T o those who’d describe themselves as “non-artistic,” an art supply store like Hull’s, which has been around in one form or another since 1947, is full of potential intimidations. Rows of specialty oil paints are meant for experts only, right? And thick, pristinely white sketchbook paper is much too lovely to be marred by untrained scribbling.
Hull’s certainly has the specialty paints and fine sketchbooks, but it also has colorful shelves of supplies for projects novice on up. Its rainbow array of Sharpies is as good for high school election posters as it is for autographing a mixed-media masterpiece, as is its selection of varied-width paintbrushes. Even the “model room” at the store’s back end, technically geared towards architects (and aspiring ones), is filled with the miniature trees, plastic humans of varying sizes, wood glues and other materials you can imagine populating the works of an amateur model-building enthusiast.
Painters and sculptors will also find top-notch project supplies like Gamblin Artists Oil Colors and Apoxie Sculpt clay. The store sells canvas by the yard and cork board by the foot, as well as portfolios and presentation cases for displaying work. With the Yale School of Art next door, the Yale School of Architecture right around the corner, Gateway a few blocks down, Southern Connecticut State and Albertus Magnus within city limits and the University of New Haven and Paier College of Art in West Haven and Hamden, respectively, Hull’s gets its share of student business.
That doesn’t describe most of us, and that’s okay. Perhaps you’re simply looking to take up a new hobby, like learning the traditional Japanese art of origami. Maybe doodling with a finely sharpened charcoal pencil on blank paper is your ultimate stress release. Maybe you just want to procure a really cool pen. Browsing the store’s long, tidy rows easily jogs ideas for potential art projects to while away these last biting weeks of winter, and along the way you’ll probably rediscover beloved items from your youth, like rectangular pink erasers and colored pencils.
Speaking of youth, they’re a mainstay at Hull’s, says General Manager Shawn Szirbik (pictured left, above), in need of supplies for school. Perhaps that’s why the store’s entryway is filled with artistic toys—sticker books, stencils and stamp sets, as well as your standard markers and crayons.
Hull’s, which is named for a previous owner and iteration of the store, when it was called “Hull’s Hobbies,” also serves many who come for their extensive custom framing business, from matting to mounting to building. They’ll “work with any budget,” says Szirbik. Ready-made frames are available as well.
Beyond the merchandise, there’s the advice. Many Hull’s employees have advanced art degrees, thereby armed with the knowledge necessary to answer questions and provide direction. Owner Steve Kovel (pictured right, above) says his rule for staff is that “no one is allowed to say no” to a customer request, a friendly and surely hyperbolic directive that means the staff may work harder here than at other stores.
“They say people sometimes go the extra mile. We go the extra 100th mile,” says Szirbik, who says he’s literally driven many miles to get special supplies for customers in need. It doesn’t always mean turning a big profit, or even, at times, any profit at all. But a happy customer is apparently worth it.
The good will extends out into the community. Hull’s participates in a multitude of charitable and other New Haven-based events, contributing gift certificates, art supplies and more to local groups, and serving as a popular second stop during the city’s bi-annual Flights of Fancy wine-tasting evening, situated as it is right near the event’s home base at the Study at Yale.
Kovel would like Hull’s to engage the community in other ways via the store’s second level, by turning it into an art space where interested parties can teach art classes, hold one-day art shows or utilize the spot for other creative pursuits.
“Where there’s a need,” says Kovel, “we try to fill it.”
Hull’s Art Supply & Framing
1144 Chapel Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.