From Cuba to San Clemente Art Supply [Paint It Black]

Before my cousin went on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Cuba thanks to an old high-school buddy, I asked him to buy me a painting from a Havana street artist for around $20, but to not go out of his way to hunt one down. He refused my cash.

For that paltry sum, I anticipated something small yet colorful, even garish, with maybe a cigar. What he brought back was vivid with beefy Buicks and multicolored apartment buildings, and it was much bigger than expected. The plan was to staple the canvas to stretcher bars and hang it frameless, but its dimensions were nowhere near American standard sizes.

I went to a nearby Aaron Brothers to figure out what size bars would work without losing too much of the image and discovered the store no longer stocks them. Turns out, none of the so-called art-supply big boxes does. Worse, the quote for doing the work for me was an alarming $260! Total and utter rip-off.

So I dug around and found only three places in OC that sell stretcher bars: Art Supply Warehouse in Westminster, Blick in Fullerton and San Clemente Art Supply, which is where I headed.

It’s a bit hard to find the 1920s historic spot at the north end of El Camino Real because of all the foliage. Back in the 1930s, it housed a restaurant called Casa de Amigos. By the time Patti and Richard Herdell acquired the place for their art shop in the early aughts, there was a second structure, which they turned into a studio. The space feels as if people have been making art there since the restaurant was open.

While the calm clerk in the shop helped me decide what size bars to get, I noticed a custom-framing section with an extensive selection. Out of curiosity, I asked for a quote on mounting my Cuban painting and was astonished it was one-fifth of what that old chain was going to charge. The notion that small businesses are more costly just isn’t true at this family-owned-and-run art center.

As for color, it’s available in every medium and hue for any surface—in inks, tints, dyes, pastes and powders. And locked behind steal cages are spraypaints by MTN 94 and Gold, where a hand-drawn sign explains their excellent qualities and possible uses, including “industry, plumbing, fine art and graffiti.” There’s even a room devoted to paper. Raid the corner sale rack for items you’d never use otherwise to see where they lead.

The studio is in constant use. Live models sit for life drawing and costumed painting classes. International artists teach the techniques of Old Dutch masters, and oil workshops are ongoing. Past sessions held such intriguing titles as “Liquid Lead Portraiture.” Wine drinking is often involved, with a monthly Paint & Sip class geared to all skill levels. Bring your own wine on Dec. 1 for a printing workshop, where you can learn to make and transfer a linocut. Create a band logo, a holiday-themed image or, better yet, a Buick.

My painting was mounted with minimal loss of image, and all staples were hidden—no surprise for these museum-quality framers. Check the place out this weekend for Small Business Saturday, though the art center is worth frequenting any day of the year, even if all you make is outsider art.

San Clemente Art Supply, 1531 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 369-6603;

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