The Louis Kahn–trained architect and lifelong tinkerer tells us about the tools he can’t work without.

Drawing is an architect’s method of communicating. My staff draws on computers; I am older and draw by hand. At the end of each workday, I have to scrub the graphite off the side of my right hand from rubbing it over the drawings I do with my favorite pencils. The pencils are from the ITO-YA store in Ginza, Tokyo. The store ships a box to our office every six months or so. I love these pencils—they have perfect lead, which is smooth and capable of everything from sharp lines to shading, and perfect erasers that completely remove my mistakes. And they’re beautiful: red barrels and a black eraser that’s fastened to the shaft, flush with the surface. 

To keep them sharp, I built a simple brass sharpener that can hold the shavings. When they get too short, I extend their life with a pencil “extender” I made out of bits of brass tubing. 

These three low-tech items travel with me and they’re all I need to apply my skills, wherever I am. 

Jim Cutler’s Japanese pencils, and the two devices he built for them, literally never leave his side.

Photo: Grant Harder

Check out a few more things the 68-year-old Bainbridge Island architect likes here. 



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