Friday, 26 June 2009

Art Bookshop Review: Thomas Heneage Art Books

Lots of excellent art history books
all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a review of a shop selling art history books. It's also a shop which I shall definitely be going back to. Yesterday I visited Thomas Heneage Art Books and walked away with two excellent books - one a Tate Publishing catalogue of the 1998 retrospective exhibition of John Singer Sargent at the Tate Gallery and a 1984 book providing an overview of Pastels and pastel artists from the 16th to the 20th century by Genevieve Monnier.

Name of Art Bookshop: Thomas Heneage Art Books
Address: 2 Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6DJ
Website: Thomas Heneage Art Books
Shope hours: Monday to Friday 9.30am to 6pm, otherwise by appointment (closed public holidays).
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7930 9223
Of interest to: art lovers, students of art history, gallery owners, art dealers, art exhibition visitors, art students and art teachers
  • my idea of a good bookshop - three rooms with books everywhere!
  • an excellent range of high quality art history books about various artists - published at various dates and in various languages
  • ad hoc selection of international exhibition catalogues from past exhibitions; strong on 'landmark' exhibitions
  • all books in excellent condition
  • new publications focus on very specialised topics
  • very helpful staff
Think Again?
  • not for those seeking a cheap book - although prices are fair
  • no art instruction books
Summary: This is the bookshop to go to if:
  • you love art history books
  • you're trying to track down an art history book or catalogue that you want.

Exterior of shop at 42 Duke Street
Thomas Heneage Art Books was founded in 1977. The business focuses on selling art books. We specialize in books for the art market, our core business being in catalogues raisonnés, monographs and international exhibition catalogues. It is our policy to stock the most authoritative book on any subject and in any language, irrespective of its being new or second hand.
I'm never averse to stepping over the threshold of an art bookshop. However shops in the "very posh" St Jame's area of London can be a bit intimidating. However this one is very relaxed - there are books everywhere and you sometimes have to watch your step!

This shop also has extremely friendly and very helpful staff. For example, after I asked whether I could take photographs and explained why, I was given a complete tour of the bookshop - and the coverage of topic areas within art hsitory is extensive - including I then asked about a book I've been trying to get hold of Wilfrid Blunt's The Art of Botanical Illustration and one was located in a very short space of time and I had a price for it. Reader - I was impressed!

Lucian Freud on paper'
surveys what's on offer
Most of the books are about artists and painting - however there is also a set of shelves just devoted to the history of drawing. Extensive shelving is also given over to specialised areas of antiques and artifacts and the art associated with specific countries.

This is the sort of bookshop which is a recommended visit for serious art bibilophiles, art historians, art teachers and students of art history - not to mention the art dealers - many of whom get their reference books here.

The books are authoritative and the best quality. Some are new (the type which only get published in limited numbers for not insignificant prices) but the majority are secondhand. That said they are all in good condition. Some even come with some added extras inserted by their previous owners - always a small joy to find! I opened up my Pastels Book to find an item from the Galerie Camoin on the Quai Voltaire in Paris.

If you like art history and you really like books I recommend a visit.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

At last - statistics that make sense!

First of all, I'd like to say a HUGE thank you to all those people who have subscribed to Making a Mark reviews...... since it started in April this year.

For some reason Feedburner has been ignoring virtually all the people who have subscribed to this blog - including ALL the subscriptions in Google Reader!

I was feeling very perplexed about why only 7 people wanted to subscribe. However I got a big shock this morning when I saw that actually 82 people have subscribed in one way or another! That's quite some incentive to create reviews!

I still seem to be having a problem with Feedblitz which seems to want to update about every four hours and say precisely nothing but I'm hoping to get to the bottom of that one.

In the meantime thank you for bearing with me and I'll be back to normal very soon I hope.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

I've got problems validating this blog's feed

The statistics for this blog have been very odd and I've discovered that I've got problems with the feed for this blog which in turn was:
  • producing some very odd results on the Feedburner validation page.
  • causing the subscription link to loop and not arrive at a subscription page
PLEASE let me know if it's causing a problem for you too.

