Sunday, May 20, 2007

Art shops in London

Interior, Pink Tulip
8" x 8", coloured pencils on Saunders Waterford Hot Press`paper

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday I had a brief but enjoyable visit to L.Cornelissen & Son in Great Russell Street. This is the sort of shop which would make most artists think they'd died and gone to heaven!

I'm finding that more and more art shops that I've used in the past are not stocking things they used to and/or are becoming more focused on cheaper goods and the student market or are clearing shelves for 'craft' goods. Lots of shops I visit on my travels increasingly seem to stock what I would refer to as 'lowest common denominator' stock. I guess the online suppliers of art materials are hitting them hard. However I do wonder why more don't choose to compete in the specialist art materials market as it's always struck me that it's the specialist suppliers who do good business. Why would I go down the road for standard stock when I can buy it cheaper on the Internet?

I do know I'm finding it increasingly difficult to visit my usual art suppliers and get everything I want. There are a few art shops who could also take a lesson from Cornelissen's on how to pack in maximum specialised goods to a relatively small place. Stock was plentiful in terms of range, quality and quantity.

For example, yesterday at Cornelissen's I was able to purchase
  • some Polychromos pencils from open stock in all the colours I wanted as there were good stocks of each colour - which means I now know that deficits in stock held in art shops is down to ordering rather than supply.
  • two large Daler Rowney hardback sketchbooks (which have become increasingly difficult to source);
  • a block of Arches HP in a size I don't normally get (mainly because I'm lucky if I can get any size block of Arches HP!);
  • spare erasers for my Jakar battery powered eraser (not often found on their own);
  • two Kuretake sketching pens with permanent sepia ink (never seen before anywhere) and
  • two sheets of abrasive pastel support - one card and one Sansfix/accepts water in gold ochre (This has completely disappeared from every other art shop I know in London)
The only thing which I got which I know I would not have had a difficulty getting elsewhere were two 9B graphite sticks which I need to feed as an offering, on a regular basis, to my electric pencil sharpener!

I also need to pay a visit to Green and Stone in Chelsea which Shirley (Papers and Threads) has been using on her visits to London and which she assures me is excellent. I found out on Friday that it stocks my other pencil favourite - the Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour in open stock - and I could maybe then combine it with a visit to where Whistler used to live and paint the Thames!

Cornelissen's describe themselves as artists' colourmen. This is a rather old term used to describe the people who used to supply artists and their studios with the materials to make paint and latterly with pre-prepared paint, initially in bladders and then subsequently in tubes! Their shop has shelves and shelves of jars of pigments - and small packets of pigments from here were used in the egg tempera class in which we learned how to grind pigments and mix egg tempera from scratch.

In fact all the shelves are filled with wonderful specialist supplies. I always do a grand tour just to see what's new - and wasn't disappointed when I found the 'new' Sansfix in the rear - in all the available colours. I also enjoyed having a really good look at all the materials needed for anybody wanting to do etchings or lithographs or make other forms of prints as they seemed to have a lot of supplies for printing - including a table top press! I've very rarely seen these sort of supplies elsewhere.

It's great that both of these specialist shops now also offer online purchasing so supplies are not just limited to actual visitors.

If you know a really good specialist art shop which is still providing an excellent supply and service, please use the comments function to tell us its name and where it is.

I couldn't do the 14th worldwide sketchcrawl yesterday because of the meeting I had to be at. However I started "Interior, Pink Tulip" last night and completed it this morning.

Now that flowering is well underway I'm hoping that I can do a lot more of my macro flower drawings as originals for sale. I'm trying to find a format and size which makes these relatively straightforward to do, big enough and good enough for prints if I do a particularly good one and at the same time something which I can do for an affordable price for original art work - by me! ;) I'd be interested in any thoughts you have on macro flowers as small works for sale.



  1. I inadvertently switched off comments - and didn't realise until people started e-mailing me!

    Now I understand how I managed to do it I've switched them back on - and will reproduce comments below.

  2. Ann Fortenberry left me this comment - for which many thanks. It's always super to get a comment like this.

    "Katherine, I am almost blown away looking at your pink tulip. I've been just looking at it for some time-- no idea what you've done or how you've done it--but am returning to enjoy it, some more, immediately after I finish telling you this.

    I have never been as captivated by a flower as I am by this.
    Thank you for this special moment.


  3. Hi Katherine,

    I've noticed the same problem with art supply shops here in Toronto. The available stock for fine artists seems to be replaced with supplies for the hobby artist. I asked the manager of the store I shop at and she had this to say. "Today, half the artists that used to shop for supplies now create their art digitally and we've lost them for good. And those who still practice their craft the traditional way are seeking out their specialized supplies on-line". The retailers feel they are losing foot traffic and have supplemented their stock with crafter supplies. I ran out of acrylic Naples yellow this morning and had to go to three stores and all I could find was a tiny jar. Very disappointing.

  4. It's been 2 1/2 years since your review and all I can say is that they continue to have the hard to find. We went their just before Christmas and just spending time there was a present.

    Warning to the casual browser, though, if you don't see something, ask. The shop is packed full and things can be tucked away where you will miss them. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.


  5. Many thanks Doug.

    In a life that is ever changing, the unchanging quality and service which can be found at Cornelissen's is one of life's small joys!

  6. I'm so glad L Cornelissen & Co was quoted in the blurb above. The lovely shop frontage, absolutely, intrigues and draws you in. Is that exterior bluey-green paintwork the famous 'Eau De Nil' of Art Nouveau? I'm so delighted to discover that the sign writer of the shop frontage was a chap I knew so well at school. We vied as little adolescents as to the most worthy classical composers. He argued for Beethoven and Brahms. I stuck singularly to Mozart. Clearly, 'the baton' (his marl stick) paid off.


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