Remember pencils? The new book by Alex Hammond The Secret Life of the Pencil: Great Creatives and their Pencils is set on reminding you about them. Available to pre-order here, it’s a book dedicated to this unsung hero of the creative industry. A lot of great ideas still start with a pencil; rough sketches become famous paintings and scribbled words are used to flesh out prize-winning novels or chart-topping melodies. Our treasured artists, designers, musicians and writers wouldn’t be where they are today without pencils.
Each page of this book throws the spotlight onto a famous pencil and highlights, in microscopic detail, some unique characteristics which seem to reflect the creative personality of the owner. The close-up photos taken by Mike Tinney are abstract in style, with moody studio lighting and pin-sharp focus transforming these unassuming tools-of-the-trade into works of art as impressive as the ones they create. Concentrating predominantly on the nib – where a pencil bears most of the creative brunt – Tinney renders some of them unrecognisable, altering our pencil perspective.
The collection varies from artist Tracy Emin’s slightly blunted black and yellow Staedtler Noris pencil (like the ones you used to have at school) to inventor Sir James Dyson’s mechanical metal instrument. What the viewer deduces from the beautifully shot magnifications is up to them (which leaves us wondering if we should we be concerned about teeth-mark smothered pencil stub owner David Shrigley).
Appreciation should be given to the pencil whilst we have the opportunity, because of its potentially short lifespan. As the lead repeatedly snaps and millimetre after millimetre is shaved off its length, the pencil edges closer to its bin-liner fate, soon to be forgotten while its marks are remembered. As fashion photographer, and aggressively sharpened red pencil owner, David Bailey reflects; ‘maybe it’s part of the pencil’s charm that it breaks’ suggesting that the affection for the traditional wooden implement persists, despite its shortcomings.
Indeed, we can often be found with a pencil in hand, sketching and tracing behind the scenes to ensure artwork is precisely positioned. Being proud perfectionists, it’s the temporary aspect of the erasable line making that appeals to us – we are grateful for the pencil! Thanks to this book, some of the most instrumental pencils have been preserved so we can appreciate them for years to come.