Posts Tagged ‘writing about tools of the trade’

The Mirado Black Warrior - 3/52

The Mirado Black Warrior – 3/52, Week 3/BlackBerry 52, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I was at the Casket Arts Studio last night (Liz and I finally completed, scanned, and mailed our sketchbooks to New York) and saw this still life on the art desk. The Mirado Black Warrior is one of my favorite pencils. I bought about ten of them years ago when I read that author Thad Beaumont, the main character in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, wrote his books with Black Warriors. By association, I made the leap that the Black Warrior was also Stephen’s pencil of choice. (I just knew that if I used them to write, his uncanny ability to weave a story together would rub off on me.)

I am fascinated by the way ordinary objects impact our daily lives and have read about the history of pencils. Liz included the pencil on the cover of her sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project because pencils changed the world (her theme was Things That Changed Other Things). I learned at Pencil Revolution that part of what makes the Mirado Black Warrior so enticing is that it is rounded (rather than octagonal), smells like heaven because of its cedar construction, flows smoothly on the page due to the waxed-ceramic and graphite core, and has a semi-soft Pink Pearl eraser that will not burn holes through your pages.

Did you know Henry David Thoreau’s family owned and managed a pencil factory in Concord, Massachusetts? According to The Thoreau Society, “Thoreau family pencils, produced behind the family house on Main Street, were generally recognized as America’s best pencils, largely because of Henry’s research into German pencil-making techniques.” (For more on Thoreau and pencils, check out Henry Petroski’s classic account The Pencil; the thick, tall book is on my bookshelf.)

The Dark Half tops my list of books by Stephen King, along with his nonfiction work, On Writing (see 10 Tips From Stephen King On The Craft Of Writing). I even went to see him at the Fitzgerald Theater in November 2009. So when I saw the Mirado Black Warrior on the desk last night, I knew it would be Week 3’s Jump-Off in the BlackBerry 52 collaboration with Lotus. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration).

-related to posts: icicle tumbleweed (haiga) – 2/52, Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, WRITING TOPIC — TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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Van Morrison is on in the background singing, They Sold Me Out. Later…Jools Holland. The sky is lit up at 7:51. A few months ago, dark by 4pm. I’m thinking about Mrs. Blume, my 4th grade teacher. She said her son, Jules had a crush on me. Why? Because my hair looked like Patty Duke. Swirl, schwish, swoop under the chin.

But this writing practice is about Tools of the Trade. It’s hard to dive right in. I splayed everything out on the couch beside me. The bucket of Kid’s Crafts 100 FineLine Markers, The Crayola GlitterGlue and PipSqueak makers, the Portfolio 24 Oil Pastels, yellow cat with green box, long eyelashes, sylin’.

I’m looking at the Canson watercolor paper manufactured in France, 9×12 and 4×6, cold press, Montval Aquarelle. Liz bought the paper along with a box of 24 Reeves Water Colour Pencils. We went to purchase art materials when we started working on the mandalas. The rest of my art supplies are packed in boxes. And boxes and boxes. I hauled them to the studio last week. But I don’t know what I have. I need to go through them, purge.

It was ybonesy who said that she has art supplies she would not use, even if she could find the time. I feel the same way. When I went to MCAD, I was sure I was going to be able to tackle every art form before I died. But that’s like saying I’ll read all the books I want to before I die. It’s not happening. That reminds me of the Do Or Die lists that ybonesy and I made for that Writing Topic. And that takes my brain to Bucket List, a movie Mom saw about a month ago. What is important to us? What do we want to do before we die?

This is all I ever wanted to do. Write, photograph, be close to my family, have a partner that makes me smile every day, and good loyal friends. Loyalty is important to me. This is something I’ve realized over the last year. I have lost friends. I have gained friends. Isn’t it strange how people come and go, suddenly, and most times with no rhyme or reason. Loyalty. But not at all costs.

There are Crayola colored pencils in a green swoop neck container with a roll top, like a roll-top desk. The roll part of the top is clear and I can see that many of the points need sharpened. The thing about colored pencils is that I love contrast and I can’t seem to find a deep enough value in the tip of a colored pencil. Others are able to achieve dark, dark, blues, crimson reds, and lemony snicket yellow. That’s not a word. Where did it come from?

On the painted living room table there is a navy mug with gold moon, sun, and stars, from the Wedge CoOp on Lyndale. It’s filled with 4 fluorescent highlighters (I use highlighters a lot in writing), a black Uniball Vision (an old favorite), a cool Post-It highlighter, filled with Post-It flags on the other end. I use a lot of Post-It Notes. Did you know the glue came out in 1968 but the Post-It was not mass marketed until 1980.

