Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Penciling You In

Think of a pencil as a symbol of the power of the creative mind. It is the potential inherent in what can be written or drawn and it's representative of knowledge and art; having been born for use by academics and artists.

Contrary to common talk, pencils have never been made with lead, but with graphite. Chemistry was in its infancy back in sixteenth century Cumbria, England and the first discovery was thought to be a form of lead. In fact, tales about getting lead poisoning from pencils comes from lead in the paint that adorned the early pencil and not the graphite.

When you grow up in an industry there are certain things that you see used so often that they lose the power of their original greatness. Words and phrases, symbols and images are "done to death". And the art/design/advertising industry is not exempt. We call these things that have been overused and mistreated to the point of exhaustion clichés (and images, visual clichés) even though those outside the industry may not recognize them to be. Trending in the age of social media has exasperated this so much so that what was hot one hour is totally lame the next. (Most, it must be admitted, are worthy of this fate.)

So of course I had to pick the lowly pencil to feature today. Some would say they have been misused throughout generations of designers for everything from logos to publication covers to illustrations, icons, t-shirts, boxer shorts and those magnets you put on your fridge. Along the way they have fallen out of favor by the design elite as an image solution only used by the mindless, and used poorly.

But others might say that the pencil became clichéd simply because of its inherent power. That when a solution presents itself as an effective alternative that involves their use, one shouldn't automatically exempt it because its been abused so many times in the past. The wisest amongst us might say, well maybe it just hasn't been used properly, maybe it's time it reclaimed its former glory.

Like you and me. We've been poorly used in the past and we're grateful when someone doesn't chuck us out immediately when we come to mind. Even if you haven't been abused, imagine you were a pencil and someone said, "Oh, we can't use a pencil, they're meaningless now." How would you feel?

In this age of trending, perhaps we're ready to throw out too much. Anyway, hope you find something interesting in today's images. I took the photo last night and shaped it into something that marries the words to the visuals in a way that completes a thought. Hope they serve to boost the image of the pencil to something above a throwaway cliché.

And I hope pencils everywhere feel a bit better about themselves.


  1. And I hope pencils everywhere feel a bit better about themselves.

    Interesting metaphor. I must show this to Marie, who's second-to-last piece in the visual arts program was a triptych on self-esteem.

    Love the parallels: self-esteem, diversity, the value of compassion and conservation, paying attention.

    Thanks for writing this.