In the meantime if anybody knows what the following is all about I'd love to hear from you!.
Use of unknown namespace:
I'd naievely assumed that Google wouldn't be using templates or code that was incompatible between its products - namely Blogger and Feedburner

By the way - did you know that Google doesn't use feedburner for the feeds for its own Google Blogs? I wonder why?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Art shop review: San Clemente Art Supply

Name of shop: San Clemente Art Supply San Clemente Center for the Arts (SCCA) is in the same building
Address: 1531 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente Ca 92672
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Weds 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun Closed
Telephone: Phone: (949)369-6603 | Fax: (949)369-9304
Online Store: none - however try contacting them by email or phone if you have something very specific in mind. Patti has indicated they can take orders and ship.
Of interest to: artists wanting a non-chain art supply shop and the greater range and choice that can mean
  • independent supplier - hence not tied in to a corporate view of which range of goods should be sold
  • excellent customer service - very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful
  • fabulous range of paper and supports
  • carry canvases of all types and sizes - stretched or by the yard;
  • supply many brands of oils, acrylics, watercolors and pastels plus an extensive range of brushes
  • carry a good range of drafting supplies, printmaking supplies, and graphic supplies
  • provides a shipping service for artwork - using specialised shipping containers
  • a place to go to if you're searching for something you can't find in other art supply shops; will order supplies they don't stock
  • committed to the environment - advice re disposal of art media/materials; people using reusable bags for their supplies get entered into prize draw
Think Again?
  • It's a long way to visit if you don't live in Southern California!
  • lack of an online shop for those who'd like to patronise independent suppliers
Summary: This store provides both excellent service and a very good range of art materials. I travelled several thousand miles to visit - and it was one of the highspots of my trip

Back in 2006, I reviewed San Clemente Art Supply on my travel sketchbook blog after a trip to the south western states of the USA in Service with a smile - San Clemente Art Supply.

San Clemente Art Supply

I'm reproducing part of it here and providing an update due to some recent changes which are worth mentioning.

My previous review ended with the following important notice! ;)
You have been warned - DO NOT ENTER this store with any plastic in your hand unless you're prepared for a large bill or can exercise masterful restraint or have spent your art budget for the next six months already and have promised to be really good!
San Clemente Art Supply
This store has a fabulous stock of paper and supports of all different sorts - I came away with all sorts of new goodies which I just can't get in the UK. In this respect, I even thought it was at least as good if not better than the Dick Blick store in San Diego (see tomorrow's post), If you can't find what you want at your local store try giving them a ring! They don't currently run a mail order service from their website but I'm currently thinking along the lines of contacting them next time I want something not stocked in the UK!

They also had an excellent range in both pastels and coloured pencils - and pens and pencils. I do know though that they were stocking the Terry Ludwig pastel sets - including the Terry Ludwig dark set which helped to produce lush darks in the workshop.

The store is also fantastic for having a great supply of small pieces of kit and useful items which make one's artistic life easier at times - and makes browsing filled with lots of loud sqeaks of "Oh look what they've got here!" They had all the material and tools which Dianna had recommended to hand - which was great as some of them were very difficult if not impossible to find at other stores.
Since I visited they added a custom framing shop in 2008.

A commitment to being green: I wanted to update the review because of one aspect which is now much more apparent on their website - and that's their commitment to the environment and being green - which I happen to think is vitally important, in a literal sense.
  • they discontinued their paper-based newsletter and now provide all updates online
  • they provide advice and details on their website about where their customers can safely recycle or dispose of unwanted or used art media
  • They are eliminating plastic bags and will not be reordering any more. They now have reusable bags. Check out the photos of why they do this on their website - the rubbish relating to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch/Gyre
Each time you shop using any reusable bag, or don’t need a bag at all, we will enter your name in a monthly drawing for a $25 gift card to the store.
San Clemente Art Supply website
San Clemente Center for the Arts

The website contains details of both weekly classes and workshops:
The place where the Dianna Ponting Pastel Workshop was held really deserves a special mention in this blog as it was outstanding.

