While the NYTimes is predicting the death of the pen, the Wall Street Journal was thoughtful enough to experience and enjoy using a Palomino Blackwing. Go, WSJ!
While the NYTimes is predicting the death of the pen, the Wall Street Journal was thoughtful enough to experience and enjoy using a Palomino Blackwing. Go, WSJ!
When I first saw the Perfetto Pencils, I was smitten. The whole project was designed by well-known designer Louise Fili. I’ve been familiar with her design work for years so I would, of course, be interested in any pencil project she might create. The box alone is a work of art. The packaging is beautiful and sturdy and vintage-inspired.
Inside the box is a dozen, beautiful two-colored pencils. It’s graphite on one end and red colored lead on the other. The pencils come pre-sharpened with a decent point, usable for those too impatient to sharpen it properly.
The pencils inside are just as stunning. The pencils are round and the paint is glossy and even. The silver foil is stamped perfectly and centered evenly.
The best news is that they write really well. The graphite is smooth and dark. I’d almost compare it to a Palomino Blackwing. And the red lead is soft like a good quality, artist’s grade colored pencil.
The first pencil I pulled out must have been dropped because the red lead kept breaking. The graphite was fine though. I pulled out another pencil and the red lead sharpened fine so the first must have been a fluke. I used a good quality Staedtler two-hole hand sharpener and got a good, sharp point on both ends. With the soft colored lead, I recommend sharpening with a hand sharpener rather than a desktop or electric sharpener because they’ll just eat through the pencils.
When erasing, the red lead leaves visible ghosting which is good if you want to use the pencil for grading or other indelible uses. The graphite erases cleanly with a the Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser, the Cadillac of erasers.
The whole package was produced by the Princeton Architectural Press and boxes come marked with a $13.95 retail price. According to the box, the pencils are made in Taiwan. I purchased mine through Amazon for about $11.50.
House Industries makes some of the most amazing fonts, typography and design. Thankfully, you can now use the same tools as the staff at House Industries uses. Sketch like Andy Cruz with a 6-pack of House Industries branded pencils in a House Industries mini journal. Use an official “House Industries Letter Sharpie” like Ken Barber. And post it all up on the wall with House Industries Carnival masking tape.
(This announcement written with tongue firmly in cheek. But I do love the guys at House Industries and who wouldn’t want one of their fabulous pencils? Or a cycling jersey?)
David Rees of Artisanal Pencil Sharpening sharpens Blackwing Pencils using an array of tools including a box knife, a Classroom Friendly Sharpener and the El Casco. Is it ridiculous? A little bit, but in his ostentatiousness he gets to the heart of it: anyone can use a pencil and sharpen it with little more than a knife or pocket sharpener.
(via Art Directors Club)
Neatography offers a monthly or quarterly subscription packages filled with paper, letter-writing and office goodies. I received the May kit entitled “The Good Ol’ Days” which included an assortment of pencils, a His & Hers list notepad that is perforated down the middle to split up the tasks, a Rifle Paper Co. Thank You card, Telegram-style postcards, postcard stamps, a calling card, a sharpener and a self-addressed stamped postcard to send back to Neatography letting them know if you liked the latest kit.
Its a lovely package and a great way to discover new paper goods brands and receive a lovely little pick-me-up in your mail box. A monthly package with cards and stamps is $17 per month or on a quarterly schedule, and a paper good subscription is $27 per month or on a quarterly schedule. Shipping costs for the US are included in the costs but international subscriptions require an additional shipping fee.
I like that there’s an option to receive a package every three months. I acquire a lot of other office supplies, cards and writing tools that if a package came every month, I don’t think I’d ever get a chance to use everything and it might accumulate.
I love that the kit includes some stamps so that I can immediately write out a few cards and pop them in the mail.
Once I unwrapped the His & Hers notepad, I was able to see the perforation and started to really like it. There is a magnet on the back of the pad to attach to the refrigerator making it easy to make lists of tasks that each person can tackle. I’d also love one that was “groceries” on one side and “everything else” on the other since our trips to Costco, Target, and the hardware store usually happen separately from the grocery buying but its still a clever pad and will probably get a lot of use at our house.
