Pencil Stubs

Yesterday, I started a new Intarsia project. It’s been a few months since I completed ‘Libre’ the Bald Eagle, and my weary bones yearn for the woodshop. My projects always begin with a model. Usually, it is a photograph of something that moves me. This time, the subject is a piece of art I bought on one of our trips to Arizona. It is a three-dimensional, life-size rendering of a Lotus leaf. The artist found the leaf in the Far East and then used it to cast a mold. He then filled the mold with an epoxy ceramic material to form a hard rendering. On this casting, he applied various colors. While the paint was still fluid, he spun the casting to move the paint outward from the center. The effect is similar to that of a tie-dyed shirt, with the colors spread through the various veins within the leaf. It has been one of my favorite pieces, and I have promised to give it to my stepdaughter as part of an inheritance from her mother.

The next step in my process is to make a paper pattern of the model. In this case, I used a digital photo of the artwork and projected the image using my computer. I taped a large sheet of vellum paper to the screen and began tracing. I dug around in my desk drawer for a pencil and found a Number 2 yellow wood Faber Castel with an eraser that is petrified to the end. The pencil had been sharpened using a hand crank sharpener, giving the tip a perfect conical shape. The lead was rather blunt from prior use, and it needed resharpening. That is when my brain kicked out a memory from seventy-five years ago. I was ten and using a similar yellow pencil to do my homework. My Grandpa Jim was living with us for the winter and sat in the armchair reading his four-week-old Hungarian newspaper in the living room. The memory is somewhat sketchy about why I threw a tantrum to get my pencil sharpened, but it needed sharpening. Grampa Jim pulled out his pocket knife and chipped away to give me a stubby-looking sharp point. My problem was that I insisted on having a perfect machine-sharpened conical point. He shook his head and let me go about screaming and hollering for a perfectly conical point. I left him to carry on with my mother for a conical point. After she ignored my demands, I returned to the living room, and Grandpa handed me a pencil with a perfectly conical point. He had taken the time to carve the wood into a perfect cone with lead to match. I was shocked, amazed, and satisfied that he had done it for me.

I don’t own a hand crank pencil sharpener anymore, and I didn’t even have a portable plastic jig with a blade that, when twisted around the end of a pencil, will result in a perfectly conical point, but I did find a pocket knife with a somewhat dull blade that I used to resharpen my number two yellow pencil. I hacked away the wood, scraped the carbon into a point, and traced the work while remembering Grandpa’s patience and skill with a pocket knife. It was a mellow moment.

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