Banned Books Week.

The publicity that this gets in the United States these days is getting better every year, but did you know that it is Banned Books Week? And did you know that some serious pencil heroes are frequently on the list of banned authors? We’ll just mention two: Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and In Our Time are all on the list of the top 20th century American novels (even though the last one is really a short story collection). The first three have been challenged or banned in the United States, because characters drink, shoot each other and promiscuously sleep around. While it is certainly one’s prerogative to boycott these works and to forbid one’s children from reading them, it is no one’s right in a country with free speech to ban them for the rest of us, to decide what’s fit or decent for everyone else to read. Perhaps it’s idealistic, overly academic or politcally callous to declare, but banning books in the United State is just a contradiction of the entire idea of freedom of speech.

Picture a world without the novels of John Steinbeck, for instance — another pencil user whose works have been challenged or banned in this country, most notably The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Would we really presume to tell everyone else what they can and cannot read, as if we have the ultimate moral perspective and know what is best for all of our fellow citizens?

True, any connection between these banned authors and the pencils that they used to create their contraversial and, some would say revolutionary, books is tenuous or symbolic at best. But just imagine that the books these writers are most known for were written with ordinary pencils. We all certainly have pencils, as well as paper (or walls) to write on. Combine these with a true freedom of speech, and there’s little to stop us all from writing great novels, poems, essays or short stories. And the more revolutionary, the better.

Pencil degrees.

Several folks have asked us to post something about pencil degrees, especially since those of us in the United States have pencils which have plain numbers to write with, while we have confusing degrees on our art pencils and drafting pencils. We have some terrific articles to link to which explain the various hardnesses and softnesses of pencils extremely well, so we will not try to out-do them, which would probably be impossible.

Here is a great piece from the Pig Pog Creativity Wiki on pencil hardness:

“In the UK, and (I think) most of Europe, pencils are always labelled with one scale – H for Hard, or B for soft, with a number to say how hard or soft. HB is the middle of the range, and by far the most common type. For sketching, though, a softer lead is usually preferred, often 2B or even 4B. For more technical drawing or very light lines, a harder lead works better, like a 2H. The scale goes up to 9 at each end – 9B to 9H, with the extreme ends of the scale being a bit too extreme for most uses.Sometimes, you’ll also find an F pencil – Firm – between the HB and the H (the 1 is missed off).

The US usually follows the UK system for drawing pencils, but for office use commonly refers to HB as #2. “

And Doug Martin has a great article about pencil grades as well, which explains the American system and the strange fractions and decimals we find on this side of the Atlantic:

“At the same time, a number-only system was in use, particulary in the U.S., which is still in use. The table below indicates approximate equivalents between the two systems:#1 — B
#2 — HB
#2½ — F
#3 — H
#4 — 2H

The common #2, or HB grade pencil in the middle of the range, is considered to be the preferred grade for general purpose writing. Harder pencils are most often used for drafting purposes, while softer grades are usually preferred by artists.

American-made pencils can often be found with numerically equivalent designations of 2-1/2, 2-4/8, 2-5/10, and 2.5, representing the same grade, but introduced by different manufacturers to distinguish their products and to avoid patent lawsuits.

It should be noted that no ‘official’ standard for pencil grades has ever been adopted, and the designations are still somewhat arbitrary and not always consistent from one manufacturer to the next.”

While it can be confusing — and even frustrating — when pencil manufacturers cannot find some single standard, even within their own product lines, it does allow for wonderous variety. I personally have an army of HB pencils that vary from ink-dark for creative writing to relatively light-marking pencils for writing in books. With nineteen (or more) grades to choose from, dozens of manufacturers producings multiple models, it is certainly possible to find a pencil for every use.

Or, at least, we can get pretty close. And looking for the perfect pencil for writing our grocery lists or dissertations on world peace is really part of the fun, anyway, no?

“Stop and Smell What?”

The roses, among other things. Ruby writes about taking the time to enjoy little things that go too often ignored:

“In this fast-paced rat race which we have obligingly enlisted ourselves (hey, some of us even took postgraduate degrees for added ‘speed’), we hardly realize we have gotten hopelessly caught in the constant blur of the panic. It has become part of our lives.”

“Do you remember the smell of a newly sharpened pencil? All that keyboard tapping, those colorful gel and felt-tip sign pens, why use pencils, right? Well, next time you’re at the bookstore, pick up a sharpened pencil and give it a good whiff. Ahh, nostalgia.”

When we think of things that we check out when we slow down, why is it that we tend to think of pencils? Because they are worth the extra time, like French press coffee, or is it something more?

[Image J.G. 2005.]

