We love Rad and Hungry at Pencil Revolution. Those good folks are continually spreading The Pencil Message and gathering pencils from afar to share with Like Minded Individuals. Plus, Hen sent my daughter a box of really cool pencils last year that Charlotte still uses and talks about. So my ears were already open to Awesomeness when this was posted, and I was, well, moved. Please, Comrades, read Hen’s post about how she got into pencils. It will strike a chord with a lot of Comrades.
On the heels of the excellent post about the history of the bullet pencil comes this piece, with instructions for restoring bullet pencils into working condition:
“If you’re a collector of these old commercial bullet pencils rather than an end user, please read no further because this post will most likely distress you. I am taking a 1930s bullet pencil and stripping all of the collector’s value out of it – every last drop. This quirky little writing instrument may have survived the ravages of the past 75-80 years, but ultimately it couldn’t survive me with its original finish and character intact. If it makes you feel any better, this bullet pencil is but one of 13 that I have acquired recently. The rest are safely packed away in their original condition and hopefully they’ll remain that way for posterity.”
See also this article on hacking a notebook to hold a bullet pencil.
Heather has been reviewing pencils for quite a while now, and I have been thoroughly enjoying her reviews — being a reader of her blog for literally years. A recent post really struck a chord with the Pencil Lover in me:
“For whatever reason, pencils have a charm for me that pens, even fountain pens and inks, just don’t. They seem friendlier, somehow. Homelier. More comfortable. You can always count on them to write. You don’t have to worry about the ink drying up, or about tricky issues like feathering, bleed through, drying times, fading, or waterproofness. You can break them in half and they still write. You can forget about them for a decade or two in the back of your desk drawer and they’ll still write. If you take notes in pencil, you can count on them to last, unless someone burns them or goes after them with an eraser. You can’t always count on that with ink.”
I feel like I should add some sort of commentary in an Academic way to justify this quotation. But Heather’s piece is very well-put, perfectly, already. Check out the rest of the post here.
Vikram Shah sent us the link to a video he created:
Hi Comrades! I’ve made a Pencil FAQ video taking submissions from my friends on Facebook and answering their questions about pencils. Although it’s a bit long at 30:17, I think it would be educational to those who wonder, for example, why pencils are yellow, or why most are hexagonal. Please take a look if you have the time!
(If the embedded video doesn’t work for you, you can view it on YouTube here.)
Many thanks to Vikram for his Service to Pencildom. I can only imagine the patience involved with a project like this, in addition to the shear generosity involved with this kind of sharing.
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.
How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it’s more like a soggy noodle. I’ve always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe’s The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).
But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history—and some may even argue genesis—together, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare’s time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me. (More here.)
Note: The friend who can recite “The Raven” by heart is Yours Truly. I double mastered it when my daughter was small and didn’t like the light on for reading sometimes but still wanted to hear poetry.* But Coleridge by heart — that’s impressive!
I think an interesting feat of Pencil Memory (and I can think of a few Pencil Bloggers who can probably do it; I can’t) would be to recite the Pencil Dynasties from the great German pencil companies!
[*I am also known to spout very loud renditions of Shel Silverstein poems at people named Paul.]
This article was very interesting and made the stationery blog rounds this week — and I’ll admit to reading it each time it came up. Comrade Brian just sent us another Ode to the Blackwing 602. I will admit that I’ve never even seen and original 602 in person, let alone used or owned one. And I hang my head in veritable Pencil Shame.
Also: the idea of having boxes of a favorite pencil (as Mr. Capote is said to have done) in one’s nightstand appeals to me immensely. My nightstand is designed to sit low to the floor (I have a low bed) and to hold books. But I do keep a black ceramic pencil cup next to my bed with various pencils for notes while reading, and I have an old “fancy” box that contains some of my most prized pencils on the same surface. I think there are some sharpeners around there, too.
Anyone else keep pencils dangerously close to where they sleep?
Via Comrade Kevin Grace on our Facebook page. Thanks, Mr. Grace!
This is another post from the Enoch Pratt library, the public library system in our Home Base of Baltimore (HON!). Pencils seem to mix with literature which seems to mix with walking which leads to wandering, and we were wondering, Why not put this on PR for the benefit of Comrades not lucky enough to inhabit Charm City? (there’s far too much coffee and too little punctuation in HQ this weekend, as you can see).