The workshop was held in a large room to the rear and side of the San Clemente Art Supply and Framing building at 1531 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente Ca 92672. (that's the spanish style building with two big palms either side!)

They have an extensive range of classes and workshops - from ones for children to regular classes for local people on a variety of subjects to one day or one week workshops from some of the best tutors around.

Running workshops, classes and demonstrations by instructors from major suppliers on a regular basis means that they are well used to having students in the building - which probably explains why they are so good at hosting classes. Each workshop participant had an easel and a decent amount of table top space - so essential when working with pastels. The wash-up and rest room facilities were fine. They also had a great map of all the local places to get lunch. What was best though was the very easy access back into the store proper where you could find anything you knew you wanted - and a lot more besides.
Sally Strand (see The best ever workshop - pastel painting with Sally Strand) lives just up the coast and teaches a workshop on 'The Color of Light' here every year - which should be of interest to any pastellists who can get to it (that's if it's not sold out already!) The next one a four day workshop running 23rd-26th July!

and finally......

The explantion behind my the title of my original blog post
Patti Herdell, who set up and runs the store, is one of the most helpful and hospitable people I've ever come across in an art supply store - and this is reflected in the range of services and supplies they offer and how one is treated as a customer. As the website says "We provide service with a smile" - and they do too!

Art Supplies in the USA - Resources for Artists
Do you have problems finding art shops or art suppliers or just anywhere that has got that illusive item that you want. Do you forget who stocks which range?

My Favourite Art Shops - Resources for Artists
As more and more sales move online, it's crucial that all artists continue to patronise and support our favourite 'bricks and mortar' art shops in our towns and cities. These are where we can find the specialist art materials which can be impossible to find online. This site contains:
(1) reviews of favourite art shops
(2) photographs of what they look inside
(3) details of how to find them.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Book Review: BP Portrait Award 2009 catalogue

Title: BP Portrait Award catalogue
Author: (Publisher): National Portrait Gallery Publications (£7.99 / reduction for NPG Members)
Synopsis: A catalogue of all the portraits which are part of the exhibition for the BP Portrait Award 2009. Plus an interesting essay on portraiture by Sarah Dunant and an item about the the work undertaken by artist who won the BP Travel Award 2008
Who should buy this?:
  • People interested in portraiture
  • Artists who want to submit work to a future BP Portrait Exhibition
Who should not buy this?
  • People who are hapy viewing the small images and better background information available on the exhibition website.
  • People not interested in portraiture
  • complete catalogue of all portraits in the exhibition
  • dimensions and media/support are listed for all images
  • interesting essay by Sarah Dunant
  • good overview of Emmanouil Bitsakis's journey to north-west China to paint portraits of a Turkic minority people (but the NPG magazine did it better).
Think Again?
  • the catalogue is very small which limits the size of the images of the portraits. Those which have portraits in landscape format are particularly ill-served by this format.
  • the artist's background plus the explanation of the portrait - which are both available in the exhibition and on the website - is missing from the book.
  • the photographs in my edition flatten the images and the colours are slightly off. Rather in the same way as you get when flash has not been used well. Some of the portraits are not well represented by photographs - including the winner.
Summary: The range and approaches used by different artists may be seen to serve as an indicator of what is popular but it really only indicates what this year's jury liked. Interesting to keep as a record and to review the different approaches used. It needs to have the details of the artist and the background included - but they're missing.

There's a limited audience for this publication. People buying it are probably limited to those about to see the exhibition, those who'd like to see their work in the exhibition next year and those trying to develop their portraiture practice!

