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ISSUE 121 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/2/2008

Sketchy Artist fills niche

By Ellen Weaver
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 2, 2008

Students walking down Division Street this past semester may have encountered a new sign gracing the streets of Northfield. Looking further, some may have been pleasantly surprised to discover a new art supplies store filled with all sorts of paints, brushes, pens and paper. This is how I discovered The Sketchy Artist. As I walked in and up a ramp, I noticed the small store was bright, with a very lighthearted, fun environment. Later, after talking to owner and St. Olaf alum, April Ripka '99, I learned The Sketchy Artist encourages a laid-back and explorative environment to allows creative ideas to evolve.

The Sketchy Artist opened in January after Ripka saw the need for an art supplies store in Northfield. The Art Store, a longtime business in the Northfield community, recently closed. The Sketchy Artist offers many of the same products the Art Barn provided along with some new products and a new atmosphere all its own. The store offers an eclectic assortment of art supplies and a wide range of gifts. Ripka describes the store as "50 percent art supplies, and the other half is gifts." Even if you aren't in need of art supplies, the unique gifts are worth checking out.

"I try to get weird and unusual gifts. I wanted to provide interesting things and products that Northfield doesn't already have," Ripka said. She specializes in handmade paper and Japanese gifts and products, but explained that she is a little worried about bringing in such an array of new and different products: "I was really nervous because I know that I like something, but will other people have the same style?"

For families in the area, there are a variety of child-friendly products. Near the front of the store, a children's corner helps to inspire young artists' creativity and encourage a playful atmosphere. The area is set up with small stools and a chalkboard, and after testing it out, I decided that it is fun for children of all ages, college students included.

Ripka spent her childhood in Warsaw, Minn., just outside of Faribault, and attended high school at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault. As an art major at St. Olaf as well as spending time working at the Art Store, Ripka was able to expand her skills and develop her passion for the arts. She describes her experience at St. Olaf, and explains, "In retrospect, if I hadn't had the experiences and opportunities given to me at St. Olaf, I don't think I would have the courage to start my own business."

After spending some time in web design and advertising, Ripka wanted to return to her love for art. When she saw the need for an art supplies store, she took the opportunity to build her own business. She was able to receive a micro-grant and a revolving loan from the Northfield Economic Development Authority. With the opening of her store, Ripka says she finally feels as though she's achieved her dream job. "Art has always been my first love," she said.

Ripka also plans on to have small art project demonstrations in the store to show people what they might do with a certain product or material. "If I have a product that isn't moving, I need to figure out a way to show people how they could use it," Ripka said. In the future she plans to display and sell the artwork of other Oles and local artists as well.

The next step for expanding The Sketchy Artist is taking the business online. Ripka's goal is to have products for sale online within the year and create a blog on the store's website where people can request or recommend certain products. She also wants to post links and provide information about art-related events. Having an online presence will allow Ripka to reach residents in surrounding communities who don't have an art-supply store.

Ripka offers unique gifts and supplies that anyone with an eclectic taste or style will really enjoy. So next time you're taking a stroll downtown, stop in to the Sketchy Artist, and like myself, you might be surprised to find something new and refreshing.

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