Merion Art Blog
And when you’ve been in the art business this long, you see trends come and go, package designs change, and new techniques & technology eclipse those of the past. We’re constantly changing and refreshing our stock to keep up with the times, but we thought we’d take a moment in praise of some oldies but goodies. We’ve dug up some vintage stock from our art supply vault, rounded up some oft-overlooked classic items, and done some historical research.
Here is a collection of classic and vintage art supplies to act as an inspiration and a history lesson! This is all stuff we’ve got in stock at the store, so come on by, check out some old-school-cool art materials, and maybe even pick up some clearance items at near 1971 prices!
It only takes a few years for something to go from “boring & out-of-date” to “retro & exciting”
Trends are circular- anyone who sees kids these days wearing high-waisted pants and 80’s glasses knows this. Similarly at an art store, sometimes, obsolete stock gets moved off the sales floor and forgotten, before suddenly coming back into style and resurfacing like buried treasure, to the delight of a new generation of artists. Pre-computer-era art supplies like Pantone papers and Letraset rub off lettering are trendy again with hip young designers, just like retro glasses and record players! Gold leaf and calligraphy supplies have seen a resurgence with the advent of Instagram hand-lettering accounts.
Pantone Paper: This paper was used to work controlled colors, gradients etc. into graphic design projects, before the advent of computer aided design. “This was like a very expensive pre-historic version of vector art for us. Coupled with a #11 X-Acto, you could do cut-paper illustrations that would envy the Adobe Illustrator (and Aldus FreeHand) work a few years later.” -Mike Shoaf, via forgottenartsupplies.com
Check out all the interesting color sheets we have in the store, recently unearthed from our art supply vault! Contemporary designers can find a use for the adhesive backed and transparent sheets, and the color sheets make amazing framed minimalist wall art. Come snag your favorite color sheet for $1!
Speedball Nibs: Get fancy with these throwback nibs! Work on your penmanship and inking skills, just like Grandad used to do. These classic nibs work right into modern lettering and journaling trends. These can be used for drawing too- drawing with dip pens takes precision and patience, and can be a good way to slow down and get back to basics. Ask to see our selection of uncarded nibs behind the counter!
Pantone Color Guides– Before computers were so common, anyone who wanted color accuracy with their printing needed a Pantone Color Guide, and art stores like Merion Art used to carry them as a matter of course. These guides were (and are) pricey but thorough, used to make sure the color you wanted was the color you got. I’ve known small design businesses that have held onto their Guide for a decade or more, storing carefully to avoid fading and yellowing of chips. With new colors added every year and the danger of colors fading, modern designers still pay top dollar for the latest updated Pantone color guides. We still have two “antique” Color Guides, a process chips book from c.2000 and a Two Color Selector 1000 from c. 1993- older than some of our staff!
A packaging change can make a good product suddenly look dated
Age ain’t nothin’ but a number to water soluble graphite and drawing pencils, but a label change can make them look ancient in comparison to new stock. Now’s your chance to rescue these classics and grab some excellent supplies at vintage prices!
Classic Pencils: These labels may be dated, but the shelf life of a good pencil is forever! Grab a handful of your most used hardness, or select a few unusual ones (think 8B, 7H, or F!) to add to your custom made selection. Give these classic drawing pencils a good home, let your pencil case party like its 1999, and take advantage of deep discounts.
Graphitone Pencils: These water-soluble graphite pencils have vintage wrappers, but they still work like they’re brand new. Water-soluble graphite allows for control and precision in line drawing as well as delicate shading and coverage for large areas. Try an 8B for a dramatic wash effect in your next drawing!
Lead Holders and 2mm Lead: Another martyr to the computer age, leadholders are still used by architects, albeit at a much lower rate than 50 years ago. Something like a large-lead mechanical pencil, lead holders don’t require sharpening like a traditional pencil, and stay the same size and shape throughout use (no fiddling with 2 inch pencil stubs!). The metal bodies of lead holders give them a nice heft for a professional designer or draftsman, and they erase just like regular graphite. High quality leads like Turquoise brand 2mm lead comes in these delightfully retro containers!
Sometimes art suppliers know when they’ve got a good thing going…
…and an art material or it’s packaging will remain unchanged for decades- For instance, today’s Litho crayons and Best Test cement would be instantly recognizable to midcentury designers.
