It’s hard to believe that there was a time in the world when a pencil was only used as something so mediocre as creating price tags. Today, however, an average pencil can be sharpened seventeen times, write forty-five thousand words, and draw a line thirty-five miles long. But a pencil is so much more than that. Pencils help to tell the stories and artistry of our civilizations with such clarity, that they bring alive a myriad of pictures of human life. Leonardo da Vinci’s first drafts of his artwork and inventions were immortalized in pencil; President Lincoln’s handwriting in pencil memorialized the principles of human equality in the Gettysburg Address, considered to be the most important speech in American history; Ernest Hemingway originally wrote most of his works in pencil; John Steinbeck had a fetish for pencils and used as many as sixty cedar pencils a day to complete his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Pages of history are marked by these people, just like their paper was marked by their pencils. I hope that one day, I can mark history as well.
At Kindergarten, learning to hold a pencil was somewhat of a crowning achievement. I would hold one close to its tip, in a tight grip, concentrating on the fine detailed, yet scribbly, letters and sketches. I learned to draw in both literal and abstract ways, also getting a feel for creating short, fictional stories extracted from my wild imagination. These sketches and stories became great outlets for my creativity, and I remember that I would leave my house sometimes with nothing but a few pencils, a notebook, and an overwhelming sense of excitement. I was awestruck by what I could conger up in my mind and write about it. I must have been fascinated as the crowd, during the Convention of Deans, Scholars and Scribes in 1248, watched Dean Niccolo of Padua remove a pencil from his cloak and used it to record the address of his friend from Paris. I believe we all felt the wonder of the endless possibilities of what a mere pencil could record.
It disturbs me to think that this simple writing instrument was limited to only Englishmen during the sixteenth century, a tool only the aristocratic could use. If you had a one, chances are you read as well. Countries had to pay large amounts of money for it, others had to improvise to create their own. Mass education and literacy was made possible by a single pencil. It was a luxury then, and it’s a luxury now, although forgotten. Some people today cannot even afford one and the very thought of being unable to express how I feel and what I know into words would torment my soul. Saying what your creative mind thinks is one thing, but writing it down for everyone to see, forever preserved, is an outer-boy experience like no other. I’ve come to learn that a blank, white sheet of paper is the most sensual and intimate relationship for an artist, but the pencil is an extension of the imagination and talent. The pencil is an extension of the hand, a gateway to the mind, an extension of my own energy. I don’t hold my pencil, it holds me!
When you decide to grab a pencil, remember this: the pencil is a great wonder and it should never be forgotten. So don’t ever forget.