A (probably biased) breakdown from a U of T art student that will hopefully lead you to the right one for your needs

Curry's


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Curry’s is a chain of art stores in the city that has three locations spread out throughout downtown. The Dundas location is close to U of T and OCAD, but is the smallest. Curry’s is good if you want options. Especially at the largest location (Queen St.), they carry multiple brands for supplies. Your needs, and let’s be real, your wallet, are not nearly god-tiered enough for brands like Winsor & Newton, but you know you love yourself enough to not buy Nu-Art. Curry’s supplies a lot of brands that can fit that middle ground, as well as the higher/lower quality brands too. They also sell their own generic brand of supplies that is usually cheaper but decent quality. The largest location also sells a wide variety of papers and art accessories. Even the smallest location can fulfill most of your needs; they still sell stretchers and raw canvas. The employees are friendly and helpful, and the prices overall are reasonable.


Gwartzman's


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Gwartzman’s is located near College & Spadina, and honestly, I love this store. It’s conveniently located near U of T’s studio buildings. It is admittedly smaller than most stores, which means less variety of brands, but they can still supply your basic needs, including stretched canvases and wood panels. The best part about Gwartzman’s are the prices and the employees. They have the lowest prices you will find for supplies. I exclusively go to Gwartzman’s to buy more expensive items. Most art stores have chill employees that can answer most of your questions, but Gwartzman’s is one of the few art stores that are a small business and run independently; so the same dudes you see the first time you go are the same dudes you’ll see pretty much every other time you go. These guys will recognize your face and ask about your art the next time you go. They know what they’re doing too; they’re clearly artists that have had many years of experience. You can get confident and knowledgeable help from them.


Above Ground


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I’ve always been salty about Above Ground. Once I tried to go in more than 30 minutes before they closed, and when I opened the door a cashier immediately yelled, “NO!” but I have given it a revisit and oh my god, it’s heaven. Above Ground also has three locations throughout the city but the most well known location is the one next to OCAD. It’s three stories of so much art shit. My notes literally start off with, “so much SHIT Holy fuck Gonna CUM.” Above Ground is similar to Curry’s. They also have their own generic brand. They both sell accessories like frames and drawing tables. They both have a good variety of brands, but the kicker is just how much stuff Above Ground has. There’s supplies for basically every craft: polymer clay, candle wax, printmaking, fabric dyes, etc. Above Ground has the most extensive supply of paper. They sell paper that you’d have to go to a specialty store on Queen St. to buy like, Japanese paper. They also have an extensive assortment of stretcher sizes and a basement of stretched canvases and wood panels. I bought some supplies during my visit and found the prices reasonable, but I have heard other students mention they are pricier when buying things like stretchers. The employees are helpful and friendly as well, but it tends to get very busy. I can see how this can make your trip stressful, and can make the employees less patient and more stressed too.


Toose


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Toose is pretty much on campus—it’s almost across the street from the U of T bookstore on College. It is also the smallest art store in this guide and honestly, it reminds me of where I used to take art lessons from this old lady who wouldn’t let us change the radio station from classical music. Well, Toose actually plays classical music, and the products look old and dusty. To be fair, they’re good for fine arts materials; they mainly sell drawing and painting supplies. They have a decent variety of brands but there’s more of an emphasis on higher quality brands. If you’re looking for other painting materials like gel mediums, they’ll mainly only sell Golden ones, whereas other stores sell multiple options at different price ranges. Because it is a more mature, small store, there aren’t really supplies for skills other than drawing and painting. They have reasonable prices, but it seems a bit more expensive. I could see how this could be intimidating for students or beginners; the guy working when I visited seemed fairly disinterested and had an air of pretension (like the store). Despite its size, Toose does have a good variety of paper and even has another room across the hall for canvases and stretchers.

All illustrations done by Joyce Wong

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