Father’s and Son’s Top Seven Pencils.

I love the theme of intergenerational pencil discussions. My daughter and I have them on a regular basis, though my son (at just about 19 months old) just yells “Puh!” for now. Luke recently posted a piece by a father and son review team:

“My 17-year-old son has taken an interest in my growing collection of Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602s and he and I share a mild (in our minds, anyway) obsession with finding the ultimate writing wood pencil. After collecting an assortment of recommended pencils for comparison, we sat down and conducted our unscientific test…”

Read more at Pencilism!

Drawing on the Couch.

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(Charlotte, enjoying a Good German Pencil at Carma’s Cafe last week.)

The Little Man went down for his nap early today, while Mama was at a knitting class. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, Miss Charlotte and I sat on the couch with notebooks in our laps and my pencil box between us. I told her she could use whatever she wants. There are no taboo pencils in our house, not ones that can be reached by children.

First, she took a new Staedtler Noris (HB) and colored for a while.

“Look, a pencil from France,” said I, showing her a green Bic Evolution. She took the General’s Kimberly (B) out of my hand and colored with that for a while instead. She drew a picture of me as a “little boy” and a rainbow with a short Blackwing Pearl. She took up a Staedtler Wopex and colored with it until she chipped the point. Then she put it back and picked up a Mono 100 (HB).

“I like this pencil. Can you give me one — from The Archive?”*

“Sure,” I said. “What do you like about it? The color?”

“No,” Charlotte said. “I like the way it’s made.”**

She colored with a Hi-Uni (HB), asking, “What’s this one?”

She took the ultra-smooth General’s Draughting and said, “I’m being quiet.” Was she talking about the Silent Glide of that smooth core?

Soon, it was naptime for her, too. We read Shel Silverstein on the couch that smelled a little like cedar.

*(Her emphasis.)
** (I’m not making this up!)

Hen’s Love for Pencils.

We love Rad and Hungry at Pencil Revolution. Those good folks are continually spreading The Pencil Message and gathering pencils from afar to share with Like Minded Individuals. Plus, Hen sent my daughter a box of really cool pencils last year that Charlotte still uses and talks about. So my ears were already open to Awesomeness when this was posted, and I was, well, moved. Please, Comrades, read Hen’s post about how she got into pencils. It will strike a chord with a lot of Comrades.

Why Pencils: A Penchant for Paper.

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Heather has been reviewing pencils for quite a while now, and I have been thoroughly enjoying her reviews — being a reader of her blog for literally years. A recent post really struck a chord with the Pencil Lover in me:

“For whatever reason, pencils have a charm for me that pens, even fountain pens and inks, just don’t. They seem friendlier, somehow. Homelier. More comfortable. You can always count on them to write. You don’t have to worry about the ink drying up, or about tricky issues like feathering, bleed through, drying times, fading, or waterproofness. You can break them in half and they still write. You can forget about them for a decade or two in the back of your desk drawer and they’ll still write. If you take notes in pencil, you can count on them to last, unless someone burns them or goes after them with an eraser. You can’t always count on that with ink.”

I feel like I should add some sort of commentary in an Academic way to justify this quotation. But Heather’s piece is very well-put, perfectly, already. Check out the rest of the post here.

On Memory, at the Pratt Chat.

Here is a very interesting piece on memory and poetry from Comrade Brian on Pratt Chat:

How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it’s more like a soggy noodle. I’ve always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe’s The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).

But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history—and some may even argue genesis—together, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare’s time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me. (More here.)

Note: The friend who can recite “The Raven” by heart is Yours Truly. I double mastered it when my daughter was small and didn’t like the light on for reading sometimes but still wanted to hear poetry.* But Coleridge by heart — that’s impressive!

I think an interesting feat of Pencil Memory (and I can think of a few Pencil Bloggers who can probably do it; I can’t) would be to recite the Pencil Dynasties from the great German pencil companies!

