Here’s a review of 5 popular art supply stores based on my own shopping experience as a guide to buying drawing supplies online and in person. For information on what drawing materials you need, see How to Choose the Right Drawing Media.
- Blick Art Materials
- Jerry’s Artarama
- Cheap Joe’s
- Extra Tips When Buying Drawing Supplies
Buying Drawing Supplies at Blick Art Materials, Jerry’s Artarama, Cheap Joe’s, Michaels, and Amazon
Blick Art Materials
Blick Art Materials is a major seller of art supplies online and off, with approximately 60 retail stores across the US. My shopping experience at Blick is mostly positive.
The Online Experience at Blick
Blick’s online offerings vastly outpaces its brick and mortar inventory. For example, their website boasts over 30 brands of drawing and sketching pencils. The physical stores have far fewer brands available. Ditto for other drawing media and paper. You’ll find a much bigger selection online. A useful feature of the Blick website is that it tells you if an item is available in their retail store.
An advantage to shopping online at Blick is that, in addition to selling pencil and pastel boxed sets, they also have individual pencils and pastels available. For example, if you run out of your favorite pastel color, purchasing one pastel stick is more economical than buying another set of pastels.
The Blick Brick and Mortar Store Experience
However, shopping at Blick’s physical stores has advantages. At my local store, they kindly leave out scrap paper to try out various brands of drawing and colored pencils. I’ve found sales staff knowledgeable about different kinds of media and helpful locating items in the store. On one occasion, a clerk helped me carry a large and heavy pad of drawing paper to my car. The best part about shopping at the brick and mortar store is you have your items when you need them.
Blick Shipping Quirks
A downside purchasing from Blick online is that processing the order, and the delivery, takes a long time. Sometimes, it’s a few days from the purchase date before the order ships. Blick ships from Illinois, so unless if you live in the middle of the country, you’ve got a long wait. Delivery to the east or west coast takes around a week, maybe more. They do offer expedited shipping, however the cost for this service is high. Most artists opt for economical standard shipping, and grit their teeth while waiting. Blick needs to offer shorter wait times on order processing and shipping.
Online and In-Store Prices at Blick
Blick makes it somewhat difficult to compare online and in-store prices. They offer a free Preferred Customer program in an attempt to level the purchasing playing field between online and retail store prices. From the Blick website:
‘The web prices shown are NOT necessarily the same as our retail stores. We offer a free in-store Preferred Customer program. Membership benefits include Web Match Rebate. The rebate provides the lowest order total by comparing your in-store purchase to the same online order, including shipping and handling fees.’
Artists, please be aware of this when shopping at the brick and mortar store.
Jerry’s Artarama is another large retailer of art supplies online and has 16 retail stores across the US. With few brick and mortar stores, most artists shop at Jerry’s online.
The Online Experience at Jerry’s Artarama
My experience shopping for drawing materials at Jerry’s is positive. They stock name brand drawing paper, pencils, chalk and oil pastels. Single pencils and pastels sticks are available for purchase at a reasonable price.
Order processing went fast. Jerry’s ships from North Carolina, so if you live on the east coast, delivery is quick. My order arrived in two days with standard shipping. Jerry’s also packs orders with ample padding material so items arrive intact.
Cheap Joe’s is another seller of art supplies with a large online presence. They have three physical stores, all in North Carolina. As with Jerry’s, most artists shop at Cheap Joe’s online.
The Online Experience at Cheap Joe’s
My experience shopping at Cheap Joe’s is mixed. They have a wide range of drawing materials. However, the brand selection is not as large as at Blick or Jerry’s. Single items are available so you don’t have to purchase a whole set of something.
Cheap Joe’s packaging method needs improvement. I ordered oil pastels, and a few arrived broken. The pastel box just flopped around in the shipping container with little or no padding. I was surprised at this, because I thought an art supply store would take greater care in packing items.
Michaels is a popular retailer of arts and crafts supplies. Currently, Michaels has over 1000 physical stores across the US.
The Online Experience at Michaels
I feel Michaels is mostly a crafts store, although it has a decent selection of name brand artist supplies like pencils, pens, erasers, and drawing paper. Michaels also has a good selection of frames and mats. Similar to most large chains, Michael’s online inventory is much greater than their in-store offerings.
