In 1931, Late Shri Digambar Dandekar, a chemistry graduate from the Konkan region of Maharashtra, began manufacturing ink powder in his humble Girgaum Chawl residence. He would take up manufacturing in the calm of nights while selling the products to businesses around town during the day. Inspired by the Swadeshi movement, his goal was to offer high-quality products made in India.
Slowly, the powder turned into tablets and then liquid ready-to-use ink that was sold in recycled glass bottles. These unbranded products, selling only on the quality and service, eventually got the name Camel. In the coming years, the business grew steadily and emphasized quality and consumer needs with more products like Chalk and Sealing Wax.
In 1958, the eldest son of the founder Mr. Subhash Dandekar completed his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Mumbai University and joined the company as Technical Director. His aim was to introduce products made in India that would substitute the import of foreign art materials. Mr. Dandekar began his research and development efforts by formulating the first product of Waterproof Black Drawing Ink. Used by designers, cartographers and cartoonists, the product was well received and soon more shades were introduced to the range. Mr. Dandekar received encouraging words from cartoonists like Bal Thackeray, motivating him to pursue advanced studies of colour technologies. He began his post-graduate studies of colour chemistry at Glasgow, UK and visited a number of dye and pigment manufacturers from England and neighbouring countries to better understand the business nuances.
On returning to Mumbai, he began a two-pronged effort toward art materials - understanding Indian consumer needs and developing products based on that understanding. The first range of Camel art products was introduced in 1965, including colours for all kinds of artists - professionals, artisans, hobbyists and school students. Camel offered Indian customers Artist and Student Oil Colours as well as their mediums, Artist Water Colour cakes and tubes, Canvases, Poster Colours, Drawing Inks and Photo Colours, Student Water and Poster Colours, Oil Pastels, Wax Crayons, and Crylin (acrylic based fabric & craft colours).
At a time when disposable income was very low, Camel was able to offer these art materials at the fraction of the cost of their international counterparts. It was a true testament to Camel’s ability to meet the unique needs of Indian artists with products made in India.
Members of the company’s field team would visit artists, art schools, hobby classes and K-12 schools regularly to work as a conduit between the users and the makers. They would bring in feedback from the consumers and also carry the company’s communication to the field. Mrs. Rajani Dandekar, wife of the ‘colour man’ of India, would lead and guide the field team herself while the couple was also visiting important consumers regularly. This established a live-wire connect between both ends of the value chain, which ensured enhancement of the product range as well as improvement in the existing one.
While Camel was taking baby steps in the field of art materials, a big revolution took place on the other end of the globe. American colour chemists were successfully experimenting with a new development in polymer technology of colours and the newest range of art colours ‘Acrylic Colours’ were discovered. It was water-mixable but waterproof on drying. It could be used on a vast range of surfaces, yield a variety of effects and, above all, was faster drying. Artists in America and Europe were rapidly adopting this revolutionary medium.
A few Indian artists who travelled west were introduced to acrylic and realized its potential. These artists, including greats like Late M. F. Husain and Late Satish Gujaral, shared their experience with Mr. Dandekar and urged him to introduce acrylic into the Camel range. At the time, Camel was already manufacturing acrylic-based fabric and craft colours called Crylin. It was an easy next step to launch a small range of 24 shades of Camel Artist Acrylic Colours in 1975. At the request of Late M. F. Husain, his favourite shade Raw Umber was added to the range. Today, the range is 60-shades strong with iridescent and metallic shades along with a range of mediums to maximize the possibilities.
As artists started to use Camel Artist Acrylic Colours, they realised the advantage of faster drying. However, according to some artists, the Camel acrylic that they were regularly using was not at par with some of the leading acrylic brands of the world. They also commented on the viscosity of the colour and found it unsuitable for the high-relief impasto technique.
This feedback was welcomed and readily incorporated with the research and development of a fresh new formulation called Camel Heavy Body Artist Acrylic Colours. The pigments used in formulating heavy body acrylic are high-performance, gen-next pigments that are very bright and don’t fade for a very long time. The pigment load or pigment concentration is also greater, making it very rich and brilliant. They are very thick and hold shape very well without sagging or collapsing. This high-quality acrylic colour was found to be at par or even superior to most globally renowned brands in Blind Product Tests and is available at a fraction of their price.
Camel Oil Pastels, introduced in the initial range of art materials in 1965, was one of the most popular school colours in India and all the good art teachers supported it. However, these colours were only a match for student quality. There was a demand for an artist-level range with a lot of improvements made based on popular feedback. This led to the launch of Camel Supra Oil Pastels which was eventually replaced by the better-designed Camel Artist Oil Pastels.
Similarly, another globally popular medium, Soft Pastels entered the Camel range rather late but found instant acceptance. These sticks of fine pigment-extender mixture did not require any vehicle or binder. They are freely moving, offering very smooth and flat effects with ease. Most of all, they offer the final look of a painting with seamless blending. Since it joined the Camel range without any binder, it also hit the market along with Camel Fixative.
Camel Poster Colours, on the other hand, have made an interesting progression. It was introduced for the advertising and graphic design fraternity but was adopted by a very large number of users from diverse fields. It has been used by textile designers, miniature painters, and artisans working on wall paintings, wood, marble, painting and lathe work, iron etc. Indian artists and artisans adopted it very easily for a wide variety of applications and usages.
Now, a new class of artists is arriving with disposable income and time at hand. They are adopting creativity of all hues and shades, wanting to paint on canvas. What better medium for this than the versatile acrylics. They can be used on any surface, in any manner, with added foreign texture, to just have fun with it. In response to this insight, Camel Fluid Acrylic Colours have been introduced to facilitate abstract artworks with effortless ease.
Ultimately, Camel Colours are keeping pace with the changing demands of distinguished Indian consumers, from students and hobbyists to art professionals. Product ranges, packaging sizes, variety of prices, usability in different environments, availability in all parts of the country - our endeavour of empowering art involves it all.
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”