Helloooo!! Today’s podcast is coming soon (pardon our technical challenges!) so in lieu of an audio drawing adventure this week, I thought I’d take a moment to share an important ode to something we all know, love and don’t give due attention: The Pencil.
This week we celebrated national pencil day, and while that may seem like a toss off holiday, I think it’s worth noting. Not just for the pencils, but for the tremendous history, craft and care that goes into creating these small objects we all rely on and almost always overlook.
A few years back photographer Christopher Payne published what I think is the most gorgeous, loving and thoughtful homage to the mighty pencil ever. In a piece titled “Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories” for the New York Times, he spent years documenting the General Pencil factory in New Jersey. Writer and pencil drawer Sam Anderson wrote a lovely piece giving context to the visual essay. That’s what these stunning photos are from, all by Christopher Payne.
Christopher’s photos (and Sam’s writing) capture the magic of this analog tool that, to me, defines so much of what it means to be a human, and an artist. I remember when I was 6 or 7 and got my first peek into “How Crayons are Made” on Mister Rogers - how suddenly the world cracked open and I realized there was a story behind every little object I cared about, and I wanted to know everything. Then later, in my early 20’s, standing in front of one of Vija Celmins ocean drawings, and having that sinking feeling of forever and thinking “someone made THAT with a pencil!” For artists, much of who we are is what we make. Our tools are extensions of our bodies. We endow them with feelings. We hold our brushes gently with care, or wield them with brute force. And so. It’s a gift to see the care that goes into creating these tools that enable us to do what we do. All the people and stories and history and hard work all held together with a simple ferrule, just resting in the palm of our hands.
Let’s take every opportunity we get to celebrate our tools - and the people and stories behind them.
So LET’S SHARE: what are YOUR favorite tools? What hardness of pencil, weight of pen, brand or brush size do YOU love most, and why? Leave a note in the comments below. In addition to learning from each other, I’ll randomly select a commenter to receive some very, very special DrawTogether drawing tools. :)
See you next week with a new podcast episode! Everything is better when we DrawTogether. xoxo,
Ticonderoga pencils all the way (teacher here)!
As an illustrator, I have hundreds of pencils and I judge my favorites mostly by how they feel against the paper. One of my favorite brands is Kimberly/General, which are cheap pencils sold at hobby stores, but they feel more buttery than some of the more expensive brands. My least favorite brand is Staedtler, which feel gritty against the paper. It really comes down to the tactile sensation, which is why I will never go digital!