Pencils: Shortened and Well-Utilized.

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.)

A Little Staedtler Noris Handicraft.

Following in the footsteps of Matthias, some simple handicraft.

I am a big fan of the Noris, but they are not available in the USA normally. I found ten unpackaged versions from a domestic seller on eBay. They were packed very badly, and five showed up with the red end caps cracked, to varying degrees. To be sure, the envelope (white and paper — not for packaging pencils!) was full of red paint chips. I didn’t feel like dealing with a return and all that.


I thought of what I could do to repair the five bad units. I considered eraser caps. But unless I could find very very red ones, that would ruin the aesthetics of what I consider to be a beautiful pencil. I remembered some enamel in the house: my daughter’s nail polish. She said she wouldn’t mind Daddy “stealing” some for pencil repair purposes. I took the closest thing to red and tried it on the pencils with the most red paint left on their tops. I should have read “Bubblegum” on the label before I used it: hot pink with subtle sparkles. Against the background of the black granite counter, it really did look red to me at the time. But, I am not bothered by this. It’s Crayola and scented to boot. The ones with really bad paint? I used purple, for my daughter and for the Ravens. I even added a sparkle top-coat (not pictured yet). I am not kidding. The results tickled the dickens out of a 3-year-old. She’s got one with her princess pencil and markers right now.


The Process:
Apply a bit of the polish with the pencil’s business end pointing down. Smooth it out, until you’re satisfied with the volume of paint. Next, hang the pencil with the point facing the ceiling/sky. Turn it slowly, and blow on it for a few minutes. Realize you should have opened a window or otherwise not done this project in the kitchen. Leave it to dry, being careful not to stick three of them together, needing to re-do them all (ahem).

Enjoy your repaired German pencils!

(Apologies for the bad photos. I’m not sure why the light in my kitchen is so weird.)

On Negative Associations.

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.)