As part of my “Art Supply Tips” series, I thought it would make sense to share my recommendations for art supply stores that I’ve accumulated over the years. Some are specific to the NYC and Boston area, but you can order from almost all of these stores online.
You would think artists would only need to shop at one art supply store, but I have always had to shop at several stores to obtain everything I need. In many circumstances, I have had to research and hunt extensively to find obscure materials. If you can’t find what you need, I recommend talking to store managers to see if they can help you track down an item. The RISD Store manager once helped me find and special order 7′ x 4′ sheets of Dura-Lar that I would never have found on my own.
General Art Supplies:
Make sure you go to a professional art supply store. While some craft stores like Michael’s and AC Moore do sell some art supplies, their inventory is very limited and items are frequently much more expensive than they would be at a professional art supply store. I happened to be at Michael’s once, thinking I might as well pick up a sketchbook while I was there. The sketchbook was $20, so I didn’t buy it, and the following week I picked up a similar sketchbook at the RISD Store for $8.
Dick Blick has an excellent range of professional art supplies. They’re the art supply store I go to first, and I can usually count on them to have the vast majority of art supplies that I need for both myself and for teaching.
New York Central Art Supply
I am embarrassed to admit that I never went to this store when I was living in NYC. I love that they are an independent art supply store, and their paper inventory is legendary among artists.
Your local hardware store
I spend almost as much time at my local hardware store as I do at the art supply store. The art supply stores often carry the same items, but these items are almost always less expensive at a hardware store. I am always stocking up on tape, sand paper, solvents, cleaning supplies, and tools. On top of that, usually within 2 minutes of walking in the door, someone always asks me what I need. I try to avoid Home Depot if I can, (although sometimes it’s unavoidable) I find shopping there to be really unpleasant. I’ve had the staff there literally walk in the other direction when I was asking for help, and the overwhelming size of the store makes finding what you need daunting.
The Compleat Sculptor
When I was completing my MFA in sculpture in NYC, I was constantly making runs to this store. This store has a dazzling array of obscure tools, and everything related to mold making and casting, and much more. The other students and faculty complained all the time that their prices are too high, and one of my teachers always called it “The Compleat Rip-off.”
However, given how specialized their materials are, the incredible selection, and the knowledgeable staff, I think their prices make sense. Their website isn’t easy to navigate, so if you don’t know what you’re looking for in advance it can be tricky to browse. If you can visit the store in person, you’ll develop a better sense of their inventory and know how to order online more easily.
RISD 3D Store
The RISD 3D Store is like the love child of an art supply store and a hardware store. They have a wonderful range of sculpture materials/tools/hardware supplies, and unlike hardware stores, the staff know that you are shopping there because you’re an artist. The best aspect of this store is that you can have materials custom cut for you.
You can custom order sheets of plexiglass, plywood, plastic, glass, etc., cut to any size you want, in any quantity. You can get large scale canvas frames built and stretched, and sculpture armatures constructed as well. This store is also the only place where I’ve been able to have untempered masonite custom cut. (tempered masonite is not good for artwork)
Amherst Potter’s Supply
I usually buy ceramic clay for creating sculptures from this local ceramic supplier in Hadley, MA. If you live in MA and order online, you can get your materials in 1-2 days. If you’re in the NYC area Jack D. Wolfe is an excellent ceramic retailer.
The selection of printmaking supplies available at most art supply stores is always terrible. These stores carry about 5% of what a professional printmaker needs. The printmaking supplies also tend to be crazy over priced at most general art supply stores . Once, I was desperate to buy some tarlatan, and I felt scandalized by how much I paid for a tiny scrap of tarlatan at Dick Blick. If you’re serious about printmaking, you’ll have to order all of your supplies online.
When I was in graduate school in NYC, my printmaking professor suggested Metalliferous to buy copper plates for intaglio printmaking. Not only were the copper plates well priced, but they had an amazing range of sizes and thicknesses of copper plates. I highly recommend visiting in person, this store is an extraordinary treasure of metal supplies. Every nook and cranny in the store was densely packed with any metal supply you could imagine.
Renaissance Graphic Arts
I personally haven’t ordered from this company before, but when I used to teach printmaking at a college in Boston, this is where the the printmaking department purchased all of their supplies.
Graphic Chemical and Ink
This store is where I order the vast majority of my printmaking supplies, they pretty much have everything you need for printmaking. I happen to really like their etching ink, ever since I discovered their Renaissance Black Etching ink, I’ve been completely addicted.
Tools for Working Wood
In graduate school, I created a series of large scale woodcut prints. The woodcut tools that I purchased at the general art supply store were awful; the shape of the tools was awkward, and carving the wood with these tools was downright painful. My printmaking professor recommended Ashley Iles carving tools that were available only at this store. I loved visiting this store, it was one of those tiny hole in the wall stores in NYC, with a guy behind the counter who was quite a character. Unlike my old tools which were straight, the Ashley Iles tools were back bent, creating a much more comfortable position for your hand when carving. The tools were incredibly sharp, and there seemed to be an endless variety of shapes and gouges. I felt like I went from carving wood to carving butter because of these tools. At $37 a tool, (I bought 6 tools) I felt financially traumatized, but the tools completely revolutionized my woodcut technique and were worth every penny.
The Picture Place
Some artists frame their artwork themselves to save money, but nothing compares with the quality of a professional custom framing job. Custom framing is expensive, but poor framing is always glaringly noticeable and can make your artwork look terrible. Finding a good framer is like finding a good car mechanic, you either need a good reference or you have to be really lucky. When I lived in Jamaica Plain in Boston, I chose a frame shop just because it was nearby. The framers there were really friendly and helpful, and that’s where I met the framer I who I work with exclusively now. He eventually moved to the Picture Place in Brookline, MA, and he has framed all of my artwork for over 15 years. I trust him to make excellent framing choices for me.
Photography supplies & services:
B & H Photo Video
Generally speaking, I get all of my photography equipment from B&H. They’re located in NYC, but they ship very quickly and usually I can get what I need within 1-2 days. The one caveat with this store is that they don’t process orders from Friday evenings to Saturday evenings, and they are closed on every Jewish holiday.
This is a high end photography lab, they do printing for some of the most renowned visual artists in the Boston area. I have only used them once, to print photographs of my beeswax face sculptures. I was astounded by the range of options that were available in terms of paper choices, mounting, surfacing, etc. They are not cheap, but it is definitely worth it if you’re serious about getting high quality prints made.