Studio Views: Ticonderoga #2

My hands-down favorite medium would have to be graphite or lead, the core of a pencil, the material that makes the marks on paper. Lead makes the words, images, idle thoughts (doodles), specific information — crucial and otherwise — visible.

Tools--TiconderogaWith the lead from a pencil I can make thin delicate words and lines, bold solid black forms, and wispy, smooth gray shadings. All with the same soft lead. Everybody can, anybody — no experience necessary. Everybody can do it, from the very beginning, right out of the box.

Any pencil will do, but my absolute favorite would have to be a TICONDEROGA #2, brand new (they don’t last long) and freshly sharpened. Golden yellow (Cadmium yellow), six-sided, with yellow and green ferrule, and at one end a pink eraser.

Sharpening a new pencil, cutting away the wood to get at the lead, was, at first, very conservative: a hand-held sharpener with one or more hobs for various thickness of pencil. A little later on, and more interesting and bold: a penknife (a non-threatening, pencil-sharpening-only penknife). More limiting: a wall- or desk-mounted hand-turned apparatus.

Up/down, side/side, cross/cross, scribble/scribble, swirl, and then smudge/smudge with a thumb or finger. A wonderful way to make marks on paper. Spare use of the eraser preserves it and avoids losing some potentially useful bit.

Number two is a degree of lead soft enough for most of my needs, but if I must have a very bold, extra-black image for a dog or a train in a tunnel or the night sky, only an EBONY VERIBLACK will do. The whole pencil is black, the lead very soft with unparalleled smudge-ability.

Sketching, note-taking, list-making using a lead pencil in sketchbooks, on envelopes, and on bits of paper of every size and description is a necessary, useful, and pleasurable part of my life. Finding a bit of an old pencil note or sketch, no matter how cryptic, can bring entire events into focus.

Never-used lead pencils also have their place. I often come across pencils in my drawer that say Grand Rapids, Michigan; Bismark, North Dakota; Meteor Crater, Arizona; Mississippi State University. I’m sure the lead in any of these pencils would produce very satisfactory images, but I can’t bring myself to spoil the typography in order to use them. So I’ll just sharpen another TICONDEROGA #2 and get busy.

From the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Picture Books.

Donald Crews About Donald Crews

Donald Crews is the winner of the 2015 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. His acceptance speech was delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco on June 28, 2015.

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