recent posts

social media menu

Spotlight on... Pencils

I've been snooping around the London Design Festival this week, of which there is SO much to see. 

More about that anon, but a quick share to tell you about an exhibition that's part of the event, on this weekend in London, dedicated to the humble pencil.

The Secret Life of Pencils exhibition had its debut earlier this year. But if you, like me, missed it, then do check it out at its second airing at Designersblock, just by the Oxo Tower on London's Southbank. It's wonderful.

From left to right: pencils belonging to Tom Dixon, Julia Quenzler and Posy Simmonds
Pencils belonging to David Bailey

The idea is simple, and came from photographer and Mike Tinney and industrial designer Alex Hammond, who felt saddened at the demise of the "once powerful pencil", particularly in the arts. So they set about showing this humble instrument some love by contacting a number of high-profile pencil users, a rare breed they discovered, and asking them to donate an in-use pencil which Tinney would photograph, quite beautifully, for the show. Pencil owners include David Adjaye, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Celia Birtwell, Sir Peter Blake, Thomas Heatherwick, Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Lord Norman Foster and Jay Osgerby and many more (the full list can be found here).

Pencils belonging to Alexander McCall Smith (left) and Julia Quenzler (right)

Collecting said pencils, Tinney told me at the exhibition, was a logistically lengthy process and involved determined chasing of dozens of busy creatives' PAs. Well worth the wait though. If you think portraits, which, effectively, these luscious photographs are, of pencils might be boring and tell you nothing about the people who've used them... well, let this little sample show you otherwise.

Pencils belonging to Stephen Fry (left) and Celia Birtwell (right)

Posters, prints (£20) and postcards (£2 each) are on sale at the show, and on the Secret Pencils website.

Having recently rediscovered the scratchy (or smooth, depending on your preference) joy of pencils and, especially, of rubbing out, I particularly connected to this. Do you use a pencil? Share any pencil thoughts in the comments below.

The exhibition is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH and runs until Sunday. Hours 11am to 7pm.


  1. That sounds just like my type of exhibition! There's a lovely video with Jay Osgerby and Ed Barber on the pencil (hope putting a link is ok: I use a mechanical pencil, so not quite as romantic as the ones you've shown!

    1. Hello - and thanks very much for sharing that - what a pleasing little film. It quite made me want to get out my pencil sharpener... though I too do love a mechanical pencil. (Mainly because I can't seem to keep track of pencil sharpeners.)

  2. These pencils put a smile on my face. Also reminded me the times I was only a kid and drawing sketches with pencils. Thanks!