Art History: Pencils Part I

January 17, 2012

Later this week you will see a litany of pencil stuff flying away on my website... well not quite a litany, but a few days of the pencil topic stuff will fire off. Because of JD Hillberry, the artist of the week this go round, I've focused my tutorial post on pencil sketches and his new videos. This left me wondering just how the hell we've come to take pencils for granted. I don't know the history behind them, I just know we use them all the time. So, I'm gonna do some diggin' for all you folks.

First of all let's remember something about pencils... we use them on paper almost exclusivley. This limits the usefulness of them pretty quickly. So, how long has paper been around? Well, if you count papyrus and parchment and all that other ancient style of paper that was used basically to record stuff, we can say, oh, I don't know, let's throw a dart at the historical timeline of human history and say about 5,000 years ago.

YAY! So, we've had the ability to draw on paper for a very long time with pencils! WRONG! You see, back in those days it was an extremely laborious process in which to make papyrus. Lotsa labor means lotsa money. So, papyrus wasn't cheap. And we know all artists are starving and can't afford expensive things. So, artists certainly weren't drawing on that stuff.

Real paper, like the stuff we know kind of began to be mass produced  in the 15th century because of one very simple reason. That guy named Gutenberg that we all hate because he made all those books that we hated to read in school possible. Yeah, he invented a moveable type printing press that made printing stuff extremely efficient, and lucrative. Printing presses were flying off the shelves like they were Tickle Me Elmo's and it's Christmas 1996.

Well, printing presses can't just go around printing on nothing. They have to have paper!

Enter Xerox. The paper producers... with everyone needing paper, producers were popping up left and an right and suddenly the cost of paper dropped. You could even get it down at your local bakery or butcher... wax paper is paper too!

Suddenly, artists, a euphemism for poor people, were suddenly able to buy it while only starving moderatley more than they would have otherwise. But, it was worth it because artists have to produced art, it's innate, sewn to their soul. And now you have this new, vast supply of material in which to turn into art and what do you turn to to make you mark?

Graphite, carbon, charcoal... Pencils of Course.

to be continued...

Part II  Coming next week.


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