Back to School, Grade 4.


My daughter just skipped third grade (where the list included blue and red pens) and, this week, entered fourth grade, where the requirements concerning pencils were:

1) Pack of sharpened pencils: We picked the Futura from CWPE, with two protected pencils being sharpened (to save the yellow lining of this pencil case).

2) Eraser: I picked out the Matomaru-Kun Long Plastic Eraser because it’s shaped in such a way that it fits into a pencil case very well, while still maintaining a good volume of “rubber” for erasing.

3) Container sharpener: We settled on the Sect Enclosed Pencil Sharpener that Caroline talked about on a recent episode of Erasable. There are two holes: one for a long point and one for a short point.

The tooth fairy brought her this lovely Fluf case (which he bought at MOM’s Organic Market). It holds a lot, but it won’t fit unsharpened Blackwings.

My son started Kindergarten today, but I didn’t get a photo of his cute little pencil box full of fat pencils. I’ll invade the classroom and give it a shot.

(Last year’s post.)

The Lawn, from Write Notepads & Co.

 

Pencil Revolution is 13 years old today, and we celebrate with a look at a Baltimore Summer Treat. Following up the Sakura edition from the spring, we have another quarterly release from Write Notepads & Co. for summer 2018: The Lawn.

And here is something that I particularly enjoy about this release, and the last: they are seasonal releases. While summer is…not my favorite season of the year, all-in-all, it’s my favorite season for Write Notepads books. The Kindred Spirit and Chesapeake both tickled my Steamy Summer in Baltimore Fancy in 2016 and 2017, and the concept of The Lawn more than lives up to the streak of great summer releases from Write Notepads. If you are a Baltimorean (or even a Marylander), you know that summers here are special and that lawns in Baltimore (especially Baltimore city) are often adorned with beach chairs, gnomes, and — of course — flamingos.

In the hand, I love these books. Like last time around, the dimensions of a Write Notepads pocket notebook combined with the saddle-stitched binding result in a larger canvas for a book which Comrades can carry comfortably in your pocket. You get the same amazing paper to which we have become accustomed/by which we are becoming spoiled. This time around, we get Write’s lovely lines, in a fine green. There are no margins this time. While the usable area might be a little larger, I kind of miss them.

The grass blades on the covers are all letterpressed onto the stock. I really like lighter cover stocks for pocket notebooks, and this 70# stock does not disappoint. It’s stiff enough to survive in a pocket, but it keeps the book flexible. It has a certain smoothness that sets it apart from, say, kraft paper. The design of the bellyband is spot-on, though I wish there could have been a sticker of this little picnic blanket included.

Speaking of stickers, one’s lawn is not always pristine. Each three-pack of notebooks comes with a locally-designed sticker sheet featuring objects one might find hiding in/on a Baltimore lawn. The heavy representation of flamingos is perfect. The fact that the cut-outs of the stickers feature blades of grass helps the decals to blend into the covers and is a welcome and very thoughtful feature.

I bought a set for my Mom, a true Baltimore Hon, and she loved them. Show Charm City and summer some love, and get a set while they last.

(These notebooks were purchased with our own money; no one influenced this review.)

Blackwing Volume 10001.


Blackwing begins the fourth year of the Volumes series with Volume 10001, a solute to Tetsuya Miyamoto and the KenKen puzzle. The copy from Blackwing explains it well:

Blackwing 10001 (壱万壱) pays tribute to Miyamoto Sensei’s puzzles and other creative ways of teaching and learning. 10001 is a numeral palindrome in Kanji as well as in Arabic numerals. It is also tied to one of Miyamoto Sensei’s favorite equations. The pencil features a red stained barrel, gold imprint and unique five-sided “Gōkaku pencil” shape. Translated literally from Japanese, Gōkaku means “passed,” as in a problem or exam. It is also a near-homophone for the Japanese word “Gokakukei,” meaning pentagon. Gōkaku pencils are given to every student who graduates from the Miyamoto Mathematics class.

While I enjoy the releases that speak to an interest I already have, these pencils honor a teacher and a puzzle of whom and of which I have never heard. But just as Moleskines introduced me to Bruce Chatwin, the Volumes series has encouraged me to explore a little as a result of the tributes in a few instances. This edition is definitely a case in point. I have always wanted to explore puzzles more, but where does one begin? The KenKen puzzle looks like a good launching point for me. The extra for subscribers is a set of puzzles printed on heavy stock, and the shredded paper is yellow (to echo the printing? Volume 54 had teal packing materials).

