Wet Paint

Artists' Materials & Framing in St. Paul, MN

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Status of the Store – Monday 5/18

WPfallsunshineWe decided early on in this pandemic that our first priority is to protect our staff and customers as best we can.  Even though we received a “Critical Sector” exemption from the Office of the Governor, we opted to close completely for two weeks.  And when we have been open, we’ve only done “contactless” business…curbside pickup, shipping and delivery.  Well, now the Governor of Minnesota has allowed the “lockdown” order to expire after many weeks and a couple of extensions, and retail stores now have the option to bring in their employees and customers while following safety guidelines. What will this mean for Wet Paint?

Darin and I have discussed this with other stores locally and with our friends at art stores around the country. That’s been very enlightening, as each state moves through this at a different rate and every store is different. Uniformly, though, we are agreed that the nature of this pandemic hasn’t changed. While our hospitals are better prepared for more cases than they were in early April there is still a real and significant risk from this disease to our community and our staff. If infection rates change we might be back into a restricted status at some point, potentially in cycles, for quite a while. We expect that a large number of our customers will still prefer to shop with us without the additional risk of coming into the store so we will need to continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery. We are operating with a reduced staff and have altered many of our processes to make our current system as efficient as possible. Opening our front door to meter in a few people at a time to browse would require additional resources that we frankly don’t have to keep everyone protected…and the shopping experience would be pretty crappy, since we’ve reconfigured everything to make curbside pickup and delivery work well.

So, we will continue to do our very best to provide great service and products via our contactless methods, and will absolutely innovate everywhere that we can to make that better.  But until something significant changes in the way this virus behaves, or can be treated or prevented, we will continue doing business as we have been doing. Thanks for your support and thanks for keeping art in your life.

Be well and stay safe!


Wanna shop with us? Check out our protocols for contactless shopping with us during the pandemic.

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Green is our favorite color

loveearthWithout a lot of fanfare, many of the small companies that manufacture and distribute art supplies have been going green. I was just reading that very few industries overall are welcoming recent rollbacks of our US environmental protections.  Major companies see no need to turn this train because it serves their customers and shareholders to keep their promise to be more efficient and reduce their long term impact.  It seems that most companies do care about the long term effects of their methods and, more importantly, find that green tech is good for the bottom line. Maybe a few are cynically labelling themselves “eco-friendly” to get into the pocket of the SRCs (Socially Responsible Consumers) but those customers are not just the stereotypical college professors and yuppies.

Most importantly, in my opinion, we learn that plenty of companies that are new or expanding make a business decision for their facility that has more to do with their operations than their marketing department.  We figured that this week we’d call out a few cool things that we’ve noticed happening in our niche of the economy beyond strategically investing in LED replacement bulbs.

  • MABEF has been producing fine painting supports in Italy since 1948.  Their “French Easels” are iconic gear for the outdoor and portable painter . It turns out that MABEF uses only Forest Stewardship Council certified beechwood in their products, meaning the wood has come from a forest and supply chain that is managed responsibly.  Even the scraps and saw dust from the manufacturing process are converted to wood pellets that heat the MABEF factory and offices.
  • Artograph makes light tables and projectors and has been bringing their production of some of these products back onshore to the US (in nearby Delano, MN) which reduces the fuel used in shipping and transport.
  • Stabilo (Markers, Pencils, and Pens) added an environmental officer in the early 90s and pays very close attention to where their products come from and where they end up after the artist is done with them. I like their FAQ.
  • Gamblin Artist Oils has a page that wisely talks about the safety of the artist in the same breath with the safety of the environment. Their Gamsol product is designed with both in mind and every oil painter should be familiar with these safe studio practices.  They are like a lot of other manufacturers that also power with wind and are sharply on top of their waste management.
  • DaVinci Brushes relocated their new factory in 2006 to cut the commute of their staff and keep them close to public transport. The facility is green and happy employees are good for business!