It needs to be remembered that this is a painting competition and therefore it doesn't in any way represent the full range of ways in which artists can now choose to create portraits of individuals.

The catalogue is the size of a large hand and is a good size for carrying round in an exhibition, however if we were thinking about ways to save trees my guess is a lot of people would be happy with a simpler document which they could borrow to see the exhibition and then return afterwards.

For those interested in the portraits and portraiture, it seems to pitch itself somewhere between providing too much for those visiting the exhibition and not enough for those interested in portraiture. I looked back at it following the press preview and over lunch in the National Cafe next door and I'm afraid this catalogue irritated me. Some portraits stay with you after you've left an exhibition and you end up wanting to know 'how' or 'why' - but this book doesn't answer that question. For example, it doesn't include any of the notes about the background of the artist or the reasons for painting this portrait and how they approached it which are provided next to each portrait in the exhibition and also on the website.

It's always difficult to comment on photographs in a book. There can be a number of reasons why they may not look as much like the portraits in the exhibition as they could. The photographer's technique for photographing the work, how they process their images, the paper it's printed on, the printer used, the batch I'm looking at - any or all could influence the outcome. The simple fact is that they don't all represent the portraits as well as they might do. I'm probably more conscious of this , this year as the winning portrait is one of the ones that suffers as a result. Some of the images are really flattened and some of the colours in some of the pictures are slightly 'off'. Maybe I'm being picky but to my mind the the quality of the image reproduction in a catalogue is absolutely critical to its rating.

I'm minded to suggest the NPG consults with Taschen about to this sort of exhibition catalogue in future. Taschen have a talent for publishing informative art books with good production values, excellent images and a very cheap price. That's what this should be - but it doesn't quite achieve this.

That said I do buy it every year. I just wish every year that it were a better catalogue.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Product Feedback: Winsor & Newton sketchbooks

If you're ever dissatisfied with a sketchbook it's always worthwhile letting the manufacturer know exactly what you think, especially if you are a watercolourist. A lot of people who sketch don't only use light watercolour washes. A number want to produce proper watercolours and will always need a paper that will cope with this.

Check out out what happened to Sue Smith (Sue's Sketch Blog) - see Sketchbooks - when she tried to buy a Winsor & Newton sketchbook which had paper heavy enough for proper watercolour washes and what happened next.
  • Sue was after more supplies of her favourite Winsor & Newton White Paper Hard Back Sketch Books - 170gsm with a blue cover
  • she could only find a White Paper Hard Back Sketch Books –110gsm (with a black cover) in her local art shop. The product guidelines indicate that this is suitable for use with pencil, pen and ink and light water colour washes - so this is, of course, not suitable for somebody who wants to do proper watercolours
  • Her local art shop advised her that the sketchbooks with the heavier weight paper were still made (now with a black cover) but need to be ordered - so that's what Sue did
  • When the new sketchbooks arrived she found that the paper was completely different
I collected my new books expecting them to be the same quality as the blue covered ones I have used for years, so was sadly disappointed to find that they were not. The paper did not respond well to wet in wet watercolour or heavy washes, the surface breaking up and going fluffy.
Sue Smith - Sketchbooks
  • I checked the website description of the product she had been been supplied with and it states that These heavy weight paper sketch books are suitable for pencil, pen and ink and light water colour washes. Basically exactly the same as the 110gsm sketchbook!
  • Sue wrote to Winsor & Newton asking whether they had changed their paper. It turns out they had - and you can read their reply in Sue's blog post Sketchbooks.
  • Winsor & Newton also sent her one of their Luxury Artists’ Water Colour Sketch Book as a gesture of goodwill (see right to see what this looks like)
Paper changes

Winsor & Newton, like a number of other art material manufacturers are faced all the time with changes in their supplies of paper.

Sadly, that's just a fact of life. Paper mills have been going out of business for a long time now. Life becomes very difficult for art materials manufacturers because their view is that the art paper market is extremely price sensitive. Obviously they only want to design products they feel confident they can sell.

