Pencil as Amulet

You wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea. You reach for your notepad and a . . . fountain pen? Nope,

Avatar pencil © Quinn McDonald, 2008, watercolor pencil, ink on paper

Avatar pencil © Quinn McDonald, 2008, watercolor pencil, ink on paper

you’d have to unscrew the lid, and make sure it starts writing. Ball point? Not sure it will start without a test scribble either. Roller ball? They glob and smear. You’d reach for a pencil. Always ready to go, easy to use, erasable. If you are waking up to sketch, you can do that with a pencil, too. A finger rubbed across the surface will make a shadow or a shade, using just the tip give a crisp, clear line.

Pencils have been documented since  1565 when Conrad Gesner mentioned them in a story about the uprooting of a tree whose roots carried a black substance convenient for writing and art work. N. J. Conté, father of the Conté crayon, invented the first usable pencil in 1795 after Faber (now Faber-Castell) failed to make powdered graphite work. But 16,000 years ago, cave artists were drawing the famous horses in the Lascaux caves using charcoal and paint. Pencils last. You’d better update your floppy disks and CDs and memory sticks, or your information will vanish without a trace, but you don’t have to update a pencil. They’ve worked for at least 300 years, and they’ll work for the next 300.

Pencil as amulet, in gold and silver created by Matt Muralt

Pencil as amulet, in gold and silver created by Matt Muralt

Because I’m both an artist and a writer, the pencil identifies my work and outlines my identity. The pencil stub, still useful, is a sign that work is getting done.

Over the years, the common, humble pencil has become my totem–the figure I use as a symbol of creativity as well as a way to connect to that creativity through a greater force. A pencil is a way to connect to other writers, artist, to the common bond we have that makes us create, that gives us no choice but to make something that wasn’t there before.

I wanted to honor that totem by wearing it. Holding it wasn’t enough. I wanted to elevate it, as humans have done since they could walk upright, by wearing it as a symbol around my neck. I took

Pencil on handmade journal

Pencil on handmade journal

the idea to Matt Muralt, of Muralt Custom Jewelers in Mesa, AZ.  Showing him the drawing of the pencil (part of the pencil is my WordPress, Twitter and Facebook avatar) and asked him if he could make a pendent for me in gold. Matt’s enthusiasm for a project that hasn’t been done before is catching, and he asked if I wanted a regular pencil drilled or did I want a piece of jewelry. I wanted to elevate the pencil to amulet, so he discussed the use of three metals–silver for the ferrule that holds the pencil to the eraser, rose gold for the eraser, and yellow gold for the shaft of the pencil. The tip would be silver and oxidized to look like lead.

When Matt showed me the wax figure, he had made it the size of a real pencil. He wanted me to bite into it, to give it the chewed look of a real pencil. I considered it, but I’ve never chewed on pencils, so the amulet would remain without teeth imprints.

When I picked it up today, I was astonished. It looked like a real pencil with a slightly metallic sheen. Matt has a big creative gift that allows him to see what his customer sees but can’t draw. And there it is, my amulet pencil, reminding me of my work and the inspiration that raises an idea from humble origins to art.  (Yes, he’ll make you one, too: 480-969-4653)

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and creativity coach.

13 thoughts on “Pencil as Amulet

  1. Pingback: Talisman: Stone and Gold | QuinnCreative

  2. It’s an interesting idea, re-making something into something different that holds meaning. I love your pencil it seems to fit you so well. I don’t have a special symbol that seems to work, but I could adapt the idea more simply. I have an unset cameo that my grandmother gave me 40 years ago. It would be a lovely memento as a piece of jewelry. Maybe this is the inspiration I needed.

    • Holding a meaningful piece that belonged to someone who was a powerful influence is indeed powerful on its own. A long time ago, before autographs, people took snippets of hair from the famous. There is a lot of Victorian jewelry that has a tiny strand of hair woven into a braid as a memento mori–a memory brooch made at the time of death. Powerful memories hold powerful promise.

  3. That is such a beautiful story and amulet, Quinn. What a great piece of jewelry you and Matt came up with! I would probably choose a stone for my amulet – I have been connected to rock in one way or another all my life – my grandmother was an amateur geologist and was always taking us on little “expeditions”. I’m a gemini, so maybe my attraction to stone is that it grounds me. And I love the idea of the oldness – the thought that the rock was there through all the times of history that intrigue me; it connects me, gives me some continuity.

    • People have been wearing rocks in one way or another for millennia–and it doesn’t have to be jewelry. You can carry a small rock in your pocket or have it on your desk. A friend of mine carved several rocks as talis-stones (that’s what I called them) and we’d share them, month to month. Objects for grounding make themselves aware to you, common or not. It took me a good long time to figure out that I’m grounded by what a #2 pencil can do for me!

  4. Making custom jewelry is a treat. When I was dating my wife, I sort of regressed to teenager-hood and dreamed of us together, and made a sword from our initials, e and p. The sword (epe in French, both e’s should have accents, is pronounced like e and p) stood for our joined initials.

    OK, a bit fluffy, perhaps, but finally, after 30 years of marriage, I found a goldsmith and had him make a gold pendant for Eva shaped like a sword incorporating the e and p. It took nearly a year and I accompanied the artist who told me a lot about what he was doing and goldsmithing in general.

    It was a wonderful journey.

    Very nice, Q, that you could have a similar experience. ‘Private jewelers’ who understand what you want are a great experience.

  5. I really love your idea and the result Quinn.

    Over the years I have inherited jewelry and honestly I never wear any of the pretty rings, pendants and bracelets. They belonged to other people who loved them and have been wearing them in their lives. Maybe a jeweler could design something new more to my taste and use the materials..

    This pencil is so cute ! 🙂

    • I would love to help you out with a new design if your interested.
      we could work togather and make something very meaningful for you.
      Quinn was able to use her old gold in her design ,this might work for
      you.

      Muralts Custom Jewelers
      480-969-4653

  6. It’s beautiful! It looks like a real pencil. Of course, that might not be such a good thing. You might want people to know it’s made of real gold!

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