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In Praise of Pencils

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Saturday 15 September 2012

In Praise of Pencils

I’m just getting round to making some notes for my class which starts in October. It’s a “Getting Started in Art” for adults which I love teaching…so much potential and so much fun to be had and great discoveries to make.

We will have to start with some basic materials information and so my first exciting class will be all about learning to love your pencil.

 My drawing of my sharp green pencil, made with my sharp green pencil.

Such an ordinary and humble thing but capable of creating so much beauty, drama and detail. Consider Ingres, consider Constable.

ingres pencilconstable tree 

Their history is fascinating. Books have been written about them and they can become objects of obsessive desire. They come in many forms.

For those like me who love these things browse Fred’s Pencils. He has a post about “Animal Pencils”.. here is a just a sample.


The intimate art of sharpening pencils by hand
In a recent class about drawing, a lady asked me about the “special pencil”  I was using. It was not special of course, but just very sharp. Lovingly and slowly sharpened to a long and elegant point with a scalpel, by hand.

I sharpen my pencils by hand because I love them. I love the feel of them in my hand. I love the woody, sometime cedar sweet, smell of them, the dust and the shavings and everything. Think about it!  It’s as intimate a relationship as you could ever wish for.
Nestled in your hand, you ask so much of your pencil. You ask it to be an extension of both your hand and your mind. It can translate your dreams, visualise your thoughts. Your beautiful pencil deserves affection and respect. Don’t let it be devoured in some terrible pencil eating machine or shoved and twisted in a nasty little pencil sharpener.

This is what you should do. Take a very sharp scalpel. Hold your pencil in one hand. Assure it that your intentions are honourable. Take the scalpel in the other hand and guide its blade with your thumb. Slowly and carefully cut away the wood to reveal the lead. Keep the lead long and slender. Then with short light caressing strokes file the lead to whatever point you require.


It’s a beautiful, meditative process and establishes your bond with your pencil and prepares you for drawing.
A new pencil is something I have to get used to. I become very attached to old ones. I prolong their drawing life to the “n -th” degree with pencil extenders and fondly keep the little ends.


 Old friends…

A long point means you can see more of your drawing, teaches you care and respect, will give you the most sensitive touch and will respond to your every desire (almost). Press hard but not too hard for rich darks, let it twist and skitter across the paper for light dancing marks. Shade, hatch, smudge. Let it make for you lines thick, lines thin. Let it be almost imperceptibly pale and let it be midnight black.

If you can’t quite make the drawing you want, it is not the fault of your pencil and showing it some love will surely smooth your path to perfection.

Gorgeous, elegant, expressive and a good friend.

Art lesson no 1:  Learn to love your pencils.


Blogger Maria said...

oh, I love, love pencils too! I was looking for the blackwing pencils. I came across a long string of chat about them. Some people could not understand why some of us love pencils.

Love your points!

Have you seen the artist, Dalton Ghetti, who sculpts the graphite of pencils into micro sculptures? One is a saw blade out of the graphite of a carpenter's pencil, the wooden part he made into the saw's handle. Another is a tiny old shoe.


23 September 2012 at 17:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an absolutely lovely drawing of a Faber-Castell 9000 , I'd recognize that pencil anywhere. I was moderately satisfied with a sketch I did of a Ticonderoga, but your pencil portrait is much crisper, much surer. Would love to see more.

30 September 2012 at 01:25  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Hi there Maria and Anon
Ahhh lovley pencils what more can I say. I love everything about them. I do use other brands but have just got used to these and I guess have been using them for about 40 years. Its rather a nice drawing exercise to draw your materials..
Maria: I have seen the pencil sculptures.thankyou, astonishing and exquisite...
Anon: I am having to look up Ticonderoga .. lovely colour!! The story of the yellow pencil is quite fascinating by the way...

1 October 2012 at 06:17  

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