It wasn’t until I went back to art school in 1995 that I truly fell in love with the pencil. Previously, I had spent my days finding the perfect pen to express my moods and create the most permanent of doodles. But something changed when I learned to design furniture, and for several years I would never be found without one tucked behind my ear. Now that I have my own studio, my special pencils are strategically placed on every work surface, bearing their printed reminders of places I’ve visited all around the world.
It was one of my first visits to the Metro Transfer Station when I was handed a small chest of drawers by one of the workers there. Each drawer was filled with basic office supplies: X-acto tools, felt-tipped pens, highlighters, note pads, adhesives, and a ton of pencils. Within the next month, I had my second major pencil encounter–someone had dumped a stamp and coin collection, along with other materials from someone’s office space. I came back with dozens of perfectly sharpened pencils that never got to scribe the words intended by their diligent sharpener.
I’ve seen many artists use pencils in their work, but my favorite by far was Gord Peteran’s series of drawings titled “Five Sounds.” He did this series during his 2002 residency at the Center for Art in Wood, and they are now part of their permanent collection. Peteran’s series takes you through his varied approaches to draw a circle with pencil, paper, a lathe, and his body. The above drawing is the second in his series, when he mounted the paper onto a piece of plywood and held the pencil in his hand. I love this journal of the relationship between human and machine.
It was nice to be, again, reminded of Peteran’s series while I did the rough shaping of my forms with the pencils already embedded. Depending on the spacing of the pencils, it would create a circular “drawing” on my sanding disc. The graphite produced more minimalist drawings.
And you can even see a ghost of the sanding process on the face of each piece. I like it because it is a subtle reminder of the spontaneous drawing exercises I employed while in the design stages of this installation. Similarly, I use the disc sander with a high grit paper so I can quickly make shapes. This detail shot reveals the nuances in pencil wood grain you can sometimes spot in even this pea-sized cross-section. I also like how the yellow paint that once dominated the pencil’s appearance is subtly evident around the edges.
Fortuitously for this project, one of my fellow Gleaners left me a pack of colored pencils one day.
It’s been fun to let people discover this found object that’s in each of the 50 pieces I made for this installation. The entire form is seen first, an then there’s often an expression of surprise when they recognize this everyday object that has now become a design element.
I feel a little sad cutting apart the batch of pencils that were so carefully sharpened, but hope that somewhere out there in the universe, their previous owner knows that they didn’t end up in the landfill. Or perhaps they’ll start again with tips from pencil sharpening expert David Rees: