Ode to the Fixpencil
This is a lead-holder known as the Fixpencil. It is without a doubt my favorite way to work with lead.
Inside the barrel is a 3mm tube of graphite available in a dark 6B softness that pulls midnight from noon and drains the ocean’s depths into a teacup. Hidden inside the endcap is a sharpener. The lead is advanced with a push-activated clutch system.
Massimo Vignelli used the Fixpencil in his work—drafting the “AA” of American Airlines, the initial sketches of the NY Subway Map, and the logos for Cizano, Ford, Knoll, and more. You can see the work for yourself in The Vignelli Canon and again in the marvelous remembrance by Michael Bierut entitled, Mr. Vignelli’s Pencil.
Here I’ve painted a small portrait of the Fixpencil, but instead of using it to draw itself (which felt too on the nose), I’ve rendered it in watercolor using a narrow mongoose-haired brush. Somehow the blue watercolor was a better match for the myth that surrounds this particular writing tool.
Neil Gaiman has his fountain pens. Vignelli the Fixpencil. Many of the storyboard artists I met at Dreamworks threw down with only a Sharpie—because it required full commitment—courage! And it photocopied well. Daniel Roseberry (Creative Director of fashion house Schiaparelli) also prefers the Sharpie. It seems that the high-wire act of full commitment forces the operator to deploy a mark language that wills itself into correctness. Bold. Confident. No Erasing or second chances. As the saying goes amongst surgeons, “sometimes wrong, never unsure.”
Watercolor may be more delicate than a Sharpie or Fixpencil, but it is ruthlessly unforgiving. You can almost see me holding my breath as I painted each section. Shadows both define the turning of planes and somehow obscure it… highlights are created by wicking away paint (no final pass of opaque white to save the day)… and the time pressure. Watercolor waits for no painter.