Yesterday colour and procrastination collided. The museum and gallery where I work has an exhibition of sketches and drawings, some 500 years old and some very recent. In between the two galleries is a break- out space where members of the public can sketch and draw with pencils and paper provided. The exhibition has been open a month and there were boxes full of blunt pencils. Pencil sharpening is one of my great pleasures and a bit of a favourite procrastination. It is the perfect dopamine hit, a few quick turns in a pencil sharpener and a blunt grubby thing becomes sharp and clean. With the added bonus of a swirl of wood shaving with a bright edge.
Pencil sharpening has become a solitary pleasure since childhood but yesterday I was reminded of the pleasures of social sharpening.
When I was at primary school queuing for the pencil sharpener was a social activity. Friends were often separated during lessons, to cut down on idle chatter, but if mid-lesson we had a conversation that just had to be had in lesson time we could signal to one another and join the queue for the table mounted pencil sharpener. In one class set up it was also a break from my malodorous desk partner, a boy called Nigel, who lacked any social skills, but thought that at age 9 feeling my legs with his plump sweaty hand was an acceptable use of shared leg space. Imbecile! The sharp point of a metal compass became invaluable. Far more useful than reporting such things, which were caused by my overactive imagination, apparently.
Yesterday 3 of us set about sharpening pencils. As we created a glorious collection of shavings we kept an eye on the galleries and the sketchers but also managed wide ranging conversations covering bell ringing, dentistry and the cultural lives of ninety year olds.
Before I left the pencil shavings I took a moment to run my hand through them. They didn’t have the wonderful oily smell of wood that you would get in a carpenters workshop full of bigger shavings, something drier and a bit musty. I realised yesterday that I have no idea how a pencil is made. If you are similarly in the dark I have shared a link. Thank goodness for YouTube and How Pencils are Made.
And then there is Instagram. https://theoldmortuary.design/2023/03/16/512-theoldmortuary-ponders/