Painting Au Naturale

with Stoneground Paints

06/04/24
by Victoria Ritter

Nature is full of vibrant and subtle colors to explore. Artists looking to capture the beauty of the outdoors – and other subjects – can find an ally in The Stoneground Paint Co.

The company, headquartered in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, specializes in small batch, handmade, natural, single-pigment watercolor and gouache paints.

 

Back to basics

Eric Rowe, a longtime watercolor painter, founded Stoneground eight years ago out of frustration with the dull colors of available paints. When he voiced his disappointment to friends, someone suggested that Eric make his own paint.

“My dad loves to experiment, so down the rabbit hole we went,” said Jenny Rowe, Eric’s daughter and creative director at Stoneground. A “self-proclaimed geek” of pigment and history, Jenny worked with her dad as they ordered pigments, read books for recipes and worked to perfect their own formula for a binder.

About a year later, the Rowes realized their goal. They modified an old English recipe using just three ingredients: pigment, honey and gum arabic.

“To make the best possible paint, you must have the best possible ingredients,” said Russel Clarke, head of operations and logistics at Stoneground.

The binder is simple, yet strong. Stoneground sources its gum arabic from Africa; its quality is higher than food-grade gum arabic, Clarke said.

Stoneground uses locally-sourced honey, which provides a smooth brushstroke and acts as a natural, long-lasting preservative.

By using a natural binder and avoiding using additives – which tend to dull colors – Stoneground’s paints are vivid.

“It’s not your grandma’s watercolors,” Jenny said. “It’s intense and vibrant. They don’t have to be muddy and dull.”

Stoneground sources its pigments from around the world, including ochre in France, red earth pigments from Italy, green earth dyes from Cyprus, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and pipestone from Minnesota, along with lab-made synthetic pigments.

Another way that Stoneground sets itself apart is that its paints are made by hand. Russel explained that machine-rolling paints creates particles that are even in shape and size, resulting in a uniform color. In comparison, hand-mulling cracks particles into different sizes and uneven shapes, thus brighter colors. This is true for both watercolor and gouache.

“It’s like snowflakes – you never get the same shapes or cracking,” Clarke said. “We make water and gouache now, both by hand.”

Two years ago, Stoneground added gouache to its product lineup. Gouache uses the same formula as watercolor paints, with the addition of chalk. This creates an opaquer water medium that has a matte finish, while watercolor is known for its transparent quality.

“If you like to be traditional and build up layers, watercolor is phenomenal for building depth of colors,” Clarke said. “Gouache is great for quick paintings. The beauty of it is you can use them together.”

The manufacturing process for a whole pan of watercolor or gouache takes between four to six weeks due to layering, according to Jenny.

“We’re as committed to giving an artist an experience and quality as they are invested in putting their own time and effort into their pieces,” she said. “We want to give them the best possible experience.”

 

From nature to canvas

Once they perfected their binder formula, the Stoneground team started to share their paints with artists in the surrounding area. They quickly expanded and took a trip to Calgary, Alberta to talk to a handful of retailers. Stoneground’s business continues to do well as the company grows. Its initial offering of 45 watercolors has increased to upwards of 200 colors.

“People kept asking us to make their favorites, so we kept adding,” Jenny said.

Popular colors include Gold Mica and Cobalt Aquamarine while Florentine Green has a strong online following, according to Clarke. Customers have the option to build their own palette, thus making endless color combinations.

Stoneground is also well known for its artist-curated palettes. These collections are geared for specific applications, from botanicals to landscapes and primary colors for color theory.

“I feel fortunate to work with the artists,” Clark stated. “They have such a knowledge of color theory and how these pigments work together. The knowledge they have makes the job a lot easier.”

Stoneground exhibits at a few smaller art shows, but the biggest conference it attends is Creativation by Namta. The company participated in its first Creativation show in 2023; this year, it showcased not only their paints but also held interactive sessions and featured one of their artist partners.

Paint and gouache from Stoneground is available across North America. The company’s reach extends coast-to-coast in Canada and reaches from Alaska to Louisiana in the U.S. There are also discussions about opening shops internationally.

The best part of the job, however, is seeing how artists are using Stoneground’s paints.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Clark said.

 

A spectrum of possibilities

Stoneground’s newest venture is a collaboration with Seattle, WA artist Sarah Simon, also known as the Mint Gardener.

“She’s an incredible illustrator, artist, author, educator and inspiration,” Clarke said. “She has introduced people to how to paint botanicals, among other things, in the easiest way.”

Jenny has known of Simon for many years; Jenny bought Simon’s first book to teach herself how to paint watercolors. “These were quick, contemporary projects by a woman who is living in my world,” Jenny said. “I loved it! I found it so accessible and easy to use.”

The two women eventually connected through mutual friends and social media. Jenny offered to send Simon some of Stoneground’s paints and a partnership quickly formed. While Stoneground created custom colors for Simon’s flower paintings – which turned into a series of custom palettes – Simon highlights the company in a watercolor workbook. A new palette launched in May alongside the book.

Over the subsequent months, Simon became more than a business partner; she became a friend. “We’re forging more than a business transaction,” Clark observed. “Everyone we work with becomes friends and a part of our work group.”

Since Eric also owns and operates an art supply shop, Black Dog Art Supply in Regina, the Rowes and Stoneground team are empathetic towards independent art stores. For Clarke, independent retailers are the “backbone to local art communities” and product ambassadors. Stoneground is able and willing to supply retailers with demo paints, materials and instructions to best sell its paints.

For retailers that are looking for unique products, Stoneground can tailor products to them. To contact Stoneground and view its wide array of watercolors and gouache can visit stonegroundpaint.com.

“There is no one we’d rather partner with to help introduce our colors to artists than small, local art supply shops,” Clarke said. “Once people find out what we’re

doing and try our paint, there’s nothing more to it. Once you show bright, beautiful colors and explain them, they fall in love with it.”

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