A Modest Universe of The Pencil

The Secret Life of the Pencil: Great Creatives and Their Pencils
by Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney
foreword by William Boyd

Around my kindergarten to 1st grade, had seen my brother and sister started using pen at school made me wanting to migrate from a pencil to that ink-based tool. I felt being left as I saw it as one step into an adulthood especially since my dad and other adults seemed using pens in serious manners such as work and signing a paper. My nanny told me that there was this boy at same age as mine accidentally put the tip of sharp pencil into his eyeball because he had always sharpen the two sides of the pencil like I did. For that reason, universe pushed me to see a pencil far behind than how prestigious and safe a pen could be.

Only years later when I attended a college studying Visual Communication Design did I learned the power of pencil. But that wasn’t enough since the following years I used mostly pen and digital pen such as Apple Pencil. Perhaps, this book helped me to step back from “modern” tools or ink-ish thing to this humble tool from early 16th century.

Found this book hidden in a bookstore with only one copy left at the time I bought it rightaway. Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney collected both mechanical and low-tech wooded pencils used by great creatives ranging from a designer, architect, photographer, writer, to make up artist.

The photographs of its pencil really astonishing. Added colorful backgrounds that matched and in some cases contrast the pencil, it lets the pencil show its true nature. It is wonderful the journey of each of the pencil has. We can see their details, which as how we might feel when we saw the details of our skin, could be beautiful or sometimes disturbing. Nevertheless the photographs are still wonderful.

The pencil Tim Walker (left) and David Shilling (right).
A seemingly ordinary Faber-Castell pencils but with an artistic touch.
Mechanical Pencil also has a room here.
The Secret Life of the Pencil – Alex Hammond – Mike Tinney – Photo by Turangga Sukandar Putra
Magic Pencils of Sir Quentin Blake.

But what I like more about this book is the interviews they had done to some contributors. Not all of the pencil owner used it everyday or the only tool they mainly use. Some of them were using pencil only at the start of the project and I salute for their honesty by not exaggerate it functionality.

One of my favorite is from Anna Jones, a cook, stylist and writer.

What’s great about pencils is that they are pretty much a universal measurement. My books have been translated into lots of different languages, but everyone knows what I mean when I say ‘pencil-thin’. I’m not sure ‘pen-thin’ would be quite as easy a description because it could be a biro, a fountain, or a Sharpie.

Anna Jones

And given that I’m in the middle of reading a historical book ‘Centuries of Change’ by Ian Mortimer, I also added this to the list.

If you want to think about how important the pencil is, just think of its history. Graphite was found in Cumbria, so the pencil was really invented there. Originally it was used for marking sheep, so everybody knew whose sheep were whose. But during the Napoleonic wars, the British government banned the export of graphite, and suddenly Napoleon couldn’t make his battle plans – thats how important the pencil can be.

Jay Osgerby

Or somewhat romantic like this.

A pencil has the advantage of not being permanent. Even though I never use a rubber, the pencil is more forgiving and somehow suited to changing and developing ideas.

Sebastian Bergne
An Interview of Michèle Burke.

I picked up an old wooden pencil from my forgotten pencil case the time I has finished this book—which of course wouldn’t spent so much time since it contains more photos than words. Holding it in my hand, contemplating on it; its weight, texture, even the smell of it, has nourished my inner dry creativity. It’s been a long time I haven’t drawn any thing, even as Ranggasme my last drawing was almost a year ago!

I don’t think this book is for everyone. Even not for everybody who works in creative industry. I think debating whether using digital-based tools decrease our creativity is unimportant. It’s not a suit-all way of create. It’s just because it feels personal that I find this book interesting, and it’s not always the case for you. But if you do interested then go for it, this book is a gem worth to collect.

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