Looking for a Friendly Pencil

'Henry' art window
'Henry's window on the rue de Rennes has never
been one of the shop's major features.

I Think I've Done This Before, Too

Paris:- Wednesday, 10. October 1997:- I have done a lot of different things, but I started drawing before any of these. At various times I have had the opportunity to do drawings for a living, and the longest period of this started when I first came to Paris. It lasted for over 15 years.

'Doing little lines on paper' may seem an easy and amusing way to make a living, and it is. There are 'starving artists,' rich and successful artists, and all of the so-so artists who do most of the everyday stuff you see; the thing most have in common is that it is all work.

After 15 straight years of doing drawings 'on command' I started to close my eyes while doing it, and this made me think maybe I should do something else. Chance put 'no choice' at my disposition, and that took care of it.

A few years ago, I had a photographer friend come in and shoot a lot of my old drawings and cartoons, and the negatives were transferred to several Kodak PCDs. This is not the entire collection, but it more than fills two PCDs - and I have been using these cartoons, modifying some of them, adding some color to others, and running them in this magazine.

I'm sure many alert readers have noticed that I've run one of two more than once - for different subjects - but only one wrote to say 'gotcha!'

This, and the sense that enough time of 'no drawing' has past - plus the feeling that Metropole and Paris deserve their own cartoons, has lead me back to the old profession.

Liquid paint may dry up, but tools do not wear out. However, my toolbox has suffered plunder and theft - due to paper at Henry two sets of young and sticky fingers - and when I resumed doing cartoons a couple of weeks ago, it was with less than what I thought I needed.

Paris has more art schools and artists than - say, small towns in Nebraska - so there are quite a number of art supply shops here. My start-up needs are modest: I need an ordinary pencil, and because this is a new restart, I think I'll use colored pencils.

A small sample of the large selection of paper at 'Henry.'

In the 'artistic capital of the world' - when I first came here, I tried all the brands new to me, starting with pencils. None were perfect - as perfect, that is - as the ones I used in Germany. In the end, I had to turn the town upsidedown to find them, and it was easier to lay in stocks while on visits to Hamburg and Munich.

I tried all the watercolors too - English, French, Dutch - but none were as 'right' as my German brand. Needless to say, they were - and are - hard to find in Paris.

What I did quickly find, was very good oil paint at Henry paper; exactly right, and in a good location - in a shop right between three major customers in Montparnasse. When I returned briefly to Hamburg, there was no paper like it there, and I imported a ton of it from the rue de Rennes.

Now, some years-worth off the scene, and my telephone book out-of-date, I have to start over and find a handy and reliable supplier.

I tried oil paint in art school, once.

One with good prices would be nice too; but when you use the good stuff and even if a lot is done, it dosen't wear out fast. In a way, with the 'right stuff,' price is not an issue. Frankly, ordinary stuff wears out faster, so you end up paying more for it anyway. All the same, I'm glad I don't do oil painting or have to make layouts using the 'marker' felt-pens, because this stuff costs an arm and a leg.

One of my kids takes English two half-days a week at a community centre and I noticed some ladies going in there with big drawing-folders. Last week I followed them into an atelier where they were busily hacking out picture frames. The lady running the course gave me the name of a supplier, and I am checking this one out today.

It is raining in Paris and the sidewalk of the boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire glistens in front of the three-floor shop Rougier & Ple named Rougier et Plé. Inside it is white and airy, and there is a reception, and I see at a glance it is run as an old-fashioned place where you are assigned a sales-person.

Some older art-supply places are so crammed you can't browse - you can't 'impulse-buy!' - so having the assistance of a sales-person is absolutely necessary. The negative side to it - is you have to know them and they, you.

The Rougier shop is pleasant, but does not have what I'm looking for.

This Rougier is full of every conceiveable object - some 60 'types' - you may need for manual crafts. I see 45-franc white silk ties - in the three lengths, ready to be hand-painted. There is stuff for making lamp-shades; the wire frames, the paper or tissue, and the paint, and the doo-dads like gold tassels. There are three floors full of this and the cellar is even interesting for its obvious antique vaulted ceiling.