The pencils in the kit were a Palomino Blackwing 602, Golden Bear #2, Ticonderoga EnviroStik #2 and a Ticonderoga Laddie #2. I look forward to trying a few of these new-to-me pencils like the Laddie and the Envirostik. More about those in the coming weeks. But, yeah! Pencils!
The apple Thank You card from Rifle Paper features a gold foil apple on the cover on soft ivory paper. Its lovely and general enough to be sent to anyone though it would be perfect to give to a teacher.
The sharpener is a brushed aluminum from Maped and looks like a decent little sharpener with a reomveable/replaceable blade. The postage stamps are the new hummingbird design postcard stamps that will go perfectly with the Telegram postcards from Girl of All Work. I’ve used these before and I quite like them. The paper has a bit of tooth to it but ink stands up nicely to it and the look is classic postcard/telegram.
All-in-all I think a subscription with Neatography would be a great opportunity to explore some new paper goods. Looking through the Lookbook at past offerings, each paper goods kit looks to include at least one small-press card, a notepad or other larger item (one kit included Rifle Paper Co mail stickers), some postage stamps, and a small selection of office supplies (pencils, thumbtacks, washi tape, etc.). They value of the items seems to add up to the asking price pretty closely and includes domestic shipping so it is a good value. Everything is packaged beautifully too so it feels like a little gift.
I wrote a previous review of products in October of 2013.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Neatography for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
The Eco-Essential Pen and Pencil set is a beautifully packaged product. I don’t usually swoon about packaging because I mostly want to throw it away but the Eco-Essential set came in a black, paperboard box with a white paper sleeve wrap. Simple, elegant and perfect for a gift. And because the packaging is all paperboard, it can easily be recycled.
Inside the swank packaging is not only the matching pen and pencil set but two pen refills (Pilot Hi Tec C 0.5mm in black and red), an array of colored aluminum rings to personalize your pen and pencil set and end caps to swap out with the touch-sensitive tips that come pre-installed on both tools. (The felt wrap shown in the photo is not included.)
I love that I was able to decide which tool, if any, had the touch sensitive tip. When swapped out, there is a stylized embossed “U” on the end. There are four ring colors to choose from: green, orange, blue and red, plus the simple black that come installed.
The Eco-Essential Pen Set started its life as Kickstarter project but it is now available directly from the Now N Then shop.
Both the pen and the pencil are aluminum cap, hardware and shell with a bamboo outer casing. It makes for a very lightweight but durable tool. The pencil is a tiny bit longer than the pen due to the click mechanism at the end. Otherwise they are virtually identical so I could see using the colored rings to make it easy to recognize one from the other.
Once I found the rings and cap in the box, I immediately customized my set to have matching lime green rings and flat caps. I love how the bamboo looks with the green and silver. I love the looks of these! And the bamboo feels warm in the hand. Its finished to a smooth lacquered finish but not shiny. I can feel the undulation of the wood but no burrs or roughness. I just like spinning these in my hands.
A nice touch is the threads on the end of the tools to attach the caps. It makes for a fairly light, long tool. I don’t think even the largest hands would find this awkward. The lightness makes it easy for longer writing sessions. The only issue is that the threaded cap hides the click mechanism on the pencil. To advance the lead, you will need to remove the cap.
Alternately, when not in use, the delicate tip of the pencil mechanism is protected by the cap so it will not poke out of bag or pocket.
Since both the leads (0.5mm) and the pen refill can be replaced with your favorite color, width or grade, the writing tests were mostly to get a feel for the weight and balance. I found it comfortable overall.
I did notice the absence of a clip which comes in handy for me more in keeping my pens from rolling away than actually clipping to a pocket. But its such a nice feel to have a perfectly smooth, cylindrical barrel that I can see why the design was not sullied with the addition of a clip.
The pen is available in a Pilot G2-compatible size as well as the Pilot Hi-Tec C size I received. There is also a dark finish called Incognito. A pen unit with rings, flat cap, stylus and a refill is $55 in either finish or refill size. The pencil includes the rings, flat cap and stylus tip and is preloaded with leads for $50 for either finish. A pen & pencil gift set includes two sets of rings, styli, flat caps and refills for $95. I like these so much I think I’ll be ordering the G2 model as well for more refill options*. Shipping rates are super reasonable, and quick too. I got my set in less than two weeks.