There is a hot pink Pilot Precise V5, Extra Fine, a Sanford Fine Point Sharpie, an overused emery board that Chaco likes to lick, and a Twist-Erase 0.7 Pentel pencil made in Japan. There is an Olivia pen, a publisher gave to the bookstore where I worked, bright red bottom, clear top with a thick liquid, Olivia floating from top to bottom when I move the pen up and down. Olivia wears a red smock, black and white striped pants, and a black bowtie. Her skin is bright, a fictional pig.

These are my tools of the trade. There is a Mead spiral notebook, 3 yellow legal pads, and a Spiderman folder where I carry all the notes from my red Ravine meetings with ybonesy. It’s thick and full of papers with lines in orange, yellow, and green highlighter. When I read ybonesy’s post on Tools of the Trade, I thought, “I really should give away those strings of beads I bought at BearHawk Indian Store. I should give them to an artist who would appreciate them, a beader.”

Once I thought I would sew. But I am not good at sewing. I usually have a lot of patience. I don’t have it for sewing, knitting, or anything involving thread, needles, or yarn. Strange. Because sewing is the perfect medium for meditation. To keep the hands moving, let the mind get lost, the body ground through the hands.

There’s a Prosperity candle from a Pennsylvania store I went to with Mom last June. The Satya Super Hit – Since 1964 – incense I got that burns long and wild (made by the same people that make Nagchampa and Saibaba). Blue, red, silver, black box, smells good as Italian Roast.

I gave Liz the Goddess Prosperity candle for her birthday. The odor, clean and green. The poem says – “In opening up our hearts to giving and receiving, blessings and gifts come easily. Abundance and joy flow in our life. The Goddess of Prosperity is the embodiment of success and fulfillment.” Prosperity. Giving and receiving. Can’t have one without the other. The art of a craft – not up for trade.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008


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I always wanted to work with my hands. Maybe that’s why I buy so many art supplies. I have a Pentel paint set I once bought in the Tokyo airport. The paints are like pastel sticks that you use to draw on paper. Also in the set are brushes on the ends of plastic tubes. You put water into the tubes, the water flows to the brushes, you use the brushes to smear the stick paint you’ve drawn onto the paper. It’s watercoloring for people who have a hard time letting go.

I’m sitting in my writing room looking at a big plastic tub, the kind you get to store stuff. In it I see a small peanut butter jar, Skippy, the kind with the red cap. The jar is filled with buttons. Buttons. Now, many years since the buttons collection was started, I can’t recollect what I planned to use them for.

For a short while, in the late 1980s, I worked for a silkscreener who let me use her sewing machine any time I wanted. I once sewed a pink penis head, stuffed it with batting and drew a face on it. I stuck a branch from a tree into the bottom, so the head looked like a puppet on a stick. The branch had a smaller branch emanating from it, like an erect penis. I made a tag for the puppet; it said “My doll, Dick.”

Jim’s dad picked up the puppet one day when he came to visit us. It had been lying on my work table, and it was the kind of slow motion event that you can’t stop from happening. Me on one side of the room, suddenly notice Jim’s dad, his hand going for My Doll, Dick. Me rushing to him, realizing as I approach that once I get there I’ll only be more conspicuous, less able to pretend I know nothing about the doll. Jim’s dad reads the tag, looks at me looking at him, puts the doll down and thankfully says nothing. 

The buttons in my Skippy peanut butter jar are, I think, from that era. Dolls made of fabric and found materials. I might have had a plan for the buttons, but if so, it’s since gone the way of My Doll, Dick. An interesting idea at the time but nothing lasting.

Also in the plastic tub are styrofoam forms, balls and triangles, a cube. Those from the time I wanted to make paper mache but never did. I have other things in there, too, things I can’t see but recall picking up from hobby shops. Shadow boxes and sandpaper, picture hanging hooks, photo corners, and blank notecards.

My tools of the trade have come down to a few pens and notebooks, and I’m relieved to no longer have those other materials weighing on me. All the things I wanted someday to use, except I was always better at fantasizing than I was producing.

I’m using a red fine-point Sharpie now, but this morning I had a purple Uniball gel pen. Over on my work table is a Pentel metal tip, .7 mm ball. All of the pens roll fast.

I remember the moment I became fascinated with tools. I was in the garage at home and came across a yellow plastic case. Inside were drill bits of all sizes, tiny ones and long ones. They were perfectly laid out, each snapped into place. I fell in love with that case, not even knowing what it was used for, only that something about it made me feel like the world was ordered and safe.

I wanted to keep it, have it be mine, and later that evening when I asked my dad if I could have it, he told me No, that it was his for his new power drill. I asked, then, if I could play with it, and again he said No.

The next day I got a big block of wood that he kept to place behind the back tire of the car any time he worked on it. I took the drill bit case and set it beside me, pretended it was a super-powerful set of tools, needed only when my regular tools didn’t work. The “regular tools” were nails of all sizes that Dad kept in an old coffee can. One by one I took them out and nailed them into the wood block, opening and inspecting periodically the drill bits, taking one out for measurement purposes, but never putting a hammer to them the way I did with the nails.

