Our Story...

Greenleaf & Blueberry Professional Handmade Watercolors


Neither One Of Us Could Abide The Beaten Path, So We Found Ourselves Bushwhacking Through Life...

Jess Greenleaf: Climbing & Painting

It's 2011.  We probably seemed crazy.  Living in a small yurt perched at the foot of the mountains, a claw-foot bathtub on the deck, and the chicken coop we built a little farther away next to a blackberry thicket.  When we weren't climbing in the mountains we were running the forest trails with our dogs, berry picking along the side of the road, or seeing what culinary delights were possible to concoct using a hot plate and a toaster oven (turns out you can make croissants!)  We were scratching out an existence surrounded by stretched canvases, climbing gear, and tree-covered ridge-lines.
But a LOT has changed since back then.

A Watercolor Line Developed & Designed By A Watercolor Artist, Recipes Formulated By A Chemist

I'm Jess, the founder of Greenleaf & Blueberry, which I co-own and co-operate with my brilliant mad-scientist husband Matt.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History (which means lots of studio classes in addition to Art History studies.)  While climbing and chasing chickens, I was also gainfully employed as a Gallery Director, a professional in the art supply industry, and a practicing artist specializing in watercolors.  Matt's background is in the sciences, having studied chemistry, microbiology, and genetics.  Professionally, he was the manager and quality control expert at a local factory.  
Matt: Rock Climbing
That's all before we combined our passions and obsessions in the lost art of traditional paintmaking.

A Watercolor Line As A Byproduct Of A Painting Practice

As a person, I am very stubborn, but an ambitious dreamer.  As a painter, I am excessively exacting about the quality of my materials and an absolute geek about their history and ingredients.  I wanted to paint exclusively with colors that I had made myself by hand, and I wanted to use a full spectrum of natural pigments. In this way, I wanted to further blend my painting practice with my love of nature.  I felt (and still feel) that there is a satisfying harmony in depicting natural subjects with natural materials. 
Monarch Butterfly by Jess Greenleaf

Designing My Own Line Of Watercolors: There Were Certain Boxes That Were Imperative To Have Checked

As I began mulling up batches of paint and decisions needed to be made, I quickly realized there were very specific boxes that I believed were imperative to have checked in making watercolors for myself:

☑️  handmade with muller & slab
☑️  full spectrum of natural pigments

Many of the colors that I wanted to paint with were either not offered by any manufacturer (such as Celadonite, Shungite, Eggshell etc.), or they were offered only as weak iterations that I knew were limited by the need for competitive price points which resulted in low pigment quality and content (such as Malachite, Azurite, Smalt, and Lapis Lazuli).  I wanted to see Nature's colors in paint-form, at full volume, and maximum intensity.

☑️  professional quality
☑️  maximum pigment load
☑️  minimal binder
☑️  no fillers

Further, based on my years in the art supply industry, I knew exactly which qualities I did and did not want in my paints. I wanted pure, natural colors of the highest quality, the heaviest pigment load possible, and a minimal binder that would let the unique characteristics of each pigment shine.  I only wanted to work with single pigment paints that were named for the one pigment they contained (no Midnight Blue or Sap Green Hue on my palette!).  I also knew I did not want to be concerned about toxicity or fugitive colors, so decided to only work with pigments that had very low or no toxicity and with known permanence (very lightfast). 

☑️  only single pigment colors
☑️  colors named for the pigment contained
☑️  only lightfast colors
☑️  pigments with low or no toxicity

I quickly decided to invite Matt to lend his experience in chemistry and quality control to the effort, knowing he would be able to perfect our color formulations.  The blend of our areas of experience and expertise turned out to be a magic combination.  We were reviving an obscure science and creating the only paints I wanted to use.    

It Turns Out... Making Paint Is Hard!!

So many paints!
Our paintmaking odyssey left us with more paint on our hands than I or my fellow artists could possibly use as we churned through hundreds of test batches, perfecting our recipes.  So, I conducted a lot of in-depth market research and was shocked that I could find no one offering watercolor paints for sale that were made traditionally by hand - it was generally seen (when I could find any reference to it at all) as too labor-intensive to be financially viable.  I knew it was entirely possible that no one would care about these subtle natural colors but myself, but I realized that in making them available to others we would be offering something unique.

More Is Less 

Over the years, I've had a long and complicated relationship with my role as a maker.  The world is so full of an abundance of "stuff" that I have felt uncomfortable adding to that mass unless there is real purpose or need.  When we opened our shop, we decided to offer colors that were not being made anywhere else, or to offer a superior version of colors that were already available but at an unsatisfactory level of quality.  Because our business allowed us to operate as independent craftspeople creating paint by hand in microbatches, we were free of many of the constraints (such as low price points and use of stabilizers to extend expiration dates) that mass production requires.
Natural & Historical Pigments Palette
As it turned out, there were plenty of people just as enthusiastic about obscure colors as we were, and just as interested in painting with colors from the earth.

Serendipitously, Many Artists Are Interested In Professional Handmade Watercolors

A lot changed in our lives.  I left my position at the gallery to paint and test our colors full time, and Matt left his position to be a full-time modern colourman (try finding that job description in a drop-down menu!).  We moved from the coastal mountains of Washington to the Grand Valley of Western Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Red Desert.  Where we live is still tiny, but it's a house - not a yurt.  We have an indoor bathroom and everything!  (A detail that failed, unsurprisingly, to impress our folks.)  Our paints are made in professional studios that more closely resemble a laboratory than a bohemian artist's lair.  

Make Sure You Know Signs Of Stroke - They Can Happen To Any Person At Any Age 

However, shortly after relocating to our "sweet Rocky Mountain Paradise", I suffered a stroke as a result of a disastrous visit to a chiropractor.  Our production slowed to a crawl in the scary aftermath.  But as I slowly (and gratefully) recovered over the next couple years, we were able to begin to produce our colors in greater volumes once again.  

Handmade Watercolor Movement Explodes

In the meantime, we inadvertently sparked something of a gold rush, or what has now become the handmade watercolor movement.  Our beautiful pictures were something of a siren song, and our sold out shop shelves gave a false impression of ready wealth to be had.  (Spoiler alert, do not get into paint-making for the money!)  Hundreds of crafters are now trying their hand at the delicate chemistry of paintmaking, with varying results.  Our aesthetics, product design and descriptions, and methods have set the indie industry standard, a reality which both honors and frustrates us.

Quality Over Quantity.  Period. 

Greenleaf & Blueberry Professional Handmade Watercolors
As demand for our colors has grown over these years to proportions that our supply cannot meet, we have slowly assembled a team of apprentices to assist with our production.  However, we have been consistently adamant that neither a growing demand nor a growing staff will push us into any kind of compromise of our high standards.  We have always held quality above quantity and we always will.  
We feel so deeply grateful to do this work, and appreciate the years of patronage and support from each and every person who has favored us with their business.
Jess Greenleaf Artist Greenleaf and Blueberry
© Greenleaf & Blueberry 2023
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