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View Full Version : Why are pastel boxes so expensive?


lirael2008
10-30-2011, 05:18 AM
Hello. I've been coveting a nice pastel box like the one Richard McKinley uses in his instructional videos. However, the brand that he mentioned runs from $250-350 which is too much of a splurge for me, especially since I'm a total neophyte.

I was wondering if anyone knows why these pastel boxes are so pricey. Is it because of the craftsmanship and/or quality materials? Or is it there another reason?

Also, are there other pastel boxes that are similarly structured and good quality but more like $100-150? I saw someone mention the new Dakota Deluxe Traveler, which looks promising.

robertsloan2
10-30-2011, 07:21 AM
I think it's construction and materials. There are a few perks on the Heilman that aren't there on the Dakota Traveller - but I could afford the Dakota Traveller and it's excellent. It's done a good job of keeping my pastels safe for a trip across the country, which mattered a lot to me with half of my pastels in it.

For studio use, the Dakota two drawer or three drawer wooden pastel box is good for anything but the really thick sticks like Mount Vision or Richeson Hand Rolled. It's got foam in it and that makes it a little better than the similar one I got from Mont Marte in Australia.

When I get a big one I'll probably get a Heilman though. I'm starting to accumulate more and more loose pastels and with my current budget I'm more likely to start picking up individual sticks from open stock when I go to Blick in person to get mat boards. A few dollars worth of color treat can add up over time. Especially if I'm filling out weak areas in my palette.

adigal
10-30-2011, 07:55 AM
I think they are expensive because they are a specialty item and we will pay for it. If you made one yourself, the materials would probably cost you less than $20. It is highway robbery, in my view. I got one at my local art supply store for $30. It does the job for now.
Nancy

JPQ
10-30-2011, 08:54 AM
Speciality item thing is true applies all life areas even in medicine.

pastelrose
10-30-2011, 10:32 AM
Hi,
I have the small Heilman pastel box. Yes, it was pricey, but the quality of workmanship is great. The finish is satiny smooth and the box has a "memory foam" type that holds the pastels in place when the covers are locked. I haven't been able to find any foam like it.....I had considered having my husband help build a pastel box before purchasing the Heilman. I took a workshop with Maggie Price and she uses the Heilman. After seeing her's, I decided to save for one. The small size is great for plein air.
I am glad that Dakota has a box like it, which is more affordable. Someday, I would like to actually see and compare the two.
pastelrose

Studio-1-F
10-30-2011, 10:59 AM
I think they are expensive because they are a specialty item and we will pay for it. If you made one yourself, the materials would probably cost you less than $20. It is highway robbery, in my view. I got one at my local art supply store for $30. It does the job for now.
Nancy
I agree partially with this. Yeah, the materials are not that pricey. But there is no way on earth I could muster up both the skill and the wood shop equipment and tools necessary to assemble twenty bucks of materials into a good box.

The Heilman is so expensive because (IMO) there are no close competitors. There is no other box of that quality and workmanship on the market. Hence they can charge whatever the market will bear, within reason. This is, ya know, Econ 101 in action. :rolleyes: Is this a great country, or what?

Jan

Barbara WC
10-30-2011, 12:22 PM
I think they are expensive because they are a specialty item and we will pay for it. If you made one yourself, the materials would probably cost you less than $20. It is highway robbery, in my view. I got one at my local art supply store for $30. It does the job for now.
Nancy

Anything made of hardwood is expensive, so that is the a big part of the cost. Dakota and Heilman use hardwood, not softwoods like Pine. There is nowhere you could find hardwood for $20 for boxes of this design.

The types of corner joins used on the Heilman are not simple joins, they are more complicated. I cannot see an upclose the Dakota traveler box corner join, but I bet they are of a simple type, and probably a big reason why the Dakota box is less expensive. The types of joins used, like dovetail and more complicated like Heilman uses, make a very strong box, but increase the price. The same with furniture- any piece of furniture that uses complicated joins raises the price of the piece. But, these types of joins are very strong, and the piece will live for a long time.

My husband does woodworking as a hobby, and it's amazing how much a piece of raw hardwood costs. I asked him about making me a box similar to Heilman, he said the quality looks good, the joins are complicated, and he thinks the prices look fair. He opted out of making one! I haven't gotten one, but he'd prefer me to buy one than make it himself!