[*I am also known to spout very loud renditions of Shel Silverstein poems at people named Paul.]

The $425 Dollar Pencil at Big Spender.

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Market Watch has a column called Big Spender, which was about pencils this week. At least one other pencil blogger and I were interviewed, though the piece came out a little short on quotations and details. It was largely about the expensive version of the Perfect Pencil. I am probably one of the few pencil bloggers who does not own one of these beauties, and I probably sound like I hate them in the article, which was my fault for doing an interview early in the morning on only one cup of coffee. Faber-Castell, don’t get me wrong. I would love to own a Perfect Pencil. Hopefully, one day I will. I’ve actually been using a lot of German pencils this summer, and Faber-Castell’s pencils are usually of almost unbelievable quality — and I’m holding the relatively un-luxurious Castell 9000 behind my ear right now (grade B and getting shorter everyday). I should pick up a sub$400 Perfect Pencil soon.

Wired interviewed quite a quorum of pencil bloggers for a piece on pencil sharpeners which will be out soon. We’ll link to it if we can.

Pencil Revolution Turned 8!

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With a few long-term lapses in posting*, it feels odd to outright celebrate 8 years of this here Humble Pencil Blog. We were not posting for at least half of that time, not regularly. But I think this little anniversary bears mentioning, if for nothing else, because a lot has changed in 8 years:

1) Many muchly far-too-big-numbered less American-made pencils.
2) Smartphones.
3) The role and popularity of blogs.
4) Social media, etc.
5) Etc. etc. etc.

I think we’ll celebrate this week with some blasts from the proverbial past.

Today is also Hemingway’s birthday. We celebrated at a wedding last night with mojitos.

*[Notably, summer 2006-2010 when Your Humble Editor was writing a dissertation and “doing” two years of National Service in AmeriCorps.]

Hipsters and Pencils.

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I certainly don’t mean to open a Hipster Shooting Gallery, firing at hipsters or other people. Nor — given the fact that hipsters seem to adopt things I like (beards, rye whiskey, bikes, etc.) and the subsequent fact that I probably look like an older and wider hipster — do I necessarily exclude myself from the School of the Hip. Even if I’d rather be counted out.

But I have noticed something that I’m sure many Comrades have noticed. There’s this whole “artisanal” and “craft” and “small-batch” movement going on. There’s no question. But I’ve noticed that pencils are fitting into this in bigger and bigger ways. Pencils are showing up more and more in advertising for products and services aimed at the hip crowd. I read somewhere (I forget where) that a lot of the low-fi stationery trends are “hipsterish” and that brands like Field Notes have been extra successful as a result.* To be sure, the shops that seem to cater to hipsters around my house all have a decent stationery section.

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If paper is cool, certainly no ordinary writing implements will do. No Bics or gel pens. Wood and graphite and the accoutrements/accouterments thereof all the way! Take this ad (above) from a local watering hole in Baltimore. There are myriad examples I will let Comrades find on their own, for enjoyment and/or scoffing and/or edification.

I live in a pretty hip spot, and there are benefits (good coffee shops, stores with stationery) and obnoxiousness (kids telling you about the neighborhood in which you grew up like their discovered it). I’m waiting to hear someone in expensively battered boots wax philosophical about the benefits of using a “simple” pencil’s eraser as a smartphone stylus in our of our hipper coffeeshops.

I’ve been known to employ Blackwing erasers on my non-smart-but-touch-screen-phone. But never in public.

*[I might point out that Field Notes have also been successful because of their level of service.]

Sitting in the Woods.

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We are happy to share a project by Will Hudson in Illinois (300 or so miles North from original 2005-6 Pencil Revolution HQ in Carbondale). Mr. Hudson sent us a few paragraphs that speak for themselves.

“Sitting in the Woods and Why I Love the Revolution”

The fine folks here at Pencil Revolution have been so kind as to ask me to say a few words about my time sitting in the woods, and pencils.

