Formerly Flaming Stub.

The pencil was flaming before it got so small and became reduced to just its black end. Blackwing 725 with a Campfire edition book.

48 Sharpened Ticonderoga Pencils.

Charlotte’s school says that I am to bring in 48 pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, because they are super high-quality. The current Chinese-made ones are very nice, but I really resist the idea that the brand makes something special in this situation. I am extremely tempted to send her to school with 48 nice pencils, none of which are Ticonderoga, just to be a poophead. 

Either way, of course, she’s going to school with her pencil case loaded with very excellent, hand-picked pencils from Daddy’s stash.

Matchy Olive Boot Perfection.

My pretty old and beaten-up Castell 9000 Perfect Pencil pairs perfectly with this LL Bean boot edition Field Notes book. I’m wearing olive shorts to match, as I head Outside today between the heatwaves into only the usual July In Maryland Misery. 

Do you ever “accidentally” match your pencil and paper to your outfit?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 3: Paper.


(Continued from 2010 and also Part 1: Pencils.)

We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.

There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.

Binding
Spiral bindings  can allow pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field  Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into  your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!

Tooth
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to such glassy paper.

Ruling
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!

Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.

Balance
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.

Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books really are that good.

Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.

Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.

Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.

Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.

What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?

Best Pencils for Field Notes Utility Edition.


I received my subscription pack of Field Notes’ spring release about two weeks ago, the Field Notes Brand Utility Edition. I had been pretty excited about the design from the start, and the books are the colors of the Maryland state flag to boot. The quality control issues were a bit of a let-down when my books came actually torn on the spine, and there were a few spirited exchanges going on over the weekend on social media. Of course, Brian at Field Notes sent me replacement books right away. Seems that the thick paper causes trouble with cutting/trimming. Some blamed the size of this release, the contractor, postage. I think a lot of the books just came out very badly. Field Notes made a bit of a mistake, and they (as they always do) have been making it right where necessary. I’d be happy with their now standard 60# paper myself. It’s wonderful for pencil and still works in a pocket.

With all of the…talk about the quality control of the Utility, I forgot about the paper being so very different from the usually smooth paper Field Notes uses. The paper in Utility is Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White,” and it’s toothy as all get out. With the fall 2012 Traveling Salesman release, it took me until my fifth (of six) notebooks to identify the perfect pencil for that toothy green paper. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in HB was perfect on that Mohawk Via 70#T “Light Green” paper. I suspect that list would be longer now, but those books are gone anyway.

Just as I do not enjoy soft pencils for very smooth paper (think Rhodia), I really do not like soft pencils for toothy paper — crumbly pencils doubly so. Being on a bit of a Blackwing kick lately, I had to put these aside when I set about to write in my new Utility edition books.

Some pencils that worked very poorly were immediately:

All Blackwings
Natarag Deep Dark
General’s Layout
Anything soft

I certainly haven’t tested more than a few dozen pencils, but this is a short list of pencils that have worked extremely well on this paper for me so far:

Viking Element 1
General’s Draughting
General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB
Staedtler Wopex*
Faber-Castell Castell 9008 Steno 2B**
Mitsubishi 9000 HB
Apsara Beauty
America’s Pencil (USA Gold) Natural
Camel Natural HB

When looking at this toothy paper, I thought right away about harder pencils, but this was not ideal. The Castell 9000 in HB writes even more like a nail than it usually does, for instance, and the Mexican Ticonderoga (Target exclusive, 2014, blue) I tried was even worse. There is something successful in the target of a pencil which is smooth but generally leaves something to be desired in the darkness column (Element 1, Wopex, Draughting) and even a few that just seem to perform well on most papers (USA Gold, Cedar Pointe, Camel). Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been enjoying the Viking Element 1 the most, largely because it matches the covers of these lovely books so well.

And, if you’re feeling inky, the Uniball AIR is amazing and does not bleed through this paper.

* (If you make jokes about this evolved pencil, you might try one on this paper. It’s actually the smoothest on this list, and it won’t smear.)
** (I need a source for more of these F-C Steno pencils. Anyone know any?)