Drawing templates: These green templates have kept the same product design through several decades and several company iterations. Still used today in architecture and interior design, these templates help with accurate curves, scales, and placement in design plans. “Before Illustrator it was near impossible to draw a 43 1/2 degree ellipse but these handy guides got you close.”- Mark Fisher via forgottenartsupplies.com
Litho Crayon: technically used to make Lithograph prints, but back during the times of hard-copy proofs and real photography, graphic designers used to mark-up design proofs, photos, and protective clear bags with these multi-functional wax-based pencils. Can write on glass, plastic, metal etc. for temporary outlines and notes!
Best Test Paper Cement: Ubiquitous in the 20th century, with a label and a formula that haven’t changed in years- why mess with a good thing? Check out that retro style. A clear, classic, and unfussy label says that this product is all business. Forms a strong flexible bond for gluing paper, photos and more!
The Same… But Very Different…
For our last item out of the time capsule, we present my favorite find in this trip back in time. These supplies are still made and widely used, but not in this particular shape. Merion Art used to carry these as a novelty item in the late 70’s! Meet Frenchy…
French Curves: Back in the day, you could titillate your fellow designers on those long lonely nights in the studio with a fancy French curve designed to look like a voluptuous lady. Hubba hubba! Although we no longer sell “Frenchy” the retro sexy French curve, a regular French curve allows you to make elegant and smooth curves in all your design work.
(Okay, so it’s not hard to guess why they stopped making “Frenchy,” but our staff wishes they still made other themed french curves- some great ideas from behind the counter include Orca shaped curves, harp shaped curves, or even French curves in the shape of the Eagles logo- Wooo! Go Birds!)
Merion Art has been working with various non-profits in the Greater Philadelphia area for years. We provide lower-cost art supplies, large-order custom framing, and printing and design services to various groups who help those in need, while promoting arts education and experiences.
“COSACOSA art at large, Inc. is a non-profit organization creating new public art specific to the concerns of Philadelphia neighborhoods in direct, long-term collaboration with city residents. COSACOSA reasserts art’s original role as a catalyst for community dialogue, creative cooperation, and positive change. Since 1990, COSACOSA projects have brought together thousands of citizens of diverse backgrounds and differing abilities to learn about art, about each other, and about how to work together.” For more information, visit their website at www.cosacosa.org/
Alexander K. McClure Elementary is a Title 1, low-income, Pre K-5 school in North Philadelphia. Their amazing staff does so much with so little, and we invite you to join Merion Art and our friends at COSACOSA in helping to give the faculty at McClure a little more to work with!
Through the end of February, we will be collecting donations of art supplies from a list of needs, as well as donations in the form of Merion Art gift cards. Just call up or come in, and tell your sales associate how you’d like to contribute, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Some of the items requested include Crayola Crayons, Crayola Color Sticks, Crayola Model Magic, Mr Sketch Washable Stix, Black Sharpies (Super and Fine), Elmer’s glue and glue sticks, Crayola Classic washable markers, construction and copy paper, sponge brushes and other paintbrushes, basic watercolor sets, and student grade chalk pastels.
Merion Art will be matching 50% of all gift card donations, and taking 25% off of all the supplies intended for donation, so your gift will go even further! Make a donation of $5 or more, and get a 40% off coupon for a future purchase, as a personal thank you from the team at Merion Art!
“The Alexander K McClure School serves students in pre-K through 5th grade in the Hunting Park section of North Philadelphia. McClure strives to instill in children a lifelong love of learning, enabling them to be contributing members of society. McClure believes all children can become willing learners and that the arts are essential to this process.
McClure is a safe haven for children in an otherwise neglected and high crime neighborhood. The students know all too well the effects of violence; a 20 year old man was murdered in the schoolyard in 2011, and a McClure student was brutally murdered at home in 2013.
Since 2013, McClure students have worked with COSACOSA art at large, Inc. on a large-scale art project entitled Growing United. Merion Art has provided many of the supplies for the project. Working with COSACOSA artists, McClure students are covering the school façade with mosaics (a full city block around) and creating a Hope Reading Garden in the schoolyard.
In order to diminish the memory of violence that visited McClure school in a very profound way, the environment must be transformed. Please help to wrap the school in art – as a centerpiece of the collective strength and optimism of the school community.”
