It's an old saying in this country that anyone can grow up to be President (it's just one of the chances you take) or become a millionaire (usually in reverse order of that today). The millionaire part of that, at least, is still true, as the Internet has proved again and again in just the last decade. It doesn't happen nearly so often for artists, but even painters can join the club, hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Max, Charles Schulz, Annie Leibovitz, and David Hockney (to name just a few I've "Arty-factored" in the past year). Who knows? You might even meet Thomas Kinkade! Usually the route to fame and fortune for artists lies through the forest of so called limited-edition reproductions. But sometimes not. Joseph D'Uva and Robert Houston are both artists and within the next few years, both are likely to be joining this rather exclusive club. Yet neither have ever held an autograph party or suffered from writer's cramp in signing their name to the bottom of their printed work, though in fact, D'Uva is a lithographer (in the classic sense of the word). Houston is a sculptor. Both are in their mid-twenties.
A couple years ago, D'Uva was playing around with a black powder, a waste byproduct from a plastics company, experimenting with it in creating various lithographic effects. A student at the University of New Mexico, and with the help of a fellow student, Houston, who created the molds, they concocted a way of forming the stuff into a stick for drawing on lithographic plates, creating the look of a charcoal drawing when printed. What they quickly discovered is that the stuff they dubbed "Lithocoal" worked just as well on paper and that a quick thirty seconds at 225 degrees in a conventional oven "fixed" the image without use of chemical sprays containing benzene, acetone and other sweet-smelling junk. Having the same texture as conventional charcoal sticks, the new art medium smeared and smudged just like the real thing, yet could be manufactured and sold for a little over ten-percent less than regular charcoal.
Other students from UNM's business school helped D'Uva and Houston obtain patents, with the legal niceties of setting up a company, and in marketing their new product. Engineering students help them design equipment for mass producing their invention while a research professor at UNM helped them obtain investors and international contracts. Today, you can buy Lithocoal in the US, Canada, England, and Australia. The new company has produced and marketed over 36,000 stick so far and is shooting for over twice that by the end of their first year in business. Sales in the next ten years are predicted to top $10 million annually. Artists who have used Lithocoal find virtually no difference in the way it handles from conventional charcoal. Others equate it to the development of acrylic artists colors in the 1950s. Picking up on this, D'Uva Fine Arts Materials plans to introduce a line of synthetic pastels in the near future. It would appear that Horatio Alger (or at least his spirit) is alive and well and living in New Mexico.