Know Your Art Supplies > Learn how this art supplier was designated as “Royal” by the Queen, how they’re adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak, specific ways they champion the environment, and more.
Many of us have more time than ever to get out our art supplies, try new materials and techniques, experiment, and perfect our craft. As part of our effort to feed your creativity (now and always), we’re bringing you a new feature in which we spotlight a business that makes and/or sells the very supplies you likely have in your studio space. This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Richardson, President of Royal Talens North America.
Cherie Dawn Haas: First, tell us about your business in a nutshell.
Kyle Richardson: Royal Talens is an historic Dutch color house, located in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Since 1899, we’ve been producing art materials, under such brands as Rembrandt, Cobra, van Gogh, Amsterdam, Ecoline, Talens Art Creation, and more. We craft 99% of the color products we make right in Apeldoorn and make quality levels from Novice to professional in just about every technique, from oil to acrylic, pastels, inks, gouache, etc., We are actively selling products in over 100 countries around the world. You can find our brands in most places that sell fine art materials. In North America, we have had our own team and our own warehouse in Northampton, Massachusetts since 2015. We’re a small, dedicated team with a great deal of experience and passion. Most people are shocked to find out that in North America, we have 11 employees, so we’re a very small business, but we have very big ideas and aspirations.
I understand that a Queen helped name the business, hence the “Royal” part. Was the original company name simply “Talens,” and where does that part of the name come from?
Royal Talens indeed became “Royal” due to the designation of Queen Wilhelmina in 1949. Prior to that, the company had been called Talens, which is the surname of the founder, Marten Talens. Marten Talens was a retired banker, who spent most of his later years buying property for Dutch farmers in Texas of all places, where he was also a deputy Sheriff. On one of his many cruises back to the Netherlands during his retirement, a German chemist who developed inks, convinced him to start up an ink and lacquer company back in the Netherlands with his sons, and that became Talens & Co in 1899.
The Royal Family has always been supporters and practitioners of the Arts and in 1949, the Queen, who spent many days at the Royal summer palace, just down the street in Apeldoorn, decided to bestow the greatest honor a company can achieve in the Netherlands, which is to become Royal. For those of us who have never lived in a Monarchy, I explain this as the equivalent of being “knighted” as a company. This designation comes with responsibilities and regulations as it relates to environmental stewardship, labor practices and quality assurance. Currently, a company must be around 100 years to be considered for this designation.
Has Royal Talens made any adaptations or changes since the COVID-19 outbreak?
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted all of us, and at Royal Talens it’s no different. In the Netherlands, we are still able to operate, but are doing so with partial staff and most office employees working from home to reduce exposure risks. In Northampton, MA, where Royal Talens North America is based, we have all office workers aside from myself and Donna, our VP of Operations, working from home and remoting, while we have three warehouse workers, Becky, AJ and Tim, in the warehouse with us picking orders and receiving containers. Imagine a warehouse as big as two football fields – it is fairly easy for us to maintain social distancing and a clean and safe work environment.
More drastically, this outbreak has affected what we are working on. We have elevated the amount of work we do on the social media and digital content creation side of things. We’ve just launched something called the Creator’s Studio (see Episode 1 below), which has a series of educational courses on materials and we have also been planning many activities with our Ambassadors, including studio tours and live demo events, so that folks can be engaged with us while we shelter in place and keep our sanity through expressing ourselves and staying creative.
We have launched numerous new contests on Instagram and Facebook as we see more people wanting to have access to information and also to keep entertained through these types of activities. We have seen a sharp increase in the number of people using art materials at home to keep kids active and for parents to have an outlet of expression during these times as well. It’s the silver lining that we’re seeing in these times, that people are coming together more to be creative. With two children at home, I can attest to the need for constant new stimulus for them and we are happy to have them draw and paint, as opposed to staring at a screen!
Sustainability is important to Royal Talens. Can you tell us how you make it a priority?
Royal Talens attaches great importance to sustainable business and has undertaken a variety of measures to help protect the environment. We also aim to reduce our ecological footprint for the future. We are achieving this in several ways, such as lowering electricity consumption (-2% per year), decreasing transport mileage, and reducing (packaging) materials and waste. In addition, we are striving to use more sustainable energy sources and packaging materials, such as cardboard and bioplastics.
We aim to reduce electricity consumption by 2% each year (10% less in 2024 than in 2019). We are replacing our lights with LED lights, several of which are equipped with motion sensors. The new warehouse management system in the distribution center ensures that robots can pick more efficiently and use less electricity.
In 2018, Royal Talens invested in 780 solar panels, the largest solar panel park in Apeldoorn. In 2018, these panels generated 167 MWh of sustainable solar energy (from March). That represents a reduction of 652,956 kg of CO2, which is equal to the annual consumption of 194 petrol vehicles driving 15,000 kilometres in 1 year.
Royal Talens has been promoting electric driving since 2015 with six charging points for electric cars. We aim to fully convert our passenger vehicle fleet to electric and hybrid cars by 2024. In 2019 we will start a feasibility study focused on replacing diesel lorries with electric ones. In addition, our employees are encouraged to come to work by bicycle or train thanks to our convenient location nearby the Central Station and the modern bicycle parking facility available to our employees.
Lower gas consumption
To lower gas consumption, the production temperature and the heating curve for the central heating system have both been reduced by 2 degrees. In addition, the skylights in the production halls have been replaced with alternatives that are transparent and better insulated.
