His avenue of expression came in the form of graphite. But he had graduated from the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil to a more sophisticated version years ago; he was after all an artist, not a shop teacher or professional Scantron taker. It was the transition from action heroes to pieces of fruit and nude models that called for a more diverse palette: an array of carbon ranging from soft to hard, the former making it easier and quicker to shade.
Before the switch in drawing utensils, he had only known change to be disappointing, but this was different. His lines hit the pages smoother, hugging each curve, and the depth of color was richer; both he and the images he created were given an honest chance to come alive. The side of his right hand collected the bits that chipped away when he pressed the pencil with authority, hoping to get the blackest gray that gray could make. And the tip of his middle finger went permanently stained, as it took on the role of his favorite blending tool. The residue would travel on, from the paper, to his fingertip, to his slacks, and now and again to his temple when he’d pause, head down, searching his mind’s catalog for memories, visual snapshots to draw from. He found he liked this kind of change, although he doubted he’d ever experience it again: what more would he need? But with time, the crisp lines easily smudged. The glossy finish atop the sharp gray eventually dulled. And any finished product was left vulnerable: one quick swipe of an art gum eraser could rip the lines from the sheet, leaving the piece scared, damaged, and as a result, unfinished. This, he decided, was no way to leave his mark, if he was leaving one at all.
Having never doodled with anything more than a BIC pen, he paced the calligraphy section of the art shop. The florescent lights swung from above, and he found himself in an intimate interrogation of the shelves displayed selection: What makes you think you're more special than this here guy beside you? Best for “drawing and illustration” you say? Prove it. He didn’t bother to ask the longhaired, 40-something-year-old employee his suggestion; his far-off stare left him looking like nothing of an expert, and everything like the stoner he always had been, and still was. He checked out, leaving with a pen box that came with a variety of nibs, a bottle of black India ink, and one sheet of dense paper, all in a bag much too cumbersome for its slight contents.
When he got home, he turned off all the lights and sat at his desk until the sunlight streaming through the window turned the room, and everything in it, a peachy hue. He felt silly, but it only seemed just to break in his new supplies under similar lighting conditions as those who first began their works in ink. There was something almost primitive about it. Then again, it wasn’t like he had wiped up a batch of cow urine and mud or beetle guts, but it was more of a process than just putting pencil to paper. He liked learning new skills and he experimented with lines he could and couldn’t make from each nib, each becoming more dramatic as moonlight took hold of the room, turning its inner glow cool. And with the help of a few candles, he continued his virgin pursuit.
Just as the wick of his candles exhausted their full potential, he woke. His hand still wrapped around the pen like a stem of ivy: sturdy, but easily pulled apart with a gentle touch. He was slow to retrace his steps, looking at the puddle of hot wax, then the scattered supplies, and as he stared blankly before him, eyes burning, he recalled the image: tall pines draping over a mountain side, a creek running below, and a full moon in the night’s sky, a layer of thin streaks ran behind it. He lowered his gaze quickly to the page – excited to test his memory – but there was no proof: what may or may not have been had fallen victim to the depths of a black well of ink. It was an unfortunate happening, but nothing close to tragic, as he realized, with a grin, that he had indeed made his first mark.