Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Cornelissen's fun gadgets

Tucked away in a corner of London, is a marvellous old Art Materials shop called L. Cornelissen & Son. 

 Established in 1855, little has changed in this enchanting art supplies shop except the stock. Inside, it's charming and old-fashioned.  It has creaking wooden floors, hundreds of wooden drawers and towering shelves which sweep up to the ceiling, lined with large glass jars of pigments and pastels. 

The shop stocks a wonderful array of brushes, calligraphy equipment, a specialized range of gold leaf and other decorative effects,  paints, pastels,  paper, gadgets, sketchbook, some of which are hand-made,  and books. They even supply quills to film companies! It’s worth popping in, if just to get a glimpse of the unique interior and to soak up the musty smells and long-standing Victorian atmosphere.   Just LOOK at those fantastic  jars of pigment in the pic below.

I visited with a friend from out of town.  She purchased watercolour supplies...including the most beautiful box of Schmincke paints which came in its own gorgeous leather carrying case - on sale, too!  The shop assistants are all artists, and they are extremely knowledgeable.   She learned all about Schmincke watercolours...how most watercolour pans are filled by cutting small squares from a long length of hard-set pigment, then these little squares are dropped into the plastic pans.  Schmincke watercolours are not made this way at all...each little pan is filled with pigment; allowed to dry then filled again.  As a result, the paint does not "rattle around" in the pan, it is firmly filled and releases rich, gorgeous colour.  Fascinating info.  It really is a shop worth visiting.  A victorian one...but with modern stock!  It is quite an experience.

 I found myself browsing the more unusual items in the shop.  I came across three helpful little gadgets which I thought I would tell you about.


Perfect if you are still a bit confused by perspective and want some help when you are on location.  This is one of the more sophisticated visual aids of this kind that I have found.  You hold the viewer up close to the eye, and with one eye closed, a larger field of view is revealed, or, held at arm's length, you have a small field of view.  There is a thick line running horizontally across the gadget to show the eye level.  Radiating lines can be "lined up" with whatever you are trying to draw.  You have a "landscape" view one side, and a "portrait" view the other.  The landscape view is above.   Here is a pic to show how the theory is applied:

 to help you draw circles or ellipses in perspective.  It "squares the circle" for you.  Or rather, they do.  You receive four little transparent cards, displaying four rectangles containing four ellipses.  They are of different ratios  - 1:1, 1:1.5, 1:2 and 1:3.     You also receive a little booklet explaining exactly how to use them.   If you struggle with ellipses which just don't look quite right, these could prove extremely useful to you.

Finally...I have covered this idea in a previous blog, when I just suggested you buy red acetate.  If you want something a bit more posh to use, you can now have:


Understanding how to interpret tone values is AN ABSOLUTELY VITAL part of your learning as an artist. Reducing any scene to five major tone values, helps to avoid unnecessary detail and overworking.  You can, as I suggested, use a simple piece of red acetate and work out the tones for yourself...but this little pair of specs, with its handy tonal scale along the top, might prove more useful than you think.  Also the gadget comes with a 32 page booklet to explain the whole subject further and also give you some exercises to work with, suggesting you try the same subject first in a single colour, like sepia, then in neutrals, finally in colour.

All three gadgets were designed by Peter Atkins for ArtGizmos.  You can, of course, buy them through Cornelissen, who will send anywhere I am sure, but you could also buy from Global Art Supplies - www.globalartsupplies.co.uk.  Peter puts his email on each pack, so if you have questions, he would probably answer them:  pgatkins35@gmail.com.  

If you don't need any of these gadgets, but do like buying art supplies, and happen to be visiting London, then I definitely suggest you put a trip to Cornelissen's fabulous shop, into your itinerary.  There are not many places quite like it....if any others at all.     My friend said it was like something out of Harry Potter....a Diagon Alley art materials shop!  I have to agree, that is just how it feels, tho I would liken it more to a Tardis!  You step into what feels like a tiny wee shop...but my goodness, the stock they carry!  Such a huge selection, and such wonderful, quality items too. My eyes were popping out on stalks, I began to feel like Michaelangelo's apprentice, sent out to buy things for him.    It really does seem quite magical and quite unlike any other art materials shop I have ever visited.  Such a treat.


  1. What a great find! I love discovering shops like this when traveling. And these three items are so special and valuable tools! Thanks for posting this info.

  2. Only just stumbled on your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, as an amatuer watercolourist I've found it very, very useful, love your work too!!

  3. Thanks for this description. This shop sounds as though it would be worth the trip.

  4. It's seems like I wanted find something but find a great shop with great stuff. I love having gadgets and nice to see above three.


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