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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

15 May 2009

In praise of the pencil

I should hate pencils. As a lefty, when I finish writing something in pencil, both my hand and the page (and sometimes my clothes and face) are smeared with graphite.

But like most writers, I love office supplies, and the pencil is no exception. In fact, a No. 1 pencil is my implement of choice for brainstorming and often for taking notes.

Note I said a No. 1 pencil. The standard No. 2 pencil breaks too easily under my patented "grip of death" (see at right). And forget the No. 3 pencil! The tip scritches unyieldingly against the paper and snaps every sentence or two, and the effort produces only a pale, thin, wimpy line.

Give me a No. 1 pencil anytime. The tip rarely breaks, and it makes a satisfying dark, legible line. Unlike even the best pens, it never skips. If you turn the pencil sideways, it shades drawings nicely. And best of all, it has a subtle yet pleasant give compared with other pencils, like walking on a wooden floor instead of concrete.

For my taste, the No. 1 pencil is the queen of pencils.

What weapon do you most often yield when writing by hand?


Scott said...


When I write, it's typically with a pen of some sort. most pencils I use are of the drawing variety.

I hope you had a good weekend. Take care!

Ken Schneyer said...

For me, it's a mechanical pencil (preferablhy a Pentel) with a 0.7 mm lead. Fine enough to give a precise line, wide enough to be bold and not snap.

Lana Gramlich said...

As a lefty, I find EVERYTHING smears, even my choice; ball point pen.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I love the fluidity of good gel pens. Unfortunately, very few gel pens feel comfortable in my own version of the death-grip (arthritic fingers are temperamental even if the general ache's low) and gel pens not only run out quickly but also start blotting badly on the way.

Michele said...

Hey, I have a grip of death, too! But I've never thought of using a No. 1 pencil... thanks for that little tip! :)

Hope you're doing well.

Rae Ann Parker said...

I prefer a gel pen for taking notes, brainstorming, etc. On certain occasions, a freshly-sharpened pencil does the trick. I've never tried the no. 1. Will have to buy some.

Shauna Roberts said...

SCOTT, I love dark black gel pens. But they leave me just as smeared, and ink is harder to remove from clothes than graphite.

KEN, I have some BIC Velocity mechanical pencils with a 0.7 lead, and I like them almost as much as a No. 1 pencil.

LANA, yes, me too. At least pencil is easier to clean off.

NINTHMUSE and RAE ANN, I too love the smoothness and rich color of gel pens, but I find as they near their end, they become unpredictable.

MICHELE, are you a leftie, too?

Michele said...

Nope. I'm a righty with an intense grip. LOL

My teachers hated it, but I refused to change, as the "right way" never felt comfortable. :)

Steve Malley said...

Writing by hand, I'm all about my trusty fountain pens. Drawing, well I guess I use everything from pencils, pens and brushes to dip quills and my own thumbs!

Shauna Roberts said...

MICHELE, when I was in college, the professors there were doing experiments on whether hand position differences were related to different brain arrangements. Their evidence suggested that righties who wrote with the hooked grip had the usual right hemisphere functions in the left hemisphere and vice versa. I'm not sure if that idea is still in vogue.

STEVE MALLEY, I love the beauty of fountain pens and would love to write with them, but the same smearing problem occurs.

Michele said...

"Their evidence suggested that righties who wrote with the hooked grip had the usual right hemisphere functions in the left hemisphere and vice versa. I'm not sure if that idea is still in vogue."

OK, that's totally me! That's so interesting... thanks for telling me! :)