Raining on Raine’s Parade

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 point…

Screen Photace 2500 CameraAfter 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 wonderful and sadly extinct Blackwing 602 pencil. I've heard that they go for $25 a piece on eBay.

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.

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4 Responses to Raining on Raine’s Parade

  1. Raine Szramski says:

    Joe, you’ll be proud to know I DO order my art supplies using a computer. My local art supply store just doesn’t carry gray gouache! (Although luckily, they carry #0-size round brushes which I mangle by the dozen) But I would be lost without Blick’s, and I need my computer to order those increasingly elusive paints.

    (oh no, another math question… I was always lousy at math…)

  2. Joe Williams says:

    There is a gigantic Dick Blick store in what used to be the basement of Woolworth’s at Broad and Chestnut. That is the newest addition to the Philadelphia art supply scene. Things have changed so drastically in that regard since you were last residing out here. You said you left in the ’80s(?) Since then:
    – South Street Art Supply is long gone
    – I’m not sure about Zinnis which used to be a big deal in the Jon Gnagy days
    – Philadelphia Art Supply which used to be at 8th off of Market was bought out by Koenig(?) who were eventually swallowed up by Charrette who moved the store to 20th and Chestnut. The place on 8th is a parking lot. Sad. I bought my first airbrush there.
    – Central art supply is gone
    – Utrecht which used to be a Soviet style hellhole at Broad and Spruce changed hands a few times, and moved catercorner They also own what used to be Charrette at 20th and Chestnut.
    – Charrette came from New England, had a terrific store with great stock and prices, and through some fairly inept corporate shennanigans shed their retail stores and became some other company with a name even less memorable than Charrette
    – Pearl paint was a fabulously huge art supply store at 5th and South. When it was first open, it was like going to Disneyland with 3 floors packed to the gills, but as time went on, I was finding that regular staple items were always out of stock. They had a bizarre inventory system that ultimately killed them.
    – Taws still exist but are no longer on Walnut Street and, outside of gifty items, aren’t really selling art supplies. They do mainly printing apparently. Charrette and Pearl and anybody else that was reasonably priced and stocked chased them out of the supply business. I used to work there and haven’t been back there in years.
    – There’s also an AC Moore on Delaware Avenue, but it’s usually mobbed by crazy craft ladies buying crazy craft stuff. They have some traditional art supplies, but it’s not really the place to go.

  3. Raine Szramski says:

    Yup, I pretty much frequented all those places when I had the money to spare, being a ramen-noodle eating poor student. When I was going to school in Brooklyn I took the subway to Manhattan and Canal Street and there was a ginormous multi-storey claustrophobia-inducing Pearl’s. (It was also in the middle of Chinatown and my roomate being Chinese knew the best and cheapest places to eat… Sorry, tangent…)
    And I actually did work at AC Moore’s for a brief time and it was indeed a scary place when there was a sale on yarn.

  4. Joe Williams says:

    Wow! You worked at AC Moore?! That had to be tough.

    I worked at Taws and jumped ship to Charrette where my career in retail was finally mercy killed.

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