Review by Tina Koyama
Last year Moleskine released two sets of pencils as part of its Art Collection – watercolor pencils and graphite drawing pencils. In my review of the watercolor set, I mentioned features that are common to both, such as the unique square barrel, matte black finish and semi-gloss end caps (please read the introduction to that post first). In this review I’ll talk about specific qualities of the graphite drawing pencil set.
Like their colorful cousins, the Moleskine graphite pencils have the same design esthetic that fits well with most Moleskine products. While the colored pencils have end caps of consistent length, the graphite pencil set’s end caps are stair-stepped to indicate the different grades. I love this kind of detail that makes the set look wonderful in the tin.
The five graphite grades – H, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B – are sensible and functional, and they span the range I use most often. Although most drawing sets include every grade within a range, I usually find that there’s so little difference between, say, a 3B and a 4B that skipping grades is perfectly adequate.
The grades are clearly stamped in black on the silver end caps, which I appreciate for clarity and ease of identification. My only complaint about this clean, unfussy appearance is that I wish the grade were stamped on each of the four sides so that the pencil wouldn’t have to be turned to identify the grade.
On the colored pencil set, the (overblown) color names are printed in glossy black on matte black. To match that lovely (though difficult to read) design touch, the graphite pencils are stamped with nonsensical descriptions such as “Echo” (4B) and “Respire” (HB). The enclosed brochure (which includes the usual Chatwin legend on the reverse) explains these descriptions this way: “From the rumbling echoes of smooth and dark 6B and 4B. . . to the natural sigh of HB. . . How are your sketches sounding today?” (The color names are silly, but these are downright ridiculous.)
Despite the names, like the colored set, the printing is in the southpaw direction, which delights me because I encounter it so rarely in the pencil world.
Now onto the nitty-gritty – the cores. I compared them grade-for-grade with Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and Staedtler Mars Lumograph, the two drawing pencil lines I’m most familiar with. Moleskine is easily comparable to Hi-Uni in darkness. In feel, however, it’s closer to Staedtler, which is rougher than Hi-Uni at these grades. While sketching with the Moleskine pencils, I also hit gritty spots occasionally. Despite being spoiled by the silky smoothness of Hi-Unis, I didn’t find the feedback of the Moleskines objectionable; in fact, it’s pleasant, especially in a Baron Fig notebook, which I used for these test swatches.
Using grades H through 4B, I made the small test sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, which is much toothier than Baron Fig paper. I tend to prefer a smoother core on toothy paper, but sketchers who appreciate more feedback might prefer Moleskine.
Another surprise was using the square barrel. Hex, round, triangle, even pentagon – I’ve used ‘em all for writing and most for drawing and coloring – but this was my first square-barreled pencil for either writing or drawing. I thought it might be uncomfortable (I’ve held a couple of Moleskine’s older pencils and pens that are shaped like flat carpenter’s pencils, and I found them unwieldy), but the square didn’t faze me at all. In fact, the barrel looks so sleek and distinctive that I wish more pencils came square.
Unlike their colored pencil counterparts, which I deem an overpriced novelty, the Moleskine graphite drawing pencils are a decent, functional set that I will happily use. At $14.95 for five pencils, they are a bit pricier than Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, which is considered high-end for pencils. Wearing the Moleskine name, however, they are priced as expected for those lovely design elements. I think the square barrel alone is worth it.
Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.