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
Pencils have always been
important to me professionally.
More and more ways
are developed to record things, but
sharp pencils, notebooks, and sharp eyes
were pretty much it when I began field research.
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 at
Grizzly Lake and 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
ach territory on a map, then do it again in
the next meadow. Some territories had
3000 flowers, and one meadow had
17 territories one year at its peak.
That’s a lot of clicking and
a lot of coloured
we recorded in the field was
with pencils. Double ended red–blue
pencils 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
electronic 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 all 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 red–blue combo pencils everywhere in
our supplies. Underwear. Food. Cooking gear.
Science stuff. First aid (obviously). Those were
community property property and seriously
Off Limits. No of us could touch them
without public confession. Pencils
were a serious business!
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.
donate a few
from my personal
supply, but rarely and
at great loss of face and
dignity to the offending party.
Truth be told, I honestly don’t know
how many pencils, carried up cliffs in
packs, came back down the mountain,
back to the city for winter, then to the
mountains again in summer. We
didn’t keep records on things like
that, but I shudder to think of
the footprint of my pencil
fetish during those
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
me today in carving stone. Not for writing
in notebooks. For drawing on rocks.
I still don’t want to run out,
and I’ll tell you why.
I may shade high places
one colour, parts to carve away, low
parts another, and 3rd or 4th colours may
add depth to the view. Multicoloured targets for
destruction, sketched on the surfaces of rocks, with hot
colours for high parts and cooler colours around them
to guide to the work, even when the action is fast and the
view is obscured by clouds of flying dust or mud. They
help me ‘see’ not just the hard stone surfaces I am
carving away but the entirely but imaginary
surfaces beneath them that I’m
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 recorded
one whole cycle of colouring and sanding, moment
by moment as it grows. 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, help
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
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 make 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
Colours must work
well together esthetically, be
bright enough to see 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 (Germany),
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 that little thing.
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, and
when that pencil is gone I’ll be out of the Caran
d’Ache business and Caran ‘Ache will be nothing more
than a 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.
So much is new in how records
are kept since the field biology part of this
tale that it’s almost embarrassing to get
so silly about pencils.
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 the 3D form.
In To Visualize a Stone I discussed the same challenge,
with different examples, using light in
various ways to emphasize form.
Edited January 2019