The role of the art store for creative communities

Posted by Cass Art on 12th Aug 2020

Art shops are creative hubs and meeting places, galleries and community spaces. Art shops are places to learn new skills, discover materials or discuss ideas. They are communities within communities, places to find connections with like-minded creatives.

Many artists do not share studios with peers, so the creative process can be isolating – even before lockdown! Studios are corners of spare rooms, a desk at home or our bedrooms. So, a weekly or monthly visit to an art shop such as Cass Art is as much about creative conversations as it is topping up our materials. Stuck for ideas, or unsure about a new technique – a creative chat with a familiar face, in a familiar uniform, in a familiar setting can be the spark for that next masterpiece.

The Art Shop is sacred to the creative community, but they are beginning to become a rare addition to a high street. In 1975 there were 7000 art shops across the country, today there are only around 500 of these creative havens left. There are some still some around today from the mid 18th century for example Cornelisian (1855) and Cass Art formally Reeves 13 Charing Cross road WC2 (1898) located next to the national gallery – supplying artisans like Monet /Laurence of Arabia or Winston Churchill. The sad news is that in the current climate there’s a chance that number may drop further still. Back in March when the doors to retailers across the country closed Art shops were closing the door to so much more than just a place to make a quick purchase. Now as these community reopen and they return to support our creativity, it’s our turn as a community to come together and support them in return.

In a time where many of us are turning to the web to shop more than ever, even pre Covid-19, the physical Art Shop still remains vital to the creatives shopping experience. Cass Art stores, both high street and web work hand in hand with one another. Ecommerce offers breadth and convenience whereas the high street offers a unique creative experience. The physical Art Shop allows the artist to feel the weight of a paint tube, to run the brush hairs across the palm of your hand, or to truly scrutinise their next pigment selection. The experience of browsing within an Art Shop is a visceral and inspiring experience.

In times such as lockdown it becomes apparent that the role of art is more central to our lives, whether we realise it or not. One thing we can be grateful for is that it’s clear so many people have continued and in some cases rediscovered their creativity during lockdown. Through our social channels we’ve been thrilled to see how many people have a picked up a pencil or a paintbrush over the last six months and shared their artistic desires with the world. It's clear there is very little that can diminish our creative endeavours.

“One of the first places I visited when we were allowed back into shops was Cass in Hampstead. Online buying is great. We’ve all been doing much more of it this year. But there’s nothing quite like a luxuriant display of great paints, brushes and canvases right in front of you - the colour, the smells - to get the blood pumping for another long session in the studio. I left with a brightly coloured bag bulging with oil paint, very happy to be back in a shop in person.” – Broadcaster and Artist Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr speaking at his book launch 'A Short Book About Painting' at Cass Art Islington

"The whole process of going into an art shop is a great way to immerse yourself mentally into your painting, getting to know your painting before you begin is just as important. I always find going to an art shop inspires me to try new things." - Artist Ania Hobson

"It's great finally having art shops physically open again. Not only can you stop by and ask Cass Art's highly knowledgeable staff questions about their products, you can meet up and bond with other local artists. Enjoying art and it's creation is nothing without real life interactions." - Artist Henrik Uldalen

So pop down the road and step though the door of your creative menagerie, say hi to the teams and be inspired today!

The top floor of our Islington Flagship store

“Art Shops. Do you mean 'Sweet Shops'? Why wouldn’t I love a sweetie shop? Artist’s lollipops on every shelf, floor to ceiling, front to back..and if you’re lucky over a few floors too.. *lip smack. The sugar-addict-pull of delectable pigments, silky papers and meliflous mediums. Or should I say 'magic shop' straight out of Diagon Alley. Do you choose your ‘wand' or does your wand choose you??? I dare you, when perusing the shelves of mark-making-methods, not to be tempted to that unknown pot of potion. The inseparable 'me' child and professional artist go hand in hand through these isles, imagination wanders amongst the products, and we come away with more than just an insightful chat with fellow paint nerds and a bag full of 3D sugar spells …. That is the creative energy only the physical experience our art shops can give…And they’re open again! *collective sigh.” - Artist Emma Leone Palmer

Cass Art stores

Our Staff Artists are at the heart of what makes Cass Art special. They are artists, they know art and they know the materials they love. When you visit our staff in-store and ask for help they are there for unbiased advice – from one creative practitioner to another. (For those of our community that are still unable to visit us in person, our dedicated Customer Service team of artists are here to help)

Cass Art Staff Artist working on a new painting outside a store

Over the past few months, we have worked hard to translate the Cass Art store experience online. We’ve run digital workshops, shown numerous tutorials and artists at work. We’ve interviewed artists, both professional and students, about their practice, and played with interactive Instagram stories.

“In lockdown I didn’t really do anything creative. It was nice to have time to do things but when you aren’t surrounded by other creatives, it makes it harder. Now that everyone is out and creating, I feel so much more inspired so I’m here to pick up some supplies and try some new projects” Cass Art Kensington customer 

CBPP exhibition in our Cass Art Islington Flagship Store

“Coming back into store means I can use my senses – feel inspired by what I see in-store and the atmosphere. I get inspired from the staff and the energy they bring. Like to browse everything all in one place – you can’t browse the entire selection of stock easily online where as in a store you can see it all in one go. Seeing the colours of paints etc in real life versus the swatches on a computer screen is very different. Having instore demos of products. The personal service and 121 advice.”Cass Art Liverpool Customer  

Cass Art has a long-standing relationship with Pentagram, one of the world’s leading and award-winning design agencies. Over the years they have developed the graphic language of Cass Art, re-designed the store architecture to create light-filled and contemporary art spaces. Our bright, airy stores are the perfect place to browse for new materials and truly take in the colours around you. We want you to be in a comfortable environment that will let you take your time to chose the materials best for you and your creative practice.

As a group, our community embraced lockdown creativity. You offered each other advice, watched as you sat for remote Instagram portraits, and celebrated each other’s creativity. Our Online Degree Show, Blank Canvas and Frontline Workers campaigns were a testament to all of this.

Cass Art Glasgow

As we move forward into the new normal, we will continue to support our Cass Art community in their creativity. For those that are ready, and able to come back into store, we’re here help – just from a little distance. And for those that have to wait a little while longer, the Cass Art online community is here for you – whether on our website or social media.