My other Kryptonite is art supplies. Not only was my visit to France replete with foie gras and fromage blanc, I also indulged in art supply shops of hyperventilation-inducing variety.
I dragged friends to Creative Grafic in Aix-en-Provence and proceeded to ignore them for an hour.
I wanted to hug their brush display. I’ll take one of each and an extra, please.
Sketchbooks and watercolor blocks overflowed from the shelves to the floor.
Like the other art supply stores I would visit in the coming days, Creative Grafic was for working artists of all stripes. Large jars of powdered pigment were just a shelf away from Derwent pencils and Pilot Parallel Pens. Watercolor and colored pencil sets lined the windows. There were student and artist lines from ArtCreation, Pebeo, Sennelier and more.
I came away with Arches hot-pressed watercolor blocks, an Isabey “Gold” brush set in a wrap, ArtGraf, and solid brass sharpeners.
In Paris, I went to Magasin Sennelier (Couleurs du Quai Voltaire) twice, because I didn’t want to leave the first time. It’s a short walk from the Louvre and the Lovelocks bridge, along a row of galleries. They have other branches but I wanted to see this one in particular, because it was the first one, established over a century ago.
Their pastel line-up is beyond comprehensive. I don’t think you’ll get a wider range in any physical store anywhere. It was total sugar rush for the eyes.
Lining the stairwell are swatches. They could be works of art on their own.
The mezzanine had canvas in all sizes and supports for whatever you could think of. The floor above held inks (Rohrer & Klinger, Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum Pigment ink in Sepia, Platinum Mix Free), calligraphy supplies, a surprisingly varied selection of Japanese brush pens, and brushes.
I’ve been guilty of slipping a sketchbook out of its plastic cover to fondle the paper. The kind people at Magasin Sennelier have saved me from myself and laid out open sketchbook testers. What a great idea. Other art stores should follow suit. (Google says “griffonner” means “to scribble.” What a lovely word for it. Hold on, I’m griffonning.)
This is a busy shop, catering to tourists and local artists. (Must apologize for the blurred pictures, a combination of excited hands and irregular lighting.) Yes, that is a Molotow cabinet in the corner. I really, really want to dive into the Molotow system but 1) I am too scared to graf and 2) I’m not worthy!
Pro tip: the Escoda travel brushes are BEHIND the counter. Ask for them.
My last major contribution to the French GDP was at Passage Cloute, an art supplies megastore 400 meters from the Nation Metro stop. We emerged from the Metro straight into a demonstration. There was much playing of Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning,” a staple of rallies around the world since 1987.
There was no Old World charm in sight.
But who cares? It was heaven inside.
So. Much. Clairefontaine.
A surfeit of art candy.
Leigh, you don’t need any more brushes.
There are many ways to infer what a country values – the shows people watch, the industries that grow around culture and capabilities, the food people are proud of, even the distribution of shops in a mall. (France seems to have no malls, not the kind I’m familiar with.) Creative Grafic was your friendly neighborhood art store, where regulars were greeted by name. Magasin Sennelier was a tourist attraction, but also a serious supplier for artists, not a museum. Passage Clouté was a warehouse. This kind of variety in retail means the demands of artistic impulse are well-served by commerce, letting both thrive. Thank you, France, for keeping the arts just as much a part of the everyday as a glass of good wine.