Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rhodia: A Pencil for the Senses

People fall in love for all kinds of reasons, but when the object of affection is a pencil, you have a little bit of explaining to do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking relationship avoidance, fetishes or totems. I’m talking about worshipful admiration and praise that is akin to a foot stompin’ gospel revival. I’m not talking about any pencil. I’m talking about a Rhodia; a pencil for the senses.

As a professional writer, the last thing I want to do is meld my inner life with what I do for a living. By day I am engaged in marketing and communications assignments that revolve around the business of brands. Pens are the office norm. On nights and weekends I let my freak flag fly and the pencil becomes my savior. Pleasure is as much a factor in the choice of a writing instrument as performance. That’s where the Rhodia comes in.

What’s so special about a Rhodia? Let’s look at it from an architectural point of view and begin with function. After crayons, most of us learned how to write with a pencil because everything written in pencil can be erased. Using an eraser is not as effortless as hitting the backspace key on a computer; which is nice, neat and leaves no trace of eraser lint. Still, there is no denying the comfort of knowing you can eliminate a mistake with a tangible tool. Imagine if you could erase all of the bad relationships you ever had, the error of your ways, despots, the ravages of time, etcetera. (On a side note, I suffer from the belief that deleted words and phrases from my computer documents are sent to a hidden folder and rearranged to tell a tale I will be held accountable for in the future. This, of course, is fodder for another post.)

The life of a pencil is clear from the beginning. After seven inches all that is left is a disposable relic. A pencil doesn’t tell you it will love you forever. Its ability to commit is obvious from the moment you place it in a sharpener. This brings me to another point. Crappy pencil sharpeners are responsible for turning more people off pencils than memories of nagging teachers in grammar school. Electric sharpeners are overzealous and create points that snap and break easily. Manual sharpeners with poor blades and barrels eat through pencils like a ravenous squirrel with bad teeth. If you are going to write in pencil, buy a Dux brand sharpener. It is so precise that you will get a continuous pencil shaving each time you use it with a high quality pencil (a characteristic that will not go unnoticed by those who include lip and eye pencils in their beauty repertoire).

The form factor of a Rhodia is what makes it so easy to fall in love with. The pencil is bright orange and capped with a black eraser that is wrapped in color-coordinated black metal. The body of the pencil is made of incense cedar wood that has been dyed black, giving the shiny graphite tip a liquid-like appearance. Another cool attribute of the Rhodia is the way it is cut. It is what is known as a “tri-pencil”, in contrast to the traditional hexagonal design used for this writing instrument. Three distinctly planed sides create an incredibly comfortable fit between the fingers, giving the appearance of a triangle when viewed from the graphite end.

Pencil point getting dull? Rotate the pencil one turn between your fingers and see your lines grow sharper. When you have to resort to using the Dux sharpener, take a look at the shavings that have collected inside the compartment and witness another creative twist. The underside of the orange pencil wrapping is white, which is evident when you observe the edges on each side of the pencil shaving. The continuous coiled shaving, typical of a Dux, resembles a budding flower. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

There is nothing like a pencil; the way it feels in your hand, the sound it makes on paper, the ease with which it glides on the page. Simply put, a Rhodia makes it easier to get in touch with your muse. According to an article by Andrew P. Kersey that appeared in the May 28th edition of The Chicago Tribune, the U.S. is the single largest market for wood-encased pencils. With so few things that are certain in life, it is comforting to know that the humble pencil is here to stay.


Rhodia is a French brand owned by Clairefontaine, which is located in the Vosges region of France. The company was established in 1863, on the site of a 16th century paper mill. Rhodia products (which include well-known paper products) are distributed by Exaclair in the United States. Rhodia products and Dux pencil sharpeners are sold on Pencil Things.

Pencil blogs exist. Pencil Revolution, Pencil Talk and Timberlines are fun and informative.

We live in a smell world and pencils are no exception. Smencils are scented #2 pencils manufactured by the Smencil Company. Their scent lasts up to two years. Fragrances include; Bubble Gum, Cinnamon, Tropical Blast, Grape, Cotton Candy, Very Berry, Chocolate, Orange, Watermelon and Rootbeer. If they only made pencils with scents that were identical to perfume classics; now that would be something to talk about.