Thursday, 30 July 2015

Francis' Underwood pen

Not surprisingly Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards uses an Underwood typewriter. But what pen does he write with? Suggestions welcome.


Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Secret Pencils

The gleaming photos of pencils that hang on the walls of Paul Smith at 9 Albermarle Street in London's Piccadilly are underlined by the shop's quiet opulence and elegant finery. If nothing else the tailored suits and fine garments exuding an air of hand crafted exclusivity match the lucid detail of the oversized writing instruments. Secret Pencils is a photographic project by Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney which "seeks to savour the use of pencils - documenting them in stunning detail, and thereby showing the secrets of their use and revealing an insight into their users: professionals who have defined themselves and their craft with the help of the modest stylus." Scores of creative minds from Quentin Blake, Louis de Bernieres, Norman Foster and Anish Kappor to Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry and Paul Smith himself have allowed their pencils to be photographed for the project. The result: the revelation of the mundane object as the instrument of creativity but also as thing of beauty in and by itself.

Wood, graphite, and the human imprints of use are magnified to crisp detail so much so that the pencils are transformed from instruments of writing and designing to sculptures, totems, revered objects, tactile but at the same time removed from touch, intimate but also distant, worn from daily use and untouchable larger-than-life objects. The grand name of the pencil's user fades into obscurity as the materiality of the stylus is magnified. At the same time the pencil is made to bear witness to its user's creative process: as such it remains open to interpretation - are the marks of use and "misuse" on the body of the pencil signs of the user's thoughts, do they attest to hers or his personality? 

The pencils appear to have a personality of their own - their leads some sharpened with a knife, others perfectly pointy, their ends immaculate or chewed, their shafts ragged, carved or polished - set against single block colour backgrounds, illuminated, removed from the hand, put on a pedestal, they become talismans. Their markings previously obscured between index and thumb and in the anonymity of the pencil pot are now revealed by the lens as typographic wonders; their imperfections due to extensive use become badges of honour, necessary sacrifices to the altar of the creative process. 

These pencils are sacred in that they are removed from the familiarity of use - the sweat of the palm, the smudginess of graphite - and elevated into the status of icons. 

Pencil of Anish Kapoor - Secret Pencils

Pencil of Mike Leigh - Secret Pencils

Pencils of David Rock - Secret Pencils

Pencils of David Shrigley - detail - Secret Pencils

Pencil of Sir Peter Blake - Secret Pencils

All photos from the exhibition at Paul Smith, Albermarle St., London - Secret Pencils

Monday, 20 July 2015

To write one's name by Sarah Waters

In Millbank prison, "they were all wild for paper, paper and ink. When they bring you to the gaol... they make you put your name upon the page of a great black book" and this is the last time you hold a pen and write your name with it.
But to want a sheet of paper, only to write one's name upon it, so that one might feel oneself conjured through it into life and substance -It seemed a very little thing to want.I took the note-book from my pocket, opened it to a blank page and placed it flat upon the table; and then I offered her my pen. She gazed at it. and then at me; she held it in her hand, and clumsily unscrewed it - the weight and shape of it, I suppose, were unfamiliar. Then she held it, trembling, above the page, until a glistening bead of ink welled at its nib; and then she wrote: Selina. And then she wrote her name in full - Selina Ann Dawes. And then the christian name alone again: Selina.

Sarah Waters, Affinity, first published 1999.

Margaret Prior falls in love with convicted psychic Selina and does whatever possible to facilitate her escape including forging the signature of her brother to acquire the necessary funds for their elopement. She eventually finds out that she has been used in a plot to help Selina reunite with Margaret's maid.

Margaret forging her brother's signature

Margaret writing her journal.

Screenshots from the film Affinity, 2008; dir Tim Fywell.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

How verses are made by Mayakovsky

pencil from the Sacco and Vanzetti factory as seen on eBay

The social task may be to provide the words for a song for the Red Army men on their way to the Petersburg front. The purpose is to defeat Yudenich. The material is words from the vocabulary of soldiers. The tools of production - a pencil stub,

wrote Vladimir Mayakovsky (1883-1930) in "How verses are made" (1926), J. Cape 1971, p. 19. And perhaps the pencil stub came from Hammer's pencil factory which around the time of Mayakovsky's death would be renamed Sacco and Vanzetti Pencil Factory.

Building barricades in Petrograd during offensive of General Yedenich, 1919.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Death of Marat with quill in hand

Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, 1793; oil on canvas

In the famous painting by David, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), French revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Montagnards during the Reign of Terror, lies murdered in his bath on 13 July 1793. David, a Montagnard himself, painted Marat as a martyr, "writing for the good of the people".  A dramatic light illuminates the manuscript which Marat still grips even in death while his elongated right hand holds on to the quill. While the knife lies on the floor, the quill stands upright - the triumph of the written word over death. Another quill rests near the inkpot on the wooden desk near his bath-tub. While the head of Marat succumbing to death has collapsed backwards, the manuscript with his words points forwards to the future and his quill remains upright as if he is about to pass it on. The writing instrument triumphs over the instrument of death. Scripta manent.

The Death of Marat was briefly popular during the Terror but then was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in the 19th century. If the original letter complete with bloodstains and watermarks survived intact, the Death of Marat appeared in altered forms in paintings by Picasso and Munch and later on in films. Moving on with the times, Derek Jarman in his 1986 film Caravaggio depicts a Marat-type figure, the story teller, in his bath-tub head wrapped in towel writing on a Royal typewriter.

 Screenshots from Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986)

Jacques-Louis David painting The Death of Marat in his atelier
in Andrej Wajda's Danton (1983)

Death of Marat by Vik Muniz for his documentary Waste Land.
Marat was created from landfill waste.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Schopenhauer's pen

Arthur Schopenhauer holding pen,
portrait photograph 1859
source: Wikipedia
I see my hand holding a pen just as I observe its movements and the letters appearing on the page. My hand is a representation just like everything in my visual field. But unlike other representations, which appear as surface phenomena, I have a unique experience of my hand, because I experience it from the inside, as it were. I experience my hand, my body, unlike other representations. The pressure I feel of the pen in my hand, the resistance I sense as the pen touches and moves on the page, the meaning I strive to express through the series of words appearing on the page, and the pain I feel as my hand clumsily slides across the edge of the paper, resulting in a paper cut on my hand and small drops of blood on the page, are toto genere different from my experience of the interior of my hand. And if I lacked these experiences of the interior of my hand, Schopenhauer would say, it would appear simply like the pen, letters, blood and paper. It would not be my hand, but simply another item in my visual field. 
Arthur Schopenhauer as youth, unknown artist
Source: Wikipedia
Schopenhauer consistently failed to write in a fashion that pleased his father, who constantly provided recommendations for improvement, such as avoiding fancy flourishes in his penmanship and observing capital letters more carefully. He advised Arthur to copy his mother's letters and to learn "to hold the pen in such a way that one can move it just with the fingers without moving the hand, and wield it lightly." This, he claimed, is the entire secret of writing with a good, clear hand. 

David Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography, Cambridge University Press, p.302 and pp.41-2

Arthur Schopenhauer never developed a clear writing hand.

Read here about Schopenhauer's daily routine.