This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I spent a large portion of my childhood doing things like wandering around cemeteries.
It was only natural then that Caroline would enlist my help in doing a rubbing of German-American pencil magnate Eberhard Faber’s grave following her talk at Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn earlier this month.
Caroline’s pencil of choice for the rubbing was an original 1950’s Blackwing 602, perhaps Eberhard Faber’s most famous pencil that has acquired a cult following after it was discontinued in the 90’s. This presented a couple of potential problems. Believe me when I say I’ve done many grave rubbings over the course of my life, but I’ve actually never used a standard pencil. In my experience they’re usually done with a stick of charcoal, which works because it’s really soft and dark and has a greater surface area than a standard pencil tip.
This is important because you don’t necessarily want precision when you’re doing a grave rubbing - you want to kind of skim the surface of the headstone, picking up the raised designs and passing over the indentations. A pencil is made for precision, so using it in a traditional way isn’t going to produce a good result. I knew I had to get a little creative with my sharpening if I wanted a quality rubbing.
Using a regular X-Acto knife, I shaved one side of the pencil almost completely off, exposing as much of the graphite as I could without the risk of the pencil breaking (about 2 and a half inches). That way, when I was using it for the rubbing I could hold it sideways and it would actually have a similar surface area exposure to a small stick of charcoal. I wasn’t too worried about the consistency of the graphite, as Blackwings are known and loved for their smooth, dark graphite.
Upon reaching Faber’s grave, a large but tasteful obelisk not far from the chapel, I tested out my creation. The customized Blackwing worked perfectly, and I handed it over to Caroline to finish the job. She left with a very nice grave rubbing, and I left with an inflated sense of my own pencil-related talents.