Read the entire article here, written by frequent Pencil Revolution contributor and featured writer, Brian.
A little over two years ago, Field Notes introduced the Steno, a 6×9 stenography pad made with just truly excellent paper (and I should make a dozen of them my birthday present this year, yes). There are hobo symbols on the inside of the heavy cover. I toyed with the idea of hobo symbols for my door, but we lived in an old apartment. Now that we have a house and a door (an old wooden job) of our own, I think I have to get out the chalk.
What’s the symbol for “Pencils and memo pads for helping me vacuum?”
I certainly don’t mean to open a Hipster Shooting Gallery, firing at hipsters or other people. Nor — given the fact that hipsters seem to adopt things I like (beards, rye whiskey, bikes, etc.) and the subsequent fact that I probably look like an older and wider hipster — do I necessarily exclude myself from the School of the Hip. Even if I’d rather be counted out.
But I have noticed something that I’m sure many Comrades have noticed. There’s this whole “artisanal” and “craft” and “small-batch” movement going on. There’s no question. But I’ve noticed that pencils are fitting into this in bigger and bigger ways. Pencils are showing up more and more in advertising for products and services aimed at the hip crowd. I read somewhere (I forget where) that a lot of the low-fi stationery trends are “hipsterish” and that brands like Field Notes have been extra successful as a result.* To be sure, the shops that seem to cater to hipsters around my house all have a decent stationery section.
If paper is cool, certainly no ordinary writing implements will do. No Bics or gel pens. Wood and graphite and the accoutrements/accouterments thereof all the way! Take this ad (above) from a local watering hole in Baltimore. There are myriad examples I will let Comrades find on their own, for enjoyment and/or scoffing and/or edification.
I live in a pretty hip spot, and there are benefits (good coffee shops, stores with stationery) and obnoxiousness (kids telling you about the neighborhood in which you grew up like their discovered it). I’m waiting to hear someone in expensively battered boots wax philosophical about the benefits of using a “simple” pencil’s eraser as a smartphone stylus in our of our hipper coffeeshops.
I’ve been known to employ Blackwing erasers on my non-smart-but-touch-screen-phone. But never in public.
*[I might point out that Field Notes have also been successful because of their level of service.]
Matthias sent some current stock Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100s to Pencil Revolution HQ recently (and several very fine pencils unavailable in the USA!). I realized that we’d never published a review of this iconic pencil. I wondered to myself if it’s because it’s daunting — there are excellent reviews out there that are, frankly, a lot to live/write up to. Or perhaps the lack of a review of this Mighty Pencil on this blog has to do with a negative association I’ve harbored for a two and half decades.
In the late 1980s, in Cub Scouts, there was a huge cache of a Staedtler film pencil in our supply closet. They came in plastic boxes and were different from the pencils we used in school. We used them in Pencil Fights and for arts and crafts projects. But when it came to trying to write on paper with them, my young mind became overly frustrated with the faint line that even a large amount of pressure would produce. They were labeled as being intended for another use. But they wrote just enough to give one hope that they could also function as a writing pencil.
I attempted to use HB Mars 100s in graduate school and enjoyed them. At a conference, however, I experienced one of the most ridiculous and boring* papers through which I’ve ever suffered, holding one of these pencils. And I don’t recall buying more since then, though there are several of them around my house.
I don’t think I ever in my life purchased yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencils until quite a bit after I started this website. I had the Black and the Woodgrain, even the yellow Tri-Write. But the regular yellow ones reminded me of kids in elementary school that made me think of trouble-makers and bad students (how Elitist of me, I know!). For some reason, I hated those pencils.
I’ve since gotten over this aversion to yellow and green Dixons, and I have made a commitment to give the Mars 100 the review it deserves.
But I find myself wondering what, if any, negative associations folks might have with Pencils In General that might keep them from using wood and graphite, not to mention other such associations Comrades might have with certain pencils or brands or types. Whether it’s a mark of childhood or sloppiness or a reminder of getting wacked in Catholic school (been there), the way that some people avoid pencils seems, at times, like something greater or more powerful than mere preference.
Often, adults I know seem to enjoy using a quality pencil to write or draw (doubly so if they get to sharpen it), reacting strongly to the tactile and aromatic experience of using a pencil. Or perhaps they are reminded of a positive association for pencils in general or a particular pencil — this could be a whole other post.
