Shopping for art supplies

Starting a new project should be fun but no-one said it should be easy

You know the problem of shopping for art supplies in proper art shops is you soon find out you don’t know what you are talking about. And if you don’t know then you are likely to make a fool of yourself three times in an hour or is that just me?

Shop One: the man was friendly and took pity on me obviously realising I had been on an American website and the measurement I thought I knew, I didn’t. He sold me the baseboard he would recommend for book-binding as the one all the students use. I didn’t even realise this was a common art school practice but it perhaps explains why it’s such a trend online.

After fitting myself out with my tools and board. He mentions a lot of people like that board because you can paint it. So as well as learning a new tool, I need to learn how to embroider the pages together (and there are a myriad of ways) and now I need to paint too? I tentatively suggest I might want to cover with paper but that’s at another shop.

Before I leave he shows me the binder rings that “a lot of people find easier to use”. I think he has the measure of me and I tell him I will be back!

Shop Two: I make it in to the larger arts and crafts store but they are having a huge student discount day and as I enter someone tries to hand me a milkshake and a form to fill in. Though I am temporarily flattered that I am taken for a student, I am soon put off. The over attentive staff member with presumably with a sales target in mind directs me towards the sketchbooks and paper at the back of the store. That’s not what I asked for.

Way too people-y in there for me, I don’t even make it as far as the craft paper. Instead I take a circuitous route to avoid the enthusiastic people.

Shop Three: Realising I am near the fabric shop I decide that I should look out for ribbon, thread and needles. Again the staff member is attentive. When she gets the ribbon down it is not the right colour but she does try and find me one nearer to a forest green skein of embroidery thread I find.

photo from lovely site with ideas for kids

Next she helps me with needles, but when she learns that I am attempting book-binding she looks confused and suggests something completely different. I ask her to show me the needles if I did want to do it the way I was reading about. And she brought over the needles. When I commented on how short they were she brought over a load of needles.

This place most of all I felt like I needed to know what I was talking about or she just couldn’t serve me. I reserved the needle and thread I had chosen but could not pay by card. By the time I found two ATMs out of order, I was totally overwhelmed and came home without anything. Sorry for wasting your time needle-lady.

As much as it’s good to go to local stores with expertise, the intensity I felt in them asking specific questions, their need to understand my project was off-putting. But only to me, I can see. Maybe partly because I am embarrased about my project, embarassed to have a go, because my inner artist wants to try something new but also feels unsure of herself. Feels outside of this artistic world.

This resistance I feel is good, it tells me I am stepping outside my comfort zone. Not only in trying out a new artistic endeavour but in actually approaching people in shops, asking for advice. Because we are used to not having help anymore, shopping online, asking no-one but strangers reviews. And because I, like many I hope, fear not knowing the answer.

This revelation is quite useful to consider in how I am approaching my life at the moment. One of my affirmations which I must repeat more often is:

You have a right to be a beginner

The staff who helped me today were all friendly and happy to help. They didn’t do or say anything wrong when they questioned what I was going to be doing. I know now more research is needed to understand everything a need to do book binding. But thinking how hard I found it just to go shopping, how much harder will it be to embark on my artistic endeavour?

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