A pencil, drawing itself

I’m sitting here in my apartment in San Francisco, where I’ve spent most of the last three weeks. As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, I’m counting myself blessed that I have a job where I can work from home, that we have plenty of food and are safe and healthy.

The three Erasable Podcast hosts at the airport: Johnny Gamber, Tim Wasem and Andy Welfle
From left to right: Johnny Gamber, Tim Wasem, and me, Andy Welfle

Just two weeks before it seems like we Americans was even aware of the severity of this pandemic, I had one of the best long weekends of my life, in Baltimore. It was the first time ever — in the six-year history of The Erasable Podcast — that Johnny Gamber, Tim Wasem, and I had ever been in the same place. We gathered there to record a live episode at the Baltimore Pen Show. It was a blast! We had our friends Brad Dowdy, Ana Reinert and Dade Scolardi on the show to help us make a case for pencils to a bunch of people who come together to buy, sell and trade expensive fountain pens.

Have a listen — it’s a fantastic episode.

But one of the highlights of the trip was to fulfill a promise we made to ourselves five or more years ago — if we ever met up in person, we were going to get matching pencil tattoos.

I agreed to that promise never thinking that we’d go through with it. A podcast about pencils doesn’t seem like it’d be long for this world. What is there to talk about for that long? How would we find time to come together from Baltimore, Johnson City Tennessee, and San Francisco to meet up?

Well, we did! So Johnny booked an appointment with his favorite tattoo artist, and now we had to figure out what to get.

After discussing a Caroline Weaver-style pencil down our arms, or a KUM wedge sharpener, and a few other things, I presented an idea to my co-hosts.

We shape our tools and they in turn shape us

Back when I worked at Facebook (from 2014 to the end of 2016), I was really into the Analog Lab. It’s a fully functioning print shop, with a letterpress, screen printer, and multiple risograph machines. One of the designers at the Analog Lab, Tim Belonax, made a poster featuring an Escher-esque yellow pencil, bent in a triangle, drawing itself. It was accompanied by a quote that, at the time was attributed to Marshall McLuhan1: “We shape our tools and they in turn shape us”

A poster of a pencil, bent in a triangle, drawing itself, with a quote below that reads "We shape our tools and they in turn shape us." and is misattributed to Marshall McLuhan.
Johnny has that poster hanging in his bedroom — photo courtesy of Johnny Gamber of Pencil Revolution.

I’ve always loved that pencil. There’s something about the shape of it, bent around, drawing itself that appeal to me, because so much of my interest in using creative tools (like pencils, or typewriters, or software application) has taken a meta turn — I create media about pencils. I now work at Adobe, which makes creative tools.

If I were to describe my relationship with creative tools, it’d be not dissimilar to that quote, and the pencil drawing itself is the perfect emblem for that.

Luckily for me, Johnny and Tim connected with the image, and we agreed to get this design embedded into our skin for the rest of our natural lives.

Three arms, each with a different version of the same design.
Three variations on a theme. From left: Johnny’s teal and purple tattoo, my version in the original colors, and Tim’s outlined tat.

We all had a slightly different vision for how it would manifest, though. Tim preferred just the outline of the illustration. Johnny, who is the most tattooed of us (this was the first for Tim and me) got it on forearm next to a few other designs, and colored the pencil teal and purple to match. I decided to be as true to original vision as possible, with solid bright yellow ink and a bright pink eraser.

My arm with the almost-healed tattoo on it.
My arm, almost healed. (There’s still a little redness under the yellow.)

So, now it’s official — I love pencils and I have the ink (ironically) to show it! And Johnny, Tim and I have an unerasable reminder of how our mutual hobby binds us. Three weeks later after the scabbing and the redness has lessened (I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just saw that , my sensitive skin was pretty angry at me), and I’m still pleased with my decision.

A huge thank you to Tim Belonax for the original design, Hunter Spanks, our tattoo artist, and of course Johnny and Tim for taking this journey with me!

And PS: because I’ve heard this question a LOT — it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, but it definitely hurt.

  1. This quote is often attributed to McLuhan, but after some digging, it’s thought that it was actually John M. Caulkin, a friend of McLuhans, who said, “Life imitates art. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.” ↩︎

A pen that’s dressed like a pencil

Things have been quiet around this blog for the last couple of years, but it’s not for lack of effort and interest in the pencilsphere.

