I’m Angry

December 28, 2008

Left: Excerpt from the Artist's Magazine article providing tips for lean times! Quoted for review purposes.

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 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.]

  1. Reply

    Roz – in my view what you’re angry about is something which has already happened in very many places in both the UK and USA. IMO the situation is also much worse in the UK compared to the USA.

    It’s the result of simple economics (which will become an increasing pressure as the recession progresses) and, as you suggest, buyer behaviour. It replicates exactly what has also happened to local book shops.

    I know from talking to a lot of Americans about art supplies that very many towns simply don’t have the sort of art shop you’re talking about. Many artists would be very happy to have the option of having a Blicks rather than the alternatives which are much more craft-oriented!

    Many local art shops of the sort which did use to have knowledgeable staff have gone out of business/closed down if they didn’t provide the sort of materials people wanted to buy at the sort of prices they wanted to pay. That’s what happens to any business. Being knowledgeable is never enough.

    By the same token most of the art shops in London are – like Blicks – staffed by students who have a limited knowledge of the products on offer. That’s a product of the sort of budget available for wages if you’re going to plough money into inventory to get people through the door in the first place. I’ve found that more and more shops are gearing up for the student market. Bear in mind I’m talking about suppliers serving East London which has the highest number of artists to the square mile of anywhere in the UK!

    The local art shops which seem to survive are those which manage to combine the supply of materials which are not readily available online with knowledgeable staff (a combination which generates repeat business) AND an online or mail order business. I’m thinking here of art suppliers in the UK like Green & Stone, Cornelissen & Son’s and Heaton Cooper. I’m willing to pay the slightly higher prices because I’m going to find what I want when I visit them – and I always end up spending on things I didn’t mean to as the supplies on offer are so tempting!

    I have a couple of information sites about Art Supplies in the UK and the USA. I set them up to identify options for art supplies and to recommend and highlight suppliers which provide a good deal – however they choose to supply art materials. (see and They both place a particular emphasis on highlighting the local independent art supplier.

    Both also have a poll which asks people what their preferences are for buying art materials. Both indicate that the preferred option to “Buy online and from my local art shop(s) – whichever serves me better”

    The message for the local art shop is that they need to find a way of differentiating themselves from online suppliers if they want to stay in business.

    Also, as artists, if we’re going to keep good suppliers going then we need to be sharing information and promoting them actively on our blogs and saying why they are good and/or what they are good at supplying. I do dedicated blog reviews of the suppliers I patronise. If you or anybody else wants to do likewise then I’m very happy to share any blog reviews on my art supplies information sites if people want to leave a comment.

  2. Reply

    I agree with your anger and concern- but…those of us that live far-(for me 5 hours) from the city can’t buy at these wonderful stores. So while some of the places on-line are bad some are not and there are some small independent one-line places. ArtPaper for one- I have called and talked to these folks- they sell wonderful art paper at terrific prices.
    Anyway please realize some of us can’t buy where you do and with some work we can support small sellers that care on-line! Terry

  3. Reply

    I could not agree more. The closure of local stores is a trend I find really disturbing. I think it negatively affects a community, but that these effects are not felt until years down the line when it is often too late to reverse the trend. I’m visiting Ann Arbor, and have bought supplies at Hollander’s – money so well spent in my opinion. I do wish I had such a store near me.

    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    Katherine, thanks for writing in with your suggestions of promoting local independent art materials suppliers. I hope people take you up on it. I’m pretty much always promoting Wet Paint here, because a good part of my life is going over there, picking stuff up, and having chats with people.

    While I agree with your assessment, and tried to address it in my post, my fundamental issue with all of this is that what the Artist’s Magazine is advocating is theft. People ought not lose sight of that!


    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    Terry, you know me, I buy on the internet too. There are things one has to buy. (I mention this in the post.) And if I lived out where you did I’d have to do a lot more of it.

    I’m glad you’ve found on-line businesses that are small, independent and responsive. I didn’t know about ArtPaper, that will give people in out of the way places a great option.

    What I am against is the use of physical (actual buildings), independent stores that people walk into and use for info and then order on line. That’s theft, that’s what the Artist’s Magazine is advocating, and that’s what I’m riled up about.

    People who live out in areas where there are no independent stores are left with chains and mail order/on-line ordering. They really don’t have any choice. But they also are NOT walking into a store, sucking info out of the employees and then going home to order. They don’t have the option of going into those stores.

    Your comment about small on-line suppliers is so great because that gives people an alternatives.

    Something people should also realize in that vein is that many local, independent art supply stores do also do mail order buisness.

    Wet Paint gladly does mail order business with people.

    Anyway, Terry, I’m not upset with you buying on line because you don’t have much of an option (except you could visit and we could go over to WP!) Also I’m not worried about you going into a store and sucking info out of the sales folks. You’re more likely to leave an excess of info!


    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    I think Hollander’s might have an on-line presense, or capability, but I’m not sure.


    • Gina
    • December 28, 2008

    Roz, I hear what you are saying about gall of The Artist’s Magazine to invite theft under the cover of starving-artist economics. But I have visited the only independent art store (in a city of over a million!), and I haven’t been very impressed with knowledgeable staff. Needing to complete some matting/mounting/framing, I talked with the fellow in the framing department and got some appalling advice and long-winded whining. He urged me not to use acid-free materials, told me a custom-framing story in a derogatory manner that showed his sexually-orientated prejudice, and rambled on long about non-art issues long after my initial questions. While I realize he probably isn’t like all art store employees, he does represent the store, and his personality has not encouraged me to return.

    Since the only choices in my city are the crafty Hobby Lobby or Michael’s, I have mainly bought in bulk online with Dick Blick and have been very satisfied. I’m pleased with their catalog, online site, service, delivery to the door, and prompt follow-up when I ask about any missing item.

    Now I’m going over to drool at Wet Paint’s site and see what I’m missing.

    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    Gina, if you go to a store and get bad advice and elect not to follow it, that’s a whole different animal.

    Your experience falls into the category of needing to buy on line because you have no other options. And it isn’t what I’m concerned about.

    I would encourage you to talk to your local independent art supply store, however, and tell them about the frustrating experience you had with their staff member. They should know why they are losing your business.

    Artist’s Magazine is advocating theft.

    People seem really sensitive about this issue and their purchases on-line and that’s not what I’m concerned about.

    I’m concerned about people following Artist’s Magazine’s advice and going to a store for the sole purpose of using the store as a pre-buying resource with no intention of buying from the store.

    Theft. Theft. Theft.

    who is still angry!

  4. Reply

    Roz, well expressed. The same problem is epidemic among bookstores. People may even stay and read a book (for hours) with a cup of coffee … and then buy online or used through Amazon. Indie booksellers have the same problem and may of them are trying to counter it by offering other incentives to come in.

    It is theft, no doubt about it.

  5. Reply

    I couldn’t agree more Roz! In Milwaukee there was a wonderful art shop where I learned so much…and it’s been gone now for 10 years..and I miss it often. I agree that Artist’s Magazine is very irresponsible for that comment. How would they like it if we all got our information on art from free sources on the web????

    Thanks for pointing this out..I’ll be writing them!

    • Roz
    • March 23, 2009

    Nancy, I’m glad you’re angry because it was an irresponsible thing on their part.

    Since this was written they have printed response letters from a couple independent art stores. I don’t know what issue these appeared it, but they were in the first or second issue after the initial printing. (I haven’t subscribed to this magazine for a number of years.)

    So if you do write, know at least that they made some attempt at a response to this. I would seek out the response and decide if it’s sufficient for you.

    Thanks for reading.

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