Clearly we clean up after every colour but the level of cleaning required to stop contamination is less using this time honoured and trusted method. As a further advantage, we actually keep one of our large three-roll mills purely for the manufacture of white oil paints so as to ensure zero contamination on our precious white formulations.
(Covid-19 caused) raw materials shortages on pigments, oils, and packaging and demand for artist materials skyrocketed to the extent that we quickly ran out of certain items. The temptation was just to slot random colours into the production plan as they were needed by our retailers, but if we are making yellows (for example) but squeeze in a dark blue because we have run out, it means that we can only carry on making blues and finally blacks. We have bypassed all colours in between and will only get around to all those oranges, red, ochres and everything else on the list when we have restarted the colour run and worked our way through whites and yellows again!
So we are catching up with demand but it has to be in a methodical way, which is hard for the artist to understand when they are waiting desperately for a particular colour. Realistically with further raw material shortages anticipated, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for some time yet, but with a new mill installed and commissioned during the pandemic along with additional staff, we are convinced that the steady progress we are making will reduce lead- times and the number of products out of stock.’
As important as the beautiful paints and inks is some form of packaging in which to store and ship the art materials. Recently there have been known shortages of lids for acrylic pots as well as bottles for masking fluid which causes frustrating but unavoidable temporary delays.
Transportation and Shipping Charges
Some international orders, depending on their value, are required to go through customs in their destination country before they are handed to the local post or delivery company to complete. The customs clearance process varies from country to country and can take some time to process. Recent changes to various shipping charges and administration has caused delays in shipping in and out of the UK. Within the EU, Brexit caused delays at customs which caused the costs of shipping into the UK to rise, as well as custom delays to products leaving the UK. While these delays have since reduced, shipping fees are still high. Further afield, shipping charges from China have risen to four times what they were a year ago.
If you are waiting for a particular product that has been affected by these issues, it could be worth seeing if a similar alternative is offered by another brand. Check the product description for the ingredients within your product. It could be that the individual ingredients are available, so you could mix your own medium, for example. It’s worth bearing in mind that shortages of specific products or materials may not be industry wide, and because the brands that we sell are international, some companies may be better stocked than others. The filter function on our website allows you to refine search results, so that you can view only the brands you’re interested in, or the size, colour, or medium that you are looking for.
We understand that delays and shortages to stocks of art materials can be frustrating and we, alongside the manufacturers that we work with, are committed to ensuring such delays are kept to a minimum. In the meantime we will continue to notify you of the latest delivery times on our Delivery updates page – available to view from the top of the Jacksonsart.com homepage.