Making paper consumes a lot of water in the growing of the pulp plants and in the papermaking process.  The manufacturing process can contaminate waste water with bleaches and other chemicals. Also, the product is just plain heavy to ship, which drinks a lot of fuel.  All of our manufacturers are addressing these issues. Here are some good examples of where their care with our resources makes good business sense:

  • Clairefontaine (Rhodia) makes some of our most popular softcover note/sketchbooks. Like more than a few other companies they use only pulp from managed forests.
  • We have several companies that use renewable plants for their stock, like the Lokta papers we were featuring this week and papers made with hemp or kenaf fiber.
  • Strathmore, Bee and others mills routinely now use 20-30% PCW (Post Consumer Waste) in their sketch paper. That’s a big deal as 20 years ago “recycled” was usually pre-consumer, meaning that a company was just re-pulping waste material and overstock found in their facility. Now they buy from companies like our local Rock-Ten and keep my shredded credit card offers out of the landfill.


Some of this corporate responsibility is visible on the packages, but not all of it is shouty big green “ECO-Friendly Organic Paintbrush” stickers with treefrogs and leaves on the labels. I went looking and found these everywhere, not just in the brands mentioned here.  I encourage you to grab the pads on our shelves and read the inner or back covers to learn more about each pad’s sources. It’s there and I’m impressed.  If you don’t see it on the packages, hit the manufacturers’ websites or ask us and we’ll have a chat with our vendors.  It’s not all of them, but I have been really lifted up to discover that this has been threaded so thoroughly throughout our business over that last couple of decades that it is now just a fact of how we do business and I cannot expect any of this is going to be dropped in the next few years.

Absent the protection of law, the good news from 2017 is that few companies would turn their back on the consumers who want them to be responsible and only a poor quality business would think they could survive in the long term by being purposefully neglectful of their natural resources.

Heavy. Maybe next week we’ll investigate the practices of craft breweries and distilleries that compost and send their spent mash to farms for cattle feed.


I can’t read my own handwriting!

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Fifteen years ago I was in a corporate tech job and one day I didn’t have a pen. I hadn’t misplaced my pen. I simply had no pen at my desk and likely hadn’t written anything down for days. I didn’t need to. It was a tech job and everything went directly into the system. It was the early 2000s and, thanks to debit cards, I wasn’t even writing checks all that often.

Soon after that I got a promotion, certainly due to my amazing efficiency and technical prowess, and I needed to write again in two common and important situations. I had to write on whiteboards for presentations and I had to act like I was taking notes in stupid, boring meetings while someone else got to huff the marker aroma. I enjoyed the challenge of writing legibly with a dry-erase marker backwards over my shoulder while talking. However, rolling a fat, heavy, corporate logo-ed pen with a crappy OEM rollerball cartridge across a legal pad to stay awake while someone reads each word from their own PowerPoint slides happened far more often and it took a terrible toll on my penmanship.

Now I am back to a world where I write more than “trouble tickets” and email. My degraded handwriting needs to be addressed. Slowing down helps and I’ll be practicing more thoughtful lettering. But I work at the pen store and I know that picking the right device is half the battle. No more “award-quality” swag pens.

milanRight now my go-to is the Milan P-1 Gel Touch pen. I keep one at the ready on my keyboard and it is the one I use for signing checks. The “dry” roller has the right amount of drag and the line is bold but not too thick. It reduces lift-offs and accidental ligatures when I print and keeps my cursive from looking like I’m jotting down my EKG. In the grip department I like the rubberized coating and uniform hex body. Style-wise it strikes me like the Ford Taurus in RoboCop: High utility, clean lines, and durable.

As an autonomic pen-clicker I give the button action a 9. The P-1 provides satisfying resistance and return that won’t sprain your thumb with a quiet, but audible, “POP!”