Unfortunately, shopping at Michaels for art supplies means that an artist can’t purchase one of something. For example, individual pencils or pastels are unavailable for purchase, only sets. So if you’re looking to purchase a single colored pencil or oil pastel at Michaels, you’re out of luck.
The Michaels Brick and Mortar Store Experience
Michaels has a wide selection of frames in-store, and I have particular preferences for certain types frame materials and hardware. The benefit of actually having the frame in my hands makes it easier for me to choose the right frame for my artwork. I also look for nicks and scratches on the frame and covering, which I’m unable to do when buying online.
Michaels Shipping Options
Shipping is free for purchases over a certain amount, and for an extra fee, they offer same day delivery from a local store. Surprisingly, the same day delivery cost isn’t that expensive. Michaels has frequent sales and coupons for online and in-store purchases. In particular, look for the ‘buy one, get one free sale’ on frames and artist paper.
Amazon has a wide selection of both brand name and lesser known brands of drawing supplies, sold by Amazon as well as third party sellers. I’ve found Amazon’s prices competitive with other online art supply stores. However, prices for one of something are highly inflated. Buying a single colored pencil, or oil pastel stick, is very expensive.
Unfortunately, my experience purchasing drawing materials from Amazon is not good. My experience with three separate orders consisted of warped paper, mats with swished corners, and broken pastel sticks. These items were merely thrown into a box with little, if any, cushioning packing material. Other disgruntled artists wrote Amazon reviews describing similar experiences. Amazon simply does not pack art supplies to withstand the rigors of shipping.
Extra Tips When Buying Drawing Supplies
Check Brand Availability When Shopping In-Store
As an artist, you’re fortunate if you live near a brick and mortar art supply store. Most salespeople at these stores are knowledgeable about media and paper, so if you can’t decide what to buy, they’re there to help. And its lots of fun browsing through the aisles, trying out different kinds drawing media and feeling the texture of various types of drawing paper. The best part about having an art store nearby, is that when you need supplies, you get it right away.
Before purchasing drawing media, see what brands your local art supply store has in stock. The inventory of physical stores is far less than their online counterparts. If you like a particular brand of pencil, pastels or paper, and need it right away, it’s comforting to know that your local store has it.
For example, I love the vibrant colors of Cretacolor hard pastels. Although Blick sells individual Cretacolor sticks online, the brick and mortar Blick store near me does not. If I want to replace a Cretacolor pastel stick, I have to buy it online and pay for shipping, or invest in a different brand of pastel that’s found in my local store.
Find out which brands are accessible in your area before investing in a particular brand.
Check Shipping Costs When Shopping Online
Shipping costs vary from seller to seller. Also, the order amount that qualifies for free shipping is different for each store. Investigate the cost of shipping at a few stores before clicking the ‘place order’ button.
Be Familiar with Name Brands
When shopping for drawing materials, it’s worthwhile knowing the names of a few popular brands. These brands are used by both professionals, hobbyists, and students:
- Drawing Paper: Strathmore, Canson, Arches
- Graphite Pencils and Charcoal: Derwent, Generals, Staedtler
- Colored Pencils: Faber-Castell, Prismacolor
- Chalk and Oil Pastels: Sennelier, Rembrandt, Cretacolor, Schmincke, Holbein
Are Lesser Known Brand Drawing Materials Any Good?
Store brand and numerous lesser known brands proliferate in art supply stores. Are these materials any good? Yes and no. Each artist has a unique style and artistic goal. The performance standards for drawing media differ from artist to artist. Because store and lesser known brand drawing materials are cheaper than the name brands, it’s worth giving them a try. But make sure you also buy the name brand for comparison.
Are Name Brand Drawing Materials Always Superior?
Some art supply manufacturers have existed for decades, if not hundreds of years. Canson paper says their company was founded in 1557. Strathmore started a paper mill in 1892. Are name brand drawing materials superior to lesser known brands? Maybe. These long standing companies have a reputation to preserve, so it’s in their best interest to manufacture high quality materials. It’s up you, the artist, to decide.
The best advice for any artist, beginner or pro – purchase the highest quality materials you can afford.