Relativity and pencil lead.

“Scientists at The University of Manchester have discovered a new way to test Einstein’s theory of relativity using the ‘lead’ of a pencil…Until now it was only possible to test the theory by building expensive machinery or by studying stars in distant galaxies, but a team of British, Russian and Dutch scientists has now proven it can be done in the lab using an ultra-thin material called Graphene.

The group, led by Professor Andre Geim of the School of Physics and Astronomy, discovered the one atom thick material last year. Graphene is created by extracting one atom thick slivers of graphite via a process similar to that of tracing with a pencil.”

Read on.

(Thanks to my very good friend Bowman for the link!)

Cyber Lizard.

Cyber Lizard, a very very brave Comrade of the Revolution is writing a novel this month entirely by pencil!

“I am insane. Really. I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I am writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And as crazy as this seems, that’s not what makes me insane. It’s the fact that I’m writing this novel by hand, in pencil. My Moleskine notebook is filled with almost 10,000 pencil-written words. Needless to say, this gives me ample opportunity to try out different pencils. I have bought several of the pencils reviewed here and used them to some extent. Here is what I have discovered.

Dixon-Ticonderoga Tri-Write HB: I found this to be a pretty good general purpose pencil. Not dark enough for me, but I like it for sketching.

Mirado Black Warrior HB: The crispness of the line was great. For some reason, I set this one aside and haven’t actually used it for my writing. I need to pick this back up and give it a go.

Dixon Tri-Conderoga HB: I love the feel of this pencil in my hand. Its finish is amazing. I really wanted this to be my favorite. Unfortunately, it was not quite dark enough for my tastes and it required more frequent sharpening to maintain a good point.

Faber-Castell GRIP 2001 2B: This one was my favorite for several days. It kept a point well and was fairly dark. I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Tri-Conderoga, but my hand held up well for long writing sessions with it.

California Republic Palomino HB: Currently my favorite pencil. I love its terrificly dark line, and it keeps a point very well. I can usually get about a half a page written before I feel the need to sharpen.

My biggest issue right now is that I need a good eraser. My two favorites, the Palomino and the GRIP don’t have erasers. I’ve been keeping an unsharpened Tri-Conderoga out when I write for the eraser, but I’d like something more compact. Any suggestions?

Now I need to go catch up on my word count since I’ve wasted my precious time writing for Pencil Revolution instead of my novel ;-)”

[Image and text, Cyber Lizard. Used with kind permission.]

George Hart.

As a sculptor of constructive geometric forms, my work deals with patterns and relationships derived from classical ideals of balance and symmetry. Mathematical yet organic, these abstract forms invite the viewer to partake of the geometric aesthetic. I use a variety of media, including paper, wood, plastic, metal, and assemblages of common household objects.”

72 Pencils is a geometric construction of 72 pencils, assembled into a work of art. Restricted to a signed limited edition of twenty-five, each shares a common form, yet each is unique. The form is an arrangement of four intersecting hexagonal tubes that penetrate each other in a fascinating three-dimensional lattice. Each of the twenty-five sculptures in the edition will be constructed with a different type of pencil, so each is a one-of-a-kind object.”

(Read on.)

Many thanks to Rich for the link! Check out his great photos here.

[Image, George Hart.]

Humdog on Native pencils.

For a long time I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in Central California. It’s damp up there, cold, and gray most of the year. My house was heated by a environmentally-correct woodstove. In the mountains, because of the weather, after a while, you get a little book-ish. Down the highway about 10 miles or so, in the city of Santa Cruz, well, there was an art supply store called Palace Arts. This store carried Blackfeet Indian Pencils. Now I grant you that I have always been a pencil freak. It’s just now, with your wonderful site, I can come out of the closet about it. I have always loved pencils. Some of my favorites have been, over time, the Venus Goddess, the old yellow Mongol #1, Black Warrior #1, and the Tombow Mono B. The Blackwing, of course, cannot be mentioned in the same sentence with any other pencil. It is the high chieftain of all pencils. Somewhere, however, between the Blackwing and the Tombow Mono B, there is a place for the Blackfeet Indian #2. A person who understood me really well once gave me a gross of Mongol #1 pencils for Christmas one year. I was happy for months.