Milan also makes a 4″ Mini version and we can barely keep those in stock. It’s the ultimate tactical pen.  It’s also less than a dollar. We are stocked up right now though, and during our “Make Your Mark” sale all pens (and pencils) are 15% off!


three pens

It’s really quite Swiss.

Over in the pen case we have three more click pens that range from a step up in quality to a fun fine writing instrument.

The Horizon Otho is stellar. The ultra fine rollerball is fantastically tight.

The Infinite BP is a heavier basic ballpoint pen with smooth, soft action that might not soothe the nervous clicker but would certainly help everyone around him.

The Caran d’Ache 849, which packs a smooth Tungsten Carbide ball point, is a modern design classic that is just heavy enough in the hand without being large or ponderous. At about 40 bucks it might find a permanent home as your purse or pocket jotter but with the look and the colors available you could get several and call them fashion accessories.

If you aren’t a clicker you might like the Pigma Micron PN. It’s the same permanent, lightfast, and waterproof ink as the precise point fiber tip pens in the same barrel and cap but the tip is a durable plastic nib (PN=Plastic Nib!). It’s designed for the jobs that would wreck a nice fiber tip, like signing checks at Zantigo to pay for a sack of delicious Chilitos but still wanting something decent for drawing after lunch. We have found that the one-size nib allows for some variation in the line. You’ll get fine with light pressure and bold with a little more.


I won’t sign my name in red.


The right writing materials make a difference whether they are your go-to disposable or your soul mate of a fountain pen.  Come in and check out the pen rack or step over to our fine writing counter to try them and find the pen that helps you communicate more clearly. 15% off helps and the Make Your Mark Sale runs through the end of the month.

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Darin and Scott went to beautiful Utah, barely went outside and it was well worth it.

Darin and I went to the big art supply show this week in Salt Lake City. It’s been nineteen years since the last time I went to a NAMTA show and I’m still reeling. It’s a gas seeing all the people behind these products and meeting up with other store owners to catch up, talk shop, and see if anyone has found the next adult coloring book trend or the new Bob Ross.

If you have been following us on Instagram or Facebook you may have seen a few sneak previews of stuff we found for the store like the Black Black drawing pads, the Viarco vintage pencils (cooler than cool), and some new Daniel Smith oil colors. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know when these and more (including some TOP SECRET ITEMS) hit St Paul and our online store.

During the opening presentation I was pleased to see that the NAMTA organization and the University of Delaware are continuing the work of the late Mark Gottsegen with the Materials Information and Technical Resources for Artists  (MITRA) website. I had to take a break from reading the forums there to get this blog post done. Let us know if you also find something interesting there.

logoI was also impressed that the group is advancing their Art Matters! campaign for arts advocacy. You should expect to see some of the Art Facts in our store and posts. I ordered up some Art Matters! shirts for the staff as well.

I was excited to spend a few minutes that evening with Robert Gamblin, who mentioned gamblinWet Paint during his acceptance of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award (Congratulations, Robert!). The next day we caught him in the Gamblin Artist Colors booth and Darin had brought along a detailed customer question about mixing satin and matte finishes and applying varnish. Robert’s general advice for application of Gamvar is to always work in thin layers by applying a liberal amount and then using a varnish brush to pull off the excess until only a film remains for each coat.

Out on the floor we had our running shoes on and covered a lot of ground in four days.

We picked up some French-made journals with Coptic bindings and modern art covers from our friend Greg Daniels when we were in his booth talking about DaVinci watercolor brushes. (Tip of the cap to Phillip Forstall for helping with the term “Coptic binding!” ) These books look great and feel like they are delivered by time machine from 1959. I can hear jazz playing when I open them.

Karin Harding from Michael Harding Artists Oil Colors turned the tables when we got to her booth and interviewed us for a bit. She wanted to get more info about the artists that are so dedicated to using their incredibly rich handmade oils.

