Sunday, November 27, 2011

ASTM and Art Materials

One of the subjects rarely covered in Grammar of Color essays is the subject of ASTM.  The official title is ASTM International and that stands for the American Society of Testing and Materials.  Without boring everyone to death, ASTM is an organization that creates standards.  For simplicity sake, standards are instructions on how to manufacture something so that it performs in a manner that is expected by the manufacturer, the end user and in some cases by a governmental legislative body.  ASTM has hundreds of subcommittees that make standards for nearly every industry one can imagine.  ASTM subcommittees make standards for the concrete that is used to make buildings and bridges, bicycle and motorcycle helmets, airplane parts, windshields, roof shingles and you guessed it, PAINTS (both commercial and artist paints).

Tucked way back in the committee that deals with paint called D01 is a little subcommittee named 57 that deals with standards for the manufacture and recommended practices of art materials.  In my other "life" I serve as the current chairman of the subcommittee that is formally called, ASTM D01.57 Artists' Materials.  I find the work interesting to a great extent.  It connects me with the "nuts and bolts" (I'm sure that nuts and bolts have a subcommittee that makes standard for them as well) of the art materials manufacturing world and consumers who use these products.

I have come to the conclusion that it would take a Herculean act to make a majority of manufacturers and artist both aware and care about having ASTM Standards for art materials.  It just does not seem to matter that much to artists that standards exist when buying and using art materials.  Of course, when something goes wrong, artist raise holy heck about why the materials failed and who is responsible.  (A trade secret:  Most of the time the product is fine.  The artist made a serious error in application of the product.  Art materials don't have many manufacturing defects. It's rare.)

One of the key issues is that art material within the supply chain don't have strong agents to advocate for standards.  Let's look at a different product to illustrate this issue.  Many of you who own a home have had to purchase a new replacement roof at some point.  Your average roofer is not an ASTM member but the roofing materials have lots of ASTM standards associated with the performance and longevity of the components used to make roofing.  From the fiber used as the substrate to the tar and the crushed stone that adheres to the tar, all of it has been designed and tested with ASTM standards guiding each step of the way.  The manufacturer and distributor are going to see to it that roofing they sell conforms to ASTM standards that have real meaning and applicability homeowner.  No distributor is going to risk selling substandard roofing that will be applied to a home only to have it fail shortly after installation.  With the risk of lawsuits, real home damage, the cost of labor to replace the substandard product, the "real cost" of not using a roof that meets ASTM performance standards is not worth the risk.

Artist don't have advocates who try to assure that art materials meet quality and safety standards.  Talk to a typical art materials store sales person.  They don't know about ASTM.  I would bet most don't even know that ASTM D4236 (the federal mandated law) is required to be on every art material sold in the United States.  ( I have visited a few stores in my time that are well known and have found 2 or 3 products on the shelves that are clearly in violation of D4236 for health and safety.)

So kids, you are all pretty much on your own when it comes to selecting products that are of good quality.  The only saving grace is that a vast majority of art materials manufacturers who have owners who are intimately involved in the manufacture of the products they make have a strong sense to do the right thing and make a product worthy of having their name on it.  Lots of companies, sans personal surnames attached to the product, also put out high quality art materials.  I talk to these manufacturers and they really do care what they create for artists to use.  The integrity of manufacturers is the only safeguard artists have right now.

Getting great products across the spectrum of art materials produced and marketed is really a simple matter.  Artist need to demand that the suppliers they buy from carry products that conform to the manufacturing standards specific to the media that is being produced.  Yes, our subcommittee has lots of standards for manufacturing art materials.  Few manufacturers feel the need to conform to those standards.  However, if you find an art material with any standard listed beyond ASTM D4236 (health and safety) consider buying it because it is made by a company that puts quality ahead of many other issues.  Artist also need to demand that manufacturers conform to quality standards that exist.  If enough people do that, ASTM standards will have a real force in the marketplace.  Manufacturers who don't conform will lose marketshare.  It's all about peer pressure and artists demanding what they want.  Keep buying cheap quality, low or no-name products and the industry will not improve.

Ponder that and comment if you wish.

The Grammar of Color

The Purpose of this Blog

The Grammar of Color is an occasional newsletter sent out to approximately 850 participants who are interested in the history of artists' materials and the origins of pigments, the people who created them and the stories that relate to how pigments, media and names of things related to art materials came into existence.

Welcome to the internet version of The Grammar of Color.  This blog is an opportunity to publish digest versions of Grammar articles, for readers to give some feedback that others can see and to post some ideas that were derived from the research done for Grammar articles but because the theme did not fit the research or would have created an overly long posting, the idea was scrapped.  I like to call these ideas that hit the "cutting room" floor.

Here is an opportunity to dialogue about art materials both past and present and to share ideas for future articles on the Grammar of Color.  This also serves as a place where I will get to indulge myself with paintings I have created over the years as well as those of other artist who provide a visual example of some concepts that I will discuss in Grammar entries.

This will not be the location to download past Grammar of Color issues.  Those materials will be the subject for a future book that will combine both Grammar of Color essays along with text and images on the proper use of art materials to provide artist with the best chance of having works they create last long enough to have a chance to be saved for future generations.  It is the principles of Darwin imposed on works of art.  The survival of the fittest implies that you have to create something fit to begin with and not rely on overworked, underpaid conservators in the future to save your artwork from the ravages of time.

For those who wish to subscribe to the Grammar of Color essays by email, send an email request to Grammarofcolor (at) Verizon (dot) net.  (Reconstruct the email address a bit to create a usable address.  I am tired of robots that search the internet for valid email address and then bombard me with spam.)

We start our adventure......