*(Being thoroughly ridiculous and completely boring at the same time is difficult to achieve. I know. It’s been suggested since 2005 about this blog.)
This is not especially pencil-related, but it is written by frequent Pencil Revolution contributor Brian Manning, who works at the central brand of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. Folks calling the library Telephone Reference Service get their answers via paper books, contained on a custom-built device designed to make finding books faster and easier.
Call the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Telephone Reference Service (TRS) with a question—ranging from the correct spelling of “insurrection,” to what the heck is in scrapple?—and librarians are waiting to answer your questions using both computers and books. But while computers are prone to their glitches, fusses, and viruses, there is a tried-and-true partner for these information detectives that is spinning into its 45th year of operation: the information Wheel (a.k.a. “information carousel,” or “Lazy Susan”).
Despite the proliferation of computers in society in general and libraries in particular, computers cannot replaces the Information Wheel, “which is still a necessity in this modern age because the internet does not have a reputable answer for every question.”
We’re not making this up! Comrades can call 410-396-5430 to have their questions answered. Of course, let’s not jam up the lines and time of the hard-working folks at Charm City’s main library.
We are very happy to share some art work from Cuban-born artist Federico E. Rodríguez Guerra. We’ll let Federico do the talking, along with his fine drawings.
Drawing for me has become a metaphor for knowing a world that can only be known when one surface touches the other and conveys ideas, thoughts, feelings as the surface of the paper and that of the pencil touch or not. Something about it has to feel right, honest. My first instinct is to grab an envelope or scrap of paper and work through these surfaces the image.
I was born in Cuba and the experience of exile is still part of my work. My drawings are small. On average 2″ X 3″. I always find myself limiting my means, an 2H and HB, aiming always to explore and exploit the colors of graphite. More than texture, it’s color tone than I’m engaged with. I work on a chair with a small wooden board and a box – in which I keep drawings and paper – across my lap. Always ready to go and start elsewhere. Avoiding always any disruption to the drawing.
Graphite is an honest means, it’s not an extension of the arm but part of it. Le Corbusier said that drawing “leaves less room for lies”. To paraphrase Joyce and Beckett: drawing is not about it, but drawing it. Of course these are all promises that I’ve made myself over and over again, and see no end. So I continue.
Check out more of Federico’s work at federico´s drawings: los dibujos de federico e. rodriguez guerra.
(Images, text, FERG. Used with kind permission.)
I’ve been reading Recording Thoughts for (literally) years. Like me, Steve thinks of school days when using pencils:
So I’ve been using pencil to keep notes and do my usual project planning for the last day or so. It’s been an interesting change because it brought back a lot of memories from my early school years, starting with the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil. The need to sharpen, thinking to myself “Hmmm…this is getting kinda dull…do I want to get up and sharpen it?” and writing gently with a freshly sharpened point to avoid breaking it all take me back to elementary school. (more)
And there are some other great pencils posts, including a nice review of Palominos and a comparison of pencils. Steve always does a good job of reflection on the purpose of what he writes with, rather than the style/romance. And, also like me, he has an on-again-off-again AG-7.
How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants
by David Rees
Mr. David Rees was kind enough to send us a review copy of his new book through his publisher, and we were eager to devour and review it. Mr. Rees has been making waves in the pencil world since opening his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening business in 2010. Just as that venture is surely no joke, John Hodgman assures, us in his foreword to the book, that the volume in question is surely no joke either:
So yes: YOU WILL LEARN THE PROPER WAY TO SHARPEN A PENCIL in this book. No joke (Rees 10).
Certainly, it is possible to seriously deliver information to other people while at the same time being ironic and downright hilarious. Some of the best teachers I have had certainly knew this to be true. To suggest that the book cannot be “serious” and really “about” how to sharpen pencils just because it is presented…the way that it is really amounts to precluding “real” information from anything that is funny. Such would be a sad world indeed. Boring, at least. In this case, the humor in Mr. Rees’ book functions as the proverbial “spoonful of sugar” – because, let’s face it: no matter how much we like pencils, an entire book based on the proper way[s] to sharpen them would likely wind up being moderately mind-numbing to a lot of people, even Comrades.