Finishing is also a major cost- it takes a lot of time to sand and apply finish, longer than people think. I've often bought unfinished hardwood pieces for my other hobby (handspinning yarn) and it takes a couple of hours for my husband to sand properly and apply a couple of coats of handrubbed finish.

These boxes, Heilman and Dakota Traveler are handmade, and likely take a few hours each. We're paying for labor costs by craftsmen, not factory labor in China. Add to that expensive hardwood and that's why these boxes cost so much.

I think this is an interesting conversation since we are all artists. These handmade boxes are works of art in themselves, and the artists that make them deserve to get paid a living wage.

Colorix
10-30-2011, 12:59 PM
Handmade. That says it all. Craftsmanship is expensive.

adigal
10-30-2011, 02:38 PM
Anything made of hardwood is expensive, so that is the a big part of the cost. Dakota and Heilman use hardwood, not softwoods like Pine. There is nowhere you could find hardwood for $20 for boxes of this design.

The types of corner joins used on the Heilman are not simple joins, they are more complicated. I cannot see an upclose the Dakota traveler box corner join, but I bet they are of a simple type, and probably a big reason why the Dakota box is less expensive. The types of joins used, like dovetail and more complicated like Heilman uses, make a very strong box, but increase the price. The same with furniture- any piece of furniture that uses complicated joins raises the price of the piece. But, these types of joins are very strong, and the piece will live for a long time.

My husband does woodworking as a hobby, and it's amazing how much a piece of raw hardwood costs. I asked him about making me a box similar to Heilman, he said the quality looks good, the joins are complicated, and he thinks the prices look fair. He opted out of making one! I haven't gotten one, but he'd prefer me to buy one than make it himself!

Finishing is also a major cost- it takes a lot of time to sand and apply finish, longer than people think. I've often bought unfinished hardwood pieces for my other hobby (handspinning yarn) and it takes a couple of hours for my husband to sand properly and apply a couple of coats of handrubbed finish.

These boxes, Heilman and Dakota Traveler are handmade, and likely take a few hours each. We're paying for labor costs by craftsmen, not factory labor in China. Add to that expensive hardwood and that's why these boxes cost so much.

I think this is an interesting conversation since we are all artists. These handmade boxes are works of art in themselves, and the artists that make them deserve to get paid a living wage.

My husband is a carpenter for a living, and while hardwoods are expensive, the small Heilman retails for $250 and the big ones for $350. That is a whole lot of special woods and joints!!! I still think they cost so much because they are a specialty item and because if Richard McKinley and Maggie Price have them, they have a certain cache about them. Same thing with Chanel clothes - they are designed by artists, but there is no reason a shirt should cost thousands of dollars. It is marketing, I agree.

Dharma_bum
10-30-2011, 06:46 PM
I'm a hobby woodworker, and will eventually make my own box based on the Heilman - when I have the time. It's a combination of things that make these items so expensive to produce and market.

It is not a high volume item, so there is scale of production. The higher your volume, the cheaper you can make things. There will never be sufficient demand for a quality pastel box made in the US to be made cheaply.

So what goes into building a box? Once you have purchased the wood, you have to joint and plane it so that it all the surfaces are straight and true, it never comes that way. That all takes time, uses energy, and the tools to do it are expensive and have to be maintained and sharpened. Jointing and planing should be done in two stages to allow wood to move due to moisture loss and stress relief, which will cause the wood to move. You can't just make x number of parts for the future, because they will move and may not fit together when it's time to assemble. They have to be straight and true in order to machine the joinery. Once joined, they will keep each other straight.

Wood for thin parts (less than say 3/4") will have to be resawn on the bandsaw, and likely jointed and planed again, as they are likely to move.

A well equipped shop to do production work, even for just a one man shop, costs many thousands of dollars in tools alone. My friends that have stand alone shops (not part of the house) have paid 10 to 20 thousand dollars for just the building, and did a lot of the work themselves. And they are just hobbyists. Then there is insurance for the tools and building.

Joinery has to be precision, that means machine setups have to be checked and reset periodically. If I only have one router table, I will have to change cutters for various tasks, and each one will require a new setup. The bits have to kept sharp. If I have multiple router tables or shapers (I don't), that costs more money, and increases the size of the shop necessary to house them. That will also cost more to heat.

To make everything look nice, it has to be sanded, which takes a lot of time, and the fittings have to be fastened on carefully, which = more time.

