After the article several weeks ago from the NY Times about the tools used by famous artists, I fell under the spell of the multi-colored colored pencil used by Milton Glaser. My friend Kirsten confirmed that Mr. Glaser really does use these pencils. He taught one of her graduate classes at the School of Visual Arts so she confirmed the story with some degree of authority. To say I’m jealous she saw his pencil handiwork in person would be understating things a bit.
It took awhile to find a dozen of these gems. I ended up buying them from a vendor on Amazon who was in Europe. The listing officially calls these pencils “Koh-i-noor Aristochrom Magic – 12 Pencils with Special Multicoloured Lead“. For the sake of ease, I refer to them as Koh-i-noor Magic Pencils. The box of one dozen was $14.50 plus $8 shipping which makes these pencils more expensive than Palomino Blackwings. But needs must, right?
The pencils came in a slightly mangled yellow box with the Koh-i-noor/Hardtmuth logos on the box. They had been shipped in nothing more than a kraft envelope so the mangling was a result of the postal system. The box isn’t anything special so the fact that all the pre-sharpened pencils were safe meant the box served its purpose.
Inside were the dozen pencils I most coveted. The pencils are hexagonal with gold metallic paint and the only branding is ink jet onto one facet in black. The text includes “060”, a lengthy stock number and bar code, “Koh-i-noor” and “3400”. I wish the branding had been foil stamped onto the pencil instead of the super-cheap looking ink jet but these pencils are probably not very popular or produced in extremely large quantities so they don’t get as much attention as a traditional graphite or single color pencil.
The end of the pencil is shaped into a low profile cone shape and is not dipped. Its exposed natural wood. Its a weird detail that I’m not crazy about but the simple gold paint on the rest of the pencil makes up for the unusual treatment of the end. I’d love it if the end were dipped in a glossy black to give it a truly regal feel but there aren’t a lot of options for “magic” pencils so I’ll take what I can get.
The real reason I love these pencils is the three-color lead. Red, blue and yellow pigments are blended into the lead in small chunks so that, as the pencil is used, the color changes. The blue is a deep indigo blue and the red and yellow are pretty much primary colors. What I discovered over the last few weeks of using these pencils is that by turning the pencil a little bit as I’m using it, I can force lighter or darker colors to appear as I need them.
The composition of the pencil lead is definitely wax- or oil-based as it is not water soluble. This makes it easy to add other materials like watercolor paint, water-based markers, ink, or pen without blurring your linework. It also means that the marks don’t smudge, which is quite pleasant.
On regular paper (like my Rhodia test paper) the Magic pencil does not erase well. I suspect that on a primed surface like gesso, it might be easier to erase but for doodling and sketching, be prepared to leave the lines where they are. Loose-y and goose-y is the best way to enjoy these Magic pencils.
I know these pencils won’t appeal to everyone but I they are such wonderfully unique tools that I couldn’t resist sharing them.