Log in if you have an account
By creating an account with our store, you will be able to move through the checkout process faster, store multiple addresses, view and track your orders in your account, and more.Create an account
Material Meetings: Beam Paints
As an artist, visiting a studio where materials are crafted is an incredibly special experience. It allows us to see firsthand how the materials we use to create our work are crafted, and to understand the passion and dedication that goes into making quality supplies.
In early June 2022, Marie and I had the pleasure of visiting Anong Beam of Beam Paints in her studio on M’Chigeeng (Pronounced Shi-geeng) First Nation located on Manitoulin Island. Anong and I have been kindred spirits in the art materials world, sharing a passion for creating art and quality art materials. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit her studio and witness her paint-making process firsthand.
The plan to visit became a reality when my husband James was scheduled to perform at a Bluegrass Festival in Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island. I called up Anong to inquire about a visit, and after an enthusiastic yes, our mini working vacation was underway.
We drove from Toronto up to Tobermory, but the adventure truly began with a crystal-clear blue sky-soaked trip on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Bruce Peninsula. It was a perfect day, and immersing ourselves in the stunning landscape of the largest freshwater island in the world set the tone for the trip.
Arriving on the island, we took time to explore. One special stop we made was at the Ojibwe Cultural Centre, a contemporary space for indigenous artwork and artifacts founded by community elders in the 70s. The centre showcased captivating works by Carl Beam, Anong's father and supporter of the centre. It also had an extensive collection of intricate quilling artworks on display.
We finished up our visit and rang Anong to check in about a good time to come by the studio. Anong's laid-back approach to scheduling was evident when she teased us for trying to make a formal appointment (our Toronto was showing), explaining that things are more casual ‘up here' and to just come by.
When we arrived at Beam Paints, located in a beautiful homestead built by her father, it felt comfortable and inviting. Members of her team were busy packing orders, and their warm hospitality extended to a young granddaughter of a team member, who was busy with her homework but finished up and befriended our daughter, Frankie.
The main building was originally her mother’s studio. Stained glass windows added a beautiful touch. Initially, Anong envisioned that the paint-making would be the larger footprint in this studio - but surprisingly no; instead, inventory, packaging, administration, and big tables with prototypes took up most of the studio.
She humorously referred to it as "Organized Chaos," and we could understand why (and relate!). Ah, the joys of running a small business. The cherry on top is Rocco the dog, who comfortably sleeps in an aisle, where we all step over him without disturbing him (we love a good shop dog).
Anong walked us through her box of prototypes - which she humorously refers to as her Museum - that housed a collection of her various paint editions, renditions, experiments, and special requests they had experimented with over the years.
Next, she showed us a board with palette prototypes, meticulously numbered and organized. It was like witnessing the history of paint-making evolution, with palettes, various travel packs, paint stones, birch squares with beeswax covers, birch rounds, and beeswax pouches on display, showcasing her willingness to play and experiment, shaped by her experiences as an artist first and material maker second.
We walked by a stack of waxed canvas sheets; the ones used to package paint stones and kits. A mindset of collaborative thinking is a process that we have in common, and Anong talks about how their team is brainstorming more ways to use the wrappers. I suggest origami travel water containers. A light bulb goes off, and she fills it with water to test how long it will hold water for. A nice reminder of how simply an idea is born.
Paint making is in another building—her father’s former studio. It is about half the size of her mother’s studio. This is where Anong, along with her cousin Sheldon, create all the paints. They started in a small corner of the Sawmill in 2018, using a 1-quart jar for making the binder. Now, they work with gallon buckets. Mica pigments are kept in a separate shed to avoid dust spreading everywhere, and each pigment has its labelled cupboard.
As we visit, Anong shared how her father played a significant role in her artistic journey, taking her everywhere and seeking her advice even when she was a young child. His influence is evident in her work. It resonates and hits in a different way, as we have Frankie with us, and I think of our journey. It’s another area that we overlap; a belief that kids can be part of the space. Her boys know every job at Beam. It is a family business.
Next, we hop in Anong’s truck - where she has large prototype palettes drying on her truck dashboard - to head to visit the sawmill down the road. The enterprise belongs to her boyfriend and houses the origins of Beam Paints. An old card file is still in place and houses a few rogue paint stones. It makes me think of our repurposed displays and makes me smile.
With Beam Paints transitioned to the family homestead, there are still some components that happen offsite, including at the sawmill. This choice is by design to support the people who work with her; the space is used to pipe pigments into birch palettes by semi-retired sawmill workers. By setting up filling stations at the mill, she shares that it is a nice way to keep those workers connected with their sawmill friends and community, which they enjoy. It’s a nice example of how Anong considers her community and staff needs in the overall design of how Beam Paints operates. The way she speaks of the people that worked for her shows her connected stewardship of land and stewardship of people. There is room for accommodation.
Next, we head out back to the Sawmill Yard. Beautiful logs, planks, cross-cuts, bits of bark, and branches are organized around the space and outside. Antique farm equipment adorns the walls to the rafters. We are shown the old saw that her grandfather used with her boyfriend's grandfather (there is a picture of them). It looks like a piece of equipment that requires intimate knowledge to use. I picture many generations of hands that have worked it. Hands with that special knowledge that is learned. As she is showing us all of these gorgeous logs and cut planks, Anong picks up a small piece of wood and speaks of the beauty. One of the many inspirations behind Beam Paints, you imagine.
It was fascinating to see the origins of Beam Paints and the equipment used by generations before. Anong's deep connection to the history of the place was palpable.
Moving on, we head back to the homestead and visit with the farm animals, where we met chickens, goats Mona and Elvis, and pigs with personalities that amused us. Anong explained that everyone at Beam Paints chips in and understands her various passions. Working at Beam would be an interesting job. You might be processing orders one day and helping fence in an animal pen the next. Anong says everybody pitches in—they understand all her passions.
The last stop is a pathway into her sugar bush. We go from sunlight and the sounds of the farm into shade and dappled green light within ten feet. It is an area of significant historical importance to the Beam family. The sugar bush is 38 acres of the original 100 and part of the treaty dating back over 100 years. Generations have worked this sugar bush. The marks from previous generations' taps on the trees were still visible, a testament to the legacy of hard work and cooperation. Generations of hands. Working together.
There was a softness to the trip. Anong has definitely fit us into a busy day, but she made space for us. After sharing some food and laughter, our visit came to an end. We headed back to the Bluegrass Festival, and Anong left to pick up her children, adding to her already busy day, as she occasionally sells puppies from the Mennonite farming community on the island.
Anong's passion for creating quality materials has touched the lives of many, and we see how she has utilized her business to support and involve her community in the process. She shares that people from all over the island reach out to her when they come across good rocks or stones that could be transformed into paint. Her life and work are truly inspiring. She exuded a gentleness and grace, and despite any chaos balancing business, personal and creative pursuits, her studio felt like a home rich with history. Anong's commitment to stewardship extended not only to the land but also to the people she works with.
Though we understood this before, it was evident in our visit that Beam Paints is not just a brand for Anong; it is an extension of her artistic self, which demonstrates an openness to play and experiment with ideas. She approaches her craft with a playful and generous spirit, always eager to learn and improve. Her dedication to the art and her community left us inspired and grateful for the chance to witness the magic of Beam Paints.