On Tuesday night I watched a documentary called America Unchained by a bloke who I rather like called Dave Gorman. He always has a quirky and interesting perspective on the world - and makes me think - which I like! ;)
What, you may ask, has this got to do with art stores?
Well, the story of his documentary is about how he set out to cross America from west coast to east coast without giving any money to 'the man' (ie corporate big brand chained whatever America). He wanted to pay his dollars over to the 'Mom & Pop' stores which for him were iconic symbols of what he thought America was all about. This had all been triggered by taking his stage show across the USA doing 7-8 shows a week for 4 months and finding that everywhere looked exactly the same! He lived corporate big brand America - and did not like it at all.
This time the aim was to travel across America and NOT pay for filling up with gas at a chained gas pump, eating at a chained food outlet or staying at a chained motel. And he changed the rules after he started and decided he wanted to go to places called 'Independence' as well - which caused a few deviations and a lot of extra miles. However by the end of the trip he'd actually managed to get all the way across (and up and down and up and down) with one breach of the rules and less than $100 paid to 'the man'.
Now - here's the art bit - could any of us travel anywhere in the USA or the UK and find a good independent art store within easy distance?
Online stores are really great - but I do like to touch the goods, try them out and generally 'trip out' on art supplies! ;)
This is emphatically not a diatribe against the big art chains. You'll read on my other blog about how impressed I was with eg Dick Blick in San Diego. However while it's nice to walk in a place and know you are always going to get supplies and good service, I also like walking in somewhere which is independent and different and reflects the interests and quirks and knowledge and experience of its owners. Like the San Clemente Art Supply Store pictured at the top of this post - which was the closest thing I've ever had in terms of dying and going to art shop heaven.
Plus for those of us who travel to paint an online store is emphatically not the solution for the thing you forgot or ran out of!
My two information sites for art supplies were set up to provide me (and you!) with details about where to find fine art materials supplies in and around the UK and the USA. They share details of online suppliers and the locations of retail stores that you can visit as a retail or trade customer.
I've had a poll running on the two sites about where people buy their art supplies - and you can see the results to date below - as at today's date. I was curious to know whether it would be the same or different.
Art Supplies in the UK
In the UK, a lot of artists have switched to online supplies because - and I'm guessing here - they are no longer finding that they can get quality and good value for money from a local retailer.
- 23% of fine artists who've responded to date ONLY buy from their local store but a third of those that do (8% of total responses) are disappointed by the limited range of supplies or stock-outs.
- 15% buy all their supplies online and always shop around for the best supplier.
- 61% place the most emphasis on getting what they want a price they want - but are not averse to buying locally so long as they get choice, quality and a good price.
- nobody has yet expressed an aversion to internet shopping!
In the USA, the picture looks slightly different. My guess is that this is probably due to the major chains also having retail outlets and the huge distances involved for some people in finding any sort of art store!
- 25% buy locally all the time - however a quarter of these (6% of the total responses) are either disappointed by the choice or don't like internet shopping. There's no distinction between art chain retail and independent retail - so maybe I'll have another poll about that......
- 31% buy from both online art stores or local suppliers - whomsoever supplies what they want at a price they're willing to pay.
- a whopping 44% buy all their supplies online - with about a quarter of this group (12% of all responses) being loyal to just one online supplier. This suggests to me online suppliers need to keep on their toes - good choice and service probably means lots of repeat business.
It's really the feature which came out very strongly in the Dave Gorman film. An independent outlet becomes part of the local community - people don't just work there, they also have a personal investment in making it work. The result is they will very often do something out of the ordinary to get custom and keep custom. They'll find out how to get that obscure art material you've heard about or make sure you get your materials in time for that workshop - or whatever. They also very often become an intrinsic and important part of the local art scene.
Whatever the merits - and there are a number - of the chain supplier, I'd like to take this opportunity to praise the independent art supplier who provides choice, quality, a good price and an excellent service. Long may they continue as in my view they stop everything being the same.
Now if you have any stores like that who look after you please sing their praises in the comments below.
If you've not yet voted in the polls can I encourage you to do so. Vote by clicking one of the links to the sites for the UK and the USA and then scrolling a little way down until you come to the poll.
- Art Supplies in the UK - Resources for Artists
- Art Supplies in the USA - Resources for Artists
- San Clemente Art Supply 1531 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA., 92672
- Making A Mark - art supplies
- Dave Gorman - website
- Dave Gorman - blog - check out the bed and breakfast in the giant Beagle in Cottonwood Idaho!