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