One big thing that’s happening in my world is that my Erasable Podcast (130 episodes strong!) co-hosts and I are going to be going to the 2020 Baltimore/Washington International Pen Show to do a live episode on Friday, February 28!

Yes, we’re infiltrating the inky enemy and pronouncing our graphite propaganda. It’s been my (admittedly limited) experience that while the majority of pen show attendees don’t give a shake about pencils, there are a small but interested contingent who have just never thought about good-quality pencils. All they need is a little education and encouragement, and we’ll get them well on their way to regular graphite usage.

In order to raise the money to get to Baltimore (I’m flying in from San Francisco, and Tim from East Tennessee), we partnered with our friends at Baron Fig to customize their fantastic (and highly collectible) Squire pens and give it a makeover that’s relevant to our interests.

Introducing the Baron Fig X Erasable Number Two Squire!

The Baron Fig X Erasable Number 2 Squire Pen

This baby has ALL the features:

  • A bright #2-pencil-yellow anodized aluminum body
  • An eraser-pink anodized twist nock at the top.
  • A rollerball refill with a rich blue ink, in tribute to our favorite mass market pens, the blue Bic Cristal: the pencil of pens.

Baron Fig x Erasable Squire - Detail - 01

So here’s the rub: We have to place the order with Baron Fig all at once, so if you’re interested in getting one, you need to order it by this Friday, December 13, 2019 (five days from this posting). We might do it again, but we have no idea!

And for those of you looking for a nice Christmas gift for the pencil lovers in your life, I’m afraid this isn’t going to work for you — we’re not expecting this to be ready until late January.

But otherwise, we’d love your support, and in turn, you get a pen that when you know you must use a pen, you’re still supporting independent pencil media ventures.

Check out the Erasable Shop to buy a Number Two Squire for $60 »

Get your Erasable stickers!

The Erasable Podcast now has stickersUpdate 08/20/14: We are now sold out. Let me know with this form if you’d be interested in being notified when/if we stock more!

Besides customized pencils, this is the most requested piece of swag we’ve gotten, and it’s really cool. Celebrate your love of woodcase pencils:

The Erasable Podcast Sticker

Each sticker is 2.5″, (slightly bigger than, say, the Apple logo on the front of a MacBook), and features four pencils from the Woodclinched Vector Pack (although the yellow-and-green faux Ticonderoga was customized specifically for this sticker).

Slap it on your pencil case, your tabletop pencil sharpener, your car window, or heck, put it with the other stickers on the back of your laptop like me!

Erasable Sticker on Andy's Laptop

We’re selling them for $2 each, or $5 for three (plus $1 for shipping) over here.

If you live outside the US, you may notice that it doesn’t give an option to ship internationally, which I didn’t realize before I set up this shop. So, if you aren’t in the US of A, and you want to get ahold of some of these stickers, email me. We can bypass this whole thing and go straight to PayPal.

Get your Erasable t-shirt!

tl;dr: We’re selling t-shirts!

If you’ve listened to Erasable (and I hope you have!), you’ve probably realized that we’re not podcasting professionals. Johnny, Tim and I are recording via Skype, talking through our standard smart-phone earbuds-with-attached-microphone. When we have guests like Brad Dowdy, with a real for-sure microphone setup, you can tell that he’s been doing this for a while. His voice is crisp and clear.

Our first, limited-edition t-shirt! We're never printing this design again, so place your order!  Click the image for the campaign page.

Our first, limited-edition t-shirt! We’re never printing this design again, so place your order! Click the image for the campaign page.

So, we made the decision some time ago to raise a little revenue to invest in some decent podcasting mics. Eventually we’re going to accomplish this with a small sponsorship opportunity on the episode (interested in details? Let me know), but until we can get the logistics for that set up, we’re raising some money selling t-shirts!

With a a simple, elegant pencil design from the Woodclinched Pencil Vector Pack along with something Johnny said in an early episode: “Pencil is Forever,” you can show off your pencil pride and support the podcast.

(That quote referred to how although graphite is erasable, it doesn’t fade over time.)

