We used to post much more about readers’ art, and I am glad we can do it again today. Wendy sent this wonderful image recently, and I think it would make a great Pencil Revolution T-shirt one day, if she was willing.
I discovered this excellent blog a few months ago and, on a recent archive binge, I found your post on the Staedtler Norica. Now, being the art hobbyist that I am, I was immediately struck by how dark the line looked compared to other “writing” pencils. And, being the pen and pencil addict that I am, I went to Staples and got myself two whole packs.
This is probably the most economical impulse buy I have ever made. “Art” pencils are usually a step up in quality compared to their “writing” cousins, but they are also several steps up in price. The Staedtler Norica is just as good as you said – and for a very good value. I’m in the business of making art, not Art, so I’m happy with having a single hard pencil paired up with a soft pencil for shadows. The Norica is an excellent pseudo-B to have on hand, and it doesn’t scream, “Art in progress, peek over my shoulder!”
Thank you so much for writing about this pencil, and everything else on your blog. I am slightly poorer but very grateful!
Many thanks to Wendy for sharing her art! Please click to see the embiggened version.
Remember when we used digital cameras and uploaded the photos to Flickr? We had to plug them in or use a card reader. Remember when you didn’t have the entire Internet in your pocket all of the time? I remember when we had to write down blog posts on paper if we were away from a computer. Now I can just literally talk to an app, and it will post for me (I never do that though).
At any rate, you might enjoy the Pencil Revolution Flickr group, founded in 2005 and still going strong. It is almost entirely pencil art these days, and some of it is really excellent work.
I miss using Flickr, though I supposed Instagram is the new Flickr?
It is an unexpected delight to be asked to write about my hand sharpening of wooden pencils. I have been reaching for a blade over regular sharpeners for more than two decades. My method is now automatic, and I admit that I spend a little bit more time getting the point I need than most other people I know. This is mostly due to my training in art. Almost every artist who has had a hand in my education has encouraged the use of a blade in sharpening. I clearly remember being told to throw away my sharpener by one of the better artists I have had the privilege to be intimidated by. There is no better way to shape a pencil point into a mark-making tool than with the blade of a super sharp knife. Most of my pencils are the shape they are to accomplish particular tasks. The point is for working in detail, and the length is for shading techniques. Many artists will have a variety of pencils that have been sharpened differently for set tasks. However I have been able to use the one style of point for all purposes. I do not like to swap pencils as I work.
For many years I used a click utility knife as they were cheap and easy to buy, but I was disappointed with them in the end. This was for two reasons. The first was how quickly the blades became blunt. I found this could be as little as a few days. The ones I used were the snap-off variety which were designed to be disposable. I do not like generating needless waste, so the click utility knife was not ideal. Secondly, the plastic handles would break, or the plastic end that assisted with snapping off the blade would go missing. I wanted a better option. I tried a number of cheap folding blade pocket knives, but found them to not be sufficiently sharp. I attempted to hone them but I never got this quite right. Many times it felt as though I was trying to sharpen pencils with a butter knife. Quite a few pencils looked as though they had been chewed by some small animal.
After much trial and error I came across the French Opinel Carbon Steel knife. This is a wonderful tool! The Opinel is not a fancy knife, and comes in a range of sizes. My pick is the No 6, which only costs $12AU. It has a very basic twist lock and a rounded raw wooden handle. Most importantly, it is very, very sharp. It cuts into cedar with ease and it can be sharpened easily with a small diamond hone (these are common in most hardware stores). This knife has yet to fail me, and it is a must on my list. It lives permanently in my pocket.
I really do not think there is much to the way I sharpen. It is but a matter of practice. I use both thumbs to push assist on the back of the blade. I also tend to move the pencil back and forth, not the blade. A short video I have taken (see below) will show this clearly. Unlike Mr. Rees, I cut the wood and the graphite at the same time. I think that this works better, as the wood and graphite become a more uniform shape. I work by turning the pencil in a circle, as is the usual method. The graphite receives its final shape by being scraped with the blade lightly whilst turning the pencil. I will then fuss a bit with the shape of the wood, cutting very small slithers off. This is just for aesthetics. The result I want is a very long point that tapers to a very sharp point. It seems that the longer the taper is, the less likely it will break in use. A metal cap will be needed to carry the pencil around though. I have put holes in clothing and fingers in the past.
(This is my technique, please excuse the painters’ hands. Years of solvents have taken their toll.)
Pencils have become more of an interest over the past few years, and as most who read this blog, I have collected some fine specimens both modern and vintage. But my hand sharpening has been with me for a very long time. This may be the result of all the nasty plastic novelty sharpeners that have eaten pencils in my childhood. I admit that there are days I will use my baby blue Carl Angel-5 hand crank sharpener, but a machine will always produce a machine-like result that is devoid of personality. At this point I am tempted to get poetic and talk about working with the texture of the wood and allowing the natural wood grain to dictate the stroke of the knife, but that would be an over embellishment. I do believe a little of this, but not enough to make a point out of it (no pun intended). I draw almost every day, and 95% of the time I will draw in graphite. I will not use the eraser for anything other than adding light to reflective surfaces of drawings. Hand sharpening is part of my preparation and helps me focus on what I am about to use a pencil for.
Writing about the ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’ has been fun as I usually just ‘do’. If you have never pointed your pencil with a blade, I personally would recommend it. You may create your own favorite point and possibly even work on your skill to the stage where your sharpeners become pretty decorations collecting dust on a shelf.
(Many thanks to Luke, whose technique I am practicing presently!_
This came to HQ last weekend. Power Pencils are magical pencils (!) with magical powers — though the magic happens only by certain practices and under the auspices of certain rules. These are some rules of the Dragon Pencil, for instance:
The pencils are marked via Lazer Beam, burnt into the wood with pleasing effects. The Pencil of Desire:
And the Dragon Pencil:
You will notice that the pencils are dyed differently, shaped differently and have different erasers and ferrules. I don’t know why, but I enjoy this fact. These are not factory-stamped pencils churned out massively.
How do they write? I don’t know yet. I have not gathered the correct circumstances in/with which to work their magic. So they remain virginal and latent currently. This will change soon, and I hope to report back.
In the meantime, you can buy your own singly, or as a subscription via the Etsy store. Shipping is $2.50 for the $5 single pencils and $15 for the subscription. I really like the subscription model, echoing the Field Notes we all know and so many of us love. This would be a great gift, and the two samples we received for free have been hidden because of the advances of certain Magic Thieves in this HQ.
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 more…]
These turned out awesomely! Head over to Andy’s blog for more info on the genesis of these great vectors and information on how to get your hands on them.
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.
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!
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! “
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
These are pretty amazing. (More.)
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.