It makes for some very difficult decision-making - and it's an area where manufacturers could do with more input from their customers!

It's very important therefore that artists let manufacturers know when they really like their products and also when they don't. Are you really price sensitive - or do you just want a good quality product that does the job?

A Luxury Sketchbook and woodfree paper

This Luxury watercolour sketchbook is described as having woodfree paper.
The Woodfree fibres used in manufacture ensure the paper is 100% acid free, increasing the longevity of your paintings.
This means it's actually NOT the same as the best watercolour paper. It struck me as very odd that a sketchbook which is described as luxury should not use the best watercolour paper.

For the record the best watercolour paper is made from 100% cotton fibre (eg Arches Watercolour paper) or a mixture of cotton and linen (eg the Royal Watercolour Society Watercolour paper)

How to find and buy a Winsor & Newton Luxury Artist's Watercolour Sketchbook

I've never ever seen these luxury sketchbooks in any of the art shops that I frequent in London. (If you want the best try looking at Cornelissen's supply of watercolour sketchbooks and sketchpads)

So I decided to try and find out where it was possible to buy them and I did a search on the Internet. Some of the biggest online art materials suppliers do not stock them - according to the description used on the Winsor & Newton website. I could only find three small less well known stockists - and one of them was out of stock. However if you try different product descriptions - which I discovered only after 15 minutes of trying different combinations(!) - you can also find them at Heaton Cooper, Ken Bromley and Discount Art - none of which popped up in response to using the W&N description as the search term.

Curiously, these sketchbooks are not even available through Winsor & Newton's own online shop. Which considering it's obviously a very specialist product seems most unusual!


Winsor & newton get a thumbs up from me for providing a feedback form on their website. It makes providing feedback very easy.


Quality: I find it really surprising that an art materials manufacturer which is so well known for its artist quality watercolours shouldn't make more of an effort to make sure that a sketchbook described as luxury actually used the best watercolour paper.

Customer satisfaction
: Three cheers for Winsor & Newton for providing
  • an appropriate response to Sue's experience. She gets to try a suitable sketchbook for free and to make up her own mind what she thinks about the paper and its relative value for money (ie it only contains 15 sheets)
  • a way of providing feedback, comments and asking questions on their website.
Customer dissatisfaction: Winsor & Newton get a big thumbs down from me in relation to
  • the quality of paper used in the 170 gsm sketchbook,
  • the briefing provided to their suppliers about their products and
  • distribution arrangements for their ONLY sketchbook which can be used for proper watercolour.

My advice is to have a think about you how can get the best sketchbook for your needs and also influence future product design and pricing by providing feedback to the manufacturer.

For example:
  • Think about learning how to make your own sketchbooks from your own favourite watercolour paper. That way, you get to determine the type and quality of the paper you want to use.
  • Always provide feedback to the manufacturer if you are ever disappointed with a product. Let them know precisely why you are disappointed. If you want a better quality product tell them!
  • Always provide feedback to your local art shop - they need to know when products aren't doing the job as good suppliers will also provide feedback to manufacturers.
  • Write about your experience with your sketchbook in your blog. Intelligent art materials manufacturers keep an eye out for what people are saying about their products! I've know completely new products emerge as a result of adverse comments by artists on the Internet! :)
Check out my resource site Paper and Non-Canvas Supports - Resources for Artists to find out more about different papers and sketchbooks

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Product Review: Really Useful Boxes (for art media and crafts)

