Winsor & Newton is a company founded by artist Henry Newton, and scientist, William Winsor in 1832. The two had one uniting goal – to be the forerunners in the development of materials for artists. To do so, the company has ensured that there is a constant dialogue with the artists that use their products every day. This is why so many artists continue to use Winsor & Newton products within their practice, as the brand constantly drives innovation within the market.
Early on, the range of the colour spectrum was limited by the pigments that had been discovered, and relied heavily on wealthy world travellers in order to collect them. Some pigments were even worth more in weight than silver due to their difficulty to source.
In 1854, Winsor & Newton purchased the research notebooks of the late George Field, an outstanding colourman involved heavily with the discovery of new organic pigments, and thorough testing of the lightfastness of the pigment colours. Their collaboration with George Field enabled Winsor & Newton to offer an ever-increasing collection of pigmented paints to the market, ahead of the rest.
Field’s notebooks meticulously recorded each failure and success when testing new possible avenues for pigment creation. He even tried to create pigment from beer, which was largely unsuccessful, but his efforts have been recorded in the same meticulous detail.
Rose Madder, arguably Field’s most exquisite discovery, is created by steeping the root of the madder plants for a long period of time, and grinding the inner – root to create a fine pigment. This pigment then goes through a process called ‘laking’, which stabilises the pigment and allows a substantial volume of product to be created.
At this time, pigments such as Chromium and Cobalt, whilst producing incredibly vivid colours, were toxic. Materials like arsenic and mercury were used as a base to lake the pigments on to. It is obvious now that using these products at this time came with huge health risks. To put this into context, it is speculated that Napoleon’s death was caused largely by the arsenic-based wallpaper that clad the room in which he was imprisoned whilst in exile on Elber. The handpainted walls released toxic fumes within the humid environment.
Other interesting sources of early pigments include Tyrian Rose, a beautiful rouge found within the bronchial tube of a sea snail, Sepia, a well-known brown shade created by grinding up cuttlefish, and Indian Yellow, created from the urine of cows fed exclusively on mango leaves. Another shade, Caput Mortuum, was created by using ground up matter from the head of Egyptian Mummies, which provided a deep brown that was a new alternative to burnt umber and ochre, leading to a shortage of Egyptian Mummies that stumped scientists for years.
The sensitivity of these pigments vary hugely. With early pigments, a refraction machine was used to test the size of the microns within a pigment. Earth colours could be ground as finely as needed, which resulted in a varying degree of saturate but the grinding would not kill the colour, whereas with a more sensitive pigment such as Viridian, the glass used to create this could be over-ground and the colour ruined.
These toxic and unsustainable pigments have been replicated over the years by the scientists working at Winsor & Newton into synthetic alternatives. Synthetic pigments are significantly more lightfast than organic pigments, and are much stronger in terms of safety, quality, and sustainability.
Winsor & Newton have also perfected the recipe for various binders over the years, with the most commonly used binder being gum Arabic. This recipe is unchanged from its earliest instance, and is the clearest and cleanest, coating each and every particle of pigment to strongly bind the paints.
Similarly, the pair paid close attention to what was happening in other markets, and were informed by the medical world to move on from the early use of pigs’ bladders to hold pigment, to instead use syringes in 1840. With feedback from artists, this then moved on to the creation of metal tubes, and eventually the collapsible metal tube in 1842, patented by Winsor, that we know and love today. They were also informed by the invention of glycerine in the food industry, adding this to solid watercolour pigments to create liquid colours in 1832, changing the history of outdoor painting.
Brushes by Winsor & Newton have always been handmade from start to finish within the Winsor & Newton factories. They are hand-tied without the use of glue, with as much hair being held within the feral than there is in the head of each brush. There is no seam on the feral to avoid corrosion, and the handles are lacquered three times so that the brushes last a lifetime. The Sable hairs are taken from Siberian by-products, and arrive at the factory in small, bound parcels. Each hair is formed so that when wetted the brush creates the perfect point. The brushes are tested one by one under the microscope before they leave, and if there are any damaged hairs, these are removed.