Of Pencils, Pads and the Road.

At Home Kit
This essay is from Wayne H. W. Wolfson. It is a detailed musing on writing and drawing kits that will surely facilitate the formulation of Kits for Comrades everywhere. I, for one, am rethinking the use and contents of my vintage (it was my Dad’s) US Army Map Case…

I groped for the idea from last night which I planned on using for a story. Like a fisherman who spots something just below the surface of the water, its shape making it seem worthwhile to go after while still not revealing exactly what it is. Usually I have my trusty pad next to me in which I could have quickly jotted it down. But having gotten in late last night and somewhat whammied by jetlag, I had not unpacked my book bag. It would come back to me, its temporary absence spurring me on to unpack.

To varying degrees all artists are pagans in that we all seem to create little rituals which superstitions then attach themselves to. If I feel a story percolating but not quite there yet or I am unsure of what I want to draw next — If I then go out without a (sketch/note) pad then I know inspiration will hit or I will encounter subject matter whose presence is fleeting and cannot necessarily be returned to the next day, when better equipped. As inconvenient as this may sound, it can actually be worked to one’s advantage too, knowing the cause and effect, choosing to go out unequipped, so as to bring things to the surface.

For the most part though, I always have some manner of pad and pencil on me. What I am equipped with depends upon where I am. Read the rest of this entry »

Killing a Golden Bear.

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No, this is not an act of animal cruelty. This is the subject line of the email in which Comrade Dan sent us this picture, from the firehouse. Pencils getting used! That’s not killing. No, not at all. That’s the opposite. The very opposite.

Granny’s Pencil Cottage.

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Recently, we received a message from Jaina Bee, who lives in a house in San Francisco that is covered with pencils! There are 185,252 pencils here, all installed between 1997 and 2002 by Jason Mecier. I seriously doubt I have ever laid eyes on that many pencils in my nearly 35 years on earth. Check out more about the pencil house here, complete with photos that made me wonder how to do this to the stairway in the 1900 rowhouse that is HQ.

Higher Purpose of Doodling.


I was cleaning up for a party Sunday morning and missed this. There is not a whole lot of pencil action, but this is an enjoyable piece. I was surprised that the did not interview Mike Rohde, of whom I have been an avid fan for YEARS (and I keep meaning to pick up his book). Perhaps some of the new research explains why I retained more in high school than I thought, facing my binder full of doodles and Nine Inch Nails logos. And we need to get the book in the video, with a name like that!

Blue Cats Quirks Notebooks.

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A long-time friend and Comrade of mine has started making/selling custom notebooks on Etsy at Blue Cats’ Quirks. These are standard pocket-sized notebooks in packs of four (not three!). What I like best is that the paper is missing until you order them. You get to pick what kind of paper you want in your covers.

“Individually handmade pocket sized notebooks made to order. Each notebook is 32 pages, approximately 3.5″x 5.5″, features a cardstock paper cover with rounded corners and a stapled spine. Sold in sets of 4 notebooks. (Please select which set you want. RANDOM includes 4 random covers on your choice of inside paper). Buyer choice of page type (once choice per set): blank, grid or ‘two-faced’ (when opened, each pair of two pages alternates between grid and blank) all of aprox. 16lb paper. Perfect size to slip in your back pocket or purse for those times when you just have to write things down. Great holiday or birthday gift! “

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I was lucky enough to receive a pack of these last Christmas, and I tore through them. They stood up to Pocket and Toddler abuse as well as any of my “branded” notebooks. Plus, they are made in Baltimore! Jenn put a special Hello Kitty-covered book in my latest pack for Charlotte, who, ahem, cutes (if I can make that a verb) her way into acquiring my notebooks and pencils. This prompted the statement, “Aunt Jenn is a nice lady.” Too true. So go and buy her notebooks! Through January 1, 2014, Jenn is offering a discount to Comrades, good for 10% off purchase if coupon is entered at time of purchase. Code: PENCILREVOLUTION1

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Word. Bandana Books.

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Word. sent us a pack of their new limited-edition Bandana edition books last week. You’ll remember that I loved Word. books, especially their paper. These are very cool notebooks, with a wonderful printing job. I like the vintage feel of this design, being a Bandana/Hanky Carrying Man myself. While Word. says that they don’t recommend wiping one’s brow with these books, I did spill coffee all over one. It was fine, and now it smells like French Roast!
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From Word:

Long associated with tireless work, devilish deeds and classic American style, the bandana is entrenched in U.S. history. Despite its global popularity, the paisley accessory is perhaps most strongly linked to the cowboys out West during the 19th century who wore them to protect against dirt and dust on the trail.

The latest Word. Notebook is inspired by the classic Western staple. It’s an ode to hard work and sharp design. Sporting a unique paisley pattern, each is perfect for tossing in your pocket to keep track of all the things you have to get done even if a cattle drive isn’t on your list.

While we wouldn’t recommend wiping your brow with it after a day in the sun, you’ll be glad you have it by your side.

