The Pencil Essay

1641 words - 7 pages

Thought the interview was unnecessary, put it in as filler Thought it was all-encompassing and informativePencilSilverpoint is a graphic medium which preceded the common lead pencil.Instead of lead a point of silver wire is fixed in a wooden holder. Sincethis will leave but the faintest trace on an ordinary paper surface, aspecial ground must be prepared. A paste of powdered bone or chalk mixedwithwater and gum or starch is spread with a stiff brush in thin coats, eachcoat being allowed to dry before another is applied to form a perfectlysmooth and even surface. The silverpoint is not so flexible a medium aspencil, and erasure is practically impossible. The pressure of the point onthe ground demands careful control.The main characteristics of silverpoint drawing are a fine clarityand delicate gray tonality. In time the line turns brown through oxidation.European artists of the 15th and 16th centuries often began their drawingsin silverpoint, finishing them with pen and ink. Albrecht Dürer(1471-1528)took advantage of its indelible character in using it for sketch books duringhis travels. Though popular during the Renaissance, especially in the northwith the Van Eycks (active in the early 15th century) and Rogier van derWeyden (c.1399-1464), silverpoint fell into disuse in succeeding periods. Itwas revived from time to time, notably by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617),Rembrandt (1606-1669), and Alphonse Legros (1837-1911). In the 20th centuryit is being reinvestigated as a highly exacting but distinguished technique.(Colliers Encyclopedia CD-ROM 1996)The modern pencil dates from the middle of the sixteenth century,when a new mineral that made a dark but removable mark was discovered inEngland's Lake District. The new mineral was called black lead, because itmade a blacker line than metallic lead, which had been among the most commonmeans of making a mark on paper without the mess and bother of ink and quill.Black lead also had military applications, especially in casting cannonballs, and so the English mine from which it came was closely guarded andits output regulated. This made the smallest sliver of black lead verycostly. Thus the lead, as it had come to be called, was encased in wood notonly to keep the fingers clean, but to protect the pricey substance frombreaking. The assemblage of lead and wood was called a pencil, after thefine brush known as a penicillum that dated back to Roman times.With the growth of chemical knowledge, pencil lead was found in 1779to be a form of carbon. It was then given the name graphite, after the Greekword meaning "to write." (The substance that was found so effective inrubbing out pencil marks was called rubber.) When at war with the English inthe late eighteenth century, the French could not get pure graphite, and soan engineer named Nicolas-Jacques Conte was assigned the task of coming upwith a way of making good pencils out of poor graphite. He found that if herecombined refined graphite with a clay binder,...

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