Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
When artist Terry Ludwig started experimenting with handmade pastels for personal use, he had no idea the undertaking would morph into a successful business.
"I'm the old guy; Geoff -- my son -- owns the company," says Terry Ludwig, founder of Terry Ludwig Pastels. "But that isn't how it started."
Terry went to art school in the 1960s, and he painted in oil for three decades before a friend introduced him to pastels. When Terry tried the medium, he was instantly hooked. "It's fast, and the intensity of the colors is more exciting than oils," he says.
Back when Terry started using pastels, though, manufacturers weren't producing the range of colors Terry needed. The artist decided he'd make his own pastels in his basement, not as a side business, but for personal use in his studio.
Producing pastels might be a little labor-intensive, but it's not particularly complicated. "We get bags of pigment, and the texture is something like flour," Terry begins. Today the pigment ships in massive 50-pound bags, but the manufacturing process remains the same.
After measuring pigment on a scale, binder is added "to hold it all together," Terry continues. The result is a paste that can be mixed and pressed into the homemade molds Terry developed. "We squish [the paste] down, and once we get that accomplished we put the mold in a food dehydrator that reaches a temperature of 100 degrees," Terry says. "In the morning, we come back, and it's kind of like a loaf of bread with a brown crust on it."
Finally, the finished pastels are sanded into rectangles with blunt edges. When Terry began dabbling in pastels, most were round. "I wanted the stick itself to be soft, but square shaped for the broad strokes and sharp edges," he explains.
Terry is a cancer survivor, and he also wanted a product that was devoid of harmful chemicals. "I just didn't want to mess with toxic pigments," he says, pointing to cadmium, a common ingredient in pastels and a known carcinogen.
"Most of our pigments come out of the earth," says CEO Geoff Ludwig, who took over his dad's company in 2016. "Our blues are made with ultramarine, and we use other earth-based minerals such as umber and terra rossa."
"When Dad started out, he was eyeballing everything," says Geoff, recalling that he encouraged his father to weigh his ingredients and make a recipe book. "And that's what he did," says Geoff.
As the process became more formalized in the mid-1990s, word of Terry's pastels was out, and Colorado artists wanted their own sets of Terry Ludwig Pastels. Terry began making pastels for his friends, and the business grew organically.
"The problem with making pastels in your basement," Terry says, "is that they track all over the place." By 2007, Terry had moved his burgeoning company to a 2,500-square-foot warehouse in Littleton stocked with commercial mixers and larger food dehydrators.
From its current facility, Terry Ludwig Pastels produces 620 pastels blended from 17 pigments. "We make about 1,000 sticks a day," Geoff estimates.
Adds Terry, "We aren't a huge company, but we ship all over the place."
The products are sold worldwide, and the company has distributors in London and Australia. "We sent an order to Moscow a few months ago," Geoff says, noting that -- for the most part -- it's still individual artists buying the pastels.
Challenges: Since taking a leadership role in his father's company, Geoff has run into a few process-based problems. "Machinery breaks down," he begins. "The pigments don't always mix well." Following a recipe, you'd think the end product would always be the same. "But it's not. You have to play with the color a bit because the pigments are finicky."
Opportunities: Growth in exports. "We're hoping that we'll branch out into other countries," Geoff says. "We would like to see distributorships in China."
Needs: Geoff is currently searching for new employees to add to the team. "With new people, though, there's lots of training to do," he says.