The pencil is intuitive. Its form so familiar, it’s invisible in our everyday experience. We’re taught the proper way to hold a pencil, but its directions for use are otherwise unspoken. There are no user manuals, no instructions for care, no troubleshooting guides. The pencil, with its potential to visualize our most intimate creative thoughts, has no barrier to use, directly linking thought to medium to audience.
The Eberhard Faber Mongol — the first pencil to boast the now ubiquitous yellow — represented a superior-quality writing instrument. In 1861, Eberhard opened the first lead-pencil factory in America in New York City, bringing German pencil-making techniques to the United States. After moving to Brooklyn, it became one of Brooklyn’s most important factories, employing hundreds of workers, who were mostly women.
A pencil’s role is to support without being noticed. Too ostentatious, and it’s gotten in the way of the very concepts one intends to sketch or write. Too weak, and it bends to will, forcing the user to turn to a pen for a stronger character and more determined line.
For most jobs of note, only a pencil will do. It exists to honor an idea. But clearly, the pencil itself has made a point.
Post written as part of “I Heart Design: Remarkable Graphic Design Selected by Designers, Illustrators, and Critics,” by Steven Heller, 2011. This is an abbreviated version of the work, and it is posted here with permission.