Sharpen up

Finding the perfect pencil for any purpose will make procrastinators of us all. And what a curious dilemma, made possible by CWPencils on the lower east side, a ‘world-class purveyor of the finest graphite’. They have hundreds of pencils from all over the world, made from different kinds of wood and in various shapes and colours. There are Swiss pencils made from beech wood from the Jura forest, flower scented pencils from an old factory in Portugal, and Musgrave pencils from Tennessee, made from recycled newspaper. There are pencils chosen for their font, and pencils chosen for their history. The Blackwing is a vintage American pencil immediately recognizable by its distinctive tip. The original pencil had a cult following, maybe because the wax added to the graphite made writing effortless, which purportedly gave John Steinback his creative edge. Then there is the HB scale. Hardness and darkness of the lead is a result of the proportion of graphite to clay, but the discrepancies of scale around the world ( a bit like being a size 10 in Australia V’s being a size 10 in America ) mean that you have to try each one for comfort and fit. So one pencil will mark permanently, while another will glide across the page like a watercolor. It’s endless. You can spend a quarter on the popular rounded Bugle No2 or $75  on a vintage pencil. One you can sharpen to adjustable length with a leather pouched sharpener, the other you would think twice about even using. But there is much inspiration either way, and even though I have a drawer full of regular pencils channelling Elvis and inspiring expeditions, there’s always room for one more…!

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8 Responses to Sharpen up

  1. Katherine Woolsey says:

    Good Morning..
    It was very interesting listening to you this morning talking to Rod on ABC radio about these pencils….and the sharpener…
    Funny how your imagination of this little shop is nothing like what I see here…
    Very interesting story about pencils.

  2. Jann Beadle says:

    this is a must for me…..
    have used pencils from the age of 3 (on the walls at home !!!) till now and thru out my career,
    just adore it

  3. Lyndl Marshall says:

    I LOVE the boring #2. Cool shop.

  4. Terry Lee says:

    How fascinating is our World. To read and view your report brought much cheer. It seems not such a long way from my childhood, where I recall being thrilled at receiving a 24 piece set of Derwent pencils. Many happy hours were spent drawing and scribbling with these modest pencils out of their distinctive metal box. In my study desk I still have a myriad of pencils, mainly of the HB type. But in this era of Tablets, Laptops, PCs and Mobile telephones with their touch screens, voice inputs and stylus pens both to write and draw, the humble pencil seems a lost anachronistic!

    Yet, the pencil still pens, as illustrated in your report. Perhaps, we should all go spend an afternoon one Saturday or Sunday and draw again or write a letter in pencil propelled long hand? Hearing the unobtrusive sound of a pencil being sharpened or the blowing away of the filings of a rubber are sounds of simpler times, perhaps?

    Another delightful and inspiring report and your discussion with Rod Quinn on ABC Overnight Radio brought many smiles.

    Kindest of regards

    Terry Lee from Kerang

    • Lovely to hear from you Terry, you are always so enjoyably eloquent. I still use a pencil every day, even though like you say, I have my i-phone and computer. Digital things just don’t seem to work like pencil and paper. Paper is another thing, but the pencil always has to be sharp and the right length. The sound and the smell is so encouraging – maybe that’s another kickback to the past when new pencils would mean a new term, and the sense of new opportunity. It encourages me still!

  5. Janet Rodgers says:

    I heard your report on the pencil shop on Overnights. Now seeing it its just how I imagined it. The smell when you go in the shop must be out of this world. I was obsessed with sniffing new pencils when I was a kid. I heard Rob bought a Blackwing. Where can you get one here in Oz?

    • Rod bought his at Parker’s Art Supplies for $4.95 – but I don’t think he has sharpened it yet! Yes, the smell of pencils brings back all sorts of memories, so being in the pencil shop was a real treat. Hope you find a Blackwing – maybe Parker’s can send you one if you don’t live in Sydney….?

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