About a Pencil

         It's funny, isn't it, how simple events or actions can trigger profound thought? I was shapening a fistful of pencils to begin working on another creative project. As I ground their points to sharpness, it occurred to me that I regard a pencil as a sacred object; as a culturally sacred - what is it? - icon?
          In meditation group on Monday, this thought or awareness was ambling around my mental back country. I was thinking about what it meant, and how I could express it. To understand it as a sacred object, I realized that its importance is that all art proceeds from it.
          Based on function and material, there are many kinds of pencils. Generously I include here other mark-making devices like pens and felt-markers. But the form of a pencil includes charcoal pencils, Conte crayons, and grease pencils, my preferred medium.(Also called 'China Markers', these wax-based pencils can mark on anything, including glass, ceramics and metal.) Also consider eye-liners, crayons, colored pencils, and photo-blue pencils. I've used them all in sketching and fine-art drawing. But at the base of it all, fundamentally, there remains the humble graphite pencil.
          Pencils have been around in present form since 1564 when a graphite deposit was unearthed in England. Graphite was ultimately mixed with clay and cooked at 800 C. Because it was so brittle, it was encased in wood to protect from breakage and from getting the user's hands soiled. The first is rican versions were made by Henry David Thoreau's father. The name 'pencil' comes from the Old French 'pincel', which refers to the camel hair brush people used to use for writing. Wood-encasing started in the 1560's. The standard pencil is 7 1/2 inches long, and there are 14 billion pencils manufactured every year, globally.
          Physically a pencil is a maker of marks. It is flexible, adaptable, waterproof, maleable, pretty and basic. When I am in a gallery or museum I find I am always drawn to pencil works. Nothing feels better in my hand than a pencil. I've had one in my hand since I was very young, when pencils and a pad of cheap paper were an effective baby-sitter for my mother, on rainy indoor days.
          The companion to a pencil is paper, of course, and paper too is central to my creative tasks. While we were living in Durban, South Africa, I learned how to make paper from cotton and other fibrous vegetable matter. I was able to refine that skill in Washington DC where I made myself paper out of old blue jeans and t-shirts. I have used this paper at times when I had significant images to present. I love the feel and texture of paper. An Italian company like Fabriano has made fine-quality archival papewr for 750 years. I figure that when I use some of it, I am proudly in the same august company as Michelangelo ond Beethoven.
           In meditation we discussed how bto focus our thinking, and recognize our central reality. Our anchor, so to speak. I realized then that the pencil holds such a position in my awareness and in my life, and has been there since childhood.
          I am involved, in my life, in creative self-expression, and it is a deep need of mine to have some writing or mark-making instrument around, more or less all the time. Who knows when an idea or observation will need to be recorded? And my wife Gerri will tell you how frustrated I can become, at an event, speech or performance where there is nothing with which I can make marks; sketches, scribbles, patterns or notes. (I write also.)
          Think about it. A pencil ain't much; a couple of slathers of wood sandwiched around a core of graphite (of whatever density or mixture) and usually with a piece of pink eraser crimped on one end in a metal sheath. But as I live and breathe, the pencil is a symbol of who I am.