I got into trouble that night when Dad got home. Got in trouble for messing up his wood block, for wasting good nails, and for playing with his drill bits even though I was told not to.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writers love pens. And paper products. Those are our tools of the trade. When I was younger, there weren’t that many choices: Sharpies (1964), BICs (1950), and Flairs (1966). I used them all. My current pen of choice for Writing Practice is the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point (1979), in a spectrum of 24 colors. (Since 2007, they come in a 4 inch size with a carabiner clip.)

Sharpies don’t smell as toxic as they did in the 1960’s (though the odor is still noticeable). They aren’t what some would call a fast writing pen. But for me, the rough, porous tip slows down my writing so I can read what’s on the page at the end of a practice.

In grade school, I wrote letters with a Schaeffer fountain pen, complete with robin’s egg stationery. After a thousand years of using quill-pens, the fountain pen was invented in 1884 by an insurance broker named Lewis Edson Waterman. In 1901, at the time of his death, Waterman was selling 1,000 pens every day. In 2008, Schaeffer and Parker dominate the fountain pen market.

What kind of pen do you use? Have you ever used a Ring-Pen? Do you prefer a ballpoint? What about paper products? I can’t walk by an old fashioned stationery store (hard to find) or an art materials store without ducking inside.

     Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Tell me about your tools of the trade. If you are an artist, list all of your materials: canvas, brushes, paints, charcoal, watercolors. Do you use high-end papers like Arches, Canson or Bienfang?

If you are not a writer or an artist, what are the tools of your profession? Are you a cosmetologist, dental tool sharpener (yes, I used to be one), doctor, butcher, baker, ski bum.

Make a detailed list of all the pens, pencils, art materials, drawing papers in your home or studio. Sinclair Lewis was a master list maker. Here are a few random snippets from Main Street (1920):

Dyer’s Drug Store, a corner building of regular and unreal blocks of artificial stone. Inside the store, a greasy marble soda-fountain with an electric lamp of red and green and curdled-yellow mosaic shade. Pawed over heaps of toothbrushes and combs and packages of shaving soap. Shelves of soap-cartons, teething-rings, garden-seeds, and patent medicines in yellow packages — nostrums for consumption, for “women’s diseases” — notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in the very shop to which her husband sent patients for the filling of prescriptions.

Howland & Gould’s Grocery. In the display window, black, overripe bananas and lettuce on which a cat was sleeping. Shelves lined with red crepe paper which was now faded and torn and concentrically spotted. Flat against the wall of the second story, the signs of lodges — the Knights of Pythias, the Maccabees, the Woodmen, the Masons.

Axel Egge’s General Store, frequented by Scandinavian farmers. In the shallow dark window-space, heaps of sleazy sateens, badly woven galateas, canvas shoes designed for women with bulging ankles, steel and red glass buttons upon cards with broken edges, a cottony blanket, a granite-ware frying-pan reposing on a sun-faded crepe blouse.

       Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

She rose to a radiance of sun on snow. Snug in her furs she trotted up-town. Frosted shingles smoked against a sky colored like flax-blossoms, sleigh-bells clinked, shouts of greeting were loud in the thin, bright air, and everywhere was a rhythmic sound of wood-sawing. It was Saturday, and the neighbors’ sons were getting up the winter fuel. Behind walls of corded wood in back yards their sawbucks stood in depressions scattered with canary-yellow flakes of sawdust. The frames of their buck-saws were cherry-red, the blades blued steel, and the fresh cut ends of the sticks — poplar, maple, iron-wood, birch — were marked with engraved rings of growth. The boys wore shoe-packs, blue flannel shirts with enormous pearl buttons, and mackinaws of crimson, lemon yellow, and foxy brown.

No ones save Axel himself could find anything. A part of the assortment of children’s stockings was under a blanket on a shelf, a part in a tin ginger-snap box, the rest heaped like a nest of black-cotton snakes upon a flour-barrel which was surrounded by brooms, Norwegian Bibles, dried cod or ludfisk, boxes of apricots, and a pair and a half of lumbermen’s rubber-footed boots. The place was crowded with Scandinavian farmwives, standing aloof in shawls and ancient fawn-colored leg o’ mutton jackets awaiting the return of their lords.

    Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

  • Make a list of all of the tools of your trade.
  • Do a 10 minute Writing Practice after you make your list. Start the practice with What’s in front of me….
  • Be as detailed as you can:  name brand, color, size, shape, smell, memory associations.

How are 21st century tools the same or different than when you were growing up. What are your favorite tools for writing, drawing, gardening, farming, painting, working. Start out with the details of the objects — see where they lead you.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, March 26th 2008

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