The mention of utilizing a pencil in this digital age (Jan Greenberg’s 12.12 post) inspired me to think about when and why I still use one. Although it has been liberating to adopt word processing as well as its visual analog of digital illustration to create my books, sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. Especially in the formative stages of a project, a pencil is indispensable.
But not just any pencil. Relatively recently I discovered the joys of writing and sketching with a mechanical pencil... no sharpening is required and a worn-out eraser can be replaced. It seems odd that I had a full blown computer system a decade prior to adopting a mechanical pencil. Guess they need a better marketing program. I like a .5 mm HB lead. Anyway, why use one at all?
• Taking notes and sketching by hand is the best way to imprint something on my memory. When gathering and processing information, what I write or draw is retained much more vividly.
• When brainstorming, using a pencil allows a much more rapid, fluid, non-linear process. It’s easy to switch between writing and sketching, and erasing irrelevant stuff allows additional ideas to be inserted near related topics.
• When a project hits a roadblock, it’s best to stop wrestling with the computer, sit down with my magical pencil and rethink things. Strangely, doing this while watching TV can be very productive... perhaps it shuts down the usual brain pathways and engenders out-of-the-ordinary thoughts.
• For some reason it’s easier to see the glitches when editing a hard copy. When working with a collaborator, it's convenient to pass a printout back and forth.
• Pencils are very portable and hardly ever break down.
• Last but certainly not least, there is great power in putting things down on paper. Not only books, but great nations have been started that way. A personal or professional goal, no matter how large or small, gets closer to being achieved the moment it’s put into writing (or doodled).
Of course, you need something to write in. I used to scribble on loose sheets of bond paper, then toss the sheets into folders. The problem with that system is the papers get scrambled and tend to throw themselves into inaccessible cracks behind bookcases.
A notebook or journal helps to capture the swirl of ideas and creates at least a semblance of order. I try to date each entry, but since I feel free to go back to add or delete things, it’s certainly not a precise timeline. A spiral binding that lets the book open flat and gives a convenient place to stash the pencil is my preference. These “sketch books” can be found in art supply stores in various sizes. The photo shows a small 6" X 8" one that is great for taking on the road. For stay-at-home journals, I like the large 9" X 12" ones. Be sure to get one with reasonably heavy paper that won't ripple and show through too much from the other side.
This is a section of a journal page when I was working on Missing Math, attempting to work out part of the verse. By the way, that little dog turned into a calf for some reason. (If I had written it down, I would remember why!)
So, during this season the best gift for some people just might be a book they create themselves.
Happy Holidays to all!