Melbourne Artists Supplies

Where: 916 Nepean Highway, Hampton East
When: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am
Phone: 9553 3663
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For what’s very nearly the last 30 years, Melbourne’s artist community has been buying its brushes, its paints, its pens, inks and paper from one place: Melbourne Artists’ Supplies. And while creative types might be familiar with the graf-covered city store on Little La Trobe, the original store opened down south. Owner Wayne Gardner explains when he opened Melbourne Artists’ Supplies in 1985, he’d already had some experience in the industry. “I worked in arts supplies for many years, and I just thought I could do it a little better,” he says.

Crystal Webb, who has worked in Melbourne Artists’Supplies since January last year, had a selfish reason to get into the arts supply business: just to be around the stock. “I guess I just wanted to be around the supplies so I could have access to it,” she says. “I had to get myself a studio to put it all in.”

Many other local artists are establishing their own studios in the Kingston area, a trend that has seen Melbourne Artists’ Supplies go from strength to strength. “There is quite a big and active arts community in the area,” says Wayne. “There are a lot of hobbyists, a lot of students in the area, but there is a bit of a movement of professional artists getting small, relatively inexpensive spaces in the factory areas of Moorabbin, creating quite nice studios.”

While many fine arts products remain basically unchanged, the business itself underwent a radical transformation in recent times. “Our business has changed dramatically,” explains Wayne. “We used to have a big graphics business, but they no longer rely on tools for doing their art, it’s all computer based. It was a big change. It happened around 1990 – we thought we might not be in business much longer, but we swung pretty hard toward fine art and here we are today.”

Lately, it’s the threat of buying online that presents the biggest challenge. “It’s actually very hard to keep up with,” he says. “You do need a broad range. Particularly today, where customers can see anything from around the world. A lot of people are going to expect you to get it on your shelf. It is a big challenge.”

But, with 35,000 products in-store, creative customers can usually find what they want. “People get the inspiration, and they want to start then and there, so they race up to the art shop to grab what they need,” says Wayne. “It’s a little bit different to internet buying.”

Words and Photos by Tim Grey