The question that most Comrades probably want answered about this book is: Will I learn something about sharpening pencils that I did not already know? Well, if not, then you probably have a lot to teach us, and I invite you to Charm City to do so. While some suggestions (like cleaning a burr sharpener with a toothbrush) might seem silly at first, I suspect this initial hint of the ridiculous comes from the strangeness of being overly fond of (ahem, obsessed with) pencils in the first place, so that we find ourselves seeking the best way to put points onto them. Personally, I am Okay with this outlook (and a toothbrush works great the clean The Machine on my bookshelf). Again, for myself, I learned a better way to approach sharpening a pencil with a knife, to be sure, and I will never again wonder how to use a wall-mounted sharpener that is higher than my merely average height can reach.
Of course, there are chapters one could view as humorous, such as the directions on the proper way to “use” an electric pencil sharpener, humor I cannot render justly in this review. Suffice it to say that it involves breaking and entering and a succession of hammers. Mr. Rees’ sense of irony and humor still suffuse the entire book.
Still, being trained in [academic] philosophy*, I find myself wondering what could be beneath the surface of this book, even if it is really “about” sharpening pencils. Mr. Thoreau’s Walden, for example, certainly admits to many different readings, beneath instruction and accounting. One such reading I have come to prefer of Mr. Rees’ book is that of being subtly critical of our era of mechanization and…globally sourced products.
In a footnote on page 29, Mr. Rees comments that “Made in USA” is a mark of a quality pencil. When one considers how rare American-made pencils are these days, this comment seems to imply that quality pencils are becoming rare in the United States in general. No matter how much darker and smoother the new Chines Dixons are (I find the Mexican versions scratchy, light and all but worthless), they are not really Dixons to me. The pencil’s “Americanness” was such a part of its identity – which might also mean its quality – that I can’t look at the current Dixons I have around the same way as I could six years ago, not without forcing myself to ignore their “story.”
Mr. Rees also comes out and criticizes our era outright. He writes:
This is not to say that we should take imperfection as our goal. One of the dysfunctions of our age is the conflation of shoddiness with authenticity, and we must resist this confusion in our practice – especially in those circumstances where sloppy craftsmanship could diminish a pencil’s utility (Rees 52).
But perhaps we can best see Mr. Rees’ criticism of modern culture in Chapter 13: How to Use an Electric Pencil Sharpener. He lists ways in which a troubadour-esque Artisanal Pencil Sharpener might identify a home in which an electric sharpener resides. Two of the criteria are: “Closely mowed lawn indicates a preoccupation with orderliness, and yet…Disorderly porch indicates limited free time” (Rees 132). A home containing an electric pencil sharpener is inhabited by individuals who want order but who do not have time for it. Whether the lack of time is from over-employment (from a recession in which more than one job is necessary or from a habit of spending too much time earning money to buy materials and services which one does not need) or badly invested energies and attention, this seems to be a symptom of our age. We want order/peace/etc. but do not go after this with what would amount to any serious vigor.
I might venture so far as to claim that a lot of the attention which Mr. Rees has received as a result of his business and his book proves him largely correct about our culture. We are not a people who enjoy craftsmanship in itself – at least not enough to actually pay for it. Comrades can witness the retreat of American pencil manufacturing in the name of profit and/or “lower prices!” to see the value which our society places on quality work – even when rejecting it means that the company for which our own Norman Rockwell painted ads moves production out of the USA. And, with the trend in “artisanal” stuff and services and foods, we see that we are seldom even willing to pay for craftsmanship – when we do – for its own sake. Rather, we pay a premium for artisanal coffees and foot scrubs because of a fad. Do we do this to assuage our consumer guilt because our hand-crafted breadbox is full of corn-fructosed breadstuffs from a discount store? Are we really connecting with craftspeople or our past/roots? Are we merely displaying our goodness for all to see when we buy hand-roasted spices? To be sure, there are those whose sincerity might match that of Mr. Rees. But I think a lot of people are paying attention because this is a person who truly takes craftsmanship seriously.
In any case, I can think of several reasons that I enjoyed this book and why I would heartily recommend it to Comrades everywhere. Stepping down from my accidental trip to the soapbox: This book is really a must-read for anyone interested in pencils. And there are well-placed lines likely to render you, as I was, doubled over in laughter. But what I enjoyed most about Mr. Rees’ book was reading something written with such sincerity by a person who obviously does what he does with care. His carefulness spreads onto the pages and leaves me regretful that I am not really careful enough about anything to write a whole book about it.
* Edit: I realize now how pretentious this probably sounds. My academic background is usually just the excuse I give for not having [m]any “skills.”