Draw Daily.

Joyce Cole drew this great pencil and sharpener for an Everyday Matters challenge:

“I love office supplies! Just drop me off at Office Max and I am a happy camper — reams and reams of paper! pencils drafting supplies, envelopes, binders, tags, tacks, glue and markers…..
… many tools just waiting for me to come along and make make something!”

I think a lot of us feel the same way, especially about Office Max. They have a great selection of pencils (usually all three Mirado flavors and sometimes some Grip 2001s). Staples, in our experience, carries some nice Staedtler gear, tucked in with the drafting supplies.

Visit Joyce’s blog, Draw Daily, for some daily food for the soul.

[Image, Draw Daily, used with kind permission.]

Ink Tracks.

Nita in New Hampshire, the author of Ink Tracks, drew one of our favorite sharpeners, the KUM metal wedge, for an Everyday Matters challenge:

I was delaying this challenge until I had time to do my shiny multi-part Saladmaster grating machine, then I saw the pencil sharpener and clips on my desk at work and decided to get it over with!

HB pencil on Aquabee SuperDeluxe paper. I’m resisting adding color!

Visit Nita’s blog for more of her fantastic drawings!

[Image, Ink Tracks, used with kind permission.]

Antique pencil sharpeners.

Fans of Henry Petroski’s The Pencil most likely the remember the chapter on pencil sharpeners and how we can now use tiny metal doo-dads, hand-cranked gadgets and electrical appliances to sharpen our pencils. There is a great page the the Early Office Museum with some excellent photos of antique pencil sharpeners and on the history of the mechanical pencil sharpener:

Antique mechanical pencil sharpeners can be divided into three categories based on the cutting medium or mechanism. Some machines rely on abrasive media such as sandpaper or a steel file. Other machines use a steel milling cutter with multiple raised cutting edges. Yet other machines use from one to a dozen or more blades. A few used two of these methods. For example, the 1900 Challenge pencil sharpener simultaneously used a blade to cut the wood and sandpaper to sharpen the lead.

Be sure to click the links at the top for even more information from this treasure trove of sharpener lore. And the Museum Store even has some vintage sharpeners for sale!

This link was sent to us by Nuno in Estoril, Portugal. View some of Nuno’s pencil photos here. Muito obrigado, Nuno!

[Image, Early Office Museum.]


Talking with a new gent in my department last week, the topic of pencils came up. Turns out that he loved Mirado Black Warriors as a student but hadn’t used them in years. He was taking notes with an Eberhard Faber American Naturals pencil, which is of course no longer produced but is the PaperMate American Natural now. We were talking about the demise of certain beloved pencil models, and I gave him a PaperMate Mirado Black Warrior, shiny and new, from my pencil cup. His reaction was, “What is this thing?” because the PaperMate hearts just ruined his favorite pencil. I saw him a week later and asked if he had sharpened the Black Warrior I had given him yet, and he said he in fact hadn’t. I don’t think he really liked it anymore with the hearts on it.

Woodchuck has a great post at Timberlines about the acquisitions of Newell Rubbermade of several brands of writing instruments and art supplies in recent decades. At first, I was glad that Newell bought some brands from Gillette (who at the time tested on animals) and decided to sell them under Sanford (who does not test on animals). If you’re concerned about animal testing, this must have been good news to you, too.

There have been some nice improvements. The PaperMate Flair has a better tip, and the classic Write Bros. pens are clear, come with grip options and have much better ink and more colors now. Prismacolor has been revamped a bit, and Parker makes gel refills now — not to mention the veritable revolution in the Sharpie line recently.

But there are some downsides that weigh heavily against the positives. Gone are Mongols (at least in the US), the Blackwing 602, and some nice pencil models were relegated to being the budget models sold under the PaperMate brand, like the poor American Natural.

But what I find more pervasively strange than the ups and downs of the Newellization of some of my favorite pencil gear, is just the weirdness of the changes. My beloved Pink Pearl says “PaperMate” on it and is sold with children’s erasers called Foohy. The Mirado pencils I personally love have the same name on them as pens that sell for $0.50 for a pack of ten at some stores, and the PaperMate logo itself has been changed (though I do really like the new lettering). The (formerly) Eberhard Faber Design pencils that I learned to draw with long ago have no cap on them anymore. As my colleague shows, small things like the addition of vertical hearts can cause an aversion to a beloved writing instrument like the Black Warrior.

It just goes to show how we get attached to our tools and that small changes like the addition of hearts or a different name on an eraser can jolt the way we look at them, at times to the point where we look for something different.