The pencils themselves, separate from the them/tribute? Beautiful. A few of the Volumes editions have been….unattractive in my view (Volumes 56 and 205, I’m looking at you). Many are lovely. Some are fantastic, gorgeous, exceptional. This is the latter. I love the combination of the red stain and the high-gloss clear lacquer. My first instinct was to want these to have pink erasers, but I like the black. Pink would have dulled some of the effect of the red stain. The printing is gold and, as usual, crisp. These feature the “firm” core, the same as the Blackwing 602.*

More remarkable is the shape of these pencils. Rather than the usual hexagon from Blackwing, the rare round cross-section, or the not-yet-seen triangular barrel, Blackwing went for a pentagonal pencil. These do not feel especially differently than a hex pencil, but my hand tells me…something is up when I hold one. The other difference with this shape is that the ferrules are aligned with the imprint. So they do not rest with the stamping at the top, making them difficult to photograph.

This is a lovely start to another year of Blackwing Volumes releases. I’m already thinking about picking up another box once my kids find these and dig in.

* And Volumes 211, 56, 344, 205, and 16.2.

F Grade and Smooth.


I find it remarkable that Faber-Castell can make a hard-ish pencil that is at the same time as smooth as a soft pencil. This F grade Castell 9000 is great on Baron Fig paper, with Point Durability and glide to spare. Matthias writes about F grade pencils frequently, and I’ve come to appreciate this semigrade, #2 1/2 or #2.5 (etc. — each manufacturer used to have their own number for it). We made a whole episode about it on Erasable, in case you missed it. What are some other great F grade pencils?

Baron Fig Atomic.


Baron Fig is on another roll full of beautiful new editions. The Computerworld Vanguard books are colorful and perfectly produced, and we talked about them on Episode 96 of Erasable.

The first Baron Fig product I ever used was an Apprentice, the former range of pocket notebooks. I love the dimensions and paper, and I was a little disappointed that the limited edition Vanguards always come in the “flagship” size (near A5). I had all of the Apprentice series, aside from the tri-color set given to visitors to the studio in New York. The Seer is one of the loveliest pocket notebooks I’ve ever filed.

The newest release is Atomic, a return to the old Apprentice books that I loved from three-ish years ago. I read on Facebook from Joey that these were produced before the re-brand (of Apprentice into the Vanguard line, which comes in three sizes). Therefore, the older paper (which I still like) is in these books, but the design looks fresh. The color is perfect. Everything that I loved about the Maker Apprentice is true here. The dotgrid is perfect.

I have mentioned the “off” stitching on Erasable before, but Baron Fig has gotten their manufacturing to the point that the Vanguards come out looking about as perfectly as books can look. Computerworld has perfect stitching, perfect cuts, perfect corners. It’s really impressive. I wonder, if the Atomic is successful, if they might bring back the limited edition Apprentice books. With their new paper and new QC, these would challenge any other brand of pocket notebooks.

(These notebooks were kindly provided to me free from the folks at Baron Fig, but the opinions are my own.)

Pencil Rescue.

Something that pops up fairly often on the Erasable Podcast Facebook group is the idea of rescuing a pencil. Folks find abandoned pencils in school yards, on the ground, on public transportation, and in other people’s houses. I like the idea of taking something that’s been reduced to a stick of wood and returning it back to its intended purpose as a useful object.

With that in mind, I rescued this pencil last night from my favorite restaurant. Our kind server brought a cup of crayons for my kids to color with, as she does almost every week when we go there. This time, there were two beat up old pencils, with no eraser left, in the cup too. I rescued the one pictured above, in return for three new pencils that I left behind.

So far as I can tell, this Mirado is at least 15 years old. It is made in the USA and still smells good. A few years ago, I found some other pencils at my parents house which were branded by Sandford, before the company changed over their wooden pencil branding to PaperMate. The box from those pencils says 1999.

Of course, a few turns in my key chain sharpener, and this old Mirado is ready to resume its service. I love that about pencils; they are always ready to re-enter service, with just a small amount of attention, if not affection.

Do Comrades have stories of pencils rescued?

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: “Mechanical pencils are bullshit.”

For a while, I agreed with him. I’d fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils – and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college’s bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I’ve always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees’s words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one’s going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and – as a bonus – I didn’t need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write – something I spend a lot of time doing – and I didn’t have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren’t wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn’t always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I’ve discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I’ve been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I’m here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren’t bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

Sakura from Write Notepads & Co.

