By Lucia Viti
Amy Paul has built an artistic dynasty with talent, perseverance and a desire to showcase the artistry of others.
The artist, entrepreneur — owner of North Park art and gift shop Pigment — teacher, wife and mother began showcasing her art 13 years ago in a small studio on Ray Street.
Paul displayed figurative oil paintings, acrylics on wood, photography, prints and postcards that sported a note to “support your local artist.” Lauding the work of local artists as well as her own, Paul quickly garnered fans. Ray at Night and North Park Festival of the Arts became common occurrences. Pigment was born.
Creative to the core, Paul designed vignettes around her wall paintings. Sofas, statement chairs, side-tables and savvy artifacts told a story while resembling a room in one’s own home. Pigment’s success quickly outgrew the 300-square-foot studio. She ventured into sharing a 1,500-square-foot spot on Adams Avenue with a shoe store to no longer sharing the space, then moved to her present 3,000-square-foot industrial showroom located at 3801 30th St.
“I’m happy with Pigment’s growth and diversity,” Paul said. “Although Pigment is a mixed bag of everything, our goal is to support local artists and good design. Some commercial vendors are a necessity, like our glass terrarium containers that come from China, for a particular market, but we stand by supporting everything local.”
As Pigment grew, so did its collection of art and design. The co-op and commercial merchandise includes fine art, savvy gifts, florals, food, books, furniture, greeting cards, Christmas ornaments, custom and fine jewelry — even engagement rings —and items for infants, kids, teenagers, dogs and cats. While not everything sold at Pigment stems from local artists, everything commercial maintains an essence of artistry. And Paul remains adamant that there are “no restrictions in what we sell.”
Local talent and vendors are sometimes discovered through friends and neighbors. While always on the hunt, Paul welcomes suggestions from locals, “My friend makes . . . fill in the blank.” Paul chooses like-minded, entrepreneurial artists and businesses that sell finely-crafted, quality goods. Everything goes through a checklist.
“Items can’t just look good without being good,” she continued. “We need both. I don’t want a reputation for just looking nice. I personally test every bath product and food item. Every gift is tested by the Pigment team of artists — some former students — and graphic designers. We’re artists, that’s part of what makes us different.”
Merchandise buying is described as treasure hunting. “We leave no stone unturned,” Paul said. “You never know where you’re going to find a real gem. Little things crop up everywhere — showroom catalogs, craft fairs, estate sales, even Etsy. And I love thrift and vintage shopping. Looking for that next great thing is tireless and never-ending.”
Paul’s reputation precedes Pigment’s success. “I buy one card from a company that sells hundreds, if not thousands, of cards,” she said. “Some vendors won’t open up an account for one item, but Pigment has earned its reputation. I have a good business with good sales.”
Vignettes within the store’s eclectic assortment constantly change. “If you ask me today what I’ll carry tomorrow, I couldn’t answer,” Paul said. “I create a vignette around products that I love. If a product doesn’t work, we wait. Categories grow as we grow.”
Paul likened Pigment’s store displays to a painting complete with color, composition, and the elements of design. “The elements of composition displayed in the store is the same as the imagery displayed in my paintings,” she said. “Vignettes tell stories. Stepping into our kids’ section step is like stepping into a story book. Without trivializing or sounding cliché, the experience has to be artistic and creative.”
The retail playground doesn’t stop at unique sundries and crafted wares. Pigment’s Plant Lab offers a full staff to assist adults and children with building terrariums. Customers are welcome to pull up a chair, “belly-up,” select a vessel, plants, moss, colored sands, and a rainbow array of rocks to create terrarium masterpieces. While costs are based on materials, customers are not charged for artistic assistance. Plant palettes are seasonal.
“Our plant lab grew from our terrarium artist,” Paul explained. “We liken our selection for building terrariums to walking into Willy Wonka’s candy shop — you pick and choose your sweet delight! If you’re creative, you jump right in. If you struggle with artistic decisions, our staff will guide you through the building process. Plants fluctuate based on seasons which makes it even more fun because nothing’s ever the same.”
During Pigment’s early years, Paul’s art remained the store’s backbone. Today, commissioned requests are “squeezed in at the end of the day when I really shouldn’t be working,” she said. “Deadlines are great because they commit me to painting. I’m disciplined but I don’t paint every day the way I used to — my schedule won’t allow it.”
While Paul gushes over Pigment’s success, she’s quick to credit her husband Chad and their dedicated work tenet.
“Chad and I have worked as a team from the beginning,” she said. “For the first several years he was the sole person on the sales floor. We’ve given Pigment everything and then some. Retail is a tough business that never stops. Although we haven’t made any steadfast decisions, we’re on the precipice of deciding Pigment’s future. Chad’s an advocate for a second and third store while I grapple with the idea. But no matter how we grow, I won’t compromise our integrity. Pigment won’t be a soulless chain store with people saying, ‘Remember when Pigment was … ?’ I want to be more than that.”
Paul admits to juggling yet is fond of her roles as wife, mother, artist, teacher and store owner. “I love what I do,” she said. “But there are times I feel fractured. I’m driven — I always have been — to make all ends meet. I want to show my children a strong work ethic; Pigment’s their Candyland. I’m proud of Pigment. I want to remain proud. And I want my vendors to be successful.”
Pigment also hosts local artist workshops for calligraphy, dry floral plant crowns, floral wreaths, leather wallets and terrariums. “Workshops are a natural fit to keep Pigment and its clients close to the community,” Paul concluded. “Workshop classes bring local artists directly to our customers. North Park embraced Pigment from day one. We owe this community a huge debt for our success. And we’re constantly working to give back to the community in more substantial ways than owning a retail store.”
—Contact Lucia Viti at firstname.lastname@example.org.