From Quentin Blake’s black watercolour pencil to the primitive red pencil David Bailey relies upon, the stories behind great creatives’ tools are an intimate insight to their process. Tapping into the subject in detail is designer Alex Hammond and photographer Mike Tinney, with their long-running online and exhibition series The Secret Life of the Pencil, which is now being published as a book by Laurence King. It features interviews with a list of renowned creative people, from Nadav Kander and John Pawson to Paul Smith, Sophie Conran and Michèle Burke, and portraits of the pencils of 70 others such as Tracey Emin, Tom Dixon and Philippe Starck.
“The fundamental nature of the pencil is that it is a brilliant invention and will always be with us,” writes author William Boyd in the foreword. “The pencil is like the wheel, the button, the comb, the wheelbarrow, the umbrella, the book, the fork, the needle, the compass, the map, the zip – and so forth. Products of humankind’s ingenuity that – whatever the mind-boggling technological advances we continue to make – remain irreplaceably super-efficient and thereby unimprovable on their terms.”
In the interviews, Quentin Blake reveals the different drawing implements he uses to achieve different aesthetics, from “gloomy and primitive” quills to the lithography-like effect of his black China Marker. Paul Smith talks about Salvador Dali’s pencil drawings and how “a simple wooden pencil is beautiful”. Michèle Burke talks about the nuances of drawing on skin, while Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park talks about his trusty 2B, and starting a “character with the eyes”.
Alongside these accounts, the photographic portraits of the designers’ well-used pencils emanate the personalities of each owner, making for a highly personal peek at the creatives’ work.
The Secret Life of the Pencil is out now.
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Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.