The Blackfeet Indian is almost impossible to buy now, but I remember a time when I could go to Palace Arts in Santa Cruz and buy them by the dozen. They are beautiful: simple hardwood, lots of grain, very simply varnished. The eraser worked like a Pink Pearl, and although you could get them with a gold ferrule, my favorite version is the one with the black ferrule. It looked so minimally beautiful, matching the simple black print on the pencil body. The gold ferrule, to my eye, was a little too flashy, a little too Hollywood. I loved the black. The lead was magnificent. It was never gritty. The line was an impressive black. It did not smear. It held a point pretty well, and what’s even more impressive, I never had a Blackfeet Indian pencil turn into one of those nightmare pencils that break when you sharpen them, and the lead never fell out of the wood after sharpening, either. The lead in these pencils also would last. I bear down when I write and I can use up a Faber Castell Grip 2001 in a couple days. Not so with the Blackfeet Indian pencil. The weight of this pencil was also wonderful, not too heavy, not too light. Some newer pencils, well it feels like the wood is really dried out to the point of where the pencil lends no weight to the writing job. You have to bear down to get a line, some. The Blackfeet, well, it is equal to the task of writing.

I am an internet ranter. When it became clear to me that it was going to be hard to get more Blackfeet pencils through stores, I began to beg them from my pals on the net. A dear friend in Minnesota found that she had a whole box of them, and she sent them to me. She doesn’t use pencils. I have given single pencils from my stash as special gifts to dear friends. Some of them upon receiving these pencils, look at me a little strangely. But I always smile at them and say: there is a poem, or a story, or a drawing, in that pencil, waiting to come out for you. Then the odd look melts into a grin, usually. I only have about a half dozen of these pencils left. I have been looking for suitable substitutes. Consequently I have an embarrassing number of pencils in my house, of which only the General Cedar #2 and the Pacific Music Papers “Magic Writer” come anywhere near the Blackfeet Indian Pencil. The General #2 is a little gritty for my taste, although the aesthetics of the pencil itself are magnificent. The “Magic Writer” has a good lead, except it wears down too fast. Ideally, my pencil would LOOK like the General Cedar, and behave like the Tombow Mono B or 2B. Right now I am writing with a Staedtler 4B lead in a red Koh-i-Noor Lead holder. It’s a little thick for me, but at least the line is black. I bought some TriConderoga pencils, and while I like those, I am not in love.

Based on what I read on your site, I bought some Palominos and some Forest Choice. I am hoping that one of these will be my new Blackfeet Indian Pencil.

What I want to know is this: why is it that when people make something that actually works, like the Blackwing and the Blackfeet pencil, that automatically it just goes away? For example: for a while, I could get the Noris ErgoSoft HB at Office Depot. Now this pencil is both elegant and functional. It doesn’t sharpen away into a nub in two days. The pencil is also beautiful to behold – it has a real Art Deco paint job. Everything works on this pencil, and it’s 3 bucks a half dozen — Okay, so a little expensive. But Office Depot won’t carry this pencil anymore. Nope. You want to buy a pencil at Office Depot you have to settle for a school pencil. Now I’m not in love with the Dixon Ticonderoga #2, but I love the #1. I’m willing to deal with the yellow paint for the sake of the lead. Can you find a #1 at Office Depot or Staples? No. At Office Depot or Staples, I can buy all the cheap Pentech atrocities I want. But no Noris, No Ticonderoga #1. For Dixon #1, I have to go to a store across town. For Noris Ergosoft, I have to buy online – General Cedar and Black Warrior #1 I can only get on line, too. To get Mitsubishi or Tombow pencils (and Japanese woodcase pencils are EXCELLENT) I have to drive downtown to Kinokuniya bookstore in Los Angeles. I can get the Faber-Castell GRIP 2001 in stores, but not the excellent Faber-Castell 9000 (and it is, to my way of thinking, a much better pencil).

Sometimes all of this drives me to use a Pentel .9 mechanical pencil, but that does not make my soul happy. I write for a living. I want REAL pencils.

Thank you, I feel better now.

(Many thanks to Humdog for a great contribution!)

[Text, Humdog, used with very kind permission. Image, J.G.]

Kevin Kelly: Why pencils? (ii).

Kevin Kelly famously writes about his favorite pencil, the Derwent 3B:

“A pencil can generate megabytes of text, needs no batteries, and has no user manual. It is comfortable to hold, it smells good, and it is relaxing to turn around in your hand as you try to think of the right words. Pencils don’t need ink; all they need is a sharpener. They are warm and friendly; they have souls.”

