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The way I sharpen my pencil unlocks my inspiration

Posted by Eduardo Sarmiento on Jun 2, 2017 10:13 AM

The ritual of sharpening my pencil with a knife before drawing is the most constant action in my life (other than the basic vegetative functions). 


Portrait by Ketty Mora.

I don’t use a regular pencil sharpener unless I’m flying on a plane.

Using a sharpener is like eating fast food—it might be convenient but it's not terribly satisfying.

This fascination with custom sharpening started way back, when I was a child, and it’s the result of both necessity and admiration of beauty.


Sketch and original illustration for the blog post “When things fly South.”

In the ’80s in Cuba, we didn’t have fancy pencil sharpeners. My mother was a gynecologist, and my father was an orthopedic surgeon. They used to bring surgical knives home, and we used them to sharpen my pencils for school. I was fascinated with their precision and sharpness, and even my friends and professors asked me to bring them scalpels. It was currency back then.

On the aesthetic side, my mother has welcomed thousands of children into the world and has sharpened the most beautiful pencil tips one can imagine. It was perfection, beauty in its superlative state, so I had embraced the action and have been enjoying the results for more than 30 years.


Sketches that sparked the conversation and inspired Bianca Borghi to design the On Purpose poster.

Nowadays, the moment I step out of the agency to sharpen my pencil is a moment of strange clarity and deep introspection. It’s a combination of both and it helps put ideas into perspective. It’s refreshing to see the squirrels jumping, cats running, birds chirping. It’s a necessary pause and a way to be present.

Sharpening my pencil is like sharpening my brain. 
It’s a fundamental part of the creative process. 
It’s the silence before the creative battle. 
It’s the foreplay before the exquisite experience of creation.

I like to use pencils and sketch on paper. It doesn’t matter if I’m designing a poster or working on an online strategy; it’s a beautiful and effective way to catch, visualizeand develop ideas.


Accomplices by Eduardo Sarmiento. Pencil on Arches paper. Lowe Art Museum permanent collection.