Overall, I am hugely impressed with this set. I like how flexible the options are and how well thought out the development was. I know I will noodle around with the rings and caps until the end of days because I can.
(*I’m working on a giant list of Pilot Hi-Tec C- and Pilot G2-compatible refills that I should have ready soon.)
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
Once again, I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event here in KC this weekend. Its a convention of fantasy and science fiction artists working in comics, fiction, storyboarding, sculpture and more. There are Q&A sessions and artists doing live demos of painting, sculpting and digital techniques. Its an amazing show with A-list artists from all over the world.
A couple years ago, a few artists were kind enough to show me the tools they use to sketch and draw. This year, I was able to talk to a few more artists about their favorite tools.
Tom Kelly showed off his favorite tools to my husband. And was enthusiastic about his Uni Ball Signo Broad opaque white gel pen, the Kuretake No. 13 brush pen, and the Pentel Presto! Correction Pen as a drawing tool. He also kept an arsenal of Sakura Pigma Microns, Sharpie markers and a Pentel Graphgear 0.5 mm drafting pencil.
And he makes stuff like this:
I met Hector Casanova who is not only an illustrator and comic book artist but also an illustration professor at KCAI. We bonded over our unending love for the Sanford NoBlot pencil. I just write and doodle with my NoBlots but Hector sketches and draws with his hoarded collection. Then he adds water to create a washy blue effect on his drawings like these figure sketches he did at an event at Spectrum this year ( may be NSFW).
Aren’t they amazing?
Hector also uses a full army of Japanese brush pens. I recognize the Pentel Pocket Brush pen and the Pilot Futayaku Double-Sided Brush Pens.
And with these tools are the start of artwork like this:
Pretty amazing, huh?
I’ve always been a fan of the classic Ticonderoga pencils from Dixon. Where the Ticonderoga is a classic hexagonal wood-cased pencil, the Tri-Conderoga is a triangular pencil. The Tri-Conderoga has a rubberized coating with a matte black finish.
What most surprised me is that the Tri-Conderoga is wider in diameter than the regular Ticonderoga or other triangular pencils. The Faber-Castell Grip 2001 is a similar shape but smaller, more comparable to a regular hexagonal or round pencil.
The matte coating on the Tri-Conderoga reminds me of the finish on the WOPEX pencils. Love it or hate it but I think more and more pencil manufacturers might embrace this soft-touch finish. It feels pleasant to touch and may make writing more comfortable but I kept feeling like my hand was sliding down the pencil as I wrote.
I did need to use a large diameter sharpener to sharpen the Tri-Conderoga. I used the KUM “Special Diameter” sharpener which worked well. This explains why Tri-Conderoga sells the pencil in a blister pack with a sharpener because a regular diameter sharpener will not work. Of course, a pen knife or an adjustable sharpener (like the Classroom Friendly or the classic wall-mounted Boston) would work as well.
The pencil performed well in writing. The lead did not crumble or flake while I wrote and the darkness was a little on the light side on the smooth Rhodia test paper. I suspect office paper or standard notebook paper which is a bit toothier would cause the line to look a little darker and probably require more frequent sharpening.
Since the pencil is a bit larger than an average pencils, the eraser is also a bit larger. Its a black rubber compound eraser and it ended up working better than I had anticipated. But for ease of use, I recommend using a plastic eraser like the Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser if you’ll be using any pencil.
I found the overall size of the Tri-Conderoga a little large for me but I can definitely see where younger folks and anyone with larger hands would find it comfortable to use. I do love the triangular shape for comfort and the lowered likelihood of rolling away when you set it down.
Thanks to RJ for sending me the Tri-Conderoga.
When I was in Hong Kong a couple years ago, I picked up a Staedtler WOPEX pencil. The pencil I picked up did not have a ferrule or eraser on it and the paint color is a little lighter than the WOPEX pencils currently available in the US. Johnny from Pencil Revolution was kind enough to send me a couple. First, to satisfy my curiosity about any performance differences and second, because they are a lovely shade of green.
