The Art Store with Covetable Handmade Supplies: Case For Making
Out by Ocean Beach, in the Outer Sunset, is an art supply shop which will make any artist’s heart flutter when they walk in. Case For Making (CfM) specializes in hand made watercolors and letterpress paper. They make everything in-house and showcase their goods next to a curated collection of art supplies that are special, covetable and unique.
My first set of CfM paints was a gift and I covet them and treat them like fine china, only pulling them out when I’m ready to make something amazing. If you are lucky enough to borrow my fancy watercolors, expect me to caution you to use them sparingly. They are truly some of my favorite art supplies.
I know why they are some of my prized possessions – it is because most of their paints are made in small batches, on-site by the owner and her team. Something about the act of each small batch being delicately packaged into small little tubs of paint just makes me smile. Tiny little treasures which will likely be a key ingredient in the making of many future art projects.
I spent a good chunk of my January learning as much as I could about CfM. Like any traditional interview, I sat down with the owner for about an hour talking about how they got started and learning about their shop’s story.
Getting to Know Case For Making
CfM was initially opened by a Alexis Joseph and Lana Porcello in 2014. Shortly after opening, Alexis took over the business and has been running it ever since. The business didn’t blossom overnight. It took a bit of time to gain momentum. The first official collection of watercolors by Case For Making came out in 2016. It was around 2017 when they became primarily known for their own handmade products.
“I opened the shop 8 years ago after working in various fields of design and running the back office of different small businesses. Business to me is very creative, especially small business, it’s learning the way things want to work and then bending them and molding them to work the way you want them to work. It’s trial and error and having ideas and testing them and learning from your mistakes and adjusting quickly. Being creative is about asking yourself questions, problem solving and coming up with new ideas to test. This works with any medium and business is just another medium to play around with and try to understand and make work better.”
While Alexis is the main creative force behind the brand, they believe that the success of their business has been possible because of those who have come to help them along the way. They believe that collaboration is one of the most important parts of their business and spoke highly of many members of the team when I spoke with her. There was one person that Alexis said was pivotal in her ability to grow the business, Shaine Drake, who joined in 2015 and now helps to oversee all aspects of the business.
Case For Making watercolors are like people, unique in their own way.
Unlike the predictable cookie-cutter watercolors you’d get from big box stores, the CfM paints are like people… each unique in their own way. You come to know your watercolors and how some are more saturated than others.
Like people, some have a louder voice than others. Some are perfect for mixing and deepening shades. Some paints have unexpected undertones in them when you use them. For instance, my favorite color “CfM Lupine” is a royal purple with magenta undertones. When you use this color as a wash, you’ll see the magenta peek through and surprise you once the paint dries.
How are CfM watercolors created? Alexis explains, “You can make any paint using pure pigment and binder. The binder in watercolor is primarily gum arabic which is sap from Acacia trees! It is roughly the same process to make other types of paint–for oil paint you usually use linseed oil or another type of drying oil (poppy, walnut) and if you wanted to make acrylic paint you could use any clear acrylic medium and mix that with pure pigment. For the watercolors we make at Case for Making we use a medium made from gum arabic, distilled water, honey, vegetable glycerine and a touch of clove oil and that’s it. Just pure pigment and medium! Our paints are rich, saturated and matte!
CfM Shadow Blue is one of my favorite colors we make and was inspired by the work of artist Wayne Thiebaud and his colorfully blue shadows. It contains 2 different blue pigments, white and a bright red as well. We love making our custom mixed colors because we always love to throw an unexpected pigment in there to make it a bit weird. We also love a color matching project and getting to look at a bunch of Wayne Thiebaud’s work is always inspiring.”
A meandering path towards a surprising business venture
It was nice to talk to Alexis first about how they grew up in a creative household like I did. We have similar parallels in core memories being centered around making and moments of creativity. Alexis had a really interesting path towards CfM. I asked her, “You’ve had many interests + pursuits along your creative journey, from artist to shop owner, architecture to paint maker – tell us how you have woven each of these into your life today.”
“This is a great question and something that maybe I’m starting to see more clearly as more time passes. It’s fun to look back and think about how everything comes together even though it didn’t really feel that clear while it was happening! I went to architecture school for my undergraduate degree and I loved it but working at an architecture firm didn’t feel right to me. Working as a graphic designer also didn’t feel right to me when I was in grad school and when I tried to do each of those things on my own with clients I found myself trying to teach my clients to do the projects that they had hired me for themselves! Now it sounds so ridiculous… I literally got hired to do branding work or build a website and I would try to teach them Adobe products or Squarespace so that they could do it themselves! It just seemed silly to me that they would have to call me to change their phone number on the backend of their website so I wanted to teach them how to do it—also when you do something yourself you just feel so proud of and connected to the thing that you’ve made!