Not all wood is suitable for production, so there is always some waste, if only due to size of boards. There are usually knots or other defects to cut around, sometimes there are internal stresses which make the wood unusable. Then there are the inevitable mistakes which waste materials.

Finishing is another time consuming step, multiple coats of finish, and more sanding. Don't forget the cost of sandpaper.

A person could make a box cheaper if they weren't all that picky about how it fit together, how it looked, and the materials used, but then who wants to put their name on that and send it out into the world as a reflection of their work and ability?

The materials to make one box are not all that much, the foam may be the most expensive part of a Heilman box. A nice handle, hinges and closures, all of that adds up too. I haven't really figured out the cost of wood, but there is a lot of time involved in turning that wood into something usable - going to the vendor and selecting the wood, bringing it home, putting it away, getting it out when needed, jointing, planing, cutting to size, set up of equipment, machining joints, sanding, managing the sawdust and other waste, finishing, more sanding, carefully applying the hardware, shipping and handling, record keeping... oofda.

I think people get a skewed idea of what woodworking really is when they see Norm build a nice cabinet in a half hour episode of "The New Yankee Workshop", with most of the grunt work edited out of the program. So when you figure out the true cost and amount of time involved in producing something like the Heilman box, then add in the additional stress and time in running a business, and a profit margin for the company in addition to the wage of the craftsman, it turns out not to be cheap.

How many artists base the cost of their paintings on the cost of the materials? Should we expect the craftsman to be any different?
One other thing that is seldom considered - one moment of inattention can cost the craftsman a finger, hand, or even a life. How many artists face this as a matter of daily concern?

Dan

Potoma
10-30-2011, 07:40 PM
If they flew off the shelves with thousands of units gone, then they could justify lower prices. I wish there were more pastelists.

That said, there are many more oil and acrylic painters and things like Soltek and EasyL are still very high priced.

Art supplies are "traditionally" high priced and they figure that justifies it.

However, don't question me about a price on my painting. ha

Lynndidj
10-30-2011, 07:50 PM
Dan - you make some really good points. I know next to nothing about wood working, but I know when something is well made. I have two Heilman boxes, a Medium and a Backpack. They are both exceptionally well made and I will probably use them for the rest of my life. I realize that the initial investment is significant, but when you spread it out over your lifetime of painting, and the protection it provides to extremely expensive pastels, it really doesn't cost all that much. There is also the old adage "you get what you pay for" - John Heilman makes a fine box for the money.

Lynn

sketchZ1ol
10-31-2011, 03:24 PM
hello
are you looking for a way to transport your sticks ?
if you have boxed sets , the box is designed for shipping and handling ,
so they can be adapted if you are reassembling for the value/chroma thing .

carry cases can be made with cardboard and/or foamcore
and soft or memory foam so they don't bounce around .

myself , i make the box and spend the money on more sticks :D

Ed :}

japonaise
10-31-2011, 03:43 PM
Lirael:

Are you planning or do you paint en plein air or take your pastels to studio/class? If not, you don't need a traveling box. Take a look at the pastel boxes sold by ASW and Jerry's. The boxes are the size of a French easel drawer with a sliding lid so you can transport the box but not carry it with a handle like a plein air box. You can buy inserts for the box or you can make your own with really thin craft foam sold at JoAnn's Fabric and Craft Stores.

As for pastel boxes with carrying handles, Heilmans are the penultimate but the Dakota Traveler series is a good value. You may also want to look at the Richeson Rox Bag (not the Roz Box) - or, for a really inexpensive carrying solution, take a look at "Snapware" Portable Organizers - about $12.00 for a three stack set. Just pore corn meal or rice into the bottom of each tray for cushion and cleaning purposes, and then load up your pastel sticks. Easy, inexpensive and light weight.

Finally, if you browse through the past WC Treads you will find one or two that discuss pastel boxes for studio and travel purposes which include plans and photos for building boxes with foam core, a craft knife and tape. Very ingenious!

Jann

Sonni
10-31-2011, 05:46 PM
They are less expensive than a quality work of art. Sell a couple good paintings and you've paid for it and the materials in the paintings. It's worth it if you are serious. What McKinley has is a box with excellent craftmanship. I've bought lesser, look-alike, boxes from a well known distributor and sent them back. They were made of pine, put together poorly--really a piece of junk. You get what you pay for. The same can be said about easels.

robertsloan2
10-31-2011, 09:20 PM
One difference between the Dakota Traveller (a good bargain) and the Heilman (top of the line) is a piece of hardware. The Heilman includes a heavy duty tripod mount built in. If I wanted to use my Traveller with a tripod, I would have to buy a tripod mount and then assemble it to the box myself carefully when I don't own a power drill or wood shop.