Spring release season continues with Write Notepads & Co. and their latest release: Sakura. Since they have discontinued their membership/subscription plans, I had to order these manually. I’ll admit that I like when these types of things automatically ship, and it eliminates (or, at least, reduces) the anxious question of how many I should order, since two are not automatically shipped. On the other hand, ordering is always fun, too. Chris & Co. split the difference here with the deluxe pack; you save a buck with the purchase of two packs and get a cool treat to boot.

The specs from Write Notepads read:

  • Sold as a set of 3 notebooks
    3.75” x 5.5” saddle stitched notebook with rose gold staples and graph pages
    80# cover stock with tri-tone letterpress details
    48 pages of 70# paper stock, selected to perform best with most writing implements
    Printed graph size: 4mm, printed with vegetable based inks in our trademark blue-green
    100% American made in Baltimore, MD

This release is the third (behind Chesapeake and Walden) to feature a belly band. It’s a Moleskine style, tucked into the first and last covers of the pack, rather than a Field Notes style, which works like a belt. But this release is a first in several ways.

First, the wrapping. This is a resealable bag, rather than shrink-wrap. I tossed mine right away. I have a feeling that the folks are Write Pads are thumbing their noses a bit, with a wink, at hoarders. While these are all sealed, they also are not; they could have always been opened. The easy solution is to just unwrap your damned notebooks when you get them. Always.

Second, the binding. I have read multiple times that folks like the themes/covers of Write Pads books and the paper but not the PUR binding. These are saddle-stitched with rose-gold staples. They open completely flat[ly]. The dimensions keep them from feeling like another notebook brand, though.

Third, the page-count. Instead of the usual 64 pages, here, there are 48. I’m assuming that the thick paper Write Notepads uses would be unwieldy if 64 pages were wrapped around two staples. I don’t mind this. With the flat binding and the graph running to the edges, there’s plenty of space on which to make marks.

Fourth, the covers are letterpressed in three colors. This is no small feat, and they look AMAZING.

So how do these work out? I have held off on reviewing them until I got through a book, and it held up super well. The thinner-than-usual cover stock did not pop off of the two staples, and neither did the center pages pop out. I prefer the lighter cover stocks because they keep the books flexible; the paper Write Notepads uses is a little stiff. I don’t think these need the reinforcement of heavy cover-stock. They carried well in my pocket, and even the baby failed to damage one when she got “stabby” with a heavy bullet pencil.

The paper is printed with a graph, a narrower grid than that featured in Field Notes books. I have used a black and white high contrast image to compare the Sakura to a Field Notes County Fair book.

In practice, the graph is a little narrow for my taste, but it hits just about right if I skip lines. Even better, this graph is printed very lightly, and it’s easy to ignore. Using softer pencils and writing quickly this past weekend, I found myself treating this almost like dot-grid in that I was aware of the lines (they kept my writing from going aslant), but I almost mostly ignored them.

The “extra” in the deluxe set is a letterpressed envelope containing two cherry tree seeds. Not having several years in which to plant and nurture them, I have not tested these out yet. But I know from talking to Chris that they are actually the real deal.

This is easily my favorite spring notebook release this year. You can’t get more spring-like than cherry blossoms, in my book. And I love the extra real estate I get from the wider pages that open flat. I am not going to start hating on the PUR binding, but I really do hope that Write Notepads puts out more staple-bound books in the future, even if they do not switch over entirely.

(These books were not review samples. We are  happy to support our hometown stationer.)

We Who Like Pencils.

[Stephen Watts is back, with another fantastic contribution! Thanks, Stephen, and we hope this is the first of more pieces for Pencil Revolution!]

We Who Like Pencils (or “WWLP,” pronounced “WWLP”) routinely deal with any number of annoyances in the pursuit of our inexplicable obsession. One of my pet peeves has been the scarcity of suitable pencil display options.

There aren’t many choices available unless you’re okay with hiding one end of your pencils in a cup or stand. I prefer my pencils to proudly stand out in the open, reveling in their naked glory for all the world to see. Acrylic holders that horizontally showcase 1-13 pencils worked well for me until my collection outgrew them.

Several years ago, I succumbed to the madness and beyond all reason purchased a $500 lockable jewelry display cabinet. My son Hunter was with me the week it arrived and when, conveniently, my wife was away with Hunter’s twin brother Garrett. The exorbitant shipping charges should have been a clue that the cabinet was so heavy it had to be shipped on a pallet in a moving van. Hunter and I stared, dumbfounded, as we watched the platform on the back of the trailer slowly lower the beast to the ground. Desperate to hide all evidence of the crime, my deputized accomplice and I decided the smartest thing to do was get the cabinet upstairs in the den and mounted on the wall before my wife got back home. 200 pound painful-to-hold lockable jewelry display cabinets, we learned, don’t travel easily up twisting flights of stairs.