Product: Really Useful Boxes
Manufacturer / Distributor: Really Useful Products - a European Company that design and develop their own range of Really Useful Boxes.
Technical Details:
Summary: Robust transparent boxes which provide storage when transporting pastels and pencils.
Who should buy this?:
  • art tutors transporting materials for workshops
  • plein air artists
  • artists who sketch
  • craft artists
  • artists requiring storage for stock of art media
Who should not buy this?
  • artists with adequate storage
  • artists who don't need to transport media easily
  • artists with preferred alternatives for carrying art media
  • robust and sensible sized transparent boxes suitable for storage of dry media (or other art media or craft materials)
  • each box has a lid and and handles (and spare or replacement lids are available)
  • can be stacked or racked
Think Again?
  • Only to be purchased once you've sorted and rationalised what you already hold in stock!
Suppliers: Available from

At Felicity House's workshop yesterday, she showed and shared with us how she kept her pastels. One idea which I particularly liked were her use of different sizes of what I subsequently discovered are "really useful boxes".

They come in ideal size for holding
  • sets of pencils (back of the photo) or
  • pastel pieces in ground rice (front of the photo). It's a simple idea but very useful! No need to take the complete pastel set when using pastels plein air or away from home - take these small sets of pieces of pastels.
See the photograph to see what I mean.

Really useful boxes holding pastels and pencils
Felicity House's workshop kit

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

What I liked about the boxes were that they were transparent, had handles and could be stacked. I'm convinced and will be getting hold of some.

Their website provides a summary of the complete range of sizes and dimensions

This page provides details of Really useful boxes in different countries - UK | USA | Germany | Ireland | France | Belgium | Netherlands | Sweden | Switzerland

These are comments from Felicity House
The Really Useful Boxes are excellent ... BUT beware .... they are not 'water tight' like the tupperware style plastic box . ie when using for storing pastel pieces in ground rice , it can leak a bit if they are tipped up sideways . They are great for the studio and teaching. As I stack all my teaching boxes inside a large strong opaque R U Box and
transport this pretty well level , I dont have a problem . but they'd certainly leak ground rice if placed haphazardly in a rucksack that went at all angles during an outing , wouldnt be a problem with pencils , charcoal etc or with pastels in your larger grain cornmeal or whole rice.

My small , shallow, circular tubs have SCREW-ON lids , so they seal tight and don't leak at all . they are great to chuck in a rucksack for travelling. They are empty Garnier body creme containers...used to get from Boots , but I havn't seen them for a year or so now, I would get back up replacements if I had found them again. Others I've seen are not that shallow.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Product Review: Blacks Eurohike Compact Chair

Product: Eurohike Compact Chair
Manufacturer / Distributor: Blacks
Technical Details: Product code 096193 Steel Frame, Polyester fabric in black, folds to a compact size, (they say) easy to carry to the camp site, beach or to an outdoor event. (I say) it's a bit heavy for carrying long distances. Comes with a cover.
Summary: A larger more comfortable chair suitable for use when working plein air not far from the vehicle which got you there. Rather large, heavy and awkward to carry any distance and/or on public transport.
Who should buy this?: Artists who like their creature comforts - even if it's just for sitting down and taking a long hard look at what you've done
Who should not buy this? Artists who have trouble carrying awkward shapes or heavy weights.
  • VERY comfortable. Good if you're going to be spending all day working plein air
  • ideal for the middle aged artist - and even more confortable than alternatives - whose hips are no longer slim
  • has a 'hole' in the arm of the chair intended for drinks but does very nicely as a water pot holder for watercolourists - so long as you've got the right sized pot for your water
  • durable
  • looks complicated but erects relatively easily
Think Again?
  • comfort comes with a price - this is not a lightweight option
  • tendency to make you want to lean back and close your eyes
  • any colour you like as long as it's black!
  • getting it in and out of its cover has a certain nuisance value
  • If travelling by air this will need to checked separately as "item" at airports so you need to allow extra time to do this
Suppliers: Available from Blacks £19.99

I wouldn't like you to think that I have an extensive sleection of sketching chairs and stools - but this one joined my collection as a bargain in a sale at Blacks! Plus it seems sensible to do all the chairs and stools in one fell swoop!

My second sketching chair looks like the picture on the left.

