Lee’s Stories

Lee’s Stories

home >> Sculpture and Art >> The Last of the Caran d’Ache
posted on August 29, 2009 | Sculpture and Art, Science and Nature
The Last of the Caran d’Ache

At risk of
telling you more about
sculpting than you ever wanted
to know or giving you  too much
information about my personal life,
I’ll tell you a story. 
It’s almost
a confession.

Pencils have
always been 
to me professionally.

More and more ways
are developed to record things, but
pencils, notebooks, and sharp eyes
were pretty much it when I began field
I used coloured pencils a lot, not to colour drawings
but to say different kinds of things, say them in different
ways, and say them quickly.
Stopwatches and binocs
bridged time and space, ticket-taker clickers helped
count flowers in hummingbird territories daily
Grizzly Lake,
pencils recorded what
I saw and 
thought about.

Point a pointer
finger at a flower, click the
clicker, record 2 numbers in 2 colours
for 2 species of flowers in each part of each
territory on a map, then do it again in the
next meadow. 
Some territories  had
3000 flowers, and o
ne meadow had
17 territories one year at its peak.
That’s a lot of clicking and
a lot of coloured

Nearly everything
we recorded in the field was
with pencils. 
Double ended redblue
were high technology in those days.
I could do nothing without them, and didn’t want
to run out. 
Until we could use lightweight, low power
recorders in the field, whatever data we
returned with, and that was why we went, we
wrote in notebooks strung around our necks
– – – pencils with strings, sheathed
in  bindings, ready to hand.
We were masters of a
slow and steady

speaking, at least, I had night-
mares a
ll winter about running out of
pencils.  Some people fall out of windows in
their dreams, I’ve heard.  I just ran out of pencils.
In the field, 4 to 6 weeks at a time.  No electricity.  No
hot water, or pencil stores, and everyone in camp must
have enough pencils or expeditions will fail. 
To ensure
the supply beyond anyone’s planning, I stashed extra
black 2B and redblue combo pencils everywhere in
our supplies.  Underwear.  Food.  Cooking gear.
Science stuff.  First aid.  Those were comm-
unity property pencils and seriously
Off Limits. No of us could touch
them without public
Pencils were serious

I guess it must have
been pretty funny, really, but
I couldn’t help it.  Year after year I
went through it and it didn’t get any better.
They told each other stories about it, and not just
in our camp, either.  Back in the city where there were
pencils galore, it seemed even more outlandish to be so
gripped.  Outsiders listened with glee and bugged me
even more gleefully. 
But I would rather have
been accused of paranoia than run out of
pencils, and in a decade and a half
of expeditions like that, none
of us ever did. 

I did donate
a few from my personal
stash, but only rarely, and at
great loss of face and dignity to the
offending party.  
Truth be told, I don’t
know how many pencils, carried up
cliffs in packs, came
back to the
city for winter and returned
to the mountains again
in summer. 

Pencils for writing
down thoughts were no laughing
matter in the field back then, as I hope you
see by now.  And they are just as valuable to
today in carving stone. Not for writing
in notebooks but for drawing on rocks.
I still don’t want to run out,
and I’ll tell you why.

carandache5272With Child.

I may shade high
places one colour, low places
another, and 3rd or 4th
colours may
add depth
to the view.  Multicoloured targets for
destruction, sketched on the surfaces of rocks, with hot
for high parts and cooler colours around them
to guide to the work, even when the action is fast and the
view obscured by clouds of dust or mud. 
The colours
help me ‘see’ not just the hard stone surfaces I am
carving away but the entirely but imaginary
surfaces beneath them that I’m
working toward.

In the case
shown here, colours were
especially useful against pure white
marble. The size and colour of the avalanche
of dust that slides down the slope with each stroke
of a rough diamond pad showed me what I removed,
stroke by stroke
. On a longer scale of time, the colour,
size, and shape of the dustpile at the bottom
one whole cycle of colouring and sanding, moment
by moment as it grew. 
All of that is part of my
experience of the form,
both the real one
I am eroding and the ideal one
I’m eroding toward. 

After I took that
picture, I blew off the dust,
recoloured the high parts, empha-
sized the faint blue low part that mars
the middle,
and entered the next cycle.
It took many more cycles for
the blue rim in front to

Colours help me
know what to take away,
me understand balance, movement,
gross relationships among masses, and
many other things, and
when I make
mistakes with coloured pencils,
they are easy to erase
with sandpaper!

There are many ways
to use coloured pencils in sculpting.
The example above, With Child, was late in
shaping, when I was bringing curvatures as near
as I could get them to perfection.  They are also useful
in the beginning, like here, helping me to m
ake the first
cuts in a block of Persian travertine for either
Madonna and Child or Reflections, both
of which I started the same day.

Though it takes
a while to use up a pencil,
depending mainly on the roughness
of the rock, I use enough to buy them
by the box.
I also use red and yellow
crayon, mainly for roughing-out.
I  need about 6 colours in all,
light and dark blue,
two oranges,
one yellow,
one red.

Colours must work
well together esthetically, be
bright enough to see when obscured by
dust or mud, speak to me intuitively of depth
without my thinking about it, and not wash off
in water. 
Most coloured pencils wash off in water,
blow off in wind kicked up by grinders, crumble
on rough surfaces and/or their wood comes
apart in the sharpening
. Three brands
satisfy these criteria and are all
a joy to work with.

 Sanford Prismacolor
(USA), Faber-Castell Polychromos

many), and Caran d’Ache (Switzerland).
All are wonderful, but my favourite, overall,
is Caran d’Ache
Orange 666.030.  My
last one is on its last legs and
I’ll be
lucky to get 3 or 4 more
sharpenings out
of it.

Here is the rub.

The Caran d’Ache
home website in Switzerland says
the company offers both sets of pencils
and individual pencils, but only sets are
available in North America.
The company with
exclusive distribution rights here decided and
that’s that. 
I can’t order single colours in any
number, whether boxes, grosses of boxes,
or anything but single pencils at single
pencil prices. I
can order only sets,
can’t use damn sets, and don’t
want to pay for them.

I’m about to the nib
of  my last Caran d’Ache, that
Orange 666.030 that I love so much.  W
that pencil is gone I’ll be out of the Caran
d’Ache business and Caran ‘Ache will
be nothing more than a
beautiful memory. 

But like I said,
those other companies make
great pencils and I won’t lose any sleep over it.
Besides, Polychromos Cadmium Orange 9201-111
is almost identical to Orange 666.030
Caran d’Ache anyway, and
I love it too.

Three colours helped me see what
diamond files had been doing
to a granite form and what
they still needed to do.

So much
is so new in how records
are kept since the field biology part
of this tale
that it’s almost
embarrassing to get
so silly about

After I published this
in the Vancouver Observer in 2009,
several people emailed me with ways to buy
single Caran d’Ache pencils in North America.  By
that time, I’d ordered a box of that Polychromos Cadmium
Orange 9201-111
and still have a third of it 9 1/2 years later.
Assuming I keep up at the same rate for the next 20 years,
I may need another box when I’m 97  but think I’ll
probably stick with the Polychromos.  I’ve
heard old people get set in their
ways, but so be it.

The way I use them in sculpting,
coloured pencils are aids to visualization of 3D form.
To Visualize a Stone I discussed the same challenge
but with different examples, using light in
various ways to emphasize form.

Edited March 2021

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