Blackwing Volume 811.

The Library Pencil is here! A tribute to libraries, the number of this edition references where in the Dewey decimal system one might find works by Dr. Maya Angelou. From Blackwing:

In a speech delivered at the New York Public Library in 2010, the late Dr. Maya Angelou poetically described the humble library as a “rainbow in the clouds” so that “in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times… at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.”

The color of the pencil is a reference to the iconic green lamps found atop the tables in a lot of old library buildings. I doubt that it is accident that this pencil looks so beautifully when placed atop an old volume of lore (forgotten or otherwise).

We were lucky enough to have Blackwing’s brand manager, Alex, on the Erasable Podcast last night. Andy and I had a great time talking with Alex about this pencil and about all things Blackwing. But this is really a pencil you have to see with your eyes.

I find it difficult to really capture the color of this pencil. The gradient runs from an emerald green near the ferrule to a pale green near the business end. Alex tells us this was accomplished with a wrap. However, only with bright light, close examination, and knowing that it’s already there can I find the seam at all. I thought it was just a few coats of lacquer.

The the gold stamping looks specially crisp on top of this green, and it perfectly matches the ferrule. The pink eraser looks great, but I wonder if yellow wouldn’t bring to mind the lamp after which this pencil is designed a little more. As it is, the pink looks fantastic. The core is the same “Firm” that Comrades can find in the Blackwing 602.

While the color is beautiful and perfectly spring-like, I think the green might be a little too cold/blue to perfectly match a little/banker’s lamp. But I could be totally wrong, and it’s danged close enough at any rate.

The the other way in which this pencil references lamps is that it actually lights up; glows in the dark! Alex told us that this pencil is slathered in phosphorescent paint, and it shows. This glows in the dark much more brightly than any other toy that I remember having as a kid. I had very little trouble getting a picture of the glow with a smartphone in a dark room after “charging” it for a few minutes in sunlight. The gradient of this finish, mixed with extra coats of clear lacquer on top, results in a nice matte finish to the eyes but a somewhat slippery finish to the fingers. It is a little bit of a paradox, but I got used to the light slipperiness as quickly as I got used to the slight grit of Volume 4.

This edition is a clear winner in my book. (See what I did there?) over the last few years, some of the editions in the Volumes series sold out really quickly, while some stuck around for a bit. We’re not sure how many of any individual edition Blackwing ever made. So if you like nice pencils, the color green, the library, and things that glow in the dark, I’d hurry and grab a set of these — before they burn out.

In a dimly-lit room, this pencil glows it bit.

PaperMate Handwriting Pencil.

Over the weekend, I came across some interesting pencils at Staples: the PaperMate Handwriting Pencil. My toddler is completely in love with all shades of purple and pink and otherwise brightly colored pencils, and I picked up a pack.

These are relatively short and fat pencils. They’re designed to comfortably accommodate tiny hands. My daughter immediately stole the fuchsia pencil, and she’s having a grand time drawing with it. My kindergartener will claim one later, and I’m curious to see what effect, if any, it has on the quality of his handwriting.

The erasers match the triangular barrels, and the ferrule and eraser assemblies are very securely clinched on top. The imprint is simple and pretty cute, albeit perhaps a little too far away from the eraser end.

The pencils’ finishes are okay. The paint is laid on a little unevenly but on the thick side. The wood is definitely not cedar, but that’s no surprise these days.

What really surprises me about these pencils is that the core makes a reasonably dark line, but it stays put. Perhaps the most ubiquitous learners’ pencil in the United States, the My First Ticonderoga is another fat pencil with a large eraser designed for small hands. These pencils have a wide and soft graphite core, but they smear all over the place. The writing sample above was made in a Field Notes notebook with the most recent iteration of the Ticonderoga in question. As Comrades can clearly see, the PaperMate Handwriting Pencil has a lead more similar to that found in an adult pencil. I wrote a bit with one of these pencils, and it was a perfectly comfortable and enjoyable experience.

The pack comes with a bright orange sharpener designed for the pencils’ diameter. The blade is made in Germany by Eisen, a name we find on some quality sharpeners.

I used as pencil enough to dull the point so that I could tryout this little sharpener. While the transition from the pre-sharpened triangular cone of wood to the round cone produced with his blade sharpener is a little strange at first, the sharpener did a more than serviceable job. The resulting point strongly resembles the angle of the original factory point.


At $3 for five pencils and a sharpener, I think the set is a reasonable deal. It’s too early to tell whether or not these are going to help my kids improve their handwriting, but any bright new pencils that come into our home are always welcomed by my kiddos. If you have children or otherwise enjoy a fat pencil yourself, you can’t go too wrong for less than the cost of a fancy coffee drink.

Blackwing Natural: Extra Firm and Kinda Naked.

A few weeks ago, a new pencil from Blackwing was leaked on social media. Shortly thereafter, Blackwing released their first permanent collection pencil in nearly six years: The Blackwing Natural.

Listeners of the Erasable Podcast might recognize some requests that we made repeatedly. The core is extra firm. The barrel is natural cedar. While I wished for a silver ferrule and pink eraser, this gold ferrule and gray eraser look fantastic next to the wood grain and the gold stamping. I’m not disappointed at all.