We have the black version here, and there is also a red version that looks very Autumnal and attractive.
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And have you seen The Standard Memorandum? I have added one of these to my Christmas List. Check out the video, which features vintage diaries written in pencil. And I have to repeat that I love this paper for graphite. Everything feels particularly…crisp on this stock.

Thanks again to Word. for the review samples, which were a very nice surprise to find at HQ one grey day last week.

Pencils: Shortened and Well-Utilized.

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Just like some folks enjoy Field Notes that are well-loved (and I do, too), I love pencils that have shortened themselves (or, rather, have been shortened or had themselves shortened) in the Service of Work and Art and Other Worthy Pursuits and even Totally Worthless Pursuits. My current pencilbox of choice is a battered Harry Potter case (don’t judge) with two levels*, both of which are full of pencils with a little more than half of their useful life left. The odd New Pencil that makes its way into the box stands up and proves the adage true: it gets dulled and sharpened promptly. This could explain why my pencils hit the four inch mark quickly and then take considerably longer to become too short to grip in my bent fingers.

Last week, I was admiring Elizabeth’s pencil photos, and I remembered a few other sites full of photos of pencils that get Utilized very lovingly and thoroughly. Both Gunther and Matthias have posted photos of well-loved pencils in various stages of length. And there are myriad other Pencil Users with such photos of Useful Pencil Goodness for the browsing. Comrades can get started with Elizabeth’s ongoing Chronicle of Pencil Utilization.

Are there photos that Comrades have which they might like to share? We could do a whole series of posts on Pencils that Have Seen the World and Lived to Tell the Tale.

*(I passed up an expensive new one on eBay for a cheap battered version that wound up costing me only a few bucks. It came smelling like the ashtray in a 1982 Ford Fairmont. I got the smell out and can help anyone else who has a smell that they’d like to replace with the Heavenly Aroma of Cedar and Eraser, for the asking. But this is a bizarre footnote.)

Vero and Pencils.

"As a young man just out of the Army and attending Mechanical Arts School, the teacher asked for a detailed drawing (of a mechanism) and I felt like doing a self portrait.  I got an 'A' for the class." - Vero

“As a young man just out of the Army and attending Mechanical Arts School, the teacher asked for a detailed drawing (of a mechanism) and I felt like doing a self portrait. I got an ‘A’ for the class.” – Vero

Mr. Vero Ricci wrote to us recently, telling us about rediscovering pencils and asking about a good electric sharpener for use with colored pencils. Alas, I only own one, and I don’t think I’d recommend it. But I had to share this essay on a life in pencil. If you grew up in the 80s, you almost certainly encountered Vero’s designs of such things as coffin candy (which a semi-creepy kid like I was couldn’t get enough of) and burger boxes, which I really enjoyed as well. Below, please find Vero’s essay (and be sure to check out the site devoted to his designs set up by his son Steve here).

Pencils, I guess we can go back to early childhood, say about 4 years old. I’d watch my aunt Gilda sketch while she played cards with my folks. She had a way of making amazing things appear on paper. With my eyes reaching just above the kitchen table, I copied her every move. She taught me how to make a straight line without the aid of a straight edge. This aside, I became attached to pencil and paper. God’s gift of allowing me to draw was evident when we replaced wallpaper in my home. My parents constructed the house in 1938-39. I was then 5 years old. I couldn’t resist the fresh plastered walls that took a year to dry. I sketched a 1939 Dodge automobile in all its splendor with my trusty soft lead pencil, 4 feet above the floor, smack in the middle of the wall. Evidence of this act came when the old wallpaper was stripped off some 50 years later. There it was in all its splendor, for anyone to see, my 1939 Dodge. The most amazing thing to me was the wonderfully accurate detail made by a 5 year old. God’s gift came when I was very young.

This was another idea that was similar to the snappy gator from Topps Chewing gum.

This was another idea that was similar to the snappy gator from Topps Chewing gum.

From that day on I sketched quite a bit, but it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. Baseball, football, basketball and the Cowboys and Indians lead the way. In High School my teacher pulled me aside and taught me to paint with oils. She taught well because I won 1st prize two years straight in the Philadelphia Gimble’s Art Exhibit.

Most of my work was done when it was expected from me. While in the Army they nabbed me and I ended up drawing and painting just about everything imaginable. By profession I became an Industrial Designer. The tools that earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for me were my creative mind, a soft pencil, an eraser, a 3-inch triangle and a white 8 ½ X 11 pad of white bond paper. I prefer, to this day, soft lead. Most of the time I used the No. 2 Dixon Yellow Boy pencil with the endless aid of a rubber eraser. I enjoy simplicity and well-thought-out drawings that possess intelligent use of line.

In recent days I joined an elderly group of artists that holds drawing classes every Friday afternoon. I embarked on the use of colored pencils and have not yet come to terms with it. The points break too often, and sharpening the things breaks the points just as well. I know there are good answers out there and I’ll eventfully find the solution. Great pieces of fine art have been made with colored pencil. So hopefully there is a chance for me to enter the arena. Unfortunately, colored pencils don’t result with the contrast I seek. The black pencils are not dark enough. As a result, I started to use a 6B lead pencil to achieve the desired darkness. Unfortunately, the soft dark lead smears the soft pastel color work.