-Kimberly Niemela, Director, COSACOSA art at large, Inc.
It’s that time again…
Time to make a to-do list for life. Time to reassess, plan, and gather good intentions. This is a great time to take a look at your art practice from last year and see if you can push it further in 2018. Here are some of our suggestions for small, attainable Art New Years Resolutions. Some are ongoing practices, and some are one-time exercises. All will help you improve your art, your understanding, and your knowledge in the New Year!
#1: Redraw An Old Drawing
In mid 2017, a meme went around called the Draw This Again challenge. Artists challenged themselves to draw something they had drawn early in their artistic “career” again, to show how much they had changed and improved. This is a great way for artists to practice their work. It directly shows how much your skills have progressed by tackling the same subject, instead of an apples-to-oranges comparison with different subjects. It can be a huge confidence booster for amateur artists, and a fantastic tool for analysis for more professional artists- it will be an easy way to see how far you’ve come and how far you may still have to go.
You can choose to make this a running resolution. Try recreating a favorite historical Master’s work multiple times- like something by Michelangelo or Degas. Or pick a specific subject to redraw every year in January, and keep a year-over-year running assessment of your skills. If you don’t want to redraw something you’ve created previously, draw something now with the intent to redraw it next December- you’ll be amazed how a little time and practice can change things!
#2: Follow New Artists On Social Media
We’ve spoken before about the importance of keeping up with the contemporary art scene. It keeps you up to date on art news, and informs your own art practice by continually supplying you with new information and different perspectives. 2018 is a great time to start following the careers of other artists, and with social media, it’s never been easier. When you see artwork you like in a gallery or museum, google the artist and find their website. Search for your favorite materials on Instagram (#oilpastels, #gouache, etc), or simply search #artwork. The next time an art piece that speaks to you goes viral, dig deeper: find that artists other work, or explore similar artists.
Look for local artists in your town, and find their artwork on Facebook, Imgur, Reddit, wherever! Don’t discount comics- those who make webcomics and other digital sequential art are contemporary artists too, and following them on social media can give you a daily dose of aesthetics combined with humor, which is always good. Swapping some of the social media drama for new artwork will improve your mind and your mood. Interspersing your aunt’s political posts and your friend’s brunch pics with some contemporary art will do wonders to spruce up your social media feeds!
#3: Try A New Drawing Technique
Drawing is the foundation of fine art, and the act of drawing is physically thinking your way through a composition. Break through the barriers of routine and try a new way of thinking through your artwork. In 2018, whatever the usual is, upset it. Draw upside down, try to draw with charcoal taped to a long stick, try mass drawing, draw in one long line without letting your pencil leave the paper, sketch with your off-hand, draw from life, draw from reference photos, experiment with cubism, try sketching with paint instead of dry media. Whatever you’re used to, do something different.
If you discover a method of drawing that you never use or don’t understand, try to figure out why it doesn’t immediately jive with your style, habits, or personality. You’ll learn a lot about yourself by pushing out of your comfort zone. Is your drawing style more precise than this method? More tightly controlled? Or more free-form? Does this new method of drawing add something to your practice, or is it antithetical to the message you’re trying to convey, and why? Exploring different drawing methods is a great Resolution for any artist this year. It will be frustrating, difficult, maybe infuriating, and ultimately so SO enlightening.
#4: Try a Medium You’ve Never Tried Before
Okay, yes, you got me: this was one of our resolutions last year. But it’s still valid! For artists, “try a new medium” is like “lose 10 pounds”- it’s a New Years Resolution that’s relevant year after year, and there are new mediums and mixed media techniques being created every year.
In 2018 (and every year!), seek out something you’ve never dabbled in before. You don’t have to stray too far: If you’re a habitual acrylic painter, try mixing your acrylics with one of Golden’s acrylic mediums or glazes, like fiber paste or molding paste, or gloss gel medium. Experiment with Open Acrylics and their extended dry time, or High Flow Acrylics with their thinner consistency. If you work primarily in oils, try water soluble oil paints, or Gamblin solvent free gel. If your work in oil pastels or chalk pastels, switch to the other kind for a piece or two, and appreciate the similarities and differences. If you work in graphite, add a little color to your life with colored pencils, or go fluid with water soluble graphite. You could go for a big change- if you work mostly in 2D, try 3D art, or vice versa. You may find exactly the medium you never knew you were looking for!
