Best Of :: Shopping & Services
If you've spent substantial time in downtown Phoenix, you've at least heard of Michael Little. At this point, the sometimes homeless, self-taught painter and musician is a legend among folks who live, work, or play in the Roosevelt Row arts district.
Little hasn't had a day job in over 10 years. He lives off art sales and trades and was even spotted panhandling for beer money once.
His vibrant, energetic paintings of pretty ladies, imaginative dreamscapes, astronauts, fish, pianos, and bunny people have become a staple of downtown's visual landscape. He recently gained national attention for his autobiographical documentary, which was screened in 2007 at New York's Museum of Modern Art and was featured on the PBS series ReelNative, a show that focuses on Native Americans in Arizona. He jumps in for live music performances at Conspire from time to time, playing the saw. He's made a name for himself, relying on his Renaissance-man-like talents to survive.
Our favorite Little scheme is his latest: walking billboard. Make that drifting billboard. If you've happened to walk, drive, or bike along Roosevelt recently, you might've seen Little on his wind sail-powered skateboard. The sail features painted advertisements for neighborhood coffeehouse Conspire and the gRow house gallery — both establishments are venues for his art.
Little lives that dream we all have from time to time. You know, the one where we quit our day jobs, give up our mortgages, and live off the fat of the land? And while none of us may have the cojones to go off the grid, we're grateful Phoenix has a guy like Little through whom we can live vicariously.
Now that Phoenix has "made it," we're all searching for the little things to help round out our city's Mid-Century Modern aesthetic. And See Saw is here to deliver. Run by six young and talented designers and boasting two massive old-school letterpresses, See Saw is more than an Urban Outfitters-style paper factory. Its cards and calendars capture a clean, minimalist design that stands out in a very powerful but understated way. And it's a heavy hitter, to boot. Boasting a client list that includes the much missed Palatte restaurant and Mayor Phil Gordon, these designers are quickly establishing themselves as the people to go to in Phoenix for hip and unique cards, invitations, or branding. Their blog is pretty cool, too.
So you've run out of gouache and if you don't get some fast, your artistic muse will leave you. No worries. Head to Ash Avenue in Tempe and talk to the good people at Wet Paint. Whether you're in need of blue Prismacolor pencils to lay down the sketches for your next Web comic or bamboo brushes to practice Japanese calligraphy, you'll find Wet Paint well stocked. Also check out the posters and fliers near the store's entrance for events around town targeting art enthusiasts. As for that muse, it comes and goes, but maybe a few peeks at the art mags on display at Wet Paint will give you a jolt of inspiration.
Painters have it easy when it comes to sourcing materials. Paints and canvases are available at art shops, craft stores, even Wal-Mart. On the other hand, if you specialize in "found object" or recycled art, you'll likely be stuck scouring back alleys and diving through smelly dumpsters, unless you're in the know about The Town Dump, a funky backwoods store hidden in Cave Creek. The dilapidated red shack is chock-full of treasures, from cowhides and bear pelts to printed textiles, antique hardware, and vintage tin ceiling tiles. Need an authentic lasso for a Wild West-themed project? Castoff rebar bits or iron scrollwork for welding? A 7-foot-tall wooden cross for your giant Piss Christ knockoff? Yeah, it's all here. Grab some funky estate sale castoff and display it in a gallery, à la Marcel Duchamp's Fountain — just don't expect us to buy it (literally or figuratively) as fine art.
For those who lust after art and craft supplies, there is only one place you need to visit to completely load up. Sorry, but it ain't fancy. The good news, though, is that there's likely one in your neighborhood. Dollar Tree dollar stores (and we're not talking about just any dollar store; it's gotta be a Dollar Tree) are the absolute best for basic art supplies. They have paint, markers, poof balls, and stickers as well as pads of paper, rulers, scissors, tissue paper, crayons — you get the idea. And it's all dirt-cheap. If you have an art studio or just a kitchen table, run out and stock up so you're ready when the creative spirit strikes you next.
Ready yourself for Project Runway status by learning how to sew at this cute-as-a-button shop in Phoenix. Bernina Connection offers "bring your own project" open sessions on nights and weekends; just bring snacks to share and come ready to giggle with the local gals. Don't worry about the fact that you can't find a Jo-Ann Fabric in central Phoenix to save your life — Bernina sells all the fabric and notions you'll need. Classes for all skill levels are offered, so get on down there and sew yourself a vintage apron or a recycled T-shirt quilt.
