Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The studio has a big long working desk that four of us share, all sitting on the same side. In the middle of the room is a tall architect desk that we also share. On the center of that desk is a glass jar of pencils and a stack of note sheets, quartered from recycled paper.

Working on these small sheets is an idea stolen from David Kennedy. As early as 1992, David would go to the printer room at Wieden & Kennedy and dig out used photocopier paper, cut them in quarter stacks with the paper cutter, bind them up with a bulldog clip and use them for notes. It was sort of crazy but cool.

Fifteen years later I noticed John Jay worked on little quarter-sheets of paper too. He'd treat each sheet as a slide as he created his presentations. He'd tape the sheets to the wall and move them around and take pages down and add to them, tearing down and rebuilding his presentation as he went.

It's a great way to work. I like that each sheet is small, so ideas have to be singular. I like that you can get rid of and add pages easily and change the flow. You can work the sheets like a book, like David does, or lay them out like a map, like John Jay.

And pencils I like for all the reasons you can imagine: they erase, they're tactile, they encourage flow, they invite expression, they smell wonderful. The glass of sharp black pencils and white scratch sheets sitting on the table is very seductive.

Today, our pencil sharpening has moved into the 20th Century. The studio has added a brand new Boston schoolroom-style manual wall-mounted pencil sharpener.

Progress and technology are not without their aesthetic trade-offs. As you can see, the cone of the hand-sharpened pencil is shorter, giving it a distinctive, artisanal profile, and the wood reveals the human hand and hand-tool that made it, versus the perfectly smooth and regular wood of the machine-sharpened pencil.

As we begin to shift over to the Boston, I'm sure I'll be nostalgic for our last batch of artisan pencils. I'm glad Betsy, the designer who started with us last week, and who inherited the job of Director of Pencil Operations, got to experience life before and after this 20th-Century marvel.


dickbird said...

i watched and enjoyed this

I'm principal of a said...

Super enjoyable. I added that link to the post.

Hermes said...

I have a pencil sharpener fetish.
Whenever the wife and I go to estate sales, i keep my eyes opened for them. Often you can find a beauty in the basement, attached to the corner of a workbench with stripped out flat head screws. I always go up to the strange old ladies lording over the cash box, say a few lines of Tennyson, then ask if I can purchase the pencil sharpener. Often times they blink twice and say yes.