When making art at the kitchen table just won’t cut it anymore, it’s time to invest in some heavy duty art furniture and accessories. These accessories make fantastic holiday gifts! They’re the sort of big-purchase items that many artists will try to forbear buying…and once they get them, they’ll wonder how they ever did without!
Everyone feels more artistic when they’re working at an easel, even beginners! Choose easels based on the artist’s style, size and medium. A small scale painter who works on watercolor paper will do best with a small, light easel, and a large scale panel painter will need one with some heft.
Check out sturdy wood Mabef or Art Alternatives easels for large-scale canvas painters, and portable, lightweight aluminum folding easels for water-colorists on the go. Consider easels that fold flat for people with home-studios in small spaces- when you’re not painting, you can fold it up and tuck it away! Tabletop easels are also great for artists who work at home, especially on still-lifes, and box easels are great for painters who take all their pastels or paints with them in the field.
Self healing cutting mats, snap knives, Xacto knives, metal rulers, and T-squares come in hand no matter what kind of art or design you’re interested in. Stock someones studio with these basics and make cutting, measuring, squaring up, and other basic tasks so much simpler and more accurate. Erasers and sharpeners are also important to all artists and designers. These tiny tools have a tendency to go missing, so artists and designers can always use more, and they make excellent stocking-stuffers! Try new configurations of old basics, like click-erasers, kneaded erasers in plastic cases, or high-quality all-metal sharpeners.
Architects, graphic designers, fashion designers and interior designers will need different accessories and furniture than fine artists. Easels won’t be quite as useful if you’re doing plan drawings. Having the right kind of workspace is like finding a pair of shoes that fits perfectly- it’s a huge relief and feels great. Encourage an interest in architecture or design with a tilting work table like the Futura Craft Station. Add a lamp for better visibility, and storage drawers to hold all their accessories and complete the furniture set.
Get the whole set together by buying the Alvin Creative Center– it comes with a white 30″ x 42″ adjustable-height and adjustable-angle work table, a comfortable adjustable-height office chair, an incredibly useful swing-arm lamp, and a multi-compartment storage tray: a $406 value, all on sale right now at Merion Art for $209.95! (while supplies last). It even folds flat for storage!
Let There Be Light!
Lightpads and projectors can lead to artistic revelations and totally new methods of drawing and painting. Lightpads make it super simple to do hand-drawn multiple copies or iterations of a design, as well as things like animations.
Projectors are fantastic for scaling things up, or transferring a design to a vertical space- they’re perfect for people working on murals, or blowing up small designs onto large canvases. Go big or go home!
Guerrilla products are top of the line for artists who like to roam. Guerrilla’s BestBuddy travel chair is a lightweight rolling carry-all that converts to a comfy chair for serious plein air artists, with an umbrella attached to shield the user from sun and rain.
Their 8×10 CigarBox Oil and Acrylic set includes a fantastic easel box, plus brushes, panels, a composition finder, palette cups, and a handy carrying bag, so you can take your oil and acrylic painting anywhere!
As artists, we like to convert others to art. It’s not always easy: We all know loads of people who resist. Maybe it’s someone with a stressful or boring job who needs a creative outlet but can’t think of themselves as an artist, or maybe it’s a social media addict who adores Instagram but never picks up a paintbrush: either way, not your average artist. Here are our recommendations for supplies to get newbies to join you on the art side.
Go Outside The Box
If the person you’re buying for balks when they think of traditional oil painting, try something less standard. For people who are more comfortable with hand-tools than with watercolors, try printmaking. Block printing involves carving linoleum blocks to make stamps. You can use block print stamps to make unique stationary and cards, gorgeous artwork, and even print on t-shirts.
Gel printing involves rolling ink onto gel plates along with adding items for texture, like feathers, leaves, bubble wrap, you name it! It’s an easy cleanup and very quick to learn. Gel printing is fun for all ages, and there is no artistic learning curve (Merion associate Jen had a veterinarian and a parole officer printing beautifully in mere minutes!)
