“We’d like to be the Starbucks for artists where there is space for everyone to meet up, connect, create art, share ideas. It’s a safe space and everyone is welcome to linger for free,” shares Francis Lim of Art Caravan.
It was quite the sweltering afternoon when visited the Art Caravan at Bonifacio Global City last Sunday. We—Izzy Suarez, Allana Aldea, and I—had just come from Art in the Park at Salcedo Village, and we had set out to try out the paints and tools, all free of charge, at the Art Caravan.
In retrospect, the art-filled day we planned out was reminiscent of those childhood summer days when kids would enroll in art workshops to make their school breaks worthwhile. Summer hasn’t been officially declared in the country yet, but it felt like it with how hot and blinding the sun was last weekend.
Art Caravan manager Francis Lim welcomed our group as we entered the space. He led us to a long table with empty canvases and a tray filled with tubes of acrylic paint. There was a Chinese watercolor class ongoing when we arrived. The instructor, holding up paintings of flowers, was guiding a group of two adults and a mother-daughter pair.
After exchanging pleasantries—Francis and I had already met at the official launch of Art Caravan more than a week prior—our group began to paint. Allana was the most well-versed among us—she is an artist by profession, among other things, while Izzy and I are writers—so we were taking cues from her.
Fortunately, we had acrylic paints to work with, which she described as the more “forgiving” paint to use. “Acrylic doesn’t muddle up like watercolor,” she said. “After it dries, you can layer over it without worrying about the colors mixing up.”
Allana took out her iPad and flashed a photo of pink flowers in a vase, which she used for reference. Izzy decided to use the image as well for his work, while I went ahead with a Betsy Westendorp painting that I had taken a photo of at Léon Gallery.
While Allana didn’t have a strict process for acrylic painting, she advised us to underpaint our canvases first. “It’s an optional step, but this ensures that the colors you’ll layer over the underpaint will pop out,” she noted. She chose a pastel pink color for her base; Izzy painted his canvas a bright yellow, while I went with a deep green.
The next two hours flew by quite peacefully. We had faint background music on as we added layer upon layer of paint on our canvases. The watercolor class beside us proceeded smoothly, and they had completed several sets of flowers before their session had finished.
For a brief moment, I forgot that I was in the middle of a bustling city, and that the summery day had drained us quite a bit while we were enjoying the galleries at Art in the Park.
For a few hours, I felt like a kid in a summer art workshop again.
Art for everyone, by everyone
The Art Caravan didn’t exactly begin as a workshop or class. At the height of the pandemic, Francis shared that his family thought of supplying art materials–paints, pastels, canvases and sketch sheets–to hobbyists and aspiring artists looking to cope and heal through the creative process.
Through a Viber group, they gathered their initial clientele comprising family and close friends. On the same group chat, they began to share their artwork, which would later inspire the concept behind Art Caravan. “Our clients would start sending us photos of their works, and we felt that this had to be shared to a wider audience,” Francis recalled.
The Art Caravan team received more and more photos of artwork in their chat group. Thinking that exhibiting in a gallery wasn’t exactly something easily accessible for hobbyists, the founders decided to use social media to share the art experience. “We created the Art Caravan Instagram account as a platform for all of us to express ourselves through art. A year later, we also started our own Facebook page.”
Incessant inquiries about a physical store prompted the founders of Art Caravan to open their space at The Forum in BGC. However, Francis emphasized that they’re focused less on selling than to educate new and prospective clients about how to use art supplies properly.
“We have a wide variety of paints here at Art Caravan, and we even have tools that some of our customers have never seen before. It’s important for us to teach our clients why, for example, certain paints work better for specific purposes—or, how a certain brush holds more water or paints for different strokes.”
Francis emphasized that the physical space, which can be used by hobbyists, art groups—practically everyone, runs in line with their mission to educate people about art.
“We don’t charge for use of our space. Guests can even bring their own materials and are not required to buy from the store,” he clarified. “When you get together with people and paint with them, you get to learn through guidance and experience.”
“We’d like to be the Starbucks for artists where there is space for everyone to meet up, connect, create art, share ideas. It’s a safe space and everyone is welcome to linger for free.”
Among the first to utilize the space were members of the Philippine Guild of Watercolorists. Other activities that have taken place at the Art Caravan include demos by the Philippine Pastel Association, private sessions for Chinese painting, and mandala art sessions.
A creative and artistic space
The interiors of the Art Caravan are a work of art in their own right. Interior designer Cecil Ravelas transformed the 128-square meter area into a brightly lit space decked with custom alcoves housing rare art supplies. Interestingly, the tubes and materials lining up the walls of the Art Caravan do not have glass panels or doors.
At the center of the space are island display tables that feature sculptural details. The setup is akin to a museum, albeit with a more inviting and cozier presence.
“When you walk into the Art Caravan, it’s like someone’s giving you a hug. It’s warm, engaging, and friendly. It was also important for us that our visitors are welcomed into a feel-good kind of space that makes them smile when they walk in,” Francis said.
Empty tubes painted in white hang overhead like grand chandeliers. They follow a wave-like pattern, enticing visitors to walk towards the back where the creative workshop area lies.
That the Art Caravan showcases their wares like artwork themselves elevates the entire shopping experience. The selection of products and brands are informed by one guiding principle: archival quality. Whatever material you buy from the Art Caravan—whether that’s paint, a canvas, or a brush—will stand the test of time.
Art that brings everyone together
Prior to the Art Caravan’s media launch last March 10, the space had already been open since November 2022, albeit on weekends. Currently, their doors are open daily from 12NN to 9PM.
As our little group—Izzy, Allana, and I—continued to paint, Francis enthusiastically shared that more and more people have been checking out the space ever since they officially opened and extended their operating hours.
“People have been coming to the space mostly through word of mouth. Some were invited by friends to hang out. Since we opened, we’ve welcomed beginners, hobbyists, enthusiasts and even experts through our doors,” he noted. Consequently, their online community has grown more active, extending their reach even further and getting more people to join the Art Caravan ride.
It’s this synergistic movement for both the physical space and digital platform that allows the brand to cultivate a creative culture bonded by values of inclusivity and community.
“From the get go, the goal has always been to bind the community. To get everyone–hobbyists, enthusiasts, and artists–together through a platform or space that upholds and uplifts.”