Thursday, June 4, 2015

Post-Travel Follow-up, Part 1: Shopping in Paris

5/30/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolors, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Who can visit Paris without shopping? Not me! Haute couture fashion? Hardly. (I never even got the sunhat I had actually hoped to buy there – but it turned out that I didn’t need it anyway!)

I purchased exactly two things in Paris (and except for a few postcards, in all of France), both from one place: the Sennelier art supply store. Open since 1887, it’s a famed institution among Paris artists. Every nook and cranny is stuffed with paints, pencils, pastels, paper, brushes and every other art material imaginable. The aisles are so narrow that at times you have to turn your hips to get by, and if someone has a drawer open, you have to walk around to the next aisle.

I’d seen images online of the store interior, so I didn’t think they’d mind if I took photos, but with my phone camera, I felt like I couldn’t get enough distance in the tiny store to get a good image! I did take a couple of photos outside, including an intriguing window display of pencil shavings.

Which brings me to my purchases. I’ve lately been using a knife to sharpen my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils because I often like being able to put down a broad stroke of color, and it’s not possible to expose a wide area of pigment with a pencil sharpener. But I’m not very skillful with a knife, so I’ve been frustrated that I can’t get a sharp point without cutting away and wasting so much of the pigment. In addition, I can’t bring a knife when I travel, so a portable sharpener would still be useful, but most I’ve tried won’t accommodate colored pencils. I walked into Sennelier with that one issue in mind.

A pencil sharpener display in the Sennelier window.
The pencil shaving display in the window made me optimistic – the store certainly had a wide selection of sharpeners. It also carried the very same Caran d’Ache Museum pencils I use. After browsing a bit, I walked up to an employee, pulled out one of my own Museum pencils from my bag and asked her for an appropriate sharpener. (She recognized the brand and acknowledged their high quality, pointing out the pencil display I had already noticed.) I explained the issue – that these colored pencils wouldn’t fit in most portable sharpeners I had tried. She showed me a few sharpeners similar to the many plastic ones I already own, and then she showed me a brass one. Labeled M + R, it’s made in Germany. Though it’s quite a bit more expensive (about 8 Euros) than the others, she said, it’s of much higher quality. I asked again to make sure that the sharpener would fit the pencil in my hand, and she confirmed that it would, as well as many other pencils.

Happily, I walked up to the counter with the brass sharpener, and while waiting in line, I saw a display of Molotow acrylic markers and masking fluid. I knew that Molotow products were available at my local Blick and Daniel Smith stores, but I thought it would be fun to have one purchased at Sennelier, especially since it was so small and lightweight that it wouldn’t add much to my baggage. I picked out the smallest-size acrylic marker, hoping to replace the Uniball Signo opaque white marker that has been failing me lately.

Greg checks his map while I drool at the
Sennelier windows.
That evening in our flat, I pulled out the sharpener from Sennelier – the one made of solid brass that cost 8 Euros – and tried sharpening a Caran d’Ache pencil. Guess what? It doesn’t fit. It appears to, but the blades dont make sufficient contact. It is definitely a high-quality sharpener that fits many other pencils, though. I guess I’ll call it a souvenir of my trip to Paris, but like most souvenirs (that I no longer buy when I travel), it will probably not get used much. (Although the Sennelier employee spoke flawless English, I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt that we had a communication issue.)

But my purchases werent a total waste. The Molotow opaque white acrylic marker, which has a 1mm fine tip, came in handy that very evening when I wanted to indicate the sparkling lights on the Eiffel and then again in Villefranche when I drew in the white mast of a sailboat. It writes well over watercolor, which is where the Uniball has been failing me sporadically. The only thing I don’t like about the Molotow marker is that the cap is really hard to pull off. When it finally does come off, it’s with a hard snap, which has a tendency to make the liquid contents of the pen come flying out! 


  1. Too bad the sharpener didn't fit the pencils! It sounded so promising. I'm like you...I don't really buy souvineers when I travel unless they are something I can actually use so art materials are a perfect purchase!

    Isn't that store wonderful? When I walked thru the doorway I thought you could just smell art in there. It was a wonderful experience.

    1. I agree, Joan -- Sennelier is fantastic! If I lived there, I'd be dropping by every week just to see all the pastels and paints!

  2. Love your story--I bought inexpensive art supplies when in Paris, and don't know how I missed this store! For my souvenir (which is the verb "to remember") I bought a shower curtain with French words all over it from the large BHV store near city hall. Next time I'm in Paris, I'll make sure to get to this store--Ruthie


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...