Lean Into Trends
For your trendiest friend, think about lettering and dot journaling supplies. Hand lettering and other kinds of calligraphy have been extremely popular the last few years, and everyone can benefit from having better, prettier handwriting. Brush pens from Faber Castel work great for lettering, and sleek, modern-looking Le Pens are a great pick for dot journaling. Dot journaling is everywhere on Instagram: it’s an efficient and aesthetically attractive way to organize your to-do list, your accomplishments, and the rest of your life. A dot journal and some exciting pens are a fantastic gift for any self-improvement maven, especially with the New Year starting soon!
The fastest way to make someone an artist is to get them efficiently from “I can’t” to “I made this!”. The frustration of not getting it “right” can turn people off to making art, so let them try something that doesn’t require control. Try Marabu Easy Marble, which lets you marble on plastic, paper, wood, phone cases, coasters or anything that can be dipped in water. Grab some inexpensive liquid acrylics in their favorite colors and try a pour painting! Both techniques do better with a hands off approach- the less interference the better. A few quick swirls, and the paint does the rest of the work!
In our increasingly digital world, it’s important (especially for kids) to take time to make things by hand and indulge creativity. The holidays are a great time to supply the kids in your life with all the things they need to make art and explore their capacity as makers. Our kid’s section contains a multitude of kits and supplies for our creative kids. Crayola products are a no-brainer for good kid gifts, but here are a few less-known brands that deserve your attention when shopping for quality gifts for artistic children.
Eeboo offers traditional kids art supplies with cute, colorful illustrated covers- get oil pastels, drawing pads, watercolors, scissors, and more, decorated with birds, robots, butterflies, dinosaurs, ballerinas and woodland creatures. Try metallic, double-sided, or color swirl “mixies” colored pencils! These supplies are great for kids who are confident in their own creativity and enjoy drawing and painting out of their own imaginations. No step by step instructions here, just lots of inspiring sets for open-ended and unstructured artistic creation!
Djeco offers interesting and unique project kits that even young kids can do, like sand painting, silk painting and felt marker kits. They come in attractive sturdy boxes, perfect for holiday gift wrapping. Their beautiful and unusual designs are fun for kids tired of the same ol’ same ol’- from skeleton pirates, to colorful animals, to masks of the world, you won’t get bored! Their European flair adds a certain je n’ais se quoi to your average kids art kit!
Klutz Press has been making books that teach kids to make paper airplanes, cats cradle, friendship bracelets since the late 1970’s- many of our staff members still fondly remembers their favorite Klutz books from childhood! The Klutz credo is: “Create wonderful things, be good, have fun”. Klutz’s instructional books cover everything from juggling to Lego’s to fashion drawing. Their step by step guides tend to teach kids in a way that still sticks when the included supplies have run out- get new thread, beads, paper, paint, etc, and your kid is back in business! If you’re looking to teach your kid a skill they’ll remember for years, Klutz is your best bet.
Creativity for Kids
Creativity for Kids has loads of small crafts, like cardboard race cars, opti-art jewelry, shrinky dinks, and more! Their small sets are the perfect size to round out a fully stuffed stocking! Their larger craft kits are great for older kids who want to make cool out of the ordinary stuff like patches and pins, fashion designs, and even glowing terrariums! They also make a few amazing holiday themed crafts, like elf on the shelf displays, snowglobes, and illuminated stars, so if you’re looking for a way to keep kids busy in the leadup to Christmas, their ornament and craft kits will add to the festive décor.
Other Really Cool Kid Stuff
Definitely consider getting a lucky little kid in your life a Marker Fan. These awesome sets come in an easy to carry plastic fan container with a handle, and they include 100 COLORS of thin markers. A hundred colors is a LOT of colors. Think of how excited you were as a kid to get the Crayola 64 set of crayons w/ built in sharpener- and then pretty much double that excitement. It’s an impressive set for any kid who likes coloring books, illustration, sketching, manga, or basically anything else. Imagine your kid strolling up to arts-and-crafts time with one of these, like it’s the worlds most beautiful briefcase. You know that some serious creativity is about to happen. These fans are a lot of fun!
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and is a perfect stocking-stuffer for kids and adults alike. They’re made locally in Narberth PA, and between kits that let you mix your own goo, magnetic putty, and tiny, shiny containers of holiday themed colors, you’ll find something cool for everyone in the family!