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Here’s the story behind that eye-catching ‘Pencil Truck’ in Somerville

People have been pointing it out and posting pictures of the vehicle on social media. That’s exactly what its owner was hoping for.

The "Pencil Truck" spotted in and around Somerville has been turning heads in recent weeks.Adam Zapotok

It’s pretty hard to miss, and a bright yellow pickup truck with tinted windows and a large pencil on its roof has turned a lot of heads in Somerville in recent weeks. The more people saw it, the more the mystery grew, and theories about its origin swirled.

According to its owner, that was exactly the point.

The unmistakable truck, with its nearly nine-foot pencil, was customized and created by Adam Zapotok, a digital fabrication teacher who makes and sells minimalistic illustrations and detailed 3D works known as “miniatures.”

Zapotok said he had been “trying to drum up some confusion and wonder” around the truck before adding his business’s name, “Okiest Dokiest,” to it this weekend and then hitting the road this spring and summer to sell his artwork at fairs. Putting a hard-to-miss pencil atop his 1996 Ford Ranger, then painting the whole thing yellow, has certainly done the trick.

“It’s getting great reactions,” said Zapotok, 28, who specializes in illustrations and fabrications. “Everywhere I go people are waving to me or smiling, and people are stopping me all the time to ask about it.”

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Beyond attracting attention, the concept behind the pencil aligns with the type of artwork Zapotok strives to produce, he said, by incorporating “a lot of puns and comedy, or something fun or positive.”

“I think things that are very surprising are great, and scale has a lot to do with that,” he said.

Zapotok purchased the used truck in December after realizing that his girlfriend’s Kia was no longer big enough to carry all the items he wanted to sell and display at art festivals and events.

“I was packing it to the ceiling,” he said. “I wanted to have more and have it be easier to pack.”

From the start, Zapotok knew that no matter what he bought to replace the Kia, he wanted to do something creative and different, and that it had to have “a giant pencil on top of it.”

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“I like to doodle a lot, and I was doodling one day and I drew a little truck with a pencil on top of it,” he said. “And it really caught me.”

Once he bought the truck, which was originally dull beige and didn’t have a rear cap to cover the truck bed, his vision began to take shape. He realized that with the help of some creative friends, making and placing a giant pencil on the vehicle was feasible.

After fixing up the truck itself, which needed a lot of maintenance, Zapotok and his friends got to work on customizing the vehicle to match his quirky idea, a process that took just over two weeks.

The "Magic Pencil Truck" before completion.Adam Zapotok

Zapotok said he printed dozens of 3D components to fashion the front and back portions of the large pencil, while someone who works in carpentry built the middle part from hollowed-out wood fit with brackets.

“I have four 3D printers and I was running them for 24 hours a day,” said Zapotok, who shared many of the technical details of the project on Instagram.

As for the yellow paint job and details of the pencil, which weighs around 60 pounds, Zapotok said the parents of a close friend lent the group space in their garage in Western Massachusetts for a long weekend, allowing them to finish the job.

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“A lot of these things I don’t have the knowledge, or the skills, or the tools, or the space to do it,” he said. “But with [the help of] my friends, I did have all these.”

In April, what Zapotok calls the “The Magic Pencil Truck” started appearing on the streets of Somerville, immediately causing a stir. Because it had no words or logos, people were naturally curious and rushed to find out more about it online.

Anyone know the story behind this Yellow Pencil Truck custom design?,” someone inquired in a Reddit forum for Somerville residents last month.

Theories varied but generally gravitated toward puns.

“It’s so if they accidentally tap a bumper they can erase their mistake,” one person quipped.

“First thought was, ‘It’s for a tax help/accountant service?’ And yet, no logos or contact info. Mysterious,” another mused.

The truck also became a topic of conversation on a second Reddit thread (“Obviously from pencilvania,” wrote one wag), as well as Universal Hub.

Zapotok said he was aware of the online chatter but wanted to let it build for a bit to create some mystery around his project.

The inscrutable design piqued the curiosity of a Globe reporter who left a note on the vehicle’s windshield on Thursday. The next day, Zapotok responded and revealed the meaning of the striking prop.

But it won’t be a secret for long. On Saturday, the truck makes its debut as a “company vehicle” at the “Wake Up the Earth Festival” in Jamaica Plain, complete with logos and branding.

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Looking to find Zapotok at the event? His truck will point you in the right direction.

“It makes everyone smile when they see it,” he said. “It brings joy to people.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him @steveannear.