Sittinginthewoods is an idea I came up with in June 2012 and began in earnest on a trip to Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park around mid-July.  The goal of the project is simple: commit myself to getting back in touch with nature by taking time to go out, sit in the woods, and write about it.  I decided to put together a blog, take some pictures too, and try to be consistent.   At the end of the year, meaning, by the time we circle around again to next July, my hope is that I’ll have something to show for it.  What I would love is to get enough material, and enough support, to be able to raise the funds to print up a batch of “Companion Guides to Sitting in the Woods” through Scout Books.  And then I’d like to give them away.

But what of the pencils?  Honestly, at the outset of the project, I wasn’t thinking about pencils at all.  I had my PaperMate Profile, my moleskine, and I was good to go.  Or so I thought.  This changed almost immediately when, sitting in that old-growth forest with Sugar Maple and Northern Hemlock all around, I realized that this plastic pen with rubber grip was wrong – it felt wrong, it looked wrong, and I knew it just wasn’t going to cut it.
Bottom line, I decided, is that you just can’t spend your time sitting around in the woods, reading Aldo Leopold, and expect to compose a communicable and personal version of a Land Ethic with a bunch of disposable plastic pens.

And so I went in search of pencils.  No plastic, not mechanical, but wooden, finely made pencils.  Thus, I stumbled across the Revolution.  I was amazed to discover this community of pencil lovers. I pored over the blogs, read all the reviews, tried to learn the vernacular, and finally settled on a box of Palomino BlackWing 602s.  My writing life has not been the same since.
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These days, I’ve taken to doing most, if not all, of my writing by hand, in pencil, and I’m enamored by the idea of a handwritten hardcopy of everything that eventually makes it up on the blog.  I’m not a purist, by any means, which is fine because that’s not the point.  The point is in taking the time to do this thing.   SITW is about carving out a niche in my life where I consciously take the time to sit still and listen, to reflect, to write, and to share.  It only seems sensible that pencils would be implicated in all of this.

In a way, the pencil and the paper have become as much a part of this project as the woods and fields themselves.  They require time and are markers of time, either through breezes and seasons, or the wearing down of a point.  Attached to a post in the basement of our old bungalow here outside of Chicago is an ancient Boston KS sharpener.  It’s likely been there for 30 years or more; it was here when we arrived, and it has become significant in a way that I would have never imagined.  It’s a great devourer of pencils, but an unexpected treasure nonetheless.  Similarly, I have discovered that there is always something unexpected that happens when you take the time to sit.  You become more aware of the rhythm of the light, the movement of the leaves, and all the living, breathing things that surround you. Every time I’ve gone out, and life does tend to get in the way of this from time to time, but every time I’ve gone out I’ve discovered something new.
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When it comes down to it, and I think that many Comrades would agree, be it with pencils and journals, or sitting around in the woods, it’s all about attempting to create and sustain a space in your day to day that meaning may adhere to, a space apart from this frenetic and incoherent present of which we’re so accustomed.  We all know that out here in the web there are endless paths to wander and spaces to linger; however, there are no places to sit.   What I hope to accomplish for myself, and what I hope to encourage in others, boils down to finding, or creating, your own space, making your own meanings, and engaging more deeply with the world around you.

That being said, seek out quality pencils, embrace your Comrades, and viva la révolution!

(Text, images W.H. Used with kind permission.)

Thoreau’s Pencils, Notetaking and Harvard.


Interesting news from a location about which I’ve been thinking a great deal lately, especially at this time of year, via Orange Crate Art and Notebook Stories.

Harvard University is hosting an exploration of note-taking called TAKE NOTE. Comrades can view the exhibits online, if you are too far from Cambridge to see them in person. One of the exhibits features the Brazil notebook of one of my very favorite philosophers, William James, and Thoreau’s pencils are also on display. This exhibit and conference are among the myriad reasons I wish I could visit my home (Massachusetts) of two years this autumn.