Besides being a bit brighter color (more granny smith green now), the new WOPEX pencils do not have the slight metallic flake in the paint that the older model does.
Both versions of the WOPEX are hexagonal, with a soft-touch rubber paint, made from the composite wood material. The cool thing about the composite material is that it makes perfect sharpening roses. As mentioned by Johnny in his review, I don’t recommend using an electric sharpener since the rubbery coating can confuse the auto-stop mechanism and chew up a whole pencil. I used a relatively new KUM handheld sharpener which worked fine.
The new pencils feature a silver ferrule and a white, rubber compound eraser on the end.
In writing, the leads seem to perform identically to the previous version. Its a smooth writer and I had no issues with the lead performance.
In the hand, the newer WOPEX pencils are not as sticky to hold. The paint/coating feels like a lighter touch was used in applying it. Its smoother in the hand and feels more like a matte finish than a squishy rubbery coating.
The fact that WOPEX is Staedtler’s attempt to make a more ecologically-responsible pencil is a big plus to using the WOPEX. Oddly I prefer the feel of the earlier rubber-y WOPEX but it might also be that as lovely as the new ferrule and eraser make the WOPEX look, I don’t tend to use them and they just make the pencil longer and a little unwieldy until its been sharpened a half a dozen times.
All-in-all, I think its a good pencil option and one that is readily available in your local big box or office supply store.
Paper & Notebooks:
My mailbox has been overflowing with green bounty. A handmade leather envelope for storing pens and pencils from my Australian pen pal (she made it herself!), an assortment of awesome green pencils from Johnny at Pencil Revolution and, of course, the beautiful but hotly-debated Field Notes Shelterwood. Reviews will be coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the spring greens!
I was thinking about pencil grades the other day, as a pencil geek is wont to do on occasion, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know where, in the pencil grading spectrum, the F grade went. What the F?
So I did a little digging, including Wikipedia where there was a chart placing the F grade between H and HB. The article also noted that “H” means “hardness”, “B” means blackness and “F” is for “fine.”
So, then what about the whole #2 pencil for Scantronic tests? This was believed to be created by Conté (a name well-known to artists) and adopted by US pencil manufacturer John Thoreau (father of Henry David Thoreau) in the 19th century. This system utilizes just the five core hardnesses and breaks down like this:
The F grade is supposed to be that sweet spot between hard and soft pencils, just a little harder than those pesky #2 pencils we all relied upon to get us through primary school.
Also, HB and #2 are the same thing. If you are considering venturing into European or Asian pencil brands but want to purchase an all-around good hardness, HB or F may be a good place to start.
Now you know.
As a student, I frequently have to go back and reference older papers and essays (stored in binders) I have written. Though work in pen poses no problem, work in pencil, especially that older then a month, often becomes an unreadable gray smear due to pages sliding across each other. I use standard HB pencils (both mechanical and woodcase), but have often wondered if a harder grade would help mitigate this issue. Also, I have recently fallen in love with the FC 9000 pencils and am wondering how they are on the smudging issue, especially the HB grade ones.
I called in the pencil experts, the cast of the Erasable podcast to help get you the best answers. Here’s what the boys had to say:
First, I’d like you to all admire my new and fully customized Link mascot thanks to my pal and co-worker Adan who, clearly, is a fabulous illustrator. I think I need Link on a t-shirt!
Now, on to the links:
“I Love Pencils” print by Leah Greenberg. Prices start at $17.68.
(via Society 6)
I just wanted to check that you had heard about the new Erasable podcast? It is hosted by Andy of Woodclinched, Johnny from Pencil Revolution and Tim from Writing Arsenal (formerly The Daily Carry).
Sunday, March 30th is Pencil Day and there will be a special episode broadcast so you’ve got time to listen to the first two episodes and get caught up. Enjoy!
I realized I’d never really talked about what I like about vintage pencils, beyond the obvious that they look cool and are old and are often relics of domestic factories of companies still in business. So I thought I’d take a moment to show you some vintage pencils in action.
One of the great things about vintage pencils is that, no matter how old they are, they are going to write if you sharpen them. If it has an eraser, avoid it completely though. The erasers will dry out in a matter of a year or two so trust me when I tell you that a 40 year old eraser will either do nothing at all or leave a dark smudge on your paper. So don’t bother with it. But the lead? Its all good.