Boy, do I remember these?! Candy out of a trashcan was pretty fun.

Boy, do I remember these?! Candy out of a trashcan was pretty fun.

My life can be defined by drawing, painting and product design. All being inter-connected into a single 80-year-old human, and distinguishing one from the other is not possible.

Read more about Vero Ricci on the website created by his son here. If those little plastic coffins are a design by Mr. Ricci, then I have eaten my own weight in sugar from one of his creations.

Jim Henson’s Sketches.

hensonimagination131Brain Pickings is always full of something good to read and some new book recommendations. Lately, they featured a piece about Jim Henson, including some pencil sketches from a book of them. Check it out here. As someone who watches Sesame Street a few times a week (!) and who grew up with a lot of Mr. Henson’s characters, I really enjoyed that piece.

Jar-Based Pencil Sharpener.

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Inspired by this Mason jar pencil sharpener I forwarded to a few Comrades recently, Brian has created a jar-based pencil sharpener in less than a day. I was hoping one of the Creative Minds to whom I sent that email would attempt this, seeing as how I am…not very good at things like that or, at least, not confident in my competence. Beyond, a jar-based pencil sharpener by Brian in Baltimore:*

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Well, here are some pics of my attempt to make a jar sharpener. Not too bad for a 15 minute first attempt, and shelling out a total of $.40. The trickiest thing was drilling the appropriate sized & spaced holes, and finding small enough screws. (I repurposed screws used to hold together a old audio cassette — a trick I highly recommend.) It works fine, but I would prefer a metal sharpener. Also, the one screw is a hair too close to the pencil hole — I’ll have to correct that the next time around. I am also not too sure how durable the set-up is — only time and use will tell if the screws will hold the plastic. If I were serious about making these I would contact the Dux Co. and try to buy some in bulk from them, with the pre-drilled screws. Also, I didn’t use a Mason jar this time around for fear of messing it up. What do ya think?
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Personally, a large-ish clear container to hold a month’s shavings is attractive to me. I collect mine in a stoneware vessel my wife brought back from a trip this fall. (Then I store them for tinder.) My method is not pretty. It’s actually a little sooty. Brian told me this is a Faber-Castell sharpener he picked up at our local Plaza Art in Mt. Vernon. I can’t find a link, but I have two. They are very good little sharpeners, though the opening is a little narrow to accommodate Japanese pencils (Palomino, Hi-Uni, et. al.).

*Makers of the famous Inkwell Sharpener, a very fine jar sharpener indeed.

First Finished Field Notes.

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Not mine! Gracious, I have at least 60-70 full from the last 2 1/2 years in a Beer Box* upstairs that I need to find, so that I can archive my last three notebooks since mid-July. Santa brought my daughter a set of the Summer Camp Field Notes books and pencils for Christmas 2011. She scored one when she started Serious Potty Training a while back. We carry it with us when we go to the coffeeshop, BMA, etc. She finished it last week.
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Full! It’s stocked with drawings and is covered with stickers. She started to eraser pictures so that she could draw more when we were out two weeks ago, prompting the introduction of the next book for her drawing adventures. At 3, she can draw recognizable pictures. Seriously. I don’t have a picture of it yet, but a recent drawing session went something like this:

Charlotte: Daddy, what do you want me to draw for you?
Daddy: A lion. And trees.
Charlotte: (two minutes later) Daddy! Here you go.
Whereupon she presented me with a two-page spread featuring a lion. And trees. And here I was thinking we didn’t get to the zoo often enough.

She’s always had a fondness for drawing and writing tools. It’s almost like our house has pencils,pens, paper and accessories everywhere. Eh…
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She stole my wife’s Balsam Fir Field Notes when she was about 9 months old and spilled coffee on it somehow, and she claimed a green Mongol HB pencil from me around the same time.
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At the risk of offending some of my Fellow Field Notes Fans, I joked that, with one full notebook, Charlotte probably has finished more than a lot of people who own an entire Archival Box of limited editions. For myself, I enjoy the photos folks put online of their notebooks that are beaten up badly and full of Good Stuff.

I have enough “rare” Field Notes editions that I could fund at least a decade of subscriptions by selling them — if I hadn’t filled them up. Like pencils, I think of them and treat them as tools. I use them. I use the hell out of them. I have had a few people ask to trade for my Fab.Com edition. I had to break it to these good folks that I filled them within 3 weeks of getting them.
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Certainly, Charlotte has other notebooks. She has a serious fondness for Composition Books, sometimes asks for her pink Moleskine, not to mention her Fairies books. I gave her a new pink pocket notebook last night, and she stole an old Golden Bear from my cup, claimed it as her own, and drew 3-4 pictures before I had to drag her off to bed.

*[Box in which 12 bottles of Excellent Beer arrived, before their cheerful departure.]

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