I'm really, really angry. Here's a national publication, Artist's Magazine promoting theft in its January 2009 issue! If I were still a subscriber I would cancel my subscription. This is a very irresponsible position to promote.
When you go into an art store to mine their knowledge, with no intention of purchasing anything you are cutting your own throat as an artist, as well as stealing from the store owner.
"Local art stores" includes independent art stores so the writer and editor can't feign innocence: "oh we just meant local stores which have an internet presence."
And it's those local, independent art stores that I'm concerned about. Those are the shops where the staff is actually knowledgeable, like my own favorite art supply store: Wet Paint.
There the staffers are working artists who have actually used the materials they are selling. They have opinions, advice, experience, encouragement, and humor to pass on to the shoppers. They do it every day, regardless of the amount of purchase. The reality is these independent stores want to be a resource for people to come to and buy art materials; they want to encourage the local art scene (Wet Paint offers support to many local arts organizations, such as MCBA). Those small business owners are supporting all this exchange of information and experience by paying their staff salaries and paying the expense of a physical location and stock.
Anyone who has ever purchased paper at a Blicks outlet knows that it is a queasy affair at best and you're lucky if the paper is usable after it is wrapped up for you to take home. While there may be wonderful people working at Blicks all over the country I have yet to encounter one on any visit to their stores. I typically find gaggles of school-aged staffers gossiping and joking around at the checkout counters, disinclined to help me find anything; and when they do give me information, it turns out to be incorrect (I'm not talking about art information here folks, I'm talking about inventory information about their own store!). I view Blicks as a no-man's land that you should enter at your own risk when you have time to search around. Expect no help.
So if we subscribe (pun intended) to the policy promoted by Artist's Magazine and go to local stores where good information is to be had, like Wet Paint, suck out the info and go off and order on-line from big on-line vendors, we've just stolen from those small stores. There isn't any way around that. It's theft.
And something else even more insidious happens: we will eventually lose that valuable resource. How long could you afford to have a business open with expensive stock and a staff of salaries to pay, and no earnings?
Look around you. The art materials market is already shrinking horribly. Large conglomerates who care little for the qualities of paper that make them usable to artists eat smaller companies daily. Papers disappear, or change beyond recognition; paints disappear; brushes fail miserably to perform in their old familiar fashion (and it isn't just because global warming has changed the life-cycle of the sable and changed their fur, even if you want to go there!).
Doesn't anyone remember what happened to so many independent bookstores when Amazon.com came along? Maybe you don't because you aren't lucky enough to live in a bookish city, but we know full well in the Twin Cities what happens when business leaves local and goes internet.
I'm not saying you should never buy anything on the internet. I remind Darin, Wet Paint's manager, at least once a week that since he no longer carries Schmincke gouache I have to buy it from The Italian Art Store, mail order. (His groans get more and more pained but he only has so much space in the store and evidently the big gouache revival I've been hoping will arrive hasn't shown up yet.)
Update 6.13.12: for over a year now Wet Paint has been carrying Schmincke gouache as a regular in-stock product. I couldn't be happier. If you read this post and are looking for quality gouache you can get it locally (in the Twin Cities) at Wet Paint. And of course they do mail order.
So there will always be something you won't be able to get locally, but guess what, if you take the time to support your local independent art supply store chances are when you find something that you would really like to get they might be able to order it for you. I'm not talking about things available in other catalogs, I'm talking about things that no one else in the U.S. has yet. Sometimes independents can use their connections to get products that they know will sell in their market. They rely on their customers to tell them what they want to use. Does a big catalog company care about what you want to use?
Only if you represent a huge customer base, national in reach.
Here's something else to think about. Those deals you get on line, well you have to pay shipping and handling and some companies have rather large charges for those services. That deal you were getting has suddenly evaporated. And did you really need the 200 sheets of paper this minute, that you had to buy to get that deal?
So was it really a deal? When your money could have instead supported a local business where local artists work—in essence you just missed an opportunity to support your local art scene.
If we don't support our local independent art supply stores then when we want that special tube of paint or that extra sheet of paper (just one because it's all we need or can afford) the store won't be there for us to stop by at. There will be no more friendly and knowledgeable staff waiting there to help you with your selection of "what materials best fit your needs."
Think about that world.
Here's still another thing to think about. Internet places lure you with deals. Have you ever talked to your local merchant and asked what deals he can give you on bulk purchases? If you are going to order 100 sheets of some paper (sometimes only 25 or 50) chances are there are deals to be had from the local vendor. Deals which don't include shipping and handling.
Local vendors are always looking at better ways to service their clients, so why not talk to them about your needs?
There's another problem with buying on the internet. Sometimes you get deals, sometimes you don't. Local shops have sales and regular prices on some items where the savings are actually greater than anything you could get on the internet (and no shipping!) Educate yourself as to what is happening at your local art supply store.
I don't work for Wet Paint (though sometimes when I'm in there and a customer asks a question they let me go on and on about a product). I don't get paid by them to mention their name. I end up mentioning their name so much because the majority of the art supplies I purchase come from them. I feel good about these purchases. They were purchased for a fair price (often below internet prices). The goods are handled and wrapped in a respectful manner. I get to pick things up when I need them, not stockpile and waste. I get to buy the amount I need, not some excessive amount purchased just to get a deep discount. I get to support a local business that is interested in supporting segments of the creative community that I also support. I get to keep my money local, in the salaries of local people. I get to learn about the work of local artists (both on staff and not on staff). And I get to go in and have a nice chat with knowledgeable people.
That's really good value for my dollar.
Artists are creative people. There are 10,000 ways we can save money in economically lean times that don't involve going into a store to try out product and steal expertise, with no intention of buying there!
If you are a subscriber to Artist's Magazine I urge you to write to them about this ill-conceived tip and suggest they print an apology. If you are a vendor who advertises in the magazine I suggest you talk to your account rep about their editorial policy. Your business might be the next one they focus on: e.g., "Just go to your local framer and pick her brain about all the techniques and colors, woods, etc. and then make your own frames."
Should I tell you all to cancel your subscriptions to their magazine and just read it at the library?
Like I said, I'm angry. I eased my anger yesterday by buying supplies at Wet Paint. I want them to survive. I hope you'll consider your purchasing options and refrain from following the advice in Artist's Magazine. Sure there are things you'll want to buy on line, but that doesn't mean you have to steal from someone local.
[Note: I mentioned above that if I subscribed to Artist's Magazine I would cancel my subscription. I did subscribe to Artist's Magazine for decades, but a number of years ago I let my subscription run out. I found that after that length of time Artist's Magazine was repeating itself; a common thing for any magazine of that duration to do, and because there are always new readers, not necessarily a bad thing. But I also found the articles less interesting, there was less depth, when compared to earlier issues. I had thought about trying them out again, after this break. Their current editorial position isn't going to get me back.]