Earlier today I was on Facebook remembering my youthful days as an art student. Specifically it was being a student and buying art supplies that I was remembering. It started with a comment that mentioned technical pen cleaner which brought me back to a quote from my typography teacher sometime during my first week of college. It was, “Technical pen cleaner. Better known as soap and water.”

I sometimes refer to myself as an art supply geek. I like art supplies. I like finding new art supplies to try out and see what they can do. Some artists are like that but I’d have to say that most aren’t. Most artists I know learn the tools they need to get the job done and work along happily with those tools. It’s the same as with any other part of life. Some people are always looking to try new things but most aren’t.

This is the story of my first big art supply purchase. I’ve had plenty of them since them but I still remember this one. It was the summer of 1984 as I was preparing to head off to college and study commercial art a couple of counties north of here at what is now SUNY Sullivan but was then a mere community college that specialized in commercial art. Over the summer as part of whatever orientation package I was sent came a list of art supplies that I needed. Being the prepared type I saved up my money and at the end of the summer went to the local art supply store to fill my list of supplies.

I still remember the store. It was at the Nanuet Mall and was part of an art supply chain of stores called Koenig’s Art Emporium. I had been in the store many times before but only to buy little stuff. I can’t even remember what. Probably some cheap paper, pencils, and markers. And not art markers I’d guess but markers that any high school kid might buy. I always liked going to the art store but all the stuff in there was expensive and a bit of a mystery to me. But now I had a list.

I can walked into the store and found a couple of things on the list but then I was baffled. I don’t think I even knew what everything on the list was. I ended up asking one of the employees for help and she tried to help me fill the list but she must have been a high school kid too because she had to call over someone who knew more. “He has a list” I remember her saying to the man. She said that with a bit of amazement as if no one ever came in with a list.

Art supplies are expensive. That’s something that all artists learn pretty quickly. And mall art stores were especially expensive. I’m not even sure that mall art stores exist anymore. They’ve probably all been put out of business by the big box arts and crafts stores. I can still remember the sticker shock of the final bill when filling that list but I can also remember being resigned to paying it. If it was what I had to do it was what I had to do. I think the bill was well over two hundred dollars. I don’t think it reached three hundred because I would probably remember a number that big. I’ve spent over two hundred dollars many times on art supplies over the years and it’s still a lot of money to me but it was a whole lot more money back in 1984. Still I forked over the cash and had my supplies.

I don’t remember everything that I bought but a few of the things I still have and use. The architect’s scale/ruler comes to mind right away because I still use that whenever I have measure something. The one I got that day was in inches and I bought another later in the year that was metric. I still use them both. I also bought some plastic triangles and a T-Square that day. I don’t remember what happened to the T-Square but the the triangles are in my closet. When they finally got too chipped to use sometime around 1999 I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. I wrote the date on them and stuck them in a closet. They don’t take up much room so they’re still there.

The most expensive items I bought were probably the technical pens. They’ve long since worn out and have been replaced multiple times. I don’t use tech pens much anymore but still occasionally do. I imagine I also got all kinds of drawing pencils too. One thing I specifically remember getting was a pad of newsprint paper. It was the first time I had ever had a pad of paper that big, it was 14×17 inches, and never in my life had I drawn on newsprint.

Where the quote I started this piece with comes in is my first week and maybe even first day (who can remember?) of school. I was taught to be prepared. The school sent out a list of supplies so I got those supplies. Then I learned that most people aren’t prepared at all. At least half of my class had no supplies at all. They had the same list I had but didn’t bother to get anything on it. Turned out that was to their financial advantage too.

On that first day our teacher said, “Oh, they sent you a list? Let me see it”. He then looked at the list and told us what we would really need from it. Two of the things he mentioned were Art Bins and technical pen cleaner. Art Bins were basically a box with compartments for carrying around art supplies. I had already bought mine art the art store but it turns out that you can buy a fishing tackle box to do the exact same thing for half the price. It was only then that I noticed my Art Bin looked exactly like a tackle box.

Then of course he said, “Technical pen cleaner. Better known as soap and water.” Boy was he right on that one. I had purchased about a twelve ounce bottle of technical pen cleaner for I would guess about three or four dollars. When I finally got around to using it I noticed it looked and smelled exactly like a giant two dollar bottle of 409 spray cleaner. That was the last time I ever bought tech pen cleaner. And after that they couldn’t fool me with airbrush cleaner either.