IMO: Supporting Your Local Art Store

Although I long suspected and half believed that I could not draw, I had always wanted to learn. Having signed up for a beginning drawing class years ago, I was in a small panic — I had a list of supplies to buy and didn’t know what half the items were. At that time, I had no art friends, art knowledge, art books or art resources — I didn’t even know anyone who drew or painted. A great photographer friend with an art-school background explained some of the basics and pointed me toward a local art-supply store. I think I learned to draw despite that class, and part of my success can be attributed to the patient, helpful staff at that store, especially Mike — one of the people who encouraged me to keep drawing, learning, experimenting and improving when I was starting out.

Mike drew and painted beautifully, knew a great deal about the media he worked in and many others besides. He held a full-time job and spent many of his evenings and weekends working part-time at the store. He was generous with his knowledge of and passion for creating art, and eager to share his enthusiasm with other artists, even the most inexperienced beginners. I could bring questions about materials, composition, my current drawing, or just about anything art related to the store on a slow night, and Mike took the time to offer patient help with whatever it was I was stuck on.

Since then, art stores have expanded their services to bring more people in — many offering classes, workshops, gallery space, scanning and printing services, some even providing a community area where artists can gather to share social and creative time. These stores have taken a beating in the past few years — competition from big-box craft stores and internet-based art suppliers, a difficult economy and higher fuel costs (translating to higher shipping costs for store stock) have eroded profits and driven many out of business.

I do enjoy catalog and online shopping, and can often find more of what I want in a single place, sometimes at more competitive prices than at the brick-and-mortar stores. That online bargain isn’t so sweet, though, when I have questions about the art materials, or need something pronto and waiting a week or more won’t do. I don’t want to be without the option of walking into a local store, connecting with other artists and checking out the art materials in person (not to mention finding those serendipitous items there in the store that one can’t quite live without). For that reason, I buy my supplies locally, ordering online only when I can’t find something around me. Without that local art store years ago, and the assistance and encouragement of Mike and the other staff, I might not need art supplies today.

There are many Mikes out there; you’ve probably met some. They’re helpful, knowledgeable, patient and eager to share their passion for art, but you won’t find them at an online supplier or big-box store. If you are fortunate enough to have an art-supply store in your area, please consider buying local — not only are you supporting a community business and the jobs it provides today, but you’ll help them to be there for you and future artists tomorrow.

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August 6, 2011. Tags: , , . Art Supplies, Opinion. 2 comments.