The Makerage: Color development process
We are Drew and Mel Morgan of The Makerage. We make and sell concrete home décor, mostly planters and lazy susans, from our home in Tulsa, OK. Like most businesses, we have evolved since we started in 2012, but we’d like to share with you a snapshot of our current process for developing new colors.
Gray concrete naturally has a unique, warm tone with interesting variation and texture. When we started making concrete goods, part of what motivated us was the innate beauty of this common material. It always surprises us with its depth of character when it is not in its usual ambient context (and sometimes even then, when we stop to look at it).
All-white ingredients are also available, although less common. When we first made white concrete the stark result, while brilliant, lacked the depth and character of gray concrete. It also plainly showed the slightest stain, which is a real problem for our products. We soon learned how to add some darker materials to increase the texture, character, and stain-hiding of the surface while leaving the color quite light.
When we finally overcame our own obsession with gray and realized that our customers wanted vivid, eye-catching colors, we hit the ground running. Our discarded stark-white concrete recipe quickly became the basis for a custom color recipe. We began by offering pre-mixed colors to our wholesale customers, but eventually decided that a more custom route would fit us better.
Now we have many raw pigments that we mix together experimentally to develop our own unique concrete colors. All must be specially designed to withstand the harsh alkaline environment of wet concrete. We release new colors about three times a year, usually retiring the old colors from our online store as they run out.
The color development process begins with inspiration; Drew and I take turns browsing through the social media zeitgeist, talking with friends and clients, and looking at the objects and images that surround us. Eventually a group of colors starts to stand out, and we collect together a set of references that we will try to match. Our process means that the colors we sell often have personal significance to us, although we don’t publicize that very much.
To get an accurate representation of what the final color will look like, we assemble tiny batches of our white concrete base, leaving the dry and liquid ingredients separate until the last minute. We have tried to simplify the color sampling recipe in various ways, but have found that it’s worthwhile to include everything except the reinforcing glass fibers.
After all the mini-batches are measured out, we take our first guess at a pigment combination, measure the pigments, and mix the three parts of the recipe together with a popsicle stick. We stand around stirring it and staring at it for a few minutes, holding it under various lights, commenting on the ideas and colors that it brings to mind, and eventually discussing how to adjust it to get closer to what we wanted. After these few minutes it starts to thicken, so we tap it down and set it aside to cure.
The pigment measuring process can require a small scale and a steady hand, because some of the color recipes call for pigment doses as small as 0.1% of the cement weight. When we’re making a small sample piece, that means we need to accurately measure 100 milligrams of pigment! The scale is so sensitive that we must let its temperature equalize to the environment whenever we move it between the garage and the kitchen.
Usually after two to four tries, we will arrive at the color we wanted and move on to another one. If there are any mini-batches left at the end we explore color ideas that have been lurking in the backs of our minds, take requests from any visitors we’ve invited, or make silly colors just for fun.
Cleaning up is the last step. With two children running around, we are careful to remove any staining remainders from the kitchen. We also use the cleaning up time to continue looking at the color samples and impatiently talk about whether they will look different when they are fully cured and waxed.
We carefully label all the samples that we make and peruse them often when we are thinking about colors. As our library of samples grows, we have more information to draw from and color matching gets easier. Eventually we may not need to test colors as often, but we enjoy it so much now that we will probably never stop experimenting.
We’re excited to participate in the Handmade Pop-up partly because it helps drive our creativity and motivates us to release new colors and products. We hope you’ll enjoy what we have in store for you this season.