Best Art Supplies 2008 | Arizona Art Supply | Shopping & Services | Phoenix

Oh, sure. You can get paintbrushes at any art supply store. But how about airbrushes? Or grease pencils imported from Latvia? Or one of those clever, little wooden guys with all the movable joints?

There are art-supply stores, and then there's Arizona Art Supply, where the help treats you like a favorite houseguest and you can buy stuff you didn't know existed, like a handmade pine easel that collapses into a tiny box for easy transport. We wanted to make a lampshade but didn't know where to start, so we headed over to Arizona Art Supply and, after conferring with the friendly staff, came away with handmade paper from London, a pair of pinking shears, and a lot of suggestions about where to start. We also couldn't resist a calligraphy set, a sale-priced packet of oil paints, and a canvas. We know that once we're ready to tackle the art world — or the vagaries of hand-lettering — all we need do is drop back by our favorite art-supply house for a little friendly instruction.

Graffiti artists of the Valley, we feel your pain, yo. Sucka politicians are constantly trying to put the smackdown on your creative efforts with their anti-graffiti programs and by handing out some pretty wack penalties if you're caught doing your thing (including up to $150,000 in fines and more than three years in the clink). Luckily, the hustlas behind Just Blazed are on your side, as their McDowell Road shop is a hyped-up haven for taggers such as yourself. They've got glass display cases filled with more than 300 different colors of spray paint, including such brands as Belton Molotow and Montana, as well as a hundred different kinds of permanent paint pens available. The owners will also let you test out your designs on the cinder-block fence of the joint's courtyard or on the walls of several closet-size booths, far from the prying eyes of John Q. Law. If you need some additional inspiration, they also sell CDs from local hip-hop artists like MC Bener One and Willy Northpole.

If you're talking about photos, not pants, when you say "cropping" and you've got more punches than Muhammad Ali, you'll be in your element at Scrapbooks, Etc. The store offers a huge selection of lignin-free archival papers printed with everything from teddy bears to wizards to footballs. There's a die-cut lab for punching cute shapes, a wall of ribbons, and dozens of accessory racks on which you can find the daisy-shaped silver brads you need to complete little Suzie's baby album. Customers get 20 percent off on their birthday and a coupon for 10 percent off after every $100 in purchases. Scrapbooks Etc. also hosts some kooky classes we adore, like coffee-filter bookmaking and a beginner's luck class that's the perfect place to meet another soccer mom and become BSFs — best scrapbooking friends — forever.

Oh, we love The Paper Studio. We love The Paper Studio so much that we're genuinely afraid to go inside — with our wallet in tow, at least. It's hard to browse with so much temptation — from handcrafted paper to scrapbook supplies to stamps and pre-made cards and glitter and, oh, we could write a book about the great stuff here. And with the helpful tutelage of the artist/owners and classes offered on site, we literally could make one.

Beads Galore is the REI of Valley bead shops, which is fitting, because it's just around the corner from the outdoor mega-store's East Valley outpost. BG is stocked wall to wall with everything a beader (beginning or advanced) could want, from basic supplies like wire and clasps to pearls in every color of the rainbow. A small selection of semi-precious gems may tempt you, but your dollar will go further in the bins of Czech glass beads, where you can feel free to dig for just exactly the right color, shape and size. Or grab strands of everything from crystals to trade beads to polymer clay. Your only limit is your own imagination.

"Diane" is like the crazy love child of Michael and JoAnn, a place where you can find much of the crafting gear available at those bland chain stores, but where you can also find an entire aisle devoted to old plastic doll parts, equal in size to the ribbon department. There's no rhyme or reason, and that's why we love this dark, sort-of-scary warehouse, so far off the beaten path that these folks don't know the meaning of the term mega-mall. But there's nothing small about Diane Ribbon, except the parking lot, so be glad this place is still a buried treasure. Get over there, though, because rumors abound that someday, the chains will put poor Diane under.

We try to feel only the love in Best of Phoenix, but we've got to stop and grouse for just a moment. Though we have a vibrant art scene, certain financial realities dictate that galleries don't, for the most part, keep regular hours — at least, not the downtown spots with the funky work we want to buy. Miss first and third Fridays, and you might be S.O.L., wanna-be art buyer.

That's just one reason we love, a national site featuring scores of independent salespeople — including the Valley's own Jason Hill, a fantastic printmaker whose iconic Phoenix images have graced the cover of New Times on occasion. Hill had a show recently — up for just one night — and we e-mailed him, lamenting the fact that we already had plans.

Hill graciously pointed us to his etsy shop, and now we can shop his stuff to our hearts' content, 24/7. Now if we could just decide between the "I Heart Urban Sprawl" T-shirt and the Arizona Biltmore print. Or maybe the Bikini Lounge one.

And we wonder who else among our favorite local artists we'll find on etsy. This could get expensive. But worth it!

First, we wanted the multicolored writing desk with the crossbow legs. Then we had to have the bright reddish-orange workbench, to use as a coffee table. Finally, we couldn't last another minute without the black-and-white-spotted legless side chair (we wanted to put it next to our bed as a nightstand). We knew we didn't have room for all this gorgeous stuff in our house, so we started fantasizing about moving into a new house and having it decorated and painted entirely by Joe Willie Smith, and at this point we realized we were freaking out, so we just bought the legless chair and fled. But this sort of extreme reaction is pretty much how we — and anyone with a deep fondness for cool furnishings — tend to respond to the work of local artist Smith, whose fun, funky furniture can be found at Lizabel's Treasures on 16th Street.

Smith is a multimedia artist who works mostly with found objects, which he turns into well-regarded artwork that has been exhibited at eye lounge and at Bentley Galleries, among other local arty hotspots. At Lizabel's, though, Smith's art is as much about function as form: witness the low, gorgeous, rough-hewn chest he's painted a warm blue (if it were ours, we'd top it with glass and use it as an end table) and the multi-hued writing desk that would look great in our entry hall . . . Oops! There we go again, obsessing about Smith's fabulous furniture. You can, too.

Everyone knows that the last thing you're supposed to do before you leave the house is stop, look in the mirror, and remove one accessory. It's the key to elegance, as far as we're concerned. (Not to mention avoiding looking like a clown.) But when it comes to the home, we ditch the theory in favor of what we fondly refer to as "cluttered chaos." Family photos, tchotchkes, light fixtures, candles, pillows — bring it on. More to dust, but more to love, and we love showing off our personal style in our personal space. That's why we were awed during a recent trip to Embellish Home. We wanted it all: the delicate bedside lamp with the pink chandelier accents, the funky Mediterranean-esque lantern, the cabinet full of scented candles. Hey, give us the cabinet, too! If you can't choose, Embellish offers interior design services, including a clever, reasonably priced consultation package where the designer helps you work with what you've got. But after a visit to Embellish, you just won't be able to resist adding a few more touches to your home.

The best high-end antique shop in the Valley is in the center of the city, on the northeast corner of Central and Camelback. Victorian writing tables, cherry wood waterfall bureaus, and Deco dining suites share space with Eames chairs and Mondrian prints — every era of fine furniture is represented here, and shares space with a wide variety of smaller pieces, like the vintage shaving kit we bought for $22, or the '30s ceramic planter shaped like Shirley Temple for a little less than 50 bones. Bargain shoppers will be happy with the many great deals to be had on glassware, dishes, and religious arcana, too — and be sure to tell your friend the vintage Christmas ornament collector about the shocking display of really old bulbs and blown-glass bits on sale at this, our new favorite antiques mall.

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