The barrel of the pencil is covered in some sort of thin varnish or lacquer. It’s matte, grippy, and lovely. The core is fantastic. It’s plenty dark for me, reminding me of the original Palomino that seems to be no more.

There was considerable delay in getting these shipped, but with them being a permanent part of the collection, that’s totally fine with me. A few of mine had quality control issues. Four or five of them have ferrules not attached very well, and one had a big chip in the wood. But I am not under any illusion that this dozen of pencils is going to be mine for long anyway. Once my kids and spouse see these, I’m going to have to order myself another box.

Thanks to Blackwing, for listening to your customers who have been wanting a pencil more or less exactly like this! Personally, I’m glad they have added the extra firm core to the lineup and that they have added a natural option. Natural pencils got me into these graphite beauties in the first place.

I’m holding myself back from buying many gross of these pencils. For now.

Blackwing Volume 4.

Blackwing Volume 4 is here, and it is the Mars pencil. While the soft core will leave some folks wanting, I’m delighted by the latest offering from Palomino.

Clad in a matte rust orange, Volume 4 sports the usual hexagonal cross-section. Embedded in the finish are little pieces of sand. On first using these, right before we recorded the latest episode of Erasable, I was not a fan of the sand. However, after using this pencil more, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle texture. The grit is more of an extra feature of the design than it is something Comrades will actually notice very much in use.

The imprint is cream-colored, as is the eraser. The hue is very close to a standard Blackwing white eraser, but it is definitely different. I was surprised that subscribers did not get an extra pack of such a non-standard eraser color, which is usually the case. (Gray might be a suitable replacement.)

But what did come extra in subscribers packs is a lovely art print!

The ferrule is marketed as having a bronze finish, but I would call it more of a gray or gunmetal. It’s still lovely, and it blends with the color and design of this pencil to great effect.

Altogether, I find this pencil tops. I don’t usually buy a box in addition to my subscriber pack, but I have another pack of these beauties on order. I am a sucker for the soft core from the MMX.

Speaking of which, this is only the third time that Blackwing has put their softest core into a pencil from the Volumes series. I’m glad that they are revisiting what seems to be their least popular core, at least among folks who use their pencils for writing. The grip provided by this finish and the smoothness of the graphite core make this pencil a singular pleasure with which to scrawl.

I was not a super fan at first, but this pencil has just shot into my top 5 favorite Blackwing releases so far.

Blackwing Volume 33 1/3.


Monday is the official launch date of Blackwing Volume 33 1/3, the fall release from Palomino. As usual, subscribers get a first taste, and I got to take mine for a spin all weekend. Two of my three favorite Volumes have been autumnal releases, and I’d consider each of the three previous fall efforts to be a success. So how does the latest stack up?

I like that Blackwing has started to match the packing material to the Volumes releases. It’s a nice touch that I appreciate as a subscriber.  As usual, we get the extra pencil in a tube, an item that’s become attractive to collectors since the first Volumes came out in summer 2015, number 725.

What’s more, the last few subscriber extras were basically print-outs on card stock. This time around, subscribers get a bottle of vinyl pellets out of which a record could be made. My record-loving pal asked me, after my package came, if the set comes with a record. Yes! I don’t know what to do with this item, but I think one of my friends who is into vinyl would enjoy it. At any rate, I’m happy to see a unique extra this go-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honestly, I have very little interest in vinyl records. I understand the advantages some folks experience with them, but I’ve grown too accustomed to streaming music wherever I go to go back to physically stored music now. I haven’t always gotten particularly excited about the themes/tributes around the Volumes releases, but I appreciate these as interesting pencils in their own right. The design is big thumbs up.

These pencils are black. The finish is matte and smells like an MMX, and the stamping is black and calls to mind Volume 24. The ferrule and eraser are even black, making this pencil perhaps a perfect mate for the matte black Field Notes Raven’s Wing of the Write Notepads Lenore. How much more black could this pencil get, without dying the wood (and cedar is apparently really difficult to dye)? None more black. 

Near the business end, we find foil-stamped rings that echo the grooves on a record. They could function as a sort of grip-area, though I’m not sure if I’d like them better if they went all of the way up the pencil or if they were just not there. The core is the “balanced” core from the Pearl, Volume 725, and Volume 1. It’s honestly my least favorite of the four cores found in Blackwings, but I enjoy all four. Aside from the MMX (the darkest, my favorite), it’s a very close call between the other three.

The ferrules look a little worse for the wear. All of mine are pretty scratched up, and the “seam” where they are attached shows through in this monochromatic color scheme. Some Comrades might find this bothersome with such expensive pencils.

I have to admit that I was initially a little disappointed by the lack of autumnal hues and getting yet another black pencil from Blackwing. Once I opened my package, I found that the uniform matte black aesthetic is a winner here.  Matte black has served well for over eight years as of this dispatch, and it’s among my very favorite finishes on any pencil (assuming there’s a finish, with unfinished pencils being  my usual favorite). These pencils will definitely get a workout during NaNoWriMo this year, if my kids don’t run off with them all for Halloween first.

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.

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.)

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.)

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!)