Thanks, Kevin!

[See Why pencils? (i).]

Tri-flowers of Dixon splendor.


Larger circumference was unexpected. Not unpleasant, but adjustment-worthy. Free pencil sharpener, which is good because they don’t fit into my standard one. Their blackness makes me feel dangerous. They’re not as squishy in my hand as I expected.

The real reason to buy these wonderful pencils is that their triangularity creates WICKEDLY BEAUTIFUL SHAVINGS!!

About the picture:
The black flowers are from our beloved Tri-Conderoga.
The yellow flower was created by the Ticonderoga Tri-Write, a triangular pencil with the same diameter as the 1388. The red flower in the back was created by the Ticonderoga Checking pencil (a red lead, hexagonal pencil – the “teacher’s preferred choice” – with, oddly, the same green and yellow ferrule as the others).

Note the smaller and more frequent dips in the ridges of the red flower as the result of the hexagonal shaft. The yellow flower has shallower and more frequent dips than the black, owing to the smaller diameter of the yellow Tri-Write. But most importantly, look at those beautiful shavings!

I want to see some artwork created from these shavings.

[Image and text courtesy of our friend Mark at MungBeing. Used with kind permission.]

Call for reviews, essays, photos, etc.

Those among us of an academic bent are familiar with the C.F.P.s (Call For Papers) we get in our email inboxes almost daily. We’re not that…stuffy here at the Revolution. However, we are issuing our first “Call For ~” in order to integrate the People and to promote sharing among the Comrades of the Revolution. In other words, I — at least — think it’s safe to say that we are no longer a website with readers but are a fledgling community. And I think that having myriad contributors, at least from time to time, is a good thing now.

What are we after? Reviews of pencils you like or don’t like, or erasers, sharpeners, pencil boxes, etc. Essays about pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and other pencil gear. Photos of the same. Drawings with graphite, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, drawings of pencils. If you have a drawing that needs scanning, please contact us via email, and we can arrange to scan it for you and return it to you unharmed via physical mail.

While we are not going to issue any explicit guidelines, we do reserve the right not to publish what we deem offensive or irrelevant. Please don’t send us a list of aphorisms on where pen users can stick their pens. We still love our brothers and sisters of ink, and — though pencils are sharp — they are not weapons. We reserve the right to edit work, and consent is implied in submitting that we can use said work on the site, with all due credit given, of course.

Perhaps not everything submitted will make it onto the site, but we will try to publish all we can. We are not going to be Puritanical in our tastes of art work when we decide what to publish, but bear in mind that people of all ages and backgrounds are members of our community when submitting. But also bear in mind the kindness and openness displayed by the People on every available occasion. We are an accepting and brave People.

Please feel free to bear your pencil soul.

[Please continue to Submission Guidelines in the permalink or comments section.]

Can’t corral that Palomino!

Our good friend Woodchuck writes about the wonderful Palomino, newly available in five (!) different grades — from hard and steely grey to black as coal — and, in so doing, gives a nice history of the Revolution so far, including the efforts of our hard-penciling Comrade, Frank C. (who reviewed the GRIP 2001 a few weeks ago):

“I have visions of Frank [C.] at a desk surrounded by hundreds of different pencils, a hand sharpener, pencil shavings and a Moleskine scribbling and sketching away.” (Read on.)

If you love your Palominos but wished for a slightly harder grade for drafting or scientific record-keeping or a softer one for sketching and deep shading, your pencil prayers have been answered, with vigor! Comrades of the Revolution can purchase the graded Palominos in packs of six, with one each of 2H, H, B and 2B and two of the deliciously silky HB at the Pencil World Creativity Store. And if you still haven’t tried the Palominos, we can’t recommend them enough to anyone who appreciates pencils of a supreme quality or anyone looking to be converted to pencils.

Myriad thanks to Woodchuck for making these gems available to Comrades of the Revolution and to everyone who’s helped to spread the word (and lead) about three free-spirited orange friends!

[Images, Woodchuck. Used with kind permission.]

Short one with the Count.


In an article from 2003 entitled “No more pencils in high-tech world? Think again,” John Schmid of the International Herald Tribune writes about our favorite tool:

“The world’s oldest word-processing and graphics system has no memory and no spell checker. It needs constant maintenance and cannot be upgraded; it could not be more analog and less compatible.

And folks keep using it.

