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A New Zine Devoted To Graphite Makes A Big Point

Tiny Pencil makes art of pencil pushing, contains graphite content.

The digital world is full of tools. The analog one, too, and none more intimate and artful (and endangered) than the pencil. Taking the fate of the essential drawing device into their own hands, the founders of Tiny Pencil have just launched an inspired “anthology artzine” that contains nothing but graphite content–a celebration of the handheld and the handdrawn. The no. 2 instrument is no. 1.

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The two-designer team behind the zine say that the highly selective medium creates an immediacy between the piece made in pencil and the viewer that’s unmatched by other drawing or digital methods. The pencil’s inherent simplicity, its material straightforwardness, “actually gives a special kind of primacy to the artist’s voice,” Amber Hsu, half of the Tiny Pencil outfit, tells Co.Design. “Graphite has that atavistic quality. I think people can respond to it in an elemental, almost primordial way.”


Along with Katriona Chapman, Hsu formed Tiny Pencil as an independent bi-annual publication devoted to “carbon-based exploits.” The publication’s theme will vary edition to edition. In April, the inaugural 64-page issue was themed “Forest” and featured works from 27 different artists.

The material is equal parts carnivalesque and expressionistic, with the full range and texture of everything from graphic novel strips to woodland chimeras to speculative landscapes keeping it interesting. Some drawings reference Hollywood films, others macabre novels; some exhibit elaborate hatching or shadowing, others are held up only by skeletal, parallel lines. Taken together, the works are an endearing delivery on graphite’s aesthetic promise and, at least this time around, live up to Tiny Pencil’s point.


“The forest motif was a natural choice,” says Hsu, as it plays into her and Chapman’s sentiment that the pencil is primordial. Just because it’s an old-fashioned instrument long popular with schoolmarms, it’s anything but quaint. “It’s rich with associations of origin and symbolic on so many levels.” There’s a reason, after all, that fairy tales and bedtime yarns tend to take place in the shadowy woods. Perhaps pencils, or pencil drawings, are receptacles for our oldest fears. In the debut issue, colonies of gnarled fungi almost writhe under a thick, ominous cloud. On the cover, a warring party of Bosch-like hybrid creatures stealthily course their way through the murky woods, led by a single torch.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that pencils come from trees.

The overall design of the publication is something Hsu describes as “heavyweight minimalism,” a knowing turn of phrase with built-in contradictions. “The design needed to be quite minimal so it wouldn’t intrude too much on the art,” she says. “But we didn’t want it to feel disposable.” So the drawings were reproduced on solid paper stock, giving the book the handmade quality and weight of a one-off keeper for the coffee table.

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The follow-up is a fall issue around the theme “Monsters, Machines and Unnatural Things,” furthering the mission of “giving good graphite and carbon copy since 2013.” Pencil it in.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.

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