Where do artists buy their paint, brushes, canvas, palette etc from? The Star explores the supply chain that provides the essential ingredients that go into artworks of both seasoned and budding artists.
Natasha Islam has come to Modern Stationery to grab some non-toxic safe paint to stamp her little one's adorable hand prints to hold onto the memory. On the other hand, a group of art college students has gathered in the other corner to buy art supplies for the current semester. Besides them little Adiyat stands clutching tightly to his new set of pastel colours that his father bought him to his heart. There is no right method, grammar or age to play with colours and brushes - every visit to the stationery shops at New Market reminds us that.
You can find different ranges of art supplies in Dhaka's New Market that you are hard pressed to find anywhere else. All the book stores and stationery shops have some minimal collections of art supplies that every student needs. But if you want to track down a specialist stock of art supplies, walk only a few doors down from the book stores and you will find Haroon Enterprises, ABC Stationeries and Modern Stationery hording every art supply you probably need. On your arrival, if the piled up white canvases of different sizes, million types of paintbrushes resembling magic wands, or the pungent smell of turpin oil leaves you dizzy and puzzled about what to pick, you can expect a full-on opinionated discussion from the shop attendants - that's one of the best features of these age-old shops.
“As a student, we would go to buy paints from a shop called Royal Stationery in Sadarghat,” reminiscences veteran artist Monirul Islam. “But that no longer exists. From its establishment until now, Modern Stationery has been my wizard's cave.”
“Since our establishment back in 1963, we have got a wide fan base, consisting of people who prefer buying supplies solely from us,” says Mohammad Majnu Khan, manager of Modern Stationeries who has been working in the shop for almost two decades. One can find different pens, inks, sketch pencils, paints, handmade papers, watercolour papers, brushes, canvas, sketch books, wooden and plastic easels, wood cutting tools, fixers and many others items in the nooks and hollows of these New Market stores.
Canvases are the most readily available local products in the world of art materials. You can pick the size you want from any art supplies shop or go for a custom made canvas. If painting on canvas is not your preferred art medium, choose from the Chinese or deshi sketchbooks or different sketch and water colour friendly papers.
Speaking of colours, choosing the right paint alone can be very puzzling sometimes.
Be it a blob of thick buttery oil paint or a hard chalk pastel stick, paint is the ingredient that turns a plain artwork into a dazzling painting. At our local art market, you will come across different painting mediums- oil paints, acrylic, water colour, fabric paints, pastel colours, pencil colours as well as poster colours. However, it's the different manufacturer companies that decide the quality of paints and what you can go for. While M Graham, Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, Schmincke, or Michael Harding are the internationally acclaimed paint brands available around the world, unfortunately in our country we have to be happy with Chinese Maries and the Indian brand Camel.
From shopkeepers to artists, everyone agrees that a product of Winsor & Newton is an artist's most precious possession, but it is a rare item to get in deshi markets. “Unquestionably Winsor and Newton is the best and we used to sell them before,” says Omar Faruk Chowdhury, manager of another outlet of Modern Stationery. “But because of its high price and availability of other cheap alternatives, stocking this brand did not seem like a good investment. For example, a 200 ml of Winsor & Newton oil colour tube costs 1000 taka, whereas the same tube of Camel costs almost half the price,” explains Chowdhury.
But the good news is one of our local artists has attempted to put an end to artists' dilemma. Muhammad Iqbal, a faculty member of the Fine Arts department of the Dhaka University has introduced a Japanese brand in the market called Holbein. “If I import each tube of Holbein paint as a finished product, it would cost me a fortune. So what I am doing is I am importing paints (mostly oil and acrylic) from Holbein in drums and doing the packaging locally. As a result I can offer this good quality paint to our artists at a very affordable price,” Iqbal explains.
“Previously, Camel's artist grade paints were solely dominating the art scene, but thanks to Iqbal for coming up with Holbein,” says artist Mahmudul Haque, who needs to buy paints quite often.
If you are just a beginner, oil paints along with brushes are expensive investments. You can try out acrylics, water colours or poster colours instead. But if you cannot afford to buy ready-made acrylics, let us hand out the recipe for making your own economy paint.
“When money is no object, the ready-made artist's quality paint is unquestionably the hottest commodity,” says Artist Rafique Siddiqui. “But if you are looking for a cheap alternative to an acrylic paint, you can always consider using a mixture of textile pigment colours with Polyvinyl Acetate(PVA) and some binders. Using this you can expect a bright and intense colourful painting at a very economy rate.” And where to get them? Hop into the lines of shops at Gausia Market that have colours for dyeing, block and batik and tie dye.
Once paint is ticked off from the list, brushes come next.
The most common shapes that brushes come in are: flats, filberts, brights and rounds. Numbers on brushes vary widely between brands. If you know what brush to go for, you can choose a particular brush or you can go for a whole brush set. All the brushes you will get in the market are mostly Chinese and Indian brands with prices starting from Tk 200 to Tk 2,000.
After buying all the must haves, an easel, a colour pallet or pallet knives are some optional items to prop up your paintings. Today the customer base of art supplies is more extensive than ever before. Starting from an engineering, architecture, textile or fashion design student, to an expert painter, a self-proclaimed artist or a doodler, who is not tempted to buy the tools?
If going to the New Market does not seem a convenient option, hop into the galleries of the city. Bengal Art Gallery and Kaya Gallery, for example, offer a limited stock of artists' grade tools including paints and canvases. Grasshoppers on the second floor of Aziz Super Market is another place you might look into.
Now it's time for you to stumble upon the treasure troves the city has for art lovers. Buy a few, get your hands dirty! Who knows, you might be the next Picasso that the world is waiting for!