Some pencils will have unusual grading as opposed to the modern B (for black or soft leads) and H (for hard and therefore lighter leads). Some vintage pencils may simply say HARD or VERY HARD like the ones shown above or a combination of text.
In the past, pencils were used for lots of purposes beyond just Scantronic tests and math homework. Remember, the pencil had its heyday in the world before computers and the power of the undo.
I have a few “film lead” pencils that were designed to write on plastic film for printing or photography. Hard lead pencils were favored by draftsmen and artists and soft leads could be used to write on wood. Pencils allowed folks to apply pressure to their writing in order to easily and cheaply use carbon copies like a store receipt or invoice.
This is a writing sample of several of my vintage pencils. There were three stand-outs in writing quality: the Futura Medium F, the Eagle Chemi*Sealed Mirado 174 and the USA Black Flyer 4500. I was stunned at how smoothly they wrote.
I also loved writing with the Press 260 Jet Black. It reminded me of the Faber-Castell Design Ebony pencil and the General’s Layout Extra Black but when I compared them, The Press 260 was light years darker and smoother. If you like either of those modern pencils, its worth it to seek out the Press 260 Jet Black.
On the second page, I wanted to also include some modern pencils so you could have a point of reference for how dark or light the writing is.
I would say that the USA Black Flyer is comparable to the Blackwing 602 but the Flyer is a smooth round barrel while the Blackwing is a hexagonal. The Flyer is unfinished on the end. Potentially, you could sharpen it from both ends or add an eraser cap were you to find one of these at a yard sale. The Faber-Castell Grip 2001 has a similar feel, graphite-wise, to the vintage Mirado but the barrel shapes are different, not to mention the overall appearance.
I love modern and vintage pencils with equal enthusiasm. Would I give up my stash of modern Blackwing 602s for another vintage Mirado? No way. I like having the chance to sample old pencils like rare, fine wines. I enjoy them while I can and save the little, stumpy ends like corks. And modern pencils provide me with a steady stream of writing enjoyment.
Writing sample was done on Rhodia blank pad and all erasing was done with a Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser.
Thanks to the fact that my neighborhood is filled with artists both working and retired, yard sales tend to be a jackpot for vintage office supplies. This little gem is a vintage A.W. Faber Sure-Grip 6803. Its a clutch-style leadholder pencil that takes 2mm leads. These are popular with architects and draftsmen (draftspeople?) as the lead is strong and can be sharpened to a wicked point using a lead pointer. It’s stamped “USA” as well.
Digging in Wikipedia and various web sites, Faber was actually part of the Castell empire as far back as the 19th century so they must have had a manufacturing facility in the US. This looks like a mid-20th century lead holder by which time, I suspect, the pencil empire required manufacturing facilities in many countries.
This particular leadholder had a pre-sharpened lead so sharp I think I could have impaled someone with it. Isn’t it fantastic? I suspect the previous owner is responsible for this and that it did not come from the factory like this.
The pencil body itself is a combination of a metal knurled grip section and a metal clutch with a metallic painted hexagonal pencil body. The button on the end to release the clutch is also metal (painted a nice red). I like it because the painted plastic section makes the whole pencil lighter and with a lower center of gravity than an all-metal leadholder.
Overall, I can tell by the construction that this was an everyday tool on the budget side of the spectrum. As a collector’s item, its probably not worth more than about $5 but I really like it and know that it came from the nice, retired draftsman down the street who was thrilled to know it was going to someone who would appreciate it. Oh, if he only knew!
After my post last week about “pencil tourism,” I thought I’d share a few pencils I’ve collected over the years from various shops, tourist destinations, museums and hotels. The hotels in China always had pencils by the bedside table rather than lame ballpoint pens so I, of course, liberated those. I have a couple vintage pencils from a shop and school in Portland — the school pencil is charmingly chewed on so I wonder if some young student was stressed out during a test. I swiped a pencil from the local Geeks Who Drink quiz night as well.
Once my pencil collecting habits became known, friends and relatives started bringing me pencils from their travels like the Madeline Island pencils and the Gaudi Barcelona pencils. Unlike other tchotchkes that people have brought me over the years, I remember who gave me each pencil and the story behind them. Kind of cool, huh?
