Color Theory A Colorful Addition to Downtown Napa
By Craig Smith
Walking into Color Theory, the new arts supply store at the corner of Main and Caymus in Downtown Napa, can be a bit overwhelming – but in a good way. This isn’t a small, thrown together collection of paints, brushes and paper. This is a serious, well thought-out art supply store run by people who know that world as well as anyone. It’s arguably one of the top art supply stores in the whole Bay Area. There is nothing else like it in the Napa Valley.
“We sell the best art supplies at all levels,” said Kirk Gillespie, who co-owns Color Theory with his wife Ashlee. “What is equally important to us is that if you’re a beginner, we provide the lower cost materials, which are still of good quality and won’t dissuade you from continuing your artistic journey.”
Kirk and Ashlee are artists themselves, having each spent years in the field creating and selling their work. They both also worked at the retail, wholesale and distributor levels within the art materials industry. “Between us, we have fifty years of experience in all things art,” said Ashlee. “It’s our passion.”
Ashlee spent two stints totaling five years working at Napa Valley Art Supplies, which she would eventually own and rename Color Theory. Kirk and Ashlee bought the art supply business three years ago with the intention of finding the right location for a better shopping experience, and to be a part of a community of like-minded businesses. The timing of taking the store over coincided with fires, COVID-19 and supply issues which delayed their ability to move. Eventually the space at the corner of Main and Caymus opened to them (formerly home to The Learning Faire and later Toy B Ville), and they knew they had a home. The Gillespie’s are thoughtful planners, and spent lots of time thinking about what they wanted to create. Today, they have over 18,000 items in the store.
“We carry artist paints, inks, brushes, pens and markers, easels, papers, canvases, drawing materials, tapes and glues, journals and children’s supplies among other things,” said Kirk. More advanced artists will be happy to find quality products. “Along with that we have the brands that are expected such as Golden, Gamblin, Strathmore, Canson, Daniel Smith, Copic, Prismacolor and many others. We also carry items you don’t see every day, such as notebooks from Japan and pens from Germany and Switzerland.” Inventory will not be static. “We will try to bring in something new and interesting as often as possible.”
Equally important for customers is that the staff, all of them artists, understand the products and how they work together. Jason Perry, one staff member, has been teaching art at Napa and Solano college for years. That kind of experience is invaluable. “People fall in love with certain brushes. What happens when you use that brush with a different paint? We need to be able to educate and assist people,” said Kirk. “It’s almost like a hardware store. I’m the guy who wants to look at all 70 hammers and understand why they are different from each other. It’s the same with art supplies.”
This does not mean that Color Theory is only for high level artists; far from it. “If you are a beginner, this is the perfect place for you,” said Ashlee. Color Theory currently supplies St. A’s, St. John’s and Justin-Siena with art supply kits containing all that a budding art-student will need. “We have those kinds of options for students all the way through college,” said Ashlee. They also have a custom canvas shop where artists can get the perfect size canvas made with virtually any surface you want. “Artists many times need a size that’s not commonly made, but just as often they are looking for a quality that you just can’t get from mass produced canvas lines.” Says Ashlee. “Kirk makes all our canvases as well as panels for many of our customers.”
Kirk grew up outside Chicago and moved with his family to Novato some 38 years ago. He attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco and worked in art supply stores to pay for his education. The store is named Color Theory because, as he says, “No matter what your artistic major is in visual arts, everyone takes color theory in their first semester. How light affects color, the tone and temperature are something all students need to learn. Interestingly you rarely learn enough about how artist materials work in that respect, and that’s where we can provide some insight. It’s very common to see us open a sample tube of paint and allow the customer to see what it will do versus another color.”
Ashlee is from Half Moon Bay. She has knowledge in all areas of art having created prints, oil paintings as well as acrylics. These days she works primarily with watercolors and is an Artist Ambassador to a few brands of paint and paper. Her work is sought out for installations and enlargements by clients, such as hotels and cruise ships.
Ashlee and Kirk first met at Napa Valley Art Supplies when Kirk was a distributor representative working with Ashlee on many brands the store sold. After developing a strong friendship and working together in the industry, they eventually got married in 2017. Their adorable daughter Finley, who will be one year old in December, takes center stage when she is in the store.
Guests are likely to be met at the front door by Phoebe, an English Cream Golden Retriever who makes up for her lack of artistic talent with a soulful dog’s personality. And yes, Color Theory is dog friendly.
colortheoryartsupplies.com | 707.224.2775 New Location at 1343 Main Street | Downtown Napa
Mon. - Wed. 9am - 6pm | Thurs. - Sat. 10am - 7pm | Sun. 11am - 5pm