Transport and logistics
We are continuously striving to reduce our transport-related CO2 impact. We are achieving this by minimizing transport mileage and maximizing the filling levels of our trucks. Our own drivers are trained in “The New Driving” program (Dutch: Het nieuwe rijden), to help minimize fuel consumption. We also examine the environmental performance of our suppliers.
In 2013, Royal Talens was one of the first Dutch companies to close its factory in China and bring production back to the Netherlands. Better management, consistent quality and a lower impact on the environment through decreased transport (Royal Talens turnover is mostly in Europe) were decisive factors in bringing production back.
In order to further limit the impact of freight transport on CO2 levels, we are increasingly sourcing raw materials, packaging materials and products closer to our factories and distribution centers in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain. We have launched campaigns that are aimed at acquiring more raw materials, packaging and products from the Netherlands or Europe over the coming years.
Materials and Waste
In order to limit the impact on the environment, when developing our products, we carefully examine ways of avoiding unnecessary packaging materials and of reducing production waste as much as possible. We use sustainable FSC certified paper and wood, recycled materials and glass instead of plastic as much as possible.
Reuse of transport packaging
Whenever possible, we use standard blue crates for deliveries to our distribution centers in order to minimize the use of additional boxes as transport packaging. The same applies to our external packers. These crates are returned to the producer at the end of their useful life and recycled into new raw materials. Our deliveries to our DC (distribution center) in North America are in cardboard boxes, which are used again for shipments to American customers.
FSC® quality mark
At Royal Talens, sustainable production goes further than safe, environmentally conscious choices for responsible components and careful waste separation. It also means taking care of the environment and our surroundings. For that reason, Royal Talens is increasingly using sustainably grown wood that bears the FSC quality mark to produce its wooden products such as easels, stretched canvas, brushes, and paint and pencil boxes. Our range of paper pads is also largely made from wood fibres originating from wood that has been grown sustainably and that bears the FSC quality mark.
This wood complies with the guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council®. This organisation sets global standards for responsible forest management, carefully considering the interests of people, the environment and the economy. For every tree that is cut down, a new tree is planted, helping to prevent deforestation.
The FSC quality mark is supported worldwide by all major environmental and development organisations, trade unions and international businesses. FSC is the only organization with a consistent independent standard and certification system that can be applied worldwide for all types of forests and plantations. Being awarded the quality mark is no easy process. Obtaining the quality mark means meeting strict criteria and implementing them throughout the organization. Every year, Royal Talens undergoes an assessment by the FSC as to whether our working methods are in line with requirements.
Reuse of soft pastel waste
No waste is generated during the production of Rembrandt and Van Gogh soft pastels, and all materials are used. Any residual soft pastel material that is generated during production is sorted by color and reused to produce new pastels.
Cobra: Solvent-free painting with oil colors
Royal Talens is a pioneer in the field of oil paint with its Cobra water mixable oil colors that allow you to paint without solvents. You can dilute these pure, professional and study quality oil colors in water, and the brushes can be cleaned with soap and water. There is no longer any need to use harmful solvents that may end up in wastewater. Painting with Cobra is also better for your health.
Environmentally friendly treatment plant
The production of various paint types and quantities also involves a lot of cleaning activities. With an eye to protecting the environment, virtually all our paint boilers and machine parts are cleaned using water and soap instead of solvents. Since the paint particles are too fine to be filtered out from the water directly, Royal Talens uses a different, smarter method. An ingenious system is used to separate the solid particles from the water. An extensive drainage system runs under the factory. All of the drains flow into an 80-cubic-metre basin that holds all of the wastewater from the factory. A “flocculation process” (the addition of certain chemicals) causes the paint particles to clump together and sink to the bottom. We press this wastewater through a filtering machine, which then leaves only a “cake” of solid particles. This cake is disposed of as chemical waste. The filtered water that remains complies with the standards of the water authorities and is allowed into the sewage.
What are some of your most popular products, and why?
It’s interesting that depending on what type of artist we’re speaking with, certain brands are at the forefront of their minds. For the artists at the Figurative Art Convention and the Plein Air Convention, we generally are most well known for Rembrandt oils, and Cobra – our solvent free oil painting alternative. Street artists generally gravitate towards Amsterdam Acrylics, since it’s very popular as a mural paint.
I think that the general consensus on what makes our products unique is really the recipe, and that across all brands and techniques, there’s a consistent quality level and the recipe reflects the vision of our lab and resident artists over the years, that Royal Talens colors should work in a harmonious way with each other. In other words, regardless of the pigment, there is a uniform consistency from color to color, so that you’re focused on achieving the vision and capturing the light as quickly as possible and not focused on trying to make the paint behave the way you want it to. That’s why, for instance, Rembrandt oils are known as the “direct painter’s paint.”
What are some unique ways you see artists using your products? Will you have these available at PACE and/or FACE?
What I have seen over the past few years is that the younger generation of artists are not feeling as constrained by one technique. They are using products in ways which we would have never expected and are pushing the boundaries with these materials.
We see Rembrandt soft pastels being used in conjunction with Rembrandt watercolors and acrylic ink for example, and we see creative ideas coming from the homefront, such as decorating Easter eggs with Ecoline liquid watercolors.
We bring most of these products in some form to PACE and FACE and will also be showcasing a whole new launch of 120 colors in Rembrandt watercolors and a vast array of paper products that we’ve created with knowledge of the best surfaces for each individual technique and brand level. I think when folks see us at the next PACE, they will see that we have become experts on surfaces as well as color – something we’ve been working on for a long time.
Royal Talens products are available in most places that sell fine art materials. For more information, please visit www.royaltalens.com.
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