Last week, I rushed to the defense of Raine Szramski and her time proven choice to use traditional methods in the creation of her art. She had received some unsolicited advice that she should cast aside all of the ancient brushes and tubes of paint and embrace the current era by diving into the digital domain. What was ridiculous was that this guy acted as if it was as simple as flicking a switch, and I described some of the considerations that would have to be made as far as going digital, and in Raine’s case, it would be a waste of time. Rather than struggle with the learning curve and expense of a computer as well as all of the peripherals that you just have to have, she could be happily creating her art, and we could be happily consuming it.
However, her unwelcome adviser does have a pointâ€¦
After I got out of art school, I worked an inordinate amount of time running repro-graphic machines and selling supplies in art supply stores. It was the mid-80’s, and graphic design was cut-and-paste at that time, but I watched as a lot of those tools and services fell away during the onslaught of the digital revolution. People nowadays have a completely different connotation as to what a waxer is, and I’m sure that you would be met with a blank stare if you brought up the long past ubiquity of rubber cement pick-ups.
Despite design going digital, and back when people thought that Pac-Man was the extent of what computers could do graphically, artists dealt with inconsistencies in the art materials they used and loved. Some of the manufactures of art supplies were megalithic giants and others were Mom-and-Pop operations. Fortunes would ebb and flow; corporate decisions would be made and suddenly your favorite brush, ink or pen is no longer available or maybe your favorite art supply store would vanish completely. There was a number of times when old timers would come into the art supply store hoping against hope that we still had some old Zip-a-tone or Corbu stencils or LeRoy parts. Case in point, veteran cartoonist Joe Sinnott in a fascinating series of video interviews complains about the quality of white-out since his favorite Richart Poster White ceased manufacture some time ago. He goes on to complain about how inks don’t cover as well as they once did. The lesson learned is that if you find something you like, hoard it because it may not be there when you return to the art supply store.
The sad fact of the matter is that artists can’t count on their favorite tools and media being there when they need them, and they can’t count on the seller of those tools and media being there. If you live in or near a big city, you’ll probably be all right as far as finding an art supply store. If you live in a smaller town, good luck. You’ll probably have to go mail order. In a fit of pique, I’ve been tempted to buy art supplies mail order, but I haven’t yet. I want to look at the tip of the brush before I buy it or test out the marker.
Computers can be maddening and a complete mystery to the uninitiated, but they never run out of ink, and they keep getting better and cheaper. Sadly the same can’t be said about art supplies as they try to survive a shrinking customer base and cut corners here and there. I don’t think paint brushes will become as scarce as typewriter ribbons, but as I said before, if there is a product at your art supply store, you may want to buy out the shelf.
And like everything else, the prices are going up.
Of course, I have fully functioning art equipment from the early 80s and even older drafting supplies from my Dad that still perform the task they were designed to do. Computers that are 20 years or older can serve those with very meager needs or are simply curiosities. Or they can take up space in landfills.
If you stuck with this post this far, dear reader, I thank you. Sorry, it’s sort of annoying, but then a lot of my opinions are annoying. I can see both sides of this argument, and despite the digital world’s many foibles, I’m staying there. I’ll have more back and forth on this issue next time as I look at my history with our electric friends.