27 Jul, 2009

Design that’s to the point

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Colour pencils aren’t usually noted for their sharp design, but Caran D’Ache prove to be swish ambassadors for Swiss manufacturing

On an English summer’s day when the sun refuses to shine, I need only open my tin of Swiss pencils. The pigments in the leads of Prismalo Aquarelles, made by Caran D’Ache in Geneva, are enough to bring a colourful smile to the face of any artist, young or old, budding or professional.

There are 80 colours tracing a brilliant spectrum, from white to gold, through six shades of yellow, a blaze of reds, dreamy blues – royal, indigo, ultramarine, sky, sapphire, prussian, cobalt, light, azurite, turquoise and periwinkle. There are fields of greens, and colours that you can almost smell, such as cinnamon, cocoa and burnt sienna. The pigments are water-soluble and can be used happily for shading, washes and watercolour illustrations, and they mix happily with water-based paints and chalks.

As importantly, perhaps, Prismalo Aquarelle pencils are a delight to look at and hold. Their slim, hexagonal cases are made from cedar wood, and feel exactly right: light, balanced, natural. As you would hope, these pencils are fine ambassadors for Swiss manufacturing.

They date from 1931, seven years after Arnold Schweitzer founded La Fabrique Suisse de Crayons Caran D’Ache. The name was adopted from the famous Russian-born French satirist, Emmanuel Poiré, a grandson of a wounded French officer who stayed on in Russia after Napoleon’s retreat in 1812. In Paris, Poiré adopted the pen name Caran d’Ache, from the Russian word for pencil, “karandash”, and founded the satirical Psst! magazine, a perfect frame for his drawing skills, and political and social satire. Schweitzer was a fan of Poiré; and, of course, the name Caran d’Ache was perfect for a pencil maker.

Caran D’Ache also hand-crafts exquisite pens. I’ve long lusted after one of its wonderfully named Varius Alligator fountain pens (guaranteed for life), although at around £625, I might just make do with my current jumble of Lamy fountain pens, Pilot V7s and Bic ballpoints until the recession blows over.

And, of course, my colour pencils. What else can you buy for just over a £1 (per pencil) that gives so much tactile and visual pleasure?

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