Viarco visit memories and the lessons it taught me…

Few years back even before my trip to Portugal was in the stars. My friend was talking to me about how her sister in-law had gifted her with a moleskine small sketchbook and graphite in a new form I haven’t seen before. It was water soluble graphite that came in a little round tin the shape of a lip balm. The ones we used to see in the olden days if you are old enough to remember those. I was intrigued, so we hopped on their website and started exploring. I fell in love with the company and the way they manipulate graphite and other drawing tools in unconventional ways to help the artist work more freely and creatively. I mean they even have a graphite putty which I’ve never seen with any other manufacturer before. How lush is that?

Me being me, I ended up with a list of things I wanted. Her being her, ended offering to buy them for me. By the end of our next summer’s holiday and her trip to Portugal, I got my first water soluble graphite in a tin, the tailor shaped ones and of course the putty.

My first ever products from Viarco Portugal

Fast forward, when the USK symposium was due to take place in Portugal in 2018 and my trip was confirmed. I was on a quest to see if I can visit their factory. To my luck they do just that and it is a part of the industrial tourism program that they lovingly promote. Few emails later and one Facebook announcement about my intent for a visit. I had few fellow sketchers who were willing to come along with me. Our place was reserved and visit confirmed.

The urban sketching gang visiting Viarco Portugal! A day to remember!

In today’s world where everything is so fast and things change faster than they appear. It was like a breath of fresh air to visit a place that is located in an old style warehouse building filled with posters of vintage vibe, yet surrounded by newer generations as well as old filling it’s walls with positive atmosphere, a promise of authenticity yet also newness. Viarco company is based in Sao Joao de Madeira and was founded in 1907. It is the oldest and the only pencil manufacturer in Portugal, having also remained as a family owned business.

We were welcomed by a smiling crew and given coats to wear to protect us from the graphite, then ushered in a room where an introduction was given about the history of the place and what we are about to see. Sitting there to the left was a massive heavy metal machine that we were later told was for turning graphite into long thin strips almost spaghetti like which would then be the inside skeleton of your pencil. Who would have thought that this little often dismissive item in our everyday life needed such a big machine to be brought to life! Needless to say, nowadays they have more modernized methods yet they still hold this vintage giant in a dominant place of its crowned glory never forgetting to pay homage to where it all started.

The graphite turning machine (not the technical term but my description)

We were then taken on a tour inside the factory where we were told (with a wink!) that we are not supposed to take pictures unless no one is looking and we were fast enough to snap them. That was my cue for snapping as many of them as I could; for this was a visit I never wanted to forget.

From the graphite’s origins, it’s shape in nature, cutting and molding processes to various treatments until it is turned into different products. We were on a trip through time, history and the birth of a humble pencil along with many other products that this amazing company offers, very authentic and unique in their own right, I may add.

One thing I will never forget about this visit is our tour guide who also happens to be the owner of the company Antonio Vieira Araujo. His passion and love for the business shines through and through. Standing there while giving us an introduction about the history of the company at the beginning of our visit, his body language so strongly bonding with all the words coming out from him in synchronized motion screaming of true love and respect for the profession he now owns, that was handed to him over generations.

One thing that stood out the most to me was his respect for the resources, his constant message of the importance of using them until there is nothing there left to use. His thoughts about commercialism and how it turns us into consumers without purpose. In his words, the world is going faster and faster while people are only working harder and harder to earn more money (I still recall his hand motions mimicking the speed of life in the context of his words), alas only to spend it faster than they have earned it. Not making them any happier than before. Retail therapy anyone?

He was holding a tiny pencil that was sharpened closer to the end. Atop it was a little cap that he devised (pencil extender) which would enable him to hold it since it was way too short. How authentic? Though he is the person selling us that same pencil, he is also the one telling us to use it till the most possible end. In other words, he would be better off making more money from us buying more of his pencils in a shorter span of time if we didn’t care to use them till their last possible sharpening like most of us do, sadly. Instead he wants us to respects its making and all the logistics that go into the process. Even if it meant buying less pencils from him which to him would make us wiser and more responsible consumers!   

If you could only see and imagine the long journey one pencil takes from raw materials to its final glory, you too would agree with Antonio even the more to use it until it’s last bit.

All respect to the humble pencil …

Posted in