Book Thirty-six


L. Cornelissen & Son Sketchbook 

I was once given some very good advice by an Irish friend. If I was going to visit London, I needed to see two important places. The British Museum, and just down the street from there, L. Cornelissen & Son artist supply shop, or, as it still says on the sign, "Artists' Colourmen." 

The shop is a marvel. Established in 1855 it opened its doors just one year before Wiliam Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye. In the shop I purchased a small green sketchbook. To those who plot their life by and in books, this was about five years before Moleskien began to produce their wonderful but now ubiquitous sketchbooks. The Cornelissen book was an elegant, green colour that matched the paint on the walls of the store. Kind of a verdant, billiard-table shade. The name "L. Cornelissen & Son" was stamped in gold on the cover and I considered it a few steps above the spiral notebook I was carrying with me. The colour seemed to be a marker of something beyond the longevity of small bespoke colourmen in the English capital. A few years later when I watched an architect pull a similar green sketchbook from his satchel I knew exactly where he got it. We connected over the book and it occurred to me that there are some things which communicate in unexpected ways.

This is that book. I saved it for several years before I was brave enough to use it. 

The books used to be make by Cornelissen themselves. They had excellent, heavy, white paper in them, it was like a pot of heavy cream: rich and velvety. Not to be too opinionated, but the drawing paper of the Moleskiens is so thin you could spit through it, and if, on the other hand, you opt for the books with heavier paper, you don't really get enough pages in the book. The paper is OK, I guess, but it doesn't induce euphoria the way the Cornelissen book does. I decided to stock up on the Cornelissen books the next time I passed through London. And, just when I had sufficient capital to do so, I learned that Cornelissen no longer made the books themselves. 

They are still the same green colour. It's nice. But books are now made by Seawhite of Brighton. They are suppliers to art galleries (the National Portrait Gallery is a client) and they still have very good paper in them. Still, learning that the Cornelissen books had changed was a bit like getting the news that your parents had sold the family home and moved into an apartment. The change is inevitable and for reasons you can never clearly define, just a little bit sad.

More rants on specific sketchbooks:
Book Seventeen Ampad
Book Nineteen Claire Fontaine

Here is a list of books.

Tim McLaughlin

Photographer and writer based in Vancouver, Canada