In the Yasutomo booth we checked out some new brushes and origami papers. One lovely item mystified us. We ended up eating it.butter2

Maureen Labro and I chatted after the President’s reception while we were stranded at the Utah Museum of Natural History one evening waiting for the shuttle bus to get towed through the snow (4 inches can stop a bus? Maybe in Utah. Not in Minnesota!). In her booth the next day we looked at printmaking and drawing papers from Fabriano and Awagami. Check out the fun they were having in that booth!  We couldn’t leave without placing an order for a display of adorable yet incredibly well-featured travel brushes and a matching bamboo wrap. Great attention to detail on these. The wash brush has a functional scraper end.  All of our whiskey/pocket watercolor painters will have these on their get list.lil brush


Two audiences that are getting more attention from manufacturers this year are Plein Air painters and Bullet Journalists.

Portability and ease for the outdoor painter is number one yet the Plein Air artists also remind us they are part of a tradition of style and materials. Both efficient modern design and beautiful heritage tools and paints are well represented in some new/old products we’ll be featuring soon. More than one oil manufacturer is working on smaller tubes for you and I’m so thrilled I’m already working to rearrange the aisles to make a little more room for them.

OK, BuJo’s (aka “Bullet Journal aficionados”) we hear you. More journals with dot grids and numbered pages are arriving daily! We also got a sneak peek at a beautiful highlighter line suggested by a local journaler that has watercolor-like tones and even comes in grey! We have to wait for them to get to the US then we will get them in ASAP!

  • HOT TIP Plein Air and Bullet Journaling artists! If you are interested let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to give you a head-ups email as the new stuff hits our receiving room.

 Darin wrote up about five pages of notes from the show. Watch this space and follow us on social media for more of the finds and discoveries we brought back from our trip to SLC.

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Minding our beeswax

I got a text last night after the store closed. It got me thinking about a couple of trends we’ve noticed that have something in common.


Tell Alex we have wax coming out of our ears. (but we mainly sell the stuff from bees and plants)

Wax is amazing smooth sticky stuff. We carry it for scads of uses and on the main it’s pretty much all the same bee and soy waxes in different formats (power, blocks, granules). It is a removable resist for water based techniques (fiber, batik, watercolor).It’s a mixable medium and finish for oil based media. On its own you can make sculptures out of wax for 3D sketching and for castings (lost wax technique).  It’s also in all the colored pencils in some quantity.


Hey Paige, there was a bunch of bees in here a little while ago asking for you.


Wax is a traditional matting and stiffening agent for oil paints and finishes.

Oil painters use wax mediums like these in the paint to get a stiffer texture for brush and knife strokes and in some mixtures the result  can be burnished to a satin luster. They are available ready to use or can be prepared with basic materials and a good recipe. There is a wealth of information on cold wax technique here.  As a finishing touch wax and wax mixed with varnish are often applied to a completed painting for a similar result. Note that the wax finishes will take much longer to cure and will never be as hard, but are easily removed for cleaning. Encaustics are a kind of paint made of wax enjoying a revival ove rthe last couple of years. We wrote about them a little while ago. I think the resurgence comes with the trend of having electricity available in artists studios and also the greater availability of proper surfaces like Ampersand cradled boards.  The colors have to be used hot and most painters can now have a hot plate on their table for heating the color palette or the panel itself to keep it workable. There’s a hot wax aroma in an encaustic studio which some people dig but ventilation is suggested. Boards are the most popular surface for encaustic painting, it doesn’t bend and flex as well as oils. These paintings have a harder finish than the oil mediums and can also be burnished to a beautiful warm patina with amazing depth of color.

We have little cakes of fine beeswax and kistka (the needle used to draw the design on the eggs) on order right now for one of our most popular free demo event, Ukrainian Egg Decorating. Everyone says this particular wax smells wonderful!  We are also getting a few dozen goose and chicken eggs from a local farmer friend that will be already blown out for ornaments and display!


We have a wonderful sample egg in our display case! Ask to see it!