Ready to bust out on a DIY project using some vintage or vintage-looking fabric? If you haven't been to Tempe Sales, get yourself over there. The store carries everything you need for your upholstery projects and then some — not only fabric, but also vinyl and leather in every groovy shade. They even have feathers, trims, and pompoms on string. New material arrives weekly (who knows where they find this stuff?) and here's the best part: fabric bolts at $1 and $3 a yard; just head to the back room to find them. Now you have no more excuses: Get out there and get your DIY on!
We love that arts and crafts are in vogue, and we're always looking for fresh ways to get our maker fix. If you or a crafty friend want your pupils to dilate, just stop by the enormous Beads Galore brick-and-mortar store. Sure, its online shop probably has what you need with a click of a mouse, but a Web-based purchase won't ever match the satisfaction of running your fingers through a zillion beads. Started in 1986 by Norman Lawitz, Beads Galore is now shepherded by his son Bernie. His passion for beads and everything you need to make jewelry also emanates from the helpful staff there. Bead material ranges from the simple (plastic and glass) to the exotic (Swarovski crystal and bone), so you can keep your jewelry real or make it as eye-poppingly gaudy as you wanna be.
As one Crop Girls customer pointed out on our most recent visit, scrapbooking is the one crafty hobby that people seem to stick to — as evidenced by the fact the store is always packed. We'll travel clear across the Valley to go to Crop Girls, which has the best selection of vintage paper and stickers in town, and to pick the brains of partners Crista, Donna, Christina, and Pamela, who are always in the know about the latest scrapbooking convention.
Outside, the shop's an ugly beige mess; inside, it's a haven of pretty lime-green walls, crafting stations, and rows and rows of paper, stamps, stickers, and scrapbooking kits neatly organized and labeled. We've recently scored clear stamps for making wedding invitations, baby-themed paper in star shapes, Distress Ink, and our favorite find — Jen Wilson's "The Ride" paper, which has cool scalloped edges in vintage-y orange and a pattern of old station wagons to match. The Crop Girls offer classes several times a week, so you'll know how to use those supplies, and there's also a unique selection of Aussie scrapbooking mags that Crista — whose accent indicates she's a native — swears by for ideas.
It's 10 p.m. on a Saturday and your crafty self is stuck home with nothing to do. You've already thumbed through the latest Martha Stewart Living. Twice. You watched reruns of HGTV's The Carol Duvall Show until you wanted to hot-glue your eyes shut. Yeah, we've been there. Thankfully, there's The Craft Retreat, an adorable little scrapbooking and pottery-painting shop in Glendale that hosts late-night "Crop Till You Drop" and "Paint Till You Faint" sessions, from 6 p.m. to midnight several times a month. For less than $20, you can score dinner (usually pizza or sandwiches), a drink, and, most importantly, some instant crafting BFFs. You'll have to bring your own supplies, or you can purchase unpainted stoneware or trendy paper, decals and photo corners from Craft Retreat's stock at 10 percent off. But considering the alternative could involve using your craft punch to cut a heart-shaped chunk in your hair out of sheer boredom, we think it's so worth it.
Ever been "finger-wagged" by one of those serious-as-cancer security guards at the Phoenix Art Museum? You know, you sneak in for a closer look at one of the paintings, and the guard is in your face, index finger zipping back and forth like a windshield wiper? Hey, it's their job; we get it. It's just a bit Big Bro for our taste.
Our taste, in fact, runs more to the intimate and the hands-on, and that's why we love this gallery-slash-emporium, founded in 2007 by Jane Reddin, a retired partner at the law firm of Lewis and Roca. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, Reddin carries only handcrafted goods by artists and artisans fed up with shoddy, mass-produced wares.
But don't expect Grandma Moses crap. In addition to generally excellent visual art, you'll find touchable treasures such as kitchenware, furniture, clothing, jewelry, garden goods, door stops, fused-glass business-card holders, blown-glass beer mugs, hand-bound photo books, handmade soaps, organic-cotton baby blankets, vases, rugs, sake sets, mosaic-tile mirrors, and night lights.
About the only thing you won't find is a finger-wagging sentry.
Kraig Foote had a brilliant idea. He invited students to sell their art at a gallery on high-end Marshall Way in Scottsdale. The students get a start, the customers get a bargain. Genius, right? We think so, and obviously so does the market — Foote has teetered, for sure, but he hasn't fallen, as so many of his fellow Marshall Way-ers have in the past year. We wish him and his artists the best of luck moving forward.