The Artist’s Shoulders #2: Art Stores hate creativity

This is the second in my series about my shoulder problems and how it ties into problems with our health system and perceptions that promote poverty in Canada and thus ultimately the economy … seriously, they are all related and this post outlines a second example of this. 

I’ve just experienced some bad customer service at Curry’s Art Supplies in Hamilton, Ontario. A little while before that, and for largely the same reason, I experienced some bad customer service at Aboveground Art Supplies in Toronto. How does this relate to my shoulder, poverty and health care?

Because some artists work best at small, or medium. As an artist, I’m at my best when I work large.  My drawings and paintings that are large work well, and with my recent digital work this is also true I think – conceptually, when I compose on the computer I am imagining the work as a large scale print.

Unfortunately, with my shoulders, I am not supposed to raise my arms above my shoulders. My left is half-frozen with atrophied muscles and my right *hurts* when I raise it for even a dozen seconds. It really sucks. I’ve literally been fighting off depression because I can’t work the way I want to (more about that in a later post) and I want to work large – I need to work large for what I what to accomplish in my professional practice.

So how to overcome this obstacle? There is a slew of self-help jargon out there that basically states for every closed door there is an open window, and I think this is true – the solution should dove tail with an creative idea and I think I solved it.

I would paint on small squares, a grid, and join them together. Like this test run from an older series a couple of years ago:

oops. mirror image.

oops. mirror image.

In this way, I can create very large works by sitting on a couch and keeping my arms low. I can paint and draw on each square with a well-worked chart and affix them together at the end. I’m really excited about this and have wanted to get started for months. But…

The above little square canvases are actually pretty expensive. About three dollars each and when you multiply that by the seventy panels it comes to $210. If you bought a single canvas of the same size, you are probably looking at about $80. But I can’t do that, because I have bad shoulders.

Ok, so I just need to buy a cheaper square of something to paint on right? No problem, I jump onto the interwebs and look at the options available to me at Aboveground Art Supplies in Toronto. I like this art store – good prices and friendly service – they are usually worth the trip into Toronto.

Hmmm…. they have nice cradled painting panels in a the small square size I need but they are $3.50 each.  Ok, looks like they have a bamboo wood “mount” which are much cheaper and not exactly meant for painting, but they will do nicely. They are about $1.55 each – I can work with that! – but the sizes are rectangular, not square like I need. The closest square ones I can see are still pretty large at 6″ x 6″. I need smaller, so I figure I’ll email and ask if they can order some in.

I get a friendly reply and over the course of some emails back and forth, then a long period of time where I had to prompt the inventory manager as to the status of the request, I get a quote for the 4″x4″ size… at about $3.50 each. Sigh…. when I pointed out I was interested in the bamboo panels they were selling, not the more expensive line that are handmade by a local craftsperson (which is great, but out of my budget for the large amount I want) I got this reply “Those are shipped to us by freighter from Taiwan once a year.” and I have not heard back from this store since. I’m not sure why this was a deal breaker for them. Why can’t I pre-pay for a few hundred of them? What does it matter where they are from or how they get here?

Because this was outside of a routine request for this middle manager. It was easier for him to stop trying to accommodate me than to make an exception for my creative needs. At an art store. Again – sigh. I haven’t heard back from them for a few months now.

So I’m walking by Currey’s in Hamilton today and decide to pop in and see what kind of panels they had. Currey’s can be helpful, and always friendly. Their prices are not that great. The biggest reason I don’t like going in there is the awkwardness of always being confronted immediately with laser focused eye contact and a greeting of “Hi how are you!”. I know this is a corporate script and helps discourage shoplifters – it’s their job to do this but is it my job to respond? It’s so … American. Actually no – it’s too insincere to be American because we Canadian don’t tend to like this kind of loud gregarious behavior when first entering an establishment and this comes through in the employees tone. I just want to look at some supplies.

Anyways, not the employees fault, I look at some of the panels and don’t see the size or material I want so decide to inquire at the front desk about custom ordering. The same employee sort of interrupts me half way through explaining what I need with “No. What you see is what we have. We can’t order anything else in.” Case closed. Ok, she (which is say the store through its policies and training) did not even ask what amount I needed (hundreds in the short term, thousands(?) in the long term) and what she said was very illogical. If one thinks about her response for a second, it make no sense as how do they know what to order and how much to order if requests by customers like me are immediately dismissed? Is there no way to measure supply and demand? Is it a secret way?

Sadly, just like Aboveground Art Supplies my request is slightly different so becomes problematic. That’s why the subtitle of this post is that art stores hate creativity. Remember that public school teacher who conducts art lessons for the kids – but only in special area that is easy to clean up, and only colouring in the lines, and you must cover the entire surface with paint, and you can’t use to much, and it should be happy… any creative worth their salt knows that is actually a way to stifle true creativity and these art stores are no different.

The solution, as many real professional artists know, is to skip these kind of art stores altogether and go straight for the hardware store. I know I should buy a sheet of the kind of light wood I want (because of the way I assemble it, it can’t be heavy) and cut it myself and ground it myself.

But I can’t, because I have bad shoulders.

So I don’t have a pile of small, light wood panels, so I am not producing art. I have not spent any money on this, and cannot sell what I have not made. So I don’t have enough money to buy the pre-made squares or to put an ad on Craigslist or Kajiji offering $3.50 for someone to go buy, cut, ground and deliver these squares for me.

These panels exist, but they might as well be in Taiwan for all that it matters.

It’s a bit frustrating.

*update* Aside from connecting with someone who won’t mind helping me prepare the panels when I am able to get back to studio work, I have considered simply using paper. This may be the best option, but assembling it will be tricky. I need to adjoin each square to the next to support it, and thus the whole grid supports itself. I like the visual wear and sagging this produces, but not sure how this will work with rag paper. I guess it will have to be wire and glue. Maybe something else will occur to me.

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