Rougier's 35-franc, telephone-book-thick catalogue, gets reimboursed with the first purchase - but since I see no great variety of pencils, I don't bother to get one.

Although the shop has promotions, its prices are not the lowest. If I ever want anything strange - like cheapo white silk ties, I'll come back - but it is not the place I seek and I wander down the boulevard to where it becomes Beaumarchais, and look into the camera shops all the way to Bastille to see what they are promoting these days.

Paris:- Friday, 10. October 1997:- After touring the BHV's tool-heaven in their basement I head up to the métro Saint-Placide on the rue de Rennes, to see my 'old' supplier; the one located between all my old clients.

Serious painters recommend Adam on the boulevard Edgar Quinet, but it is one of the 'crammed' shops where you need to take a ticket to get a sales-assistant, and it is impossible to browse in it - although the choice of big and comfortable cafés on the nearby place is large, in compensation.

'My' place used to be called 'Henry' and is now named 'Graphigro' and there are a number of these around Paris, but it has managed to remain 'Henry' as far as I'm concerned.

No ticket is necessary to talk to the first fellow I come across and we quickly get into the merits of these or those colored pencils, without bothering to discuss the three other brands available in the shop.

This is in a tiny area on the street-level of the shop. The rest of this level has paint - oils, acrylics, aquarelles, in pots, tubes, little pastilles - but we spend a good half-hour on the crayon question. This guy has used them himself and he talks me into switching from my brand - which they have - to this Swiss brand.

About the aquarelles; 'Henry' does not have 'my' brand either. They do have the two English ones and a Dutch one - but I tried these years ago and found that they burn up sable brushes like sandpaper.

I am very depressed about this because 'Henry' used to have my brand. The guy is good through, because he gives me a secret tip about this new, hand-made, Belgian brand - which 'Henri' does not carry in pastilles. He roots through a drawer of brochures and at the bottom finds one for this new brand - I can write to them and ask for a sample. A new brand!

Upstairs I cannot find my pencils; they have the same brand's colored pencils downstairs - but not this Mercedes of pencils upstairs! Take it from me: all pencils are not alike. The half of one I have left will Ric's tools have to last until I find more; but they are fairly common in Paris, and people who use them by accident do not realize they are extraordinary.

Although crude, for really fast work, the felt-tipped markers cannot be beaten. Their main drawback is their price - something like 35 francs for one color - and my old set contained at least 30 colors. Color pencils will do for now then.

Some of what I got back, after walking around Paris all day.

While I've been looking around, my downstairs guy has come upstairs and turned up Madame Marie Quiaios, the assistant manger of this shop, who was sanely having lunch.

We decide to be 'informal' about the taking of a couple of photos after she finds out I am an old, lapsed, customer and we have had a good natter about the old 'Henry' days - this is like it is supposed to be - none of this 'take-a-ticket' and wait for your number to come up routine.

Before going, I dip into the cellar to make sure all the paper and carton stock is still in it and it is. Since there are the usual fair gang of people waiting - customers do not touch the paper! - I do not verify if 'my' favorite is in stock, and I leave them to it.

Out on the rue de Rennes it has decided not to rain and there are the usual crowds hurrying along, with the ghastly Montparnasse tower leaning over it all. Just before the boulevard, this stretch of Rennes is not pretty in any way, but it is always charged with bustling energy - partly because of the big fnac and Tati in the middle of it.

I see that Tati has 'antiqued' their street-level appearance, which is really at odds with the coolly modern facade of the opposite fnac. Above Tati, the rest of the old 'Felix-Potin' building is still its art-deco self, looking a bit like a mad soft-ice cream, accidently pumped out of a Dairy-Queen machine.

This evening at home - by pure chance, I swear - my number-one plunderer sorts through his fishing-tackle-box collection of colored drawing utensils, and returns the remains of my old colored-pencil set, making it almost complete. Why today?


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