Fortunately, through destructive trial and error and before my wife arrived back home, Hunter and I got the Heavy Beast from Hell securely fastened to the wall and populated by a relieved flock of vintage pencils.

Dazed by a celebratory excess of potato chips and Mountain Dew, we forgot about the empty pallet which remained in the front yard awaiting bulk refuse pickup. Our ill-conceived plan to pretend as though nothing happened instantly collapsed when my wife pulled into the driveway and cried out to Garrett “How many pencils did he have to buy for them to be delivered on a PALLET?”

My wife never found out how much I paid for the cabinet or how tiny our tax deduction was when we donated the cabinet to Goodwill a few years later as we downsized into an apartment three states away.

Once again, I needed to find a way to display these little treasures. Typical searches unearthed descriptions of how to construct my own suitable-for-framing display using thick poster board and elastic cord. This utterly ridiculous, labor-intensive solution brings with it the reprehensible requirements of patience and the ability to evenly punch holes in the poster board so one can thread the cord through perfectly-spaced holes while leaving enough slack in the elastic to hold the pencils. Sure, I found images of terrific-looking results. But with intentional deception, the instructions never revealed that such craftsmanship, in real-world scenarios outside the laboratory, is achievable only by skilled lunatics unaware they can more profitably spend their time binge-watching Netflix.

Time and again in my quests I found myself staring admiringly at the readily available but wholly unsuitable golf pencil displays. The ubiquity of these pretentiously perfect products is especially maddening because we know that golfers don’t care about their itty bitty 3.5 inch “pencils,” more accurately referred to by normal people as “stubs,” or we can separate ourselves from them altogether and call the teeny pencils “teencils.” Golfers aren’t displaying their teencils, they’re displaying how many golf courses they visited. The irony here is that golf itself doesn’t even matter. To quote the authoritative July 1979 Sports issue of National Lampoon Magazine, “If you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with a stick, hit things with a stick. But there’s no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on TV.”

After looking at these displays time and again, either I saw one model for the first time or for the first time realized what I could do with one model and it dawned on me the answer to my problem was hiding in plain sight.

If you’re like me, not just uninterested in golf but adamantly opposed to it, you’ll appreciate how I’ve discovered a way to cheat the golf cabal’s clever little system: Yes, available to both golfers and humans alike, there exists a beautiful display case intended to hold 64 embarrassed 3.5 inch teencils that can be repurposed to triumphantly hold one row of 32 anatomically correct pencils. It’s available in a cherry or oak finish and can be found at Great Golf Memories and Amazon. I purchased two, and a full month after putting these displays on my wall I still spend whole days standing in front of them, silently weeping with joy.

Author’s Note: I don’t work for the companies that create or sell these display cases. I just revel in this “hack” and hope that if you go this route, you won’t spoil it for the rest of the WWLP crowd by admitting your true purpose to the golf mafia.

Baron Fig Show & Tell.

 Baron Fig continues their indefatigable series of limited edition releases with their newest Confidant, the Show & Tell:

In collaboration with Dribbble. Designed to give you the space to express your ideas through image and words. Half blank, half ruled.

First, the cover is gorgeous! Like the Blackwing 54, this color seems difficult to capture in a photograph. I’ve seen it range from a very dark blue-violet to lavender. I think an apt description would be be Deep Purple (as opposed to Dark Purple). It’s gorgeous. As soon as a I saw a teaser of the cover, I had to have one. But the attractive cover is only half of the draw of this addition for me.

Some of the Confidants that came out a year ago drew criticism for having interiors that were too weird to be useful. I’m not sure I agree ; I enjoy their experimentation. This edition has an usual format, and that’s half the other half of the draw for me. Trying to kick-start myself into some creative endeavors with little success this winter, this spring-like notebook with a format for someone working on a project involving visuals and text looks like just the thing to get the graphite flowing.

My daughter turns 8 next week, and she is a Serious Creator of graphic novels and cartoons, and I already ordered another of these to accompany the set of Blackwings with some other writing/drawing supplies in store for her. (Their cards are nice, too, and I picked one of them too.)

Go here to read more of our thoughts on the Confidant in general (tl;dr: cuddly book with very graphite-friendly paper).

Grab your Show& Tell while they’re still available, and do some showing and telling of your own.

(This edition was received for free from Baron Fig, but that has not influenced this review. We have bought at least one more so far!)