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Add (some) Color to Daily Drawing Practice

Chris, on our staff, told me about his project last year to do one sketch a day. At first I thought, “Heck, how hard is that?” Then I tried it. After letting a couple of days get away the coin dropped and I recognized that it’s a very tough challenge. Like New Year’s resolutions to work out every day, to improve your bass guitar playing, to run three times a week, or to learn French with an app on your phone, this is about setting aside minutes every day for practice. Daily practice gets you ready for the race. One-a-day sketches will not be not 365 masterpieces. Like playing musical scales or making time for a walk or a run, hitting the minutes is the goal. The first week or so you may just be doing a few minutes each day before you are fatigued but you get stronger. The trick is trying for one more minute the next day and then more after that.

My goal is to get in 25-30 minutes of drawing practice each day and thanks to the realization that this is training, not the race, I’m finally doing it.

Here’s how I got a good start; toned paper. One of our regular customers came in to pick up a new pocket sketchbook and was showing me his cartoons and caricatures. He draws people he sees outside and in the skyways in his grey-tinted book and uses a white chalk or marker to punch things up. Then a couple of days later I saw a documentary on the Civil War that used illustrations with black and sepia conte on kraft-color brown paper with a yellow ochre rubbed into the backgrounds to pop them out. It was simple and looked good. So I got a kraft color Stonehenge pad-a small-ish one, since I was working with pencils.  To my regular assortment of regular pencils I added a white Pitt marker and made some fun little drawings. I’d do a sketch of random shapes or copy part of a picture from the newspaper and then fill the background with the white Pitt pen. The pop-out effect is like magic!  A couple of days later I added a 30% grey Prismacolor colored pencil, then a cream Conte crayon, then a silver Gelly Roll ball pen. After using white in the backgrounds I started adding dots of white in textures then highlights. (I really like the Signo white pen for those.) Also check out the amazing sketches of Don Colley for more inspiration.

The sketch pad is on the kitchen counter and it is filling up because I am picking it up and doing my drawings every day.

The other thing I realized is that even though I started after to first of the year I’m not behind schedule. A year from when I started will be January  16th. If you see me in the store ask me how it’s going and let me know how your year of sketches is coming along.

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The Secret to Fantastic Drawing: Use More Paper

As a kid my mom would make sure my sister and I always had plenty of paper for drawing. She was a teacher so there was always a box of extra mimeographed worksheets to scribble on the backs of and, for a while, a carton of green-striped tractor-feed paper from the school office. We went through all of it. One birthday though, I received a pad of real drawing paper from the art supply store. I decided that it would be for special drawings so I set it aside until I was certain that I’d be doing a fantastic drawing.

Visiting my folks at home last fall I found that pad in a box and it is still blank.  As a kid I wasn’t confident that I’d be creating a masterpiece piece so I stuck to scrap office paper.

Since then I’ve stopped using the backs of German 101 vocab quizzes as sketch paper because I’ve learned that you shouldn’t wait to use good paper. Using better paper makes the drawing work out better. Now I get thick spiral pads with decent, toothy paper and I immediately do something fast, messy, and scribbly on the first few pages so that theres no hesitation about picking it up and adding to it and filling it up. Decent paper and not hesitating to use it is what generates fantastic drawings.

8080960Since I’ve gotten back into the store my new favorite is the 9×12 Bee 808 pad. It’s a sincere-looking, rugged, spiral-bound with 60 thick pages and a heavy board for a back cover.  And Bee makes it in the U.S., which is cool. I like the warm white color of the paper and medium surface. Spiral pads lay flat, which I prefer. It handles fine-point pens, soft pencil, and pastel nicely. It says it’s for multi-media so I’m going to get some ink and watercolor shading going soon.  My kids are each getting one with a promise to replace every full book with a fresh one.

Now thru February 10th, 2017 all pads and journals are 20% off at Wet Paint!