This Film King Dur-O-Lite pencil. It is one of those weird and wonderful pencil goodies that occasionally find their way to me. This one came from my pal Bryan over at Field Notes (much obliged!).
It’s branding includes where is was made “Melrose Park, Illinois” (yeah!) and “Film lead D-1″. It appears to be a wood case pencil but it has a twist mechanism to reveal the lead. Around the lead point end of the pencil is a metal graduated cone in weirdly Clearasil flesh color with a gold clamp ring keeping it taut. Twisting the fleshy end will reveal more lead. I attempted to hack the pencil to see if it could be refilled and it seems a bit fussy in that regard.
Film pencils were designed with a different type of graphite to hold up better on film, mylar and other plastic-y papers used in drafting, print pre-production and by photographers and the motion picture industry. The characteristics of the graphite that made them write better on film is not as important to a modern pencil connoisseur as very few people have need of this specialized ability. I like the history of tool like this though. Dave’s Mechanical Pencils has a longer article about film leads, if you’re curious.
Leadholder has some great images of an ordering brochure for the Dur-o-Lite Pencil Company which has a great typography and a fabulous illustration. From the brochure, I can establish that D-1 is probably on the harder end of the lead grades offered and that it was touted as a disposable pencil with a cedar casing.
Finally, I found a short stub on Wikipedia that indicated that Dur-o-lite and Auto-Point were rivals in their hey day. Dur-o-lite shuttered its operations in the 90s but Auto-Point is still in operation. I love that they still produce their classic Twinpoint.
I found one Dur-o-Lite film pencil on Ebay with a Buy It Now price of $3.35.
Writing & Letter-Writing:
Paper & Notebooks:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tools I use everyday, my absolute must-haves. While I love having an assortment of gel pens, fountain pens and a bevvy of different notebooks, I realized that there are a few tools I use everyday, without fail. I also have some tools very specific to my job that might not be of interest to readers but I thought I’d share the everyday go-to tools, in no particular order.
What are the tools you can’t live without?
The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB is on of those pencils I’ve always wanted to try. I found this one at Maido in San Fransisco. Hi-Uni pencils can be purchased individually on Jet Pens for $2.35 each.
The lead has no friction on the paper. I definitely see the appeal of this pencil. It feels fabulous in the hand and lays down a smooth line. The HB lead smudges only slightly and it erased completely with the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser.
The red-brown lacquer on the pencil feels silky in the hand. The branding is stamped in a crisp, gold foil including the grade on the black lacquer-dipped end. The branding includes the tag “Established 1887″ as well. There is a gold foil ring around end of the pencil just before the end. The Hi-Uni line does not have an eraser tip, just the lovely black lacquer end.
On the very end of the pencil is a bright yellow dot. I did not look closely when I purchased the pencil to see if each grade had a different colored dot or if they were all the same but its an interesting design detail.
There is a white bar code stamped on the reverse side of the pencil from the branding, near the point. I’m not sure if this is just on the pencils for individual sale or if it would appear on pencils purchased by the box. It’s the only eyesore on an otherwise beautiful pencil.
One of my favorite tourist and travel mementos are pencils. They are small and fit easily into my suitcase. Sadly, they are not as common to find as they once were. So I was tickled to see that the Book Arts & Special Collections at the San Francisco Public Library had a stamped pencils on the front desk.
When I asked the librarians if they would mind if I took one of the pencils to commemorate my visit, they held up a jar so that I could pick a “nice one.”
I visited the Book Arts & Special Collections to see calligraphy and original typography designs. Since a lot of the material is rare, original drawings or small run prints, there were signs everywhere, written in beautiful script, reminding visitors to use pencils only.
Even the folders and folios were beautifully handwritten in pencil. This folder was filled with hand lettering created by the head of the font group at Hallmark, Rick Cusick. Sadly, I was asked not to photograph any of the original work so this is as close as I can show you.
If you’re interested in calligraphy or the history of type design, I recommend visiting the Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering.
5-color pencil question mark screenprint, £40 by Jportch. Edition limited to 25.
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