I never used to use wooden pencils. I gave up on them in elementary school, believing that they were always dull, always needed sharpening, and always broke when being sharpened. I switched to mechanical pencils, and then to pens. But then when we moved to town a few years ago, I started taking walks that led me through the yard of the nearby middle school. And all around the ground were wooden pencils - neglected, forgotten, broken into pieces, soaked with rain. I felt sorry for them. So I started picking them up. I sharpened them and found them new homes. I took photos of them and wrote about them here a couple of times. I began to think that maybe I should even start using them. I cautiously asked readers for their pencil recommendations, and based on those recommendations I bought myself a Staedtler Lumograph in 2B.
But that pencil scared me. I realized that I hadn't used a wooden pencil in years. I hardly even knew how to use one. Would I write with it? Wasn't that what all my pens were for? I never took my Lumograph out its package and stuffed it away in a cupboard so I wouldn't have to think about it, even though I kept reading blogs like Pencil Revolution and Pencil Talk. Then in 2012 something happened: I realized that I was ready to start using wooden pencils. I was still a bit scared of them, so I started with the least intimidating pencil I could find, the Dixon No.2/HB, the most common of the pencils I had found in the school yard. Then I remembered my poor Lumograph hidden away in the cupboard and I brought it out and discovered that I could sketch with pencils too (well, somewhat, anyway). Then the Dixon and Lumograph started to bring friends home, and I ended up with a collection that looked something like this:
|Top to bottom: PaperMate Classic HB, Faber-Castell PITT Charcoal Soft, PaperMate Earth Write HB, Sanford Mirado HB, Earthzone Recycled Pencil HB, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 5B, Artex Company No. 731, Sanford Design Drawing 3800 6B, Dixon Ticonderoga HB (yellow), Staedtler Norica HB, Grumbacher Sketching Pencil 4B, General's Kimberly B, Dixon No. 2/HB, Dixon Tri-Conderoga HB, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2B, Mitsubishi Uni F, Eckerd Quality Pencil No.2, Rhodia Pencil, Dixon Ticonderoga HB (blue), Grumbacher Charcoal Hard, Faber-Castell Castell 9000 4H, Eagle Mirado-174 B.|
That's not quite all of them. I have some doubles of these, and a few others that I forgot to include, and a whole jar full of found pencils still waiting for new homes. But that photo should give you a good idea of what my current collection looks like. I've found most of these at the thrift store, which means that many of them are older pencils or pencils that are no longer being made. Some of them I found in the school yard. And a few of them I even bought new.
I love them all. Whenever I come across a wooden pencil I don't already have, I have this strong urge to pick it up and hold it tightly and carry it home with 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.
And yet when you use a pencil, you are in fact using it up. The ink in a pen may run dry, but you still have the body of the pen, which you can choose to keep, refill, or dispose of. But as you use a pencil and periodically sharpen it, the pencil itself disappears, until all you are left with is a tiny nameless stub. And pencils are usually made of wood, a material that decomposes more readily than metal or plastic. For these reasons pencils seem more ephemeral than pens, and I find myself more reluctant to use them. I am much more of a collector of pencils than I ever was of pens. I never bought a pen that I did not intend to use, but I have still not quite gotten into the habit of actually using my pencils regularly. I think that may improve as I acquire more of them, and each individual pencil hence becomes slightly less precious, but I also think that there will always be a few pencils that I will not use, or will use only rarely, pencils that I will simply keep and admire and add to my ever-growing collection.