Of Bottles, Balsams and Blues

As many artists are recognizing, the supply situation for art materials is shifting. As one customer recently noted, it used to be possible to walk into a local art store and see a range of new and unknown materials. Online retailing makes this a greater challenge. At The Art Treehouse, we have worked to maintain the quality and integrity of our materials, although it has been challenging at times.

The most challenging issue we have had is the acquisition of bottles. Bottles are in short supply right now because almost all PET bottles come from China. We have shifted to ordering large numbers of bottles well in advance of our needs. In some cases certain sizes have been completely discontinued. We are also increasing the availability of our glass bottles, which are manufactured in the US. However, due to Covid-19 employee distancing, the glass factories are running at 50% capacity.

Last month, our Canada Balsam supplier went out of business – after 22 years! Canada Balsam production is a slow intensive process, where people go out into the Canadian woods and gather the sap from trees before it is filtered. We now have a new supplier for balsam, but it is slow getting the sap – this is not large scale industry.

Finally, the global market for pigments has shifted dramatically. For decades, China has been the dominant supplier of pigments such as the Phthalo Blues. Very few pigments are still produced in the US – mostly a limited number of earth pigments used for architectural purposes. The production of “modern” pigments is rapidly shifting to India, but the wholesale chain is not fully set up yet. In general, pigments from India are of good quality, but are more expensive.

So overall, the great art materials will still continue to be available, but acquiring them may call for more planning and preparation than in the past. As one bottle supplier recently said, “everything is moving around. Nothing is predictable.”