$22 gets you this tri-colored shirt, in a fine Canvas-brand tri-blend t-shirt. We have a cerulean blue in a uni-sex-fit size, and for women who want a more fitted look, an alternative in an indigo blue women’s fit.

This campaign is run through Teespring, sort of a Kickstarter for t-shirts. In order to meet the minimum production requirements, we need to raise a minimum of 20 orders by September 3 (at the time of this writing, we’re already up to 14, and the campaign has only been live for four hours!), so tell your friends!

We have all sorts of plans for other t-shirts in the future, so this particular design won’t be printed again. So, like Field Notes COLORS editions, get in while you can!

The Erasable Facebook Pencil Community

Because 90 minutes once every other week isn’t enough time to talk about pencils, Johnny, Tim and I set up a group on Facebook! Check it out.

It’s at about 175 members right now, and is growing every day! I’m amazed at what sort of things emerge from the group members — pencil swaps, buy/sell requests, information requests, or even just pictures of interesting pencils they found on vacation. Charles Berolzheimer from Pencils.com is a member, and he’ll occasionally pop in with really interesting industry insight. It’s a private group; only so posts don’t show up in everyone’s regular feed — as Tim put it, it’s a safe place for people to let their graphite freak flag fly (try saying that ten times fast).

Come request to join! Someone will approve your request shortly thereafter.

Episode 10 of Erasable: “The Graphites of Wrath”

Erasable: A podcast about wooden pencils

Click the image to visit Erasable’s episode 10 page. Or, subscribe on iTunes!

I’m not particularly good at podcasting. I like to talk, and I like to prep for these shows, and I even like the techy stuff, like recording, editing, compiling show-notes, converting them to HTML, et cetera. But I’m not good at it.

In spite of that, Episode 10 of Erasable turned out really, really well. Even though about halfway through, I realized I wasn’t recording. My fantastic co-hosts Johnny and Tim were game for a second round, as was our equally fantastic guest, Ana. And despite some further echoing problems, and Johnny’s drinking problem (no, no, he doesn’t need an intervention; I’m talking about the ice clinking in his glass), we had great fun, which I think is really what marks a good episode.

I learned a lot about indelible pencils. I had no idea that the Sanford Noblot pencil was so rare! It fetches up to $40 on eBay, similar to an original Blackwing (and at this point, even a little more).

We also announced that the next episode will be a pen crossover episode! Since Brad and Myke from the Pen Addict podcast are going on hiatus as Myke transitions away from 5by5, we figured their listeners might miss Brad’s lovely voice, so he’s coming on Erasable to talk ink! (In the meantime, you should listen to their last show on the 5by5 network.)

Episode 8 of Erasable: Heroes of Pencildom, Book the First

erasable_230We just recorded a great episode of Erasable last night! We’re on our eighth episode (and going strong!), and we discussed a lot of stuff: the new Field Notes, some reviews, et cetera. But I loved the main topic: Pencil Heroes. Johnny picked Earnest Hemingway and Tim picked John Steinbeck, both of whom are prolific pencil users and graphite advocates.

I took mine in a slightly different direction — while in the future I want to pick a hero from literature (either fictional or a creator), this time around I picked the first person — someone who I know personally — and who popped into my head when the topic was first broached: Don Bell.

In 2007, Don was the proprietor of PencilThings.com, the site from whence I bought my first sampler pack of pencils, and wrote a review on my personal blog. After sharing that with Don, he asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing products for him.

Of course I said yes.

After that, he called me and we spoke for an hour about creating a PencilThings blog. It was a grand initiative: we  kept it at a separate domain and ran it as a publication independent of the e-commerce site. I posted, basically, whatever I wanted (with occasional guidance by him), and we built an audience. Many of my pencil friends I established there I still keep in touch with today.

In 2010, Don sold the business to the current proprietors of PencilThings, and they took it in a different direction: Amazon and eBay sales. That’s what prompted me to strike out on my own, with this blog.

Don and I still kept in touch a bit, but I haven’t heard from him the last two or three years. I don’t know if he’s still got a finger in the pencil game, or indeed, if he’s still alive.

Any of you keep in touch with Don? Let him know I said hi.

Anyway, you’re going to want to listen to this episode. Stick around until the the end when we announce the giveaway. It’s pretty great.