Here in New York State, back in the 70s and 80s, we public school students were subjected to a lot of standardized tests. A LOT. Regents exams, placement exams, aptitude tests, etc. I remember them well. Most of all I remember being told to bring “Two number 2 lead pencils”. No exceptions. It was a strict order. Had to be number 2 pencils. So one day my Mom sent me off to to school for yet another standardized test day, and lovingly put two sharpened pencils in my girly pink pencil case. Then, just before the test was about to start, I took out my pencils and saw that they WERE NOT NUMBER TWOS!!! I freaked out. “Oh my god!! They’re NOT number twos!!!! What do I do?? Do I confess? Mom screwed me!!” I really thought I was going to get in trouble! Not kidding. I thought the proctor was going to come around, like a boot camp drill sergeant inspecting army barracks, and check all the pencils to make sure they were number twos. Luckily, she didn’t do that, and I was off the hook.
That’s my childhood pencil trauma story. It reflects my limited feelings about pencils for a long time. Pencils were for test-taking. Pencils were just school supplies, old-fashioned relics from the 6th grade. They were the boring, cheap, unglamorous, utilitarian loser cousins to the much cooler, and costlier, pens. But then, in my adulthood, I became an artist’s model, and was exposed to the other side of pencils. The artistic side. The side that expands well beyond the rigid “number 2 lead” NY State school system mandate. I learned that in the art world, pencils are treated with genuine respect, as drawing implements of tremendous versatility and highly valued purpose.
Pencils are available in a an impressive multitude of forms, varying in thickness, hardness, darkness, substance and style. HB, 2B, 2H, round or hexagonal, graphite, charcoal, compressed charcoal, carbon, even watercolor. Have you ever browsed in the pencil section of an art supply store? You could waste a lot of time there!
Pencils are really all you need to create a work of art. They provide line, shading, even color. They can be smeared, smudged, or applied carefully for fine lines and details. Pencils can do it all. So who needs expensive oil paints and canvases, brushes and palette knives. Get yourself one good pencil and a piece of paper, and go to town!
My friend Dolores Ramos-Frey did just that when she created this drawing of me at a sketch group a few months ago. Thanks Dolores! I love it 🙂