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What Writer Leanne Shapton Can’t Live Without

Photo: Robbie Lawrence

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked artist and Swimming Studies author Leanne Shapton, whose new book Guestbook comes out next week, about the black tea, space heater, and ballpoint pen she can’t live without.

I first came across this in Paris or maybe at New York Central Art Supply, and the watercolors have this tint and tone in a way that typical watercolor sets don’t. There’s some kind of white or black mixed into them so the colors are weirder — usually watercolor sets have very primary tones, but these have a bit of milkiness, which I love.

My friend gave me one of these as a present once, and the point on these ballpoint pens is so fine that it looks like a sharp mechanical-pencil mark. I’ll sign originals with them, and it just creates a really thin point. It’s sort of a precision instrument.

In New York, which is the land of the non-working fireplace, I found that I was missing something. I’m Canadian, so I like a brick house with a true fireplace. I searched and compared online all these different fake fireplaces, and I found this space heater–slash–fireplace that I love. My daughter will say, “Mommy, can we read a book in front of the fire?” There’s nothing like warmth in the room coming from this locus of heat and light. It gives off heat when you want it to, and it doesn’t if you don’t. You can just turn it on so you see just the fake flicker of the fire. Can I live without it? Probably, but it’s improved my life.

This is a printer that prints four-by-six prints, which I love because their object value is so rare. I love sending my family prints of things I’ve taken photos of, and if I need to have something I’ve taken a photo of within reach, I’ll just make a print of it and stick it behind me so it’s not just in digital form. It objectifies and solidifies it like a Post-it note, only it’s on glossy Epson paper.

I have a daily reliance on my PG Tips. It’s called builder’s tea in England because it’s what construction workers drank to keep going through the day. It’s truly the best tea. It actually approximates Red Rose tea in Canada, which is what I grew up with. It’s similar, but PG Tips is stronger. I usually take it milky with one sugar cube if I feel like I need it. I have this image in my head of someone coming in from the rain, and you wrap them in a blanket and stick a hot cup of tea in their hands — this is that tea.

These aren’t too precious or expensive, and I don’t have to replace them too often because they wash and wear well, sometimes for years. As a painter you get to know your brushes the way a runner maybe gets to know their shoes — the marks on the handle and the way it dips. Every brush has its own personality, but these are a bit more standard — squirrel fur and sable brushes have their more idiosyncratic personalities. I travel on the road with these.

In the last year I spent a lot of time in England and would always stay near a Daunt bookstore. Daunt has this classic tote bag, but they also make a children’s version, and I got a pink one for my daughter and then wound up using it as my bag all the time. It’s not some saddle bag under your armpit. It’s more like a handbag that’s just the perfect size. I’ll stuff it into a bigger bag to create a Russian doll of tote bags. I did eventually get my daughter another one for her art supplies and books, and now we’re matching.

For an illustrator, it’s always crucial to find your perfect material. I don’t know when they started making this paper — I feel like paper companies switch up their formulas all the time — but two or three years ago I found this and have been consistently using it ever since. It’s one of my staples. The paper is 100 percent cotton and acid-free, and it takes the inks and watercolors really well. I love this kind of hot-pressed paper because the ink pools on top and then soaks in. I also keep buying the seven-by-ten size of paper, which is a not-standard size. Usually it’s eight-by-ten or ten-by-twelve, but I really like the seven-by-ten.

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What Writer Leanne Shapton Can’t Live Without