An interview with Jen Pfeiffer, the creative behind Pfeiffer Art Supply.
One of the things that I love the most about the art community is the sense of support and camaraderie amongst artists. It’s amazing to see networks develop between people who share a love for the same thing, despite having different backgrounds. It’s fascinating see how people collaborate, perhaps not on literal pieces, but in the way their support and feedback helps each other grow and improve.
One of these artists is Jen Pfeiffer. You might not think of her as artist right way when you see her profile, @pfeifferartsupply (which she is in her own right) because her beautiful feed is full of pictures of her mulling and pouring watercolor and acrylic paint.
But Jen is more than a crafter, more than a paint maker. The work that goes into making her paints is the same care and love and inspiration that goes into making a work of art with her paints. You see, what captivates me the most about Jen’s work is that her creative process, and the results of her creative process, actually becomes the fuel behind the work of so many other artists. What other artist can say they collaborate as much as Jen can?
I was so inspired by what Jen does that I sent her a message on Instagram, asking if I could interview her for a blog post to find out more about her background and process.
I‘m really curious about how you got your start in actually making paint. I read on your website that you used to do glass blowing; how does someone go from that to mulling watercolors?
Since a child, I have always been obsessed with color and was always keeping my crayons in color order. If one of them broke, I would want a new box. Hee hee. I’ve have always dabbled in drawing and painting and before the time of social media, it was very hard to get noticed, or make any type of living off of it.
After I had my first child, I took up ceramics and glassblowing as a hobby. In glassblowing, there are hundreds of frits and powder pigments that you roll your hot glass in before blowing out. The combinations are endless and I loved it. Glassblowing was a hobby for me, but eventually the cost of renting studio time to blow glass and raising two children at home, I made the decision to gradually let that hobby go for the time being. I hope to get back to it one day, as it is very satisfying and relaxing.
Eventually I came across a blog post a couple of years ago on making handmade paints from pigments. I immediately began doing tons of research and reading articles and books on the subject. I became hooked when I ordered my first set of pigments and made many, many batches of not the greatest paint. It was like I became addicted to getting the batch to the right consistency for myself. Even now, I still tweak my recipes from time to time if I feel that the batch could be better.
Do you have a specific process for creating new colors? Do you sit down to work and say “ok, today we need a new green,” or do you have a more spontaneous approach?
As for what colors I choose, I wanted to have a palette that would suit most peoples’ preferences. From time to time, I switch out a color if I come across an even better pigment. Recently, I switched out Yellowbill lemon yellow for a better yellow in my opinion to Sunbird medium sun yellow. Although, Yellowbill is a beautiful yellow all on its own, I felt that Sunbird mixed in well with my other color choices better then Yellowbill.
I have 24 colors that I try to keep stocked in our shop at all times. And I will also add a few limited edition colors from time to time. I am also building a small line of sparkly mica pigments as add on.
What does your creative process look like?
My work days are always different. I keep inventory and when one color starts getting low, I get to work on making a new batch. Usually it takes about a week for one color to be done, but I’m finding in the colder weather, the paints are almost taking to weeks to dry. My business is still evolving and I love seeing the direction it’s going in. Also working from a home studio is the best.
How much trial and error did it take to get to where you are now? Your paints have a reputation for being excellent quality, how long did it take you to get to a quality you were happy with?
There was much trial and error in the beginning. A lot of thrown out paint in the process. Lots of frustration but in the end it’s always worth trying to figure out each pigments best recipe.
My favorite part of this adventure is seeing what other artists are painting with my paints. It feels like I have a very very small part of their creative process. I also love doing the art contests. It’s quite a bit of work, but the end result each week is very fulfilling. I hope that it helps people to pick up their pencils and brushes and gets them to create something new, maybe something they would not traditionally paint to begin with. Even if it’s a tad uncomfortable to paint something you might not necessarily choose for your self, I believe it will help your artwork to progress or evolve into new ways. I hope the contests pick up some new artists in the coming months.. we just added a separate kids contest weekly.. Super excited about this. Usually I choose an endangered bird species as a bird prompt for each contest, so that awareness can be brought to these species as well. I would welcome any bird suggestions from my followers too.
Is there anything you would like people to know about your paints?
All my paints are non toxic. There are some really beautiful cadmiums I would love to work with, but because I want to keep my line non toxic, I try to find alternative pigments to work with. Since they are handmade, they do have a different feel to them then traditional watercolor paints. I have had a lot of good feedback on them so far, and if I do get a complaint, I will address it and adjust recipes if need be.