We like to think pencils are making a comeback right now. Sure, the digital age has taken over many tasks that commonly were done in pencil in the past, but we think the surge in technology has made people extremely nostalgic for times when things were done by hand with pure tactile pleasure.
The Secret Life of the Pencil aims to celebrate just that - the essential, tactile functionality of the pencil. The romance of the sweeping graphite across paper, the elegance of a finely sharpened point, the loving wear and tear upon these ephemeral tools. The book presents a series of up close and personal photos of pencils used by professionals who specifically need these instruments in their everyday work. From architects to illustrators to make up artists, each has their particular preference for pencils, including some very unique ways to assemble and sharpen them.
The creators of The Secret Life, Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney, both work in tactile fields (Mike is a still life photographer, and Alex is a designer specializing in product and packaging), so the simple functional nature of the pencil is highly appreciated by them. They took their appreciation for pencils and turned it into this book, hoping to inspire a younger generation to experience "the pleasure of a freshly sharpened pencil."
Read on for their thoughts about pencils and the creation of this gorgeous book!
Did you learn anything surprising about pencils while you were working on the book?
We learned that a pencil can be much more than just a pencil. In the right hands it develops a mutual relationship with the "operator" and in essence becomes an extension of them. It isn't surprising then that part of the owner’s personality rubs off on each pencil. It was this relationship that helped us to create so many diverse and completely unique pencil portraits, despite it being fundamentally a single object, assumedly all the same.
Did you have anyone specific in mind when you started creating The Secret Life of the Pencil?
It has never been a "famous people's pencils" project, but more of a way to celebrate what, in this digital age could be a dying art and tool. The best way to illustrate that the pencil is alive and kicking is to show that the best designers, authors, and architects in the world still use and cherish them.
How did you go about curating and acquiring pencils for this book?
We both work in the creative industries and so we called upon six-degrees of separation to get the ball rolling. We then chased our own personal creative heroes, followed by a drive to represent as many creative fields as possible that still rely on pencils.
There’s so many interesting sharpening styles featured in the book. Did you pick up any tricks?
Oddly, we both use mechanical pencils, however, we both agree that sharpening should be done ideally with a knife.
Can you tell us a little bit about how this book came to be?
The project's initial focus was an exhibition. After completing that goal, our next target was a book. We wanted a permanent representation of the project, something small and accessible (like the pencil itself). The images, although printed at a fraction of their real size in the book, are held in one place together as an archive of the project and also of the pencil, at work in the 21st century.
Do you have any special memories involving pencils?
The project supports Children in Crisis, and we were lucky enough to travel to the DRC to witness where the funds we had raised were going. Seeing the Anish Kapoor pencil sell at auction for over £6000 in Mayfair, London, then seeing how far £6000 went towards supporting the education of children in the Congo was a very special and rewarding moment for us both.