Small business became a way for me to be my own client. On any given day I get to design new built-ins or product displays, help build them, design signage and paint it, paint lettering on the front window, paint swatches and scan it into the website I designed and built, the list goes on and on. You get to do everything, there are always projects, any idea you come up with you can make happen if you decide you have the time and money to do so. Our entire paint line came from me feeling like I never really understood color or color theory—I wanted to feel it and understand it as a material and so I started learning about pigment and paint and then I got hooked and we started sharing the process and the paints and people were as fascinated as I was!”
What’s been the most rewarding part about owning Case for Making for Alexis?
Some of the magic of Case For Making comes from unseen elements beyond the covetable art supplies. Some of it comes directly from the people who run the shop. It’s clear when speaking to Alexis that her team means the world to her. Every teacher and every employee are friends first. She also just really treasures getting to know knew people and connecting with others through her work at CfM.
The people! It’s always the people. The people I get to work with every day and the people who come in the shop every day. The people who I’ve interacted with and taught on zoom. Even people who email us, sometimes we get the most delightful emails and end up having a sweet exchange. Often times we get hand-painted mail and tiny delicate books that have been bound by hand sent to us. It’s incredibly special and hopeful to me to have so many positive interactions with likeminded strangers.Building this community was not something we actively set out to do.
For a long time we were just here, doing our thing, stoked about meeting people who were excited about what we were doing. When the pandemic hit it really clarified things for us. Work became necessary for our mental health, our group expanded because people needed jobs, and art was an incredibly important outlet. We wanted to make this accessible as possible and created our online Case for Making Friends sessions. The word ‘community’ is one that recently I’ve been hearing more of in regards to Case for Making and it always makes me feel very honored but also makes me feel a bit shy. Not that I’m trying to get out of reflecting on this or acknowledging that we do have an amazing community! I just really feel that the community built itself because we have amazing people working here and we keep meeting such wonderful, genuinely lovely people!”
I felt this same warmth that Alexis speaks of when connecting with the CfM instructors this past month. They are called “Case For Making Friends” for good reason as they are all genuine, authentic, and kind people who connect with others through their creativity and talent like they are speaking to a friend of theirs.
I could go on and on and on about Case For Making. Firstly, I just love their art supplies so much. But also, I’m a huge fan of people leaning in and truly loving what they do. People who connect with others through something they are passionate about. Spots such as Case For Making are little precious pieces of San Francisco that make it so special.
Not Just Art Supplies: Case For Making Does Classes, too!
January was a month of making for me. I dedicated a good chunk of my month to learning new things or expanding my painting skills with CfM instructors. I took three classes taught by three distinctly different instructors. Florals with Claire Wilson, gouache basics with Gina Hendry, and a watercolor sky class with artist Dave Muller.
I learned a ton in these classes. Little nuggets of inspiration, tips on how to use watercolors in new ways, how to get the right gouache consistency, how to work wet and be brave, and most of all… how not to take my work too seriously. As an artist, I am usually pretty hard on myself. I tend to get trapped in what I might want something to look like rather than allowing the art to take me somewhere new. These classes allowed me to step into the shoes of a beginner again.
What’s next for Case For Making?
Alexis gives us the scoop: “We’re going to have an art show in Sacramento for the month of February–the press release is below. Beyond that, I’m not 100% sure at the moment. We’ll still be here doing what we love. We’d love to have in-person classes again but we don’t have the physical space right now. We miss painting with people in person. This year we’d be happy with some new colors and a few new custom products or collaborations. And to share more of what we do and what our days are like here with our larger community. I, personally, am looking forward to carving out a bit more time for my own art practice! It’s an ongoing process to make sure there is time for that and has especially been hard for me since I had my first baby a year and a half ago.”
Where to find Case For Making in San Francisco, Online, and Beyond:
To Support CfM, visit their current show in Sacramento if you’re up there!
“Many Hands and the Marks We Make” – Case for Making Collaborative Quilts
An Exhibition at Axis Gallery, February 4-26th, 2023
Workshops at Case For Making on Instagram: @caseformakingfriends
Website with Case For Making Friends Classes: caseformaking.com
Address: Case For Making is in the Outer Sunset neighborhood at 4037 Judah Street in San Francisco just a few blocks from the ocean.
Open daily 11am-6pm!