John Howe

Two Years or Two Thousand Miles

… Whichever Come First

Or the Statistics of Art, Parentheses Parity and Pencil Parings

Two years ago today, I stepped off a plane in Wellington and said to myself “Well, I’m back.” It had been a while, clearly, and in all honesty, I thought at the time that now, two years along, I’d be repeating myself, but back on the other side of the globe…

As it turns out, things have gone rather differently, but parentheses are undependable entities; you open them, and you’re never quite sure when you will be able to close them again.

As it is, a few weeks into shooting, it’s already been quite a journey, albeit an essentially immobile voyage, from Bag End to Wilderland in spirit, though the only real traveling is done by pencil.

According to an authoritative site dedicated to all things concerning pencils, the lead contained in an average HB can make 35 miles of line. Since April 15, 2009, nearly 250 pencils have become pencil stubs. Thus, taking into consideration that most are 2B and 3B, with a handful of 4B thrown in, if each pencil could average a modest eight miles of line, that makes about 2000 miles of graphite on paper by now, were it possible to unravel all those scribbles and lay them out straight.

Since shooting has started, we often find ourselves patiently loitering with intent in the dark corner of a stage, waiting for a brief art department meeting. These moments have all the exterior signs of a well-prepared ambush; any momentarily unoccupied director is fair game. Naturally, itchy drawing fingers can’t just watch neighbouring thumbs twiddle, so we draw penumbrated sketches with whatever light is around. It never occurred to me that the relative merits of sketchbooks would be judged according to their acoustics – but while shooting is going on, you could hear a pin drop – or a pencil scritch-scratching on paper. Turns out Moleskine makes the quietest A3 sketchbooks, followed by Daler-Rowney, which offers, along with a fetching marbled binding, an acceptable decibel count. Hahnemühle comes in audibly third with quite noisy paper.

One imagines future conversations in art shops: “Could I see your quietest sketchbooks, please?” or “What kind of mileage can you get out of this pencil?”

So, the parenthesis remains open, and most energetically so, with much sharpening of pencils. Drawn-out parentheses aren’t bad things after all; they do offer the possibility to do lots of sketches.

…you missed it (though I don’t honestly see how) here is a little clip, with some shy artists fleeing the camera…