The year had just begun when tragedy on a large scale hit Paris. The town that saw the birth of the pencil as we know it (invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, then commercialized by him under the name Conté à Paris) suddenly saw its walls literally covered in a few days by hands holding pencils. This simple drawing tool becoming overnight the symbol of freedom not only of speech (the mighty pen would probably have been used) but freedom to draw, sketch, make people laugh and think through quick and clever representations of ourselves, our lives, our vanities and beliefs. These cameos seen mainly in the press or comic albums being none other than hand held mirrors into our own souls.
As the year ends however, I am amused, delighted even -in a slightly perplexed way maybe- to see that, however many pencils I might have sold for that purpose, the winner of the year will have to be the coloured pencil -bought by the box for the sole purpose of covering pages after pages of doodles, zentangles, enchanted forests, secrets gardens and mandalas with… colour! The shy customers who come in search of these are clearly a bit lost in a real art store, but seem ready enough to brave the unknown territory in order to fuel her or his newfound delight (Yes yes many men too!)
There are quite a few reasons that have been put forward to explain this worldwide fad and I had thought of most myself… of course colouring a ready-made design is relaxing, calming, meditative and the world being the crazy place it is these days I can perfectly understand the need for more peaceful moments in our lives.
I have never done it, not since long ago anyway, but I have always felt that holding a pencil in my hand and letting it gently to and fro on a page, without true destination or achievement in mind, was one of the most pleasant sensations. Seeing the lines pour out, the space being filled at my own rhythm, witnessing the ballet of my own hand quickly sets me in a kind of trance. It connects me to childhood. It connects me to colour. It connects me to myself, to effortlessness and the now, like not many other things do.
The pencil, endlessly supplying its colourful wares without fuss or mess, soon turns into an extension of my hand. I like round pencils for example and find hexagonal ones not so caressing. I also like the smell of them when you open the box (it goes after that). Good pencils are usually encased in cedar wood and so it’s not only in my mind that this smell exists. And then of course you CAN chew them, so they even have a taste if you have a taste for these sort of nibbles.
I probably shouldn’t linger toooo much on the subject of sharpeners but while I’m in the zen part of this post I will say that if you have a good one (a very very rare treat) and you decide to go through ALL your pencils on a rainy afternoon, it just has to be one of the most delightful things life can bring you… the rounded shards of wood roll on the paper in front of you while the little pigmented bits clog up the sharpener then mess up some more your desk. It’s raining, the world can wait… you are very busy doing a most important job which will give you immense pleasure every single time you will grab a pencil in the next few weeks/days so you have a totally good conscience… no you are not procrastinating, not at all, you are doing something as useful as the old masters when they were making their paint from pigments, you are preparing your tools… proof is… your fingers start to hurt a bit!
(Of course that’s not how they do it in pencil factories… click here to discover the industrial approach!)
Funny when your brain goes sideways… I’m thinking just now that perhaps there always were two sorts of pencils… the “serious” black pencil used by school children for apprenticeship of letters and adding up sums the world over and by artists for sketches, drafts… This grey dude seen only in the honorable company of the above… the Dark Black, Sepia, Sanguine or White blokes. The second sort being the “not-very-serious-at-all” coloured pencils which haven’t left the kids section for years… if ever! How many artists, true, revered, known artists can you name who have done their body of work in coloured pencil? Hello… I’m waiting here! Any one? One name, just the one, maybe not that very famous, come on… Sorry, too late, case closed!
The black pencil can be erased, its graphite easily turned into little rubber residues. The coloured ones with their varied pigments is not so easily dismissable. If my above theory approaches a truth of kind, would it mean that serious stuff (you know crosswords, sudokus, shopping lists, monthly bills, masterpieces) can always be revisited but fun things (birds, flowers, sea, sun and castles), once imagined, are there to stay? Whatever! Probably a silly shot in the “Sky blue” ether.
But as this year draws to an end, and despite the fact that I was a “serious” bookseller and publisher and am now a “serious” art supplies store owner I have to say it has given me great pleasure to see a colouring book on the US best seller list for over a year now, and the fact that it is called The Secret Garden sums it up for me really. Yes, art IS something very private, and YES you can do it for your eyes only and NO you are not going to get told off by your art teacher this time even if you cross the line and NO no one is going to think you are crazy or silly even if they find out… chances are they are colouring in or doing something creative too! So, whatever with, go for it… I’ll be back next year with some more infos about materials, meanwhile… a very safe and truly colourful holiday season to you all!
PS If you want more serious infos about coloured pencils>>>please click here.