For over four centuries, the classic wooden pencil has defied obsolescence — a feat that generations of laptops and palm devices cannot match. Even in the aftermath of the great technology bust, worldwide output of basic black-lead pencils has continued to grow and now reaches an estimated 15 billion a year.

‘Twenty years ago, I really worried about what will happen with the wood-cased pencil,’ said Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, the chief executive of Faber-Castell, the world’s biggest and oldest maker of pencils.

‘Yet I still believe in handheld writing,” said the count, the scion of an aristocratic family that has run the closely held Bavarian company since 1761. “If I had listened to my advisers 20 years ago, who talked back then about computer-aided writing and whatever else, I would be bankrupt’….

….In terms of raw numbers, the pencil is mightier than the PC, whose estimated 140 million in sales last year is dwarfed by pencils’ billion. Production of black-lead pencils across Europe rose 12 percent in 2001 from 2000, according to the most recent figures from the European Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. In developing countries, demand has grown even faster, Meller said.

And in the $220 million United States market for black-lead pencils, sales have held steady or risen, according to the A.C. Nielsen agency. A torrent of cheap, unbranded Chinese imports, which have tripled since 1996 to $30 million last year, led to anti-dumping duties against Chinese companies starting in the mid-’90s.”

It is a very well-written article which is definitely worth reading, especially considering that the Faber-Castell 9000 turns 100 years old this year — an even which will surely not go unnoticed at Pencil Revolution. We’re at work on a story about this centenary milestone for the near future! Read the rest of the article at the IHT archive.

[Image, Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, CEO of Faber-Castell, copyright, F-C.]

Review of Translations Pencils.

We are very happy to present a review of Translations pencils from our friend Alcarwen, author of That Shadow My Likeness (which you’ll remember from her great blog last week).

Technical information:
Material: Tightly wrapped Japanese newsprint.
Shape: Round, relatively slim.
Finish: Smooth clear-lacquer or epoxy to seal in the newsprint and keep it from unraveling.
Ferrule: None — bare end.
Eraser: None.
Core: HB-ish graphite.
Markings: None except for the Japanese newsprint.
Packaging: Come in a pack of 12. The tubular package is also wrapped in newsprint.
Availability: Qnor.com and SeeJaneWork.com.
Origin: China.

“The best part of Translations Pencils is that they are made from recycled newspapers. According to the website from which I purchased them, this is accomplished from wrapping the graphite core so tightly in layers of newsprint that it comes to resemble wood; you can sharpen them in a regular sharpener with no problem whatsoever. If you look closely at the point, you can see the layers wrapped around the graphite. The newsprint itself is from Japan; the pencils are made in China. I purchased mine from Qnor for $2.99 for a set of 12. They came in a tube (also wrapped in recycled newspapers) already sharpened and ready to go.

I had wondered: would the newsprint rub off on your fingers? The pencils themselves are dipped in a clear lacquer to prevent this… unless you are one of those people who write with their fingers really close to the point of the pencil- then, you’re left with black fingers after writing.

I’ve been using them to take notes (and scribble poetry in the margins of all my textbooks and notebooks) for the past two days and have been impressed with the quality of the writing and by how much pressure it takes to break the point on these guys! I’m serious- for whatever reason, when getting a little stressed at the nuances of Ciceronian Rhetoric, I get a little heavy handed with my pencils, causing numerous breaks and pauses to resharpen on poor quality pencils. Not so with the Translations pencils- they’re not poor quality pencils. I had expected, however, that they would be a bit more flimsy, but what they claim is right- the wrapped newspaper is just as hard as a wood pencil would be. Sharpening them is a bit of an adventure- the newsprint comes off in layers as it was wrapped- so I got to see Japanese news stories and adds peeling off my pencil in neat little strips.

Drawbacks- that pesky tendency of the un-lacquered bit to leave a bit of newsprint residue. However, it’s not so much that it’s intensely irritating, but it does rub off- especially when you’ve just sharpened the pencil. Second, they don’t have erasers. This doesn’t bother me so much, but I do realize that some people choose pencil over pen just because of having the eraser.

The good stuff: Recycled newspapers! (Yes, I’m repetitive, but I love the idea!) It writes well, holds up next to its wood counterparts- and well, it’s pretty awesome to think that you’re writing with something that last year was being read by someone in Japan.”

[Originally from TSML, 10.25.05. Text and photos, Alcarwen, used with very kind permission.]