The current version - the Eurohike Compact Chair - has a slightly different seat design which you can see on the Blacks website.

The design is essentially the same ie a strong steel frame and a polyester 'aerated' fabric seat and back. It is is amazingly comfortable, especially for those of us who are finding slim hips a dim and distant memory.

It even has a neat socket for drinks - which would work well for those using watercolours.

However the disadvantage of this chair is its size and its weight. When wrapped in its carry bag, it's heavy (3 kg / 6.6lb). That's double the weight of my Phillips chair (3.3 lbs) which completely rules out this chair for overseas trips. Also its size when folded is BIG. Its carry bag is also not the easiest thing to sling over your shoulder while carrying the rest of my plein air gear. In my view, this is the one to stick in the car and take out when using the car for pelin air trips within the UK.

One big bonus for me was it was super cheap in a sale and only cost me £14.99. It now costs £19.99 but that's still a very reasonable price - but maybe watch out for sale bargains?

On my Art Equipment - Resources for Artists site, I've listed:
  • other folding chairs and stools for plein air work
  • bags, backpacks, totes and trollies
If you're thinking of doing more plein air work this summer or maybe even going on a painting trip or holiday you might want to take a peek.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Product Review: Phillips De Luxe Folding Chair

Product: Phillips De Luxe Folding Chair
Manufacturer / Distributor: Phillips / (see end of table)
Technical Details: Tubular aluminium, lightweight (3.3lbs) with Cordura canvas 11 inch (28cm) wide seat and back. Seat height 17 inches (43cm).
Summary: A high quality sketching chair which is very sturdy and very reliable. Not cheap but well worth the investment. Lightweight and easy to carry - but you need a spare hand
Who should buy this?: Artists and people who sketch. Artists with back problems and/or who prefer to sit to sketch/draw/paint
Who should not buy this? People who prefer to stand and/or prefer to travel light and/or don't have a hand free to carry it when working plein air
  • a very good size for tall people like me - two heights available
  • well made with very durable seating material - takes adults who aren't lightweights
  • folds flat easily - once you understand how
  • survives all that various airline services and airports can do to luggage
Think Again?
  • any colour you like as long as it's green!
  • it ALWAYS requires you to check it separately at airporst so you need to sllow extra time to do this
Suppliers: Available from

My Phillips Chair on its travels Left to right:
  • Me (in 1992) sat on my first Phillips Folding Chair, sketching the temples on Lake Bratan, in the Bedugul area of north central Bali
  • My second Phillips Chair in Albuquerque, New Mexico (July 2006)
  • My second Phillips Chair at Walden Pond, Massachusetts (September 2006)

I've travelled all over the world in the last 20 years or so with my Phillips De Luxe Folding Chair as you can see from the photos above. In my experience, the chair 'travels' really well - albeit with some caveats (see notes below). I've had two and I only had to get the second as the first went AWOL after it was left behind on a luggage trolley by mistake at the end of a 26 hour flight! I immediately went straight out to buy another....which at the time was somewhat easier than it is now.

The Phillips Folding Chair has a killer combination of being both lightweight (3.3lbs) and very robust. It has a lightweight tubular aluminium frame and and comes in two heights which means that I can sit comfortably despite the fact I'm very tall. It has a very strong green Cordura canvas seat and back and I find the canvas back makes a huge difference to my overall comfort. Indeed the back is the main attraction for those of us who have back problems. The material used is the same as that used in top of the range endurance luggage which explains why it doesn't split and tear when anybody who isn't light as a feather sits on it.

This is very much my preferred seat when I'm working plein air for several hours at a time - and I've done a lot of very large pastels while sat on my Phillips chair. The folding mechanism is also very easy to work once you've got used to the hinge which you can see at the back of the chair.

