Pencils, pencils, and pencils…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quotation is from the Sherlock Holmes short story Silver Blaze:
“We are going well,” said he, looking out of the window and glancing at his watch. “Our rate at present is fifty-three and a half miles an hour.”
“I have not observed the quarter-mile posts,” said I.
“Nor have I. But the telegraph posts upon this line are sixty yards apart, and the calculation is a simple one. I presume that you have looked into this matter of the murder of John Straker and the disappearance of Silver Blaze?”
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Hey!… Aren’t pencils great?…
I love pencils, all pencils, even those free ones with company names embossed on them; triangular ones from art gallery shops; extra wide silly flat ones; short brown ones discarded on the pavement outside the betting shop; carpenter’s thick ‘lead’ chunky ones; ones with a brightly feathered bird on a spring on the end – they are very nice; and, of course, brand new expensive shiny dark-green-skinned pristine ones – it almost seems a pity to put a point on them; they could stay just as they are, full of potential, their smooth flat squared-off ends with the little dark mysterious eye of carbon looking out from the centre.
Oh, by the way, I’m not too keen on those cheap pencils that are a generally cheery bright yellow and come in packs of ten (bought to put on the desks for important meetings and for doodling during dull seminars), they often have their ‘leads’ installed annoyingly off-centre – you wouldn’t think that would matter much, but when you sharpen them you get a point on them made of wood with the actual ‘lead’ hiding off to one side – doh!…
A couple of years ago I splashed out and bought a plug-into-the-mains electric pencil sharpener – a couple of seconds buzz and there’s a needle-sharp point – wonderful! The old grey crumbling technical drawing teacher back at school used to sharpen his pencils with a one-and-a-quarter-inch wide, razor-sharp, wood chisel – it was ancient and had been reground so many times there was only about an inch of steel left on it. Speaking of sharpening, have you seen that nice M C Escher print of the hands drawing each other? The short stubs of pencils are in special clever holders to enable you to use that last remaining bit of ‘lead’ in them. (M C E) I’ll bet you can’t buy those these days.
I wonder, when were pencils invented? (Oh, thank you Google! They were first made in Germany in the 1660s.) What was the world like before pencils? It was all inky bird quills and burnt sticks I suppose; oh, I believe there was an artist’s fine paintbrush called a ‘pencil’ too – I must look that up sometime, but not now…
Do you go for round, or hexagonal, dear reader? I prefer the hex – it feels nicer, it’s ‘clicky’, to twiddle in you fingers whilst staring into space, deep in creative thought – and, you know where you are with hex, they don’t go rolling off the desk onto the hard floor as easily as ’rounds’ do, to deliberately crack their delicate internal ‘leads’. You may have noticed that I keep putting inverted commas around the word lead. Did pencils ever have the metal lead in them? Apparently not. In the early days of pencilry (my word) people thought that the graphite available at the time, that they called ‘black lead’ or ‘plumbago’ was an actual form of the metal, hence the confusion to this day.
Good pencils come in a wide range of tones, blackness to hardness, from the Stygian softness of 8B, through the very popular HB, up to 7 or 8H, which are like trying to draw with an iron nail; they seem to just dent the paper and hardly leave a mark.
‘What about mechanical or propelling pencils Dave?’ I hear you ask in between stifled yawns. Well no, I have always liked the idea of such things, but I have never really got on with them. For me the ‘leads’ are too thin and snap too easily – I like to put a bit of pressure on when I’m drawing – I think you should always try to get the full range of tones available from the medium you are using – from jet black viciousness close up, to those pale delicate breezy wisps on the distant horizon which are hardly there at all. A while ago I found that I had managed to somehow acquire three mechanical pencils – I briefly thought of trying them all out again, but soon changed my mind and just threw all three into the dustbin – and, I felt better for it, bloody annoying things!…

 

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in art, books, creation, drawing, history, humour, information, reading, words, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Pencils, pencils, and pencils…

  1. We did have a little pencil conversation a while back, but I found a wiki about your paintbrush pencil. I looked it up because I was intrigued. Its in the “History” section https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pencil . Regarding the mechanical pencils, well they are fun to play with but horrible to draw/write with. I agree they are far too fragile to be of any use…..

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Thank you dear Scribbler, I did look at your link, but not in detail, I’m a bit pencilled out after writing this morning’s effort.
      Oh, excuse me, I must nip out to the postbox…

  2. In my childhood I unwittingly participated in a long-term purloining of office supplies – until I went to collage, I think, I used pencils from the office supply closet from my dad’s work. Quite openly; they had the business name on them. Well, I was a child and I took what I was given. I do remember taking standardized tests and the teacher doubtfully examining them, turning them around, looking for the non-existent #2 on them, as that was what we needed to make the marks in the boxes. Guess they worked, as I always got some kind of test score back. Now, I buy my pencils and feel better for it. I KNOW they are #2.

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Well at least you were advertising the business for them by having their pencils seen around.
      I don’t know what ‘#2’ is. It that like an HB? Are you in the US? Do you have a different pencil grading system from the UK? If so, how very interesting…

      • I’m officially out of my depth now! Yes, I’m in the US, but I believe the grading system is the same. At least for art pencils as I am familiar with H and B. And so on. I looked at my “regular” pencils. Some say “medium”. Others have 2 and. HB. I think it’s more common here to refer to everyday pencils by number – 2 , 2 1/2 and 3 being what I hear if a type is specified. Which in today’s world is less often. Of course. In my childhood 50 years ago it was stressed for standardized tests you MUST have a #2 pencil or your answers wouldn’t register, shaming yourself and possibly the school, town, and nation. So I was always beside myself at test time due to my inability to prove I actually had the required #2. It still gives me the shivers to hear the words– #2 pencil…

      • Dave Whatt says:

        Oh dear #2 pencils!
        Graphite based shivers!…
        Well, as far as I am aware, we in UK only have the B and H grades – I have never heard of pencils having numbers – ah, but then we are “nations divided by a common language, and our pencils” – George Barnard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, possibly Winston Churchill?…

      • I was a rule-following child and so easy to intimidate. Just yell “#2 Pencil!” at me and I’ll run miles. Think how different things could be for me, in untold ways, if only I had been raised in the UK…

      • Dave Whatt says:

        ‘Raised in the UK’ – hm, not sure about that.
        2B… or not 2B… that is the question…

  3. Dana Doran says:

    I was halfway through your “article” when I suddenly realized why my husband leaves the room laughing while I’m speaking…..hahahahaha

  4. Dana Doran says:

    Yes, yes…that’s what I meant. (Sorry, I’ve only had half my daily intake of caffeine….)

  5. Claudia says:

    Kudos to your pencil fascination! I am a pen girl, if I must say…

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