I don't know the unit cost of the tripod mount but I'm pretty sure it costs something serious to get a heavy duty one. It's one of the extra features the Heilman had that priced it higher - and the time and work needed to assemble the box is increased by putting the tripod mount on and placing it perfectly so that a tripod will hold up the entire box when it's open.

That had to be by trial and error - just centering the tripod mount would mean the hinges have to hold up the top leaf whole without the entire box tilting off and falling to the side more pastels are on. With the big box especially that could be a logistic problem.

I think I will eventually invest in a Heilman. I'm tempted to save up for the large one to put my entire studio collection into it, as I get more pastels in open stock I will outgrow my small Dakota Traveller. I gave some half sticks to my daughter and a box of them got traded away to a friend for some other pastels, but I am starting to think about buying open stock instead of investing in more sets and keeping their other halves in their set boxes. I've got some Mount Visions and Unisons and others waiting to be shipped in set boxes packed inside boxes of other supplies.

Set boxes are usually sturdy and portable. They're not rain proof but can fit inside some styles of bags. The lowest cost solution is what Ed pointed out - use the boxes the pastels came in. Dakota also sells cardboard pastel boxes with foam padding and slotted foam at a much lower price than the Traveller series.

Also, Cheap Joe's has a canvas art bag and I think Blick has one too that's designed to slide a full sized watercolor palette into the bottom in its own compartment. Some set boxes, especially half stick sets, may fit neatly into one of those bags without repacking. Half stick sets are a good bargain for pastels and their cardboard boxes are sturdy. For portability, it's hard to beat that.

However, the foam in set boxes isn't as good as the memory foam in the Dakota Traveller and the Heilman boxes. One big advantage of the memory foam is being able to pack big fat Mount Vision pieces in with smaller diameter pastels in a mixed-brand set.

Heilman boxes include the heavy duty rings for a shoulder strap and the shoulder strap is included on all models. Dakota Traveller does not. This matters more with the big Heilman but would be convenient on the backpack one too.

The backpack Heilman is about the size of the small Dakota Traveller. Price is $139.95 for the small Traveller, $258.13 for the Backpack Heilman.

Dakota Traveller has two hinges holding the small box sides together, smaller piano hinges that presumably cost less. Heilman Backpacker has one long piano hinge running along the middle. So that's sturdier in the long run, twisting would not pop out a hinge if it was say, dropped in a bad accident.

The corner joinery in the Heilman is more complex. I looked at the close-up of it and at my own Dakota Traveller and yes, there's more labor in the woodwork on the Heilman even if they're using the same hardwoods.

Memory foam is probably the same in both. One thing that made me very happy is that Dakota started selling just the foam separately, so if I build myself a box or decide to adapt a cigar box to a pastels pochade, I can do it. I bought a "build your own pochade" kit last year for $30, a good bargain, but I wanted to be able to make a pastel tray to go into it. Memory foam in that tray would vastly improve the safety of my pastels when I get around to building that pochade.

Right now it's in Arkansas packed into one of the boxes I still need to send for. By the time I get it, I might be able to get a power drill - also needed to construct the pochade box kit. I need one anyway for various household uses.

My evaluation - the Dakota Traveller is a good quality lower cost solution. It cuts some corners but they're not essential for a plein air box. It may wear out sooner than a Heilman over the years but it does just fine if you're okay with carrying it by the handle instead of using the shoulder strap and don't want to mount it on a tripod.

I will probably get a small folding table eventually to hold my pastel box in the field, or get an extra stool to hold it up. I have a tripod in Arkansas but I don't think it's rated for that kind of weight, it's for a camera. There are advantages to both. I can see that investing in a Heilman could be well worth it in the long run but the Dakota Traveller is great and I was able to afford it - which helped me move like nothing else would have.

For the record, my pastels survived the flight and road trip to San Francisco with no casualties. They got dinged around enough to leave some grayish dust in the box but some of that may have come from banging it around while packing all my other stuff. None of the sticks broke into pieces too small to use, the Dakota Traveller is good value for the money.

lirael2008
11-06-2011, 05:10 AM
Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I just wanted to check that the Heilman boxes were a fair value based on the quality of materials and craftsmanship, and it sounds like they are (though perhaps with a bit more markup because of the specialty factor and celebrity endorsements).

