Mental Floss

Sculpting With Pencils: Jennifer Maestre

Andréa Fernandes

As evidenced by our "What is art?" post and its accompanying discussion, people have vastly different opinions of what materials can be used to create art and what can be classified as art. Yet although most people wouldn't consider pencils a sculptural material, Jennifer Maestre's pencil sculptures have been widely accepted as beautiful art. Some background on Maestre and her art:

1. Jennifer Maestre has loved "the way pencils smell and how the graphite gleams" since she was a young girl. She never wanted to throw one away, sharpening them until they were just tiny nubs. To Maestre, pencils represent "creativity, inspiration, striving, work potential, and fun," in addition to being "cute."

2. To create her pencil sculptures, Maestre takes hundreds of pencils—which she buys by the gross—and cuts them into 1-inch sections that she turns into beads by drilling holes through them. Then, she sharpens the pieces and sews them all together, usually using the peyote stitch, a sculptural beading technique.

3. Sea urchins were the original inspiration for Maestre's pencil sculptures. As she describes it, "The spines of the urchin, so dangerous yet so beautiful, serve as an explicit warning against contact. The alluring texture of the spines draws the touch in spite of the possible consequences." She also draws inspiration from animals, plants, other art, Ernst Haeckel, Odilon Redon, and mythology.

4. Maestre also creates jewelry from pencils by gluing together blocks of pencils, slicing them at varying angles, and then laminating the pieces. The resulting jewelry looks so unlike pencils that people often can't figure out what it's made from. Maestre has said, "Sometimes people ask me if I melt the pencils—which is a funny question, pencils are made of wood!"

5. Some of Maestre's sculptures are comprised of 4,000 pencil stubs, sometimes even more. Though it's hard for her to estimate just how many pencils she's used in the 10 years or so she's been creating pencil sculptures, Maestre guesses she's used "at least 5,000 pencils"—a number that includes only the pencils required for sculptures, and not for jewelry.

A larger version of "Basilisk" (left) is available here, while a larger version of "Asteridae" (right) is available here. Fans should check out Jennifer Maestre's Web site and Etsy shop. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.