An ordinary pencil...

For some time people have been requesting I put together a small article about the tool of my trade and answer a few questions about it. I have given this some thought and have tried to relate why I think the pencil is so important as an instrument for all artists and why it is still relevant even in today's new world of technology.

Pencil tip drawing a short line
Pencil tip drawing a line

I often come to the conclusion that I am still unsure of myself when faced with the almighty steadfast canvas and oils that have so long stood the test of time. But is pencil any the less for not being so durable or for not being the final tool for so many of the great masters?

Because the walls of our familiar state-funded galleries are not lined with drawings of graphite pictures does it mean that this medium is any less worthy of the adoration given to it by so many? My feeling is there is a place for all and although the pencil is now becoming an accomplished finishing tool in its own right it will probably always at best come second place to the art of painting.

The first pencils as we know them today were invented in England in 1564 with the discovery of graphite, and its ability to make a harder, sharper and darker mark than that of the previously used lead. The substance of graphite was actually discovered in an accident with gunpowder, with graphite being an element of the after effect from an explosion. Although being often described or labelled as lead, graphite is actually a form of crystalised carbon.

It was not until 1662 that the pencil was formally taken into mass production in Germany. This was then later developed and pioneered by companies like Faber Castell throughout the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century.

Favoured for its convenience, taken anywhere and everywhere there was no doubt it could be unrivalled as the way forward for all artists.

A mass of pencil shavings
Pencil shavings

Believe it or not, an ordinary pencil contains enough graphite to draw a constant line for 35 miles. It still has to be said, that although the pencil since its invention was probably the most commonly used tool in sketching, it was often still only a tool for preliminary work, in preparation for paint.

In its infancy, it was the obvious choice for early illustrators as the work was easily reproduced for the pre colour printing press. It also became quite apparent that with just using a graphite pencil alone, numerous tones and shading could be derived with relative ease and these could be reproduced with excellent quality at minimal cost. There was no doubt that pencils could be almost unrivalled as an instrument of artistic convenience.