If I stay with pastels for a couple years I might invest in one, but until then I'll probably be fine with keeping the pastels in their box sets or maybe going for one of the Dakota Traveler boxes which look like a reasonable alternative.

adventureartist
11-06-2011, 01:07 PM
I love my Heilman boxes, and use them all the time, but also have Dakotas, here's one of my secrets.... I bought several of the tripod attachment from Guerrilla Painter (they also sell kits if you want to build your own). I use epoxy to glue the tripod plate to the middle of the bottom of Dakota boxes (hinge end, see pics below) and wa-la, it attaches to the tripod attachment plates just fine. Specifically I use the EasyL tripod attachment and EasyL tripod cause it's one of the best I have found. Then I use a lightweight easel to paint on....be sure you practice with the epoxy on something else first, that stuff once mixed and set really grips and cannot be moved. After years of use this arrangement has never broken or torn, get the epoxy that comes in two tubes that you mix together that is suitable for both wood and metal. Oh and that is a traveling toothbrush holder under the box handle, I use that to hold my charcoal sticks...just wanted to lift the handle up in the photo to show which side is which...it's a medium Dakota box.
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/06-Nov-2011/161935-tripod_plate_2.jpg

Sonni
11-06-2011, 03:07 PM
Set boxes are usually sturdy and portable. They're not rain proof but can fit inside some styles of bags. The lowest cost solution is what Ed pointed out - use the boxes the pastels came in. Dakota also sells cardboard pastel boxes with foam padding and slotted foam at a much lower price than the Traveller series.

Robert, Last year when I established winter digs in Mexico, I took down my large aluminum Roz Box, which has four trays. It's waterproof and the pastel slots are padded. The trays are removable. I think it was designed to hold Unison pastels, though all but the very thin ones (like Girault and NuPastel) are nicely secured. This year I want to take down my Pan Pastels, which I don't seem to use much up here. I wonder if there's a Pan Pastel carrying box.

adventureartist
11-06-2011, 11:31 PM
You could get the plastic trays and see if they fit in a box. 9.99 and 12.99 respectively for the 10 and 20 pan holders.

robertsloan2
11-07-2011, 02:53 AM
I put all four of my Pan Pastels trays in my suitcase to move to San Francisco and they came through fine with no problems. At a friend's suggestion I wrapped bubble wrap around the stack and just packed clothes around it. They're good for carrying the Pans on a trip.

It might be cool to make a Pans box sometime. I could see building a box sized to fit the trays exactly. The lids work so great to keep the Pans clean, they don't need their individual lids.

One of the Heilman boxes in the Heilman display showed Pans in a Heilman box. I think one owner used a Dremel tool to slightly cut some curves in the side of the tray to fit one last row in, like dip in less than 1/4" so they'd fit spaced together tightly.

lirael2008
11-09-2011, 01:36 AM
Wait a minute...will the Dakota traveler box not stay open on the easel with the custom foldout arms pictured on their website? I'm confused about what the screw-on mount is for.

westcoast_Mike
11-09-2011, 10:49 AM
I'm confused about what the screw-on mount is for

To mount the box on a tripod instead of using their easel.

Colorix
11-09-2011, 10:55 AM
Dru, great job on the box, love the toothbrush holder for charcoal!

adventureartist
11-09-2011, 01:11 PM
Thanks! I travel a lot so have had to be efficient with all my art supplies. They are expensive and I like to take good care of things. We have tried all the "boxes", some I hated, some I really like. I encourage other artists to be innovative and decide what you need minimally for doing your art. Not everyone travels, but keeping things nice and neat, lightweight and in their place, easy to use and handy is important. Both in studio or outdoors. If you spend too much time and money getting it all together, well then you lose time to paint and money to invest in supplies or travel. I have made lots of mistakes learning how to get it together but that's how you learn what works for you. My plein air "kit" is a combination of several boxes, easels and camera gear since I also do photography. It all has to be strong, durable and be transportable in five minutes. The pastel arrangement fits in one back pack, and I have one other larger Dakota (pictured above) that stays in the car for backup pastels. My art supplies HAVE to work, often we are in very remote locations. Everyone has to decide what works for them.....this is just what works for me.