Our CEO Dave Schofield received a very special invitation to visit Royal Talens in Apeldoorn, Netherlands following the Frankfurt Creative World show. I was lucky enough to join along with Rich Colletti, Business Development Manager and our tireless hosts, Kyle Richardson and Kirk Gillespie. We traveled by train along with Dave’s wife Lindsay and their son Kai, who for 3 was a very well-behaved and excited first time train traveler!
The first day we got a quick tour of Apeldoorn, a town of 160,000 inhabitants and locally known as the summer home and hunting lodge of the Royal Family. The city of Apeldoorn was mostly farmland before the Royals showed up and built their elaborate Summer Palace. A stately Protestant church was built exactly halfway between the center of town and the palace, so that the citizens and Royalty would meet halfway to worship.
One of the most striking memories I have of this town is the prestige and wealth of old architecture infused with glittering, floor to ceiling modern windows. The sparse use of window coverings allows the passerby a glimpse of interiors decked out in the popular Dutch style, with elegant chandeliers and modern furniture.
The Royal Talens Factory
We arrived at the factory of Royal Talens, original location of the company. Like kids in a candy shop, we set up in the artist atelier room where we were informed that a Master Class was planned for the afternoon. Yours Truly may have been the most excited in this tour group to hear the news. I was feeling giddy in an artist studio fully stocked with premium products.
In the lobby of the building, there is an impressive array of brands in vintage packaging, which always fascinates me. I love seeing the glimpse back into time: how the products looked when consumers of ages past were buying them.
After a short company overview, we suited up and headed into the factory to learn about the making of paint. Our first impression of the factory: a bird’s-eye view via a catwalk, the elevated walkway to pass over the factory floor without having to walk around the machines or disrupt the process.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was learning about the paint pigments and witnessing colors so rich that they are hard to describe. As we walked through the aisles and aisles of ingredients, bags and barrels of raw colors provided an incredible sensory experience. There was a cleanliness to the process of paint production that was surprising—and fascinating from a high view. We saw paint made from the first step through the last. It was remarkably similar to all the steps used in baking a cake! After combining dry materials together and making a “dough” by adding in the wet materials, the large vats of colorful happiness were brought over to the triple roll mill and we were invited to witness a quality review of Cerulean Blue.
A Colorful Excursion
A very serious gentleman explained the importance of examining every mixed batch of paint to assure that the artist always receives the best product with the Royal Talens seal of approval. Although the process seemed foolproof, with numerous quality checks throughout the process, a final rigorous step is the most important for the paint to move to packaging. We watched him scoop a sample of the finished paint and draw it down slowly in various layers alongside a comparison batch of color. He explained the process of checking the hue position, transparency and mass tone against the standard for that color which the lab monitors. This step is crucial and is why even when pigment manufacturers change, or pigments become unavailable, the recipe must still always match the original intended outcome.
He laid this brilliant blue color down, with a drop of linseed oil and mixed this on top of the Hegman gauge, a tool which measures the grind fineness of the paint, while explaining what he was reviewing in each step. The Cerulean Blue passed the test and was staged for packaging.
Did you ever wonder how the paint gets in the tube? Yes, a machine is involved, but there is quite a bit of oversight from astute production leads who ensure that the paint is well mixed all the way down to the bottom.
The paint tubes then march along the line with multiple machine touchpoints, heading to the last step. After the label and cap are applied, another quality control check begins.
Since Royal Talens creates a wide range of products, we also had the opportunity to see the watercolor pans produced. A dedicated production team is responsible for filling these for artists around the world. The vibrant little cakes look like candy as they are assembled and pressed into the palettes.
After the tour, the charming CEO, Ronald Benning, joined us for a wonderful lunch (which included my new favorite, Mustard Soup). Ronald told us he would like to personally take us on a warehouse tour after our class, and invited us to dinner that evening.
The Master Class
Our class was led by the talented Merel Jansen, who told us the story of Royal Talens and explained the various product differentiations.
We started with Hand Lettering using Ecoline pens. She coached us through creating our names using thick and thin strokes with the vibrant colors.
From there we moved to mediums: a wide range of textures, gels and color offerings. It was very therapeutic to combine the colors, textures and mediums, discovering different effects. It was like playing in art class. Merel described how artists use the various mediums to create and experiment. At one point we all had our heads down, content and working silently, mixing and shaping forms with the palette knife.
Touring the Warehouse
We were lucky to have the man himself, Mr. Ronald Benning, lead our tour through the massive warehouse. He shared a number of interesting company facts along the way. For example, did you know how a company becomes “Royal”? The company began as just “Talens” in 1899, but Queen Wilhelmina in the 1940’s was not only the Queen, but also a talented artist herself. She loved Talens paint, and declared Talens as a Royal company in 1949! With this honor, the company name changed to Royal Talens. There are high expectations and responsibilities that come along with this status. Royal Talens must go through an audit every 10 years on topics such as environmental impact, quality and labor practices, in order to keep hold of this Royal designation. It is clear that the team at Royal Talens is continuously committed to meeting these standards.
Mr. Benning walked us through the order process from start to finish and engaged various team members along the way. They shared how they work alongside the high technology process, demonstrating the way an order is picked with robots reviewing the process. There were also special warehouse enclosures designed to contain various materials to meet the strict Netherlands code of protecting against explosions, fire and water damage.
Our team marveled at the way the brand’s spirit was exhibited throughout our entire experience at Royal Talens. Positive energy flowed throughout the entire organization, even extending into the community with a classroom open for public use and a community store.
Mr. Benning, Kirk and Kyle were wonderful dinner party hosts, sharing stories and laughter with us at a local restaurant called Sizzle. In saying goodbye, we marveled that Mr. Benning was jumping on his bicycle to ride home in the snow! (photo)
But wait, there is more…
Kirk and Kyle made sure we didn’t miss the fabulous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Royal Talens has deep ties to Rembrandt and to the Rijks, and we were ushered with VIP passes to the famous museum. Artwork at the Rijks is a special experience with the world renowned collection boasting 2.3 million visitors a year.
The Night Watch by Rembrandt is the most celebrated masterpiece and alone makes the museum a must see.
We wandered our way through, taking in the historical paintings, unusual pieces, sculptures, a rare 36 carat diamond, intricate dollhouses, elegant stained glass and an incredible, vast library. At the end of our tour, we landed in a Dutch pub to taste the local libations.
If Royal Talens ever invites you to visit, I suggest you plan on it! From reveling in the lush color in the factory to watching the precision and efficiency of the warehouse, our Royal Talens experience was inspiring from every angle. Fine artists as well as our industry community have much to learn from these experts! On behalf of MacPherson’s, thank you Mr. Benning, Kyle, Kirk, Merel for a wonderful, Royal visit.