SPOKANE, WASHINGTON — Two weekends ago, I volunteered for Speedball printmaking inks at my local art supply store, Spokane Art Supply in Spokane, Washington. The shop was hosting an annual event called demo days, a weekend of hobby enthusiasts rollicking from booth-to-booth in search of the latest breakthroughs in art materials. The demographic was mostly retired craft warriors establishing themselves as masters in watercolor and decollage. I was feeling anxious, my self-conscious mind hounded me with thoughts of superiority, for my world of art was far different than theirs. Kitsch (the bad kind) was their motivator and I was stuck in the middle of a scene that I made sport of in art school and circles of like-minded peers.
As I settled behind my Speedball demonstration table the event was underway and the store was quick to move energetically. I noticed other demo tables were holding the attention of large groups. Laughter and conversation of friends reunited from last year’s event cheerfully filled the air. It was obvious I was the odd man out. I tried explaining the reduction screenprint process to an occasional passerby, but there was little interest. The most curious of my potential patrons; an apparently intoxicated man likely lured in by Speedball’s fortuitous connection with a particular street drug. “I-I’d like to t-try this sometime,” he murmured. “Sure he would, just like the rest of them,” I thought to myself.
Regardless of the audience’s and my own discontent, I was quick to experiment with the various drawing fluids, screen fillers and linoleum blocks. My mind wandered and as lunch came around I found myself still plagued with indifference. I made my way from the demo table and took a stroll through the isles of kiosks. “You don’t have to be an artist to work in mixed-media,” one said. “It’s a playground for everyone!” another replied. The encouragement wasn’t immediately confounding, yet as I swaggered past the tables of double-rainbows, iridescent markers and excessively garnished postcards I couldn’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie. Were these my peeps? Despite the vast space between our artistic sensibilities, I felt a universal bond of creativity. It was as though I had been plucked from the spine of high art’s seemingly delusional artificiality and placed in the raft of art, for art’s sake.
I started opening up and introducing myself to representatives from major suppliers, artists at other demo tables and even the grizzled craft wielding troops I once dismissed as clod backing up the lines of “real art.” Returning to my table, I met a man named Kermit, who ironically fit his name quite well. He seemed a favorite amongst the reigns as he stood, listened and even queried about printmaking techniques. By that time my area was looking pretty savvy, with multiple screen printing and block printing examples displayed. I had arrived, my table was becoming an attraction.
The rest of demo days I spent getting lost in a request to make a linoleum block print of a sunflower. As the image took shape, store-goers gathered and soon there were orders being placed for the edition. Reps and artists from other demo tables traded for paper and paint supplies. They gave me business cards and expressed gratitude in exchange for my little print. I am easily persuaded by art world politics and taking myself too seriously often leads to humiliation. Once I embraced the intent behind my actions, I began to see the intent behind other people’s actions. They weren’t so different after all. If my art community had a hierarchical order, these artists were just as much responsible for its fortune than anyone else. Our little art supply store couldn’t survive without their support and I wouldn’t be lucky enough to have one so close!