This chair may be totally brilliant, but experience suggests that anybody interested in getting hold of one also needs to know the following!
  • A Phillips De Luxe Folding Chair is not cheap but as with anything which is good quality it will last for years and years and is probably extremely economical in the long run.
  • It's very difficult to get hold of one. The only places that I know of that now list them are Green and Stone in Chelsea and Heaton Cooper. (The latter is currently listing them as not in stock as their supplier is having difficulty getting hold of them). You can get two seat heights 40.5 cm and 46cm but they tend to be similarly priced. Price depends on where you source it from - it's listed at £56.35 at Green and Stones - but do bear in mind that
  • This chair (and any chair for that matter) always has to go in the hold of the aircraft (which makes it an "item of luggage"). It also very often has to go to a separate desk to be checked in at airports. It's therefore advisable to allow a little extra time for drop-off and pick-up (or a lot of extra time at busy times of the year).
  • I've found that a very strong bungee cord is absolutely essential to hold it together while travelling. You need to make it completely taut. Check that the ends can go hook round the tubular aluminium structure.
  • It's also essential to label the chair very clearly with its own luggage label and destination address when travelling. My latest chair has now done many more miles than I have. I've never had any problems in Asia and Australasia - but in the USA I've found it tends to take a diversion to other destinations and only arrives at my intended destination about 24 hours after I do. I think the tubular metal frame (which is extremely robust) is what causes the problem and raises suspicions amongst airport security staff. It went AWOL on 3 out of 4 flights to and from the USA in 2006!!! However it was always delivered the next day to an address of my choosing.
I cannot recommend this chair highly enough for people who want a very good quality chair which will be robust, reliable and longlasting.


Sunday, 7 June 2009

Product Review: Blacks Compact Stool (for sketching)

Product: Blacks Compact Stool (£9.99)
Manufacturer / Distributor: Blacks - retail stores and online
Technical Details: Very sturdy steel frame and polyester fabric seat. Tripod base which enables it to fold into a long column. Velcro strap at top to keep folded stool secure. Comes with its own carry bag with handle. Weight 750g. (Product code 096194)
Summary: A robust but light folding stool which is very easy to carry by hand or in a backpack.
Who should buy this?: Artists working plein air - even larger ladies like me!
Who should not buy this? Artists who only work in their studios and/or only want to work standing up
  • very robust (I'm not a lightweight!)
  • very well designed from a practical perspective
  • easy to fold
  • light and easy to carry
  • extremely good value for money
Think Again?
  • You can have it any colour so long as you like black! ;)
Suppliers: Available only from Blacks

I've always resisted using the sorts of stools I see most artists sitting on.

First because they're not easy to carry and second because I'm never too convinced about how strong they really are. As somebody who has put on quite a bit of weight since my instep snapped and I started to develop mobility problems the latter is of some importance. Plus I need to try and be hands free if I can to make sure I stay safe and avoid affecting my balance.

Which is why I'm so very pleased with my new Blacks compact stool which I'm using for sketchercise. I've now given it three outings and I've been very pleased on each occasion.

Normally I take a folding chair with me when I'm sketching but I don't tend to walk any great distance with this as it can be a bit of a hassle if I'm walking any distance although it is possible to sling it over my shoulder to carry.

The big advantage of the Blacks stool is that it is very light and is based on a tripod so that it can be folded up, popped back into its bag (which comes with a carry handle) and can then be put into in my back pack where it sits quite happily.

Also being a tripod it doesn't throw "a wobbly" if put down on uneven earth and seems to be very good at being very stable.

All in all I feel very safe sitting on it and can highly recommend it to all those who experience 'posterior challenge' and are looking to lose some weight!

My one tip is to remember to put the carry case somewhere safe as it's very light when empty. Some very nice Japanese tourists at Wisley brought mine back to me last Sunday after it had blown away!

[Update: see also Roz Stendhal's review here Minnesota State Fair Prep—Part 1: The Heavy Equipment where she identifies an identical stool - except for different colour fabric for seat and cover. Hers is called the The REI folding tri-pod stool]
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