visual artist

National Pencil Day - an "unofficial" holiday for writers and artists

Added on by Ellen Halloran.

It's time for another "unofficial" holiday.  Today, March 30th, is National Pencil Day.  I can't tell you who or what is responsible for the origin of this day, but it interests me as I try to fill in a part of my education.  I've been learning about and experimenting with different grades of pencils for drawing.   When thinking about pencils, most of us imagine the bright yellow, wood-encased instrument with a graphite tip and an eraser on the opposite end.  We call these 'lead' pencils even though they do not contain lead.  The 'lead' is really graphite that is mixed with varying amounts of clay to produce grades of hardness and blackness.  In pencil grading a 6H is harder than a 4H which is harder than a 2H.  The blackness grading scale is similar.  My 8B pencil produces a blacker line than the 6B.  There is also an F grade and this refers to a pencil that can be sharpened to a very fine point.

The image shown here gives you some idea of pencil gradations.  If you look closely you may be able to see the paw prints of an inquisitive cat.

Pencils are great.  You don't need electricity or a battery.  Pencils will work even when held upside down.  They won't freeze and they work under water (so I'm told).

You can find some notable pencil users in an internet search.  Over 300 pencils were used in the writing of John Steinbeck's East of Eden.  Vladimir Nabokov wrote and rewrote everything in pencil.  In his 1957 novel Pnin (which I haven't read) there is a descriptive and well-imagined reference to the use of a pencil sharpener.

"With the help of the janitor he screwed onto the side of the desk a pencil sharpener -- that highly satisfying, highly philosophical implement that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must."

                                                                       Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin [1957]