one million pencils

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Notes on Design

The first design that I did for One Million Pencils (five years ago now) was a jellyfish. Pencils are an awkward canvas  to work with and I needed something that was recognizable without a lot of detail, and took up vertical space. To date it’s still one of my favorite designs that I’ve done. And it was a good first choice--even if I’d under or over-estimated the level of detail that could be printed on a pencil, it’s difficult to mess up a shape that has no structure to begin with.

So the first few designs that I did were all organic. As I began working with museums though, I realized that I’d need to modify my style so that it worked not just with aquatic creatures, but inorganic and even abstract objects. And that was a struggle--how could I apply any sort of style to rigid, detail-less objects at all, when I was limited to single-color line-work?

The answer was to infuse each line that I did with a sense of movement. There are almost no straight lines on my pencils; almost all are rounded in some way. I try to put softness and curves into even the buildings and cars that I draw, the same softness that I found when I was designing a sea turtle pencil as a sophomore in high school. And if I’m working with a pattern I’ll do my best to disrupt it so that it feels less rigid and more organic.

But modifying my style to work with more “boring” shapes ended up strengthening my style when I later returned to natural designs. Sometimes when drawing buildings, if a design seemed too simple I would “echo” the lines, changing their weights and drawing lighter, parallel lines to create detail where there was none. When the Conservatory of Flowers commissioned flowers from me, I used a similar strategy to create something visually unique.

I have a much stronger sense of style now than I did four years ago. And I love how different the designs that I put on pencils are compared to the watercolors that I do for fun--one of the most interesting things about artwork to me is how style changes to match its medium. One of my greatest assets as an artist is never being comfortable, and so I hope that as I continue to work with different museums representing different areas of study that I’ll keep being able to press my style in new directions.

Meg Shriber