The students who flock to L.A.’s big art schools—Otis, Art Center College of Design, CalArts—or to vibrant community programs at Barnsdall Art Park and Self-Help Graphics & Art don’t have any trouble scoring the paints, pencils, paper, and other goods they need for their projects. A broad palette of stores caters to professional artists as well as true beginners, and even to the crafter eager to break in. Prices are often tailored to the budgets of starving artists, many of whom also staff the shops.
Not every art supply store can say it’s played a role in moving pictures. Carter Sexton Artists Materials has been serving set designers from nearby studios since it opened in 1943. Along the way it began specializing in supplies for sculpting (dental implements sit among mold-making materials and oil-based clays) and airbrushing (tools are repaired and cleaned on-site, and a range of colors and parts is available). One room has been converted into a space for exhibitions and classes geared to kids and adults. » 5308 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-763-5050
Artist & Craftsman Supply may be new to Los Angeles (it opened in April), but the Portland, Maine-based chain is a longtime purveyor of high-quality materials for artists working in every medium, including less conventional ones like soapstone. With its sponge-painted walls and blue Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling, the outlet feels cozy, but its selection is comprehensive; paint lines like Old Holland and Sennelier, for example, are represented in their entirety. Deals are plentiful: An annual September-through-December canvas sale cuts prices by at least two-thirds, and on a recent visit we saw 100 percent cotton rag museum board at $6 a sheet (it usually retails for $15 to $25). » 1660 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., 310-274-8000
The two-year-old Urban Craft Center is housed in a work of art itself: the Frank Gehry-designed Edgemar complex. The wealth of supplies is tied to the center’s status as a hub for crafts, and we’re not talking macramé. Classes in resin jewelry, decoupage, and printmaking—many taught by local artists—show how to create the kinds of objects seen on Etsy.com; a free Club Etsy gathering once a month offers advice on how to sell handmade pieces through the popular Web site. While there are grown-up products like Echino, a fabric line from Japan that comes in a Dwell magazine-worthy array of patterns (with a $17- to $19-per-yard price tag to match), the buttons, beads, and googly eyes (only 10 cents each) in the shop’s giant antique letterpress cabinet are cheap, cheerful reminders of the childlike pleasures of DIY. » 2433 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-392-0139
For the past eight years neighborhood favorite Blue Rooster has attracted Eastside artists, thanks to its professional-grade yet affordable merchandise. Already discounted supplies are periodically slashed to clearance levels (during sales, canvas is up to 70 percent off). The shop focuses on painting, drawing, etching, and screen printing—it’s the only West Coast outlet for Blockx oil paints, the 145-year-old company whose ultrapure pigments were preferred by Salvador Dalí. At its studio in nearby Atwater Village, the shop holds classes such as “Comic Making 101,” taught by illustrator Kiyoshi Nakazawa, and elevates art projects by filling custom orders, from digital printing to framing. » 1718 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, 323-661-9471
The Valley institution Kit Kraft, established in 1946, has a reputation as a go-to source for hobbyists. Because of its assortment of out-of-the-ordinary items (metal chains, leather scraps, plastic toy parts), it also should be a required stop for mixed-media artists. The collection of vintage sequins and ribbons, most of them picked up at closeout sales, would have wowed Edith Head, while drawers of beads and jewelry findings could enliven any canvas or sculpture. The shop also stocks precious-metal clay, and its selection of parts for producing architectural models is more impressive than that at the SCI-Arc Supply Store downtown. » 12109 Ventura Pl., Studio City, 818-509-9739
Organized chaos reigns at Zinnia, which focuses on found materials for collage, decoupage, fiber art, and assemblage artists. Piled on a large wooden table running the length of the shop are buckets and bins of ephemera culled from garage sales, flea markets, and eBay: flashbulb cubes, china doll heads, old playing cards, black-and-white photos, dice, chopsticks, and more. Customers put their haul in dented muffin tins, then move to the fabric section, which is just as eclectic; we’re partial to the oversize pipe cleaners and one-of-a-kind remnants of felt made from thrift-store sweaters. Classes held in the back offer creative ways to use purchases, and an annexed gallery mounts juried exhibitions that showcase pieces by artist-instructors like Paul Murray, whose tin dolls are studies in weird whimsy. » 1024 Mission St., South Pasadena, 626-441-2181