Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Growing Wooden Pencil Collection

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.

15 comments:

  1. A couple that I didn't see in your list that you might find interesting;

    Derwent Onyx - an interesting graphite pencil that some how manages to be really dark (Derwent claim a 9B equivalence) and hold a point.

    Conté Pierre Noire - a very dark sketching pencil with a larger core than normal. It's similar in tone to charcoal, but less crumbly.

    Sanguine/Sepia Pencils - I like Conté, but lots of manufacturers make these. Sanguine tends to be oily, whereas sepia is more crumbly. Lovely tones, and they look terrific on toned paper.

    Carpenter Pencils - I sharpen mine with a knife, and keep a chisel shaped lead (the cores are rectangular) which gives a nice line variation. (If you find the available grades a bit hard, Lyra make a sketching pencil that's carpenter shape, and comes in a 6B).

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    1. Thanks for all those recommendations, John! The Derwent Onyx sounds especially nice - a dark pencil that holds a point sounds just about perfect. The sanguine and sepia pencils also sound interesting.

      I probably could find some carpenter's pencils around here somewhere if I looked, because my dad actually used to be a carpenter. I should look around for some...

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  2. This is a great post that I can't help linking to, especially for what you write about why we use pencils. I sent you an email about expanding your collection. :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Johnny! I always appreciate the links :)

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  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about using pencils! I have send you an email about expanding your collection too :-)

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  4. Really liked your post on pencils. I, too, love pencils that need to be sharpened!

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  5. Heather love your story on how your pencil collection started. Yes, I used HB2 in school and until I read your post, I had forgotten what those pencils were. You make some good points about using wood pencils vs the pens and mechanical pencils that we throw away when they run out of ink or leads. I will be back to read some more on your collections

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    1. Thank you, Karen! I quit using wooden pencils fairly early on in elementary school, and it has been a lot of fun for me to rediscover them now. I can't believe I was missing out on all these awesome pencils... I still love pens and mechanical pencils and use them every day, but there certainly are some advantages to using wooden pencils instead.

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  6. I started a small collection myself and have been enjoying them. Love your commentary of how reliable and simple a pencil is. Not so with my beloved FP's. I tell myself that part of what I enjoy about the hobby. Yea I'll keep telling myself that. Thanks!

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    1. There is a part of me as well that enjoys fiddling around with pens and inks, and trying different combinations. But sometimes I simply want to be able to pick something up and write with it without needing to worry about whether or not it's going to write or if I've let it sit too long and allowed the ink to dry out. That's part of why I love pencils.

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  7. Over the years I've found a few boxes of vintage pencils at thrift stores, they are impossible to resist. What I love about writing with pencils is the crispy whisper noise the lead makes as it scratches across the paper--the pencil is literally speaking as it writes....

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    1. Yes, they are irresistible, although I've never been so lucky as to find an entire box of pencils! The sound of the lead on the paper is one of the things I like about pencils as well - that, and the smell of the wood.

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  8. Hi Heather,
    Since the past couple of weeks, rarely might there have been a day where I have not visited your blog to read up your passionately written posts.
    I can understand your love for pencils increasing. I used to collect a lot of pencils in my college days and recently caught the bug again (after almost a decade).
    Keep writing! Godspeed
    RJ

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm actually planning a new series of posts on my pencil collection (which has grown since this post), so stay tuned :)

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