A new pencil, and the importance of consistency


Artists, and creators in general, can be a strange breed. Notwithstanding all of the devious and unusual things we come up with, especially as a horror creator, our actions often seem unusual to the general public.

For example, I spent a good amount of yesterday looking for a new pencil.

Now, for most people, a pencil is a pencil. In fact, I have dozens of pencils, all of which have their particular values. I have what I would call a crapload of Prismacolor Turquoise pencils, from 6B all the way to 4H (there may even be a 6H in there somewhere). I have quite a lot of General/Kimberly HB pencils (not my favorite), and quite a few generic, yellow HB pencils. I have several mechanical pencils, from Koh-I-Noor engineering pencils to ratty old single use mechanical.

My very favorite though is the Pentel mechanical that is always clipped to my Moleskine.

The great pencil of old

That’s the one that I use nearly every day, for a decade now. It’s heavy, it’s made of metal and not plastic, and it’s thicker than most to fit my fat paws. Its durability is unquestioned, the beating it has taken in the last decade is amazing.

It has been in pockets. It’s been shuffled around in my backpack, itself thrown around like a kid’s ball. It’s been sat on, knocked against various furniture pieces that I’ve bumped into, and dropped several times a very long ways.

Only now has it started to slip a little when I’m drawing, and so the search for a new one begins. A new one that has to be as sketchset_dec12-4durable as this one is.

But it’s just a pencil, right? In many ways, of course it is.

In the strange, often unusual mind of the artist, it can also be a lot more than that. Creating art can be a difficult, terrifying process. That first line, the start of everything, can put a lot of pressure on an artist to get things moving in the right direction.

Worrying about reliability

Part of my brain, probably the psychotic side that can’t keep the million things in my head quiet for even a moment, starts thinking about how the tools I’m using might fail me. The pencil might stop working, or I’m out of ink, or the computer might die. A portion of my brain is always taunting me like that, ready at a moment’s notice for some piece of equipment to stop working.

A trusted, long-term item solves that problem. This pencil has been trustworthy for so many years, I just pick it up an go. Sure, I have to swap lead in it every so often, but I have a metric ton of graphite in my desk (and always in my backpack). That trust that my pencil is going to always work, that seemingly no manner of beating is able to stop it, gives my mind ease, and I can focus on my work without those worries.

It also stays firmly clipped to my Moleskine sketchbook. The sketchbook gets tossed on desks, bashed around in my pockets, and crushed repeatedly in my backpack. But that pencil’s clip is as strong as ever. It’s not cheap plastic, or metal that’s been inserted into cheap plastic. It doesn’t slide around on the Moleskine, or even popping off. It’s always there, just like I left it.

Any replacement pencil is going to have to perform physically just like the Pentel, and be a consistent call to action for me. If it breaks, or if I have to continually dig around for the pencil that falls off, it could kill the moment. I have enough parts of my brain trying to kill the moment as is, I don’t need help there.

What it means to me

Perhaps the biggest problem in buying new equipment, whether that’s a new computer, more ink pens, and especially the daily pencil, is that I have taken a decade of journeys with it.

That heavy blue pencil and I have been a lot of places. Literally, of course, it’s been through many states and cities. I have it with me whenever I can, and in many ways it’s seen as much as I have. Moleskines run out of pages, sketchbooks get full, but the pencil persists, ready to start a new adventure. Whether it’s sitting at a coffee shop in Santa Fe, or at lunch in Florida, even just here at home on a quiet day, it’s ready to go.

The most important thing for me is not just where it’s physically been, but where it’s taken me through my art. The blue pencil has seen monsters, beautiful women, terrifying landscapes, funny little characters, even the beginnings of stories and ideas jotted down instead of sketched. Much like the computer that I used for seven years, the pencil has seen the genesis of so many ideas.

Not just final works, either, but rough ideas that never went anywhere. Quick sketches of things best left unsaid, or even forgotten over time. Rough sketches that were so terrible I almost destroyed the pages. Stupid ideas, or even offensive things, laid down in sketchbooks that I haven’t even seen in years.

Replacing a friend

Any new equipment has to live up to the legacy of what came before it. In the case of the pencil, the old one has seen a lot. But it’s finally getting tired, finally reaching the time where I need something to start a new adventure with.

It can sound silly to those who aren’t creators, but these things are really like old friends. They make things comfortable for us, so that we can get on with the act of creating the things that you love, or that we need out of our system. It’s a writer’s old notebook, finally filled up with ideas. It’s the old headphones a photographer listens with while editing photos. It’s the old computer that a videographer has edited all of their movies on for the last few years.

For me, it’s the old blue pencil. A friend that has reached the edge of the world with me, and returned to let me tell all of the stories it has in it. A time that is ending, and a time for me to see if a new friend will carry me on the next decade of journeys yet to come.

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