Daniel Smith is a well know name in artists’ paints. But it’s also the name of the founder, whom we were invited to meet yesterday – Saturday, 9 April – at the Seattle mothership store. I took some notes on his talk. There may be errors but I was writing as fast as I could……
Store manager Joe greets people arriving. He gave out DS watercolor dot cards, samples of their watercolor sticks, a DS pin, and lots of handouts. I really liked having the pin!
Dan moved from Michigan to Washington in 1970 after graduating from Olivet College. He worked as a printer but also had a studio. After some years, he thought he might try making his own printing inks and paints. It was a real shoestring operation…. he sold a motorcycle to have money for equipment. He lived in a storefront on Capitol Hill and later bought a house in another neighborhood.
The first year, he made $1300. The second year $16,000 and the third year $160,000. That’s when he quit his day job as a printer. His home had increased in value, he refinanced and with the equity bought a gas station into which to expand the business. He also started to carry some paper.
As the business grew, he moved it to 1111 W. Nickerson for a 5000 sq foot space and opened a retail store. [I looked it up on the map… it’s near the Fremont Cut. He didn’t think the building was still there. Looking at Street View, there is something there.]
I’m not sure of the time line, but some time later he moved the business to the building next door to the current location on 1st St. He was 10 years there and then moved into the current building. [According to John, they also now have a 20,000 sq ft distribution center in Tukwila, where product and ingredients are stored].
He grew the business from 1975 to 1992. He described himself as obsessed with it. In 1992 he turned the management over to Bill (didn’t hear his last name) as CEO. Dan moved away to Eastern Washington and later to South Dakota, where he and his wife Nancy live now.
Bill got sick and later died. Meanwhile, the IT manager, John Cogley, had become more involved in the overall management while Bill was sick. After he died, Daniel named John as CEO. John later bought the business, so is now owner and CEO.
John started with the Daniel Smith company 30 years ago as a computer programmer. He interacted with every part of the company in order to integrate all the IT systems. He said he loved the manufacturing.
These days, as owner and CEO, he interacts with suppliers and other companies. He’ll be at Fabriano, in Italy, next week!
The Daniel Smith company (DS) has a geologist/mineralogist who sources the minerals used in the Primatek pigments. His name is Bruce.
DS also employs two chemists to maintain absolute consistency of the paint they manufacture. John described one as a PhD chemist and the other as a research chemist. “They ain’t cheap”. Every single batch is approved by a chemist at every step of the manufacturing process.
John went on to describe in detail how the paints are made. It may be that DS is the only company that rigorously tests light-fastness with a Xenon Fadeometer. So when the information on a paint says it is light fast for 200 years (or more), it has been proven to be so in this very high tech machine.
Then he took us on a factory tour! This is the second one I’ve had the privilege to take. The shop was quiet with no one working today as it is a Saturday. During the previous one, they were working and we saw everything in action! No photos allowed, though.
The Hobart mixers are like your Kitchen-Aide (which they make) on lots of steroids! They are huge machines that are decades old. “They last for-ev-er!” John said. Their newest was bought from the CostCo bakery department! One of them is 43 y/o and sometimes runs 24/7 for days on end.
A couple gems from John: “If technique is important, always use distilled water” (with watercolor paint). “Making paint is like making cake”.
Thank you to Joe, Daniel, John and everyone else involved. This was an excellent presentation.