I visit every art supply store I come across in my adventures. You never know when you will find a gem. New England may have the largest number of suppliers per capita in the world. This region is gorgeous, and has a long history of attracting painters. Because of that, and the high concentration of colleges and universities, there are many little art shops in out of the way towns and villages.
Here is my list of the top five you should visit. My criteria is based on selection, helpful friendly staff, and price. When I mention a chain, I am referring to a specific location. In the world of art supplies, a lot can depend on the local manager. I’ve found the stores close to art schools tend to be less helpful, and carry items more in tune to course requirements. These stores are also more expensive on the whole (except in end of season clearance sales).
Artist and Craftsman North Boston This is my favorite store in the region. Artist and Craftsman supply is an excellent company and all the stores are very good. The Saugus location is brightly lit, has a larger inventory than the Cambridge store, and has the most helpful staff of any art supply store in my experience. I have bought a lot of paper, three 8 foot canvases, hundreds of dollars in Paintstiks, and lots of random ephemera here. If they don’t have it, they will get it for you, and usually at a discount. The hotlink takes you to the company website. If you are visiting Boston, take the trip up route 1.
Jerry’s Artarama of Connecticut Whenever I am in the Hartford area, I find a way to get to Jerry’s. Like Artist and Craftsman in Saugus, fabulous selection, excellent prices, and I always find some unexpected thing I can’t live without. Jerry’s has friendly, helpful staff. I’m not sure if they are a franchise using the Jerry’s name–Jerry’s has been around a long time in catalog and web form and this store’s site is not the Jerry’s site. Regardless, I still make special trips when I am in the area.
100 Aker Wood Frame Shop As I said in the beginning, there are a lot of art shops in odd places. You never know when you will run out of Titanium White while painting fall foliage. I happened upon this shop while on retreat near Norway, Maine. I actually went back three times in a four day period. It was that good. I have no idea how they keep their prices down, but they are better priced than any shop in New England. It’s small with mostly painting and hand lettering supplies. A gem.
Peterborough Art Academy In the middle of the charming Depot Square in Peterborough is a classy, elegant art supply store with European flair. It’s run by Michaela Chelminski. Best selection of cake watercolors in New England, and lots of hard to find things like colored chalk and painter’s pallets. Again, a gem hidden in an out of the way place. Peterborough has a lot of art, craft, and literary life, so it’s worth a trip to explore.
Blick Boston Landmark Center I’m old enough that I remember when this was “Dick Blick.” This store is older, so you can find boxes of discontinued products like the Mirado Black Velvet pencil. Staff can be cranky, and it does serve a student population; but I always leave with a bag full of goodies. Easiest to take the Green Line train to Fenway.
Hobby Lobby Manchester, NH This store has a pretty extensive art supply department, plus fabric, craft supplies and a lot of seasonal merchandise. It recently drove out a competing national craft supplier. Once again, a place I have found to have good surprises, including an entire aisle of stained glass and a better than average selection of calligraphy supplies. Of course, this is a big chain store, so customer service is non-existent. You need to know what you are looking for. Still, this is my local go to place, and so far I’m not disappointed.