The Revolution is not passing judgment on the Newellization of some brands. If nothing else, being acquired by a large company might be good for some products, which might become easier to get. I’ve noticed that I can find Mirado Classic pencils any and every where now, which is not something I could always claim. But we’ll have to see what happens to the quality of the pencils and pencil gear.


Mr. Mark Givens of Mungbeing sent us some great photos that his wife Berit took in the Seattle/Tacoma airport in 2003. The sculptures are amazing in themselves, and I think it’s safe to say that the photos are equally well-done. Please view the full-size images by clicking the thumbnails.

Information about the art exhibits at the Sea-Tac airport can be found on the web, as well as information about rotating exhibits.

Many many thanks to Mark and Berit for sharing their own airwork in the form of photos with us at the Revolution!

[Photos, Mrs. Berit Givens, 2003. Used with kind permission.]

Pencil carvings.

Due to very popular demand, here are some beautiful Japanese pencil carvings from the JAD project. They are produced by Mizuta Tasogare and Kato Jado, and you can view several of these gems via this page (click the links in the text). Some of these pieces were entered into “the 11th ‘Hands Taisho’ contest held anually in winter by Tokyu-Hands” where they won the “Planning Prize.” All of them are simply amazing, and you can still use the pencils to write or draw with!

Thanks to everyone who sent us this link and the myriad others we’ve posted or will post! Keep them coming! :^)

[Images JAD Project.]

Review of California Republic Palomino.

About a month ago, I tried a pencil that I had not seen before and with whose brand I was unfamiliar. It came in a hard plastic box, with five others like it. The paint looked so thick and perfect that I almost didn’t want to open the box. Ever since I did, some other pencils that I used to love seem poor and have fallen by the wayside.

Before I gush more, the technical information:
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Extremely thick, highly pigmented lacquer.
End cap: Matching cap with a gold band perpendicular to the pencil core.
Core: HB (#2) graphite.
Markings: Gold Foil. “California Republic PALOMINO”
Packaging: Half-dozen, hard plastic clear packages.
Origin: Premium quality California Incense Cedar; manufactured in Japan by a highly-respected pencil maker.
Availability: In the US, only through the Pencil World Creativity Store presently.

The first thing that you will notice about the Palomino is the finish. The lacquer is so thick that you can see the multiple layers around the sharpened end where the painted wood and naked wood meet. The color intensity and smoothness equal those of a brand new Mustang. To boot, it’s a durable finish. Rattling around in a wooden pencil box with two metal sharpeners and some German pencils, it shows no marks at all, while some of the other pencils are scratched up from the sharpeners. The paint is thick, buttery and flawless.

Next, you might notice the smell. Yup, that’s premium quality Incense Cedar, the finest grade of the finest pencil wood you are going to find. Period.

Maybe the nicely shaped factory sharpening is not to your liking. Maybe you want a longer or shorter point. Sharpening is a breeze, because premium cedar means the straightest grain, for one thing. But be careful not to melt away your precious pencil! I never sharpen these with anything whose blade I can’t carefully see, lest I sharpen away these treasures.

Writing with this pencil would convert a hard-core pen user. My wife uses gel pens often, and she remarked that the Palomino was as smooth to use as a pen, even a gel pen. The line this pencil produces glides onto the paper like cake icing. Smearing is totally non-existent, but erasing is still easy and complete. While the core is already in a class by itself, the darkness of the line is the real pinnacle of the core, and it matches the intensity of the lacquer. I wrote a note to myself recently with one of these pencils, and I mistook it for ink, from the density of the lines. In fact, the cores are soft enough and dark enough to do some sketching with them, even if you are accustomed to a softer lead than HB. I rarely ever use anything harder than a 4B, but sketching is possible with the HB Palomino. (See Palomino sketches here and here.)

The lack of eraser might discourage some American users, but the perfectly rounded end cap more than makes up for having to carry a separate eraser. And you can easily chew on it, if you are a recent pen convert and new to the Revolution.

The only downside of this pencil was the non-availability of it in the United States.

So we are extremely pleased to herald the opening of the Pencil World Creativity Store! From the people who brought us the Forest Choice pencil, we have the line of California Republic Stationers. I have been wanting to review these fine pencils for a few weeks now, but I could not do it in good conscience without knowing that the good people of the Revolution could get their hands on some of these wonderful instruments. How exceptional the Palomino pencils are is good enough news — that some people still care about making quality pencils.

The equally good news is that the People can purchase the Palominos online, along with other pencils in the California Republic line, such as the extremely choice Golden Bear and artist quality colored pencils. We plan on reviewing the other California Republic products in the future.

And we would be very very happy to hear what folks who try the Palominos think.