I found myself today heading to the local discount store in Goldston in order to purchase more of the flex grip gel pens. In the past, once I found a smooth writing pen, I would usually keep the pen and use it until the ink ran out, then discard it and search for another in the desk drawer. However, since I began journaling, I’ve found that the feel of a nice pen on the paper really makes a difference; thus my recent obsession with these gel pens.
It was while I was regarding one of these sweet writing pens in the presence of a math teacher this afternoon that I became aware of how writing utensils can be very persuasive and personable in their use. During my observation, Jenny the math teacher, reflected on how she never liked pens to be used by her students in their math work. I had to agree with her, since I took numerous math classes while attending college at the University of Florida. In fact, I mostly used mechanical pencils while at UF. We both agreed that the mechanical pencil was easily sharpened by just pushing the plunger at the end of the device which would feed more lead into the chamber which holds the material to be applied to the writing surface. She noted that she found herself using the number two pencils in school since they were donated, yet, she found herself constantly going to the sharpener during the course of the day. It seems there is a universal understanding that the feel of a dull number two pencil is akin to the sound of fingernails being scraped across the chalkboard: VERY IRRITATING!!!
Over the years I’ve used everything from art pencils to mechanical pencils in work that I’ve done. Like the pens and pencils that I use, I find various idiosyncrasies that match their use. Art and mechanical pencils are sometimes both for drawing, but both for very diverse reasons; one was for creative artwork, the other for drafting structural steel. The art pencils, unlike the yellow number two pencils are best used when they are not sharp. In fact, most shading techniques require the muted tip of a softened lead, which allows the artist to blend the graphite on the paper smoothly. I rarely used a pencil sharpener to sharpen the art pencils. It was best to regain a semblance of tip by using a knife and whittling it back in shape. Just the act of whittling a wooden pencil, throwing tiny shavings onto the floor, makes one feel as if something special is about to take place; let the drawing begin. Art pencils, like their craft, were meant to be very tactile in nature; unlike the mechanical pencil, which was cold and calculating.
The mechanical pencil not only created a sharp, crisp purposeful line, it was also something that made excellent text for drawing requiring verbal comments or definitions. The mechanical pencil’s use would often be the gateway tool for the ink pen. Since lead can only be a mere gray-tone of color, the black ink pen would become even more of a statement. So it was when I began writing that I sought out the dark line of the black ink pen. With this black ink, I can also include pen and ink drawings using the ever more cross-over tool known as the “Ultra-Point” pen, which takes us back to the artistic side of the equation.
I can remember an art class once that the teacher required us to use only drawing pencils. We could use nothing but the 2B, B, and HB rated pencils. During this class we were required to perform all types of shading and drawing with our reliable “B” pencils. One project I vividly recalled today when thinking back to this time was our job to draw a white and brown egg. Not only were we to draw a shape that looked like an egg, but we were also required to make it so that the viewer could easily discern which egg was brown and which egg was white. The shading had to be just so, so that each egg’s shape could be seen, yet gentle enough to make the brown and whiteness of the shell to be apparent. It was from this feel of shape and hue that I came to know the line that the point of the drawing device could make and what variations to expect based upon what utensil was being used. From this deep learning from feel and sight, I became prepared for what lie ahead based upon which device I held in my fingertips.
Many years later, I had a math professor in college from Romania who would swear to us that, “You learn through our fingertips, up our arm and into your brain,” and that in order to do so, we had to manually write down everything he wrote on the board, then quote it back to him exactly as he had written it on the board, verbatim. At the time, if felt like cruel and unusual punishment. However, as time would pass, I would find that memorization of what I would see was more often reinforced from when it would pass through my fingertips, from the tip of the pen or pencil and eventually into my head.
So today, as we discussed our favorite devices for whichever activity we were performing, it became obvious that the point at which the paper and our chosen utensil met, became the catalyst for what would transpire from thought into reality and back again to thought. And so it goes, in life; we choose our comfort points, our devices of fluidity that allow thought to become real and then and only then does the purpose of living become one with the world around us.
I think I’ll put that down in writing.
But a thought before you leave, “If the pen is mightier than the sword…what is the pencil?”