Pile of 114 Used Field Notes.

114 Full Field Notes, in no particular order. (Click to enlarge)
114 Full Field Notes, in no particular order. (Click to enlarge)

Prompted by both a thread on the Field Nuts group and a great post on The Finer Point, here are my pocket notebooks from late 2010 to the present, not counting the ones I am still using. Pictured above, 114 Full Field Notes. Below, other branded books, including the number/alphabet books that might be too large/thick to qualify for this category.

Assorted pocket notebooks, fall 2012-present. (Click to enlarge)
Assorted pocket notebooks, fall 2012-present. (Click to enlarge)

I have been meaning to do something like this for a while. But:

1) It feels like bragging.

2) It feels like confessing to a problem.

3) I am lazy.

I have a small stash of empty Field Notes and assorted other pocket notebooks around, but they will soon move to the full pile. I keep them in a Sam Adams box that is literally splitting because I am a creature of habit and have stuffed way more into that space than really fit.

Erasable #15 and Knife Sharpening.

Well, sharpening of pencils, by knives. In case you missed it, we were lucky enough to have David Rees on Erasable last week. In preparation, I had been trying my hand[s] at sharpening pencils with knives. I am getting pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. Excuse the shoddy Instagram shots, but here are some from right around the time of our recording last week.

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Review of General’s Layout Pencil.


[This review comes courtesy of Speculator, from the excellent blog La Vie Graphite. Many thanks to our Comrade in Maine!]

Today’s product review salutes the remarkable Layout pencil, made in the U.S.A. by General’s. Here is a look at a hardworking pencil that defies the traditional grading system, making a pronouncedly bold and dark mark while retaining a sharp point. From the General’s factory in Jersey City, the Layout pencil earns its keep in my arsenal as a sturdy companion in writing and bookbinding.

The Layout of the Land:
Wood casing: Sustained-yield California incense cedar wood.
Shape: Round.
Finish: Gloss black, with white embossed titling.
Titling / Inscription: USA Since 1889 ; GENERAL’S Layout ; Extra Black ; No 555.
Core: Extra Black Graphite, ungraded.
Note: The General’s Layout pencils are untipped (without eraser), pre-sharpened, and made in U.S.A.
Availability: May be purchased singly, blister-packed pairs, or in boxes of a dozen, at art supply stores such as Utrecht Art, Blick Art Materials, Jerry’s Artarama, as examples. (My source is Utrecht Art, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Perhaps due to its dark-marking, shape, and absence of an eraser, the Layout is billed as an “art” pencil. The manufacturer’s description cites the “extra smooth, extra black graphite,” which is “ideal for outlining and sketching,” and “used by animators since the 1930s.” The retailer Utrecht Art Supply cites the “soft and smooth graphite for deep, black lines and easy blending,” and Blick Art Materials’ catalogue advertises how “This versatile pencil is great for art, sketching, and layout work.” For years, I’ve been using the General’s Layout for basic writing — as well as for drawing and bookbinding. The slightly thicker diameter (as well as graphite core) provides for an easy grip. What I’ve always found extraordinary about the Layout is how this very dark-writing, somewhat soft pencil maintains a sharp point through a lot of use. Minimal sharpening is needed, and unlike most drawing pencils, the Layout doesn’t smear. That makes this pencil ideal for Rite-in-the-Rain paper’s waxy-finished water-resistant paper (see above photo). In the photo below, I’ve used the Layout in a journal made by Field Notes. Note how expressively I can make my accents! Imagine writing with a 3B that resists dulling like an H.

An all-purpose pencil for writing, art, and any craft requiring a bold and precise marking instrument, the Layout is a time-honored favorite. The term “layout,” is a vestige from the era of graphic design done-by-hand, with angled drawing boards, tracing vellum, t-squares, and photostat-cameras. The work of a layout artist involved diagramming and sketching out the sequences of advertisements, posters, publications, signs, etc. Well-drawn lines make the difference, in this kind of work. As the pencil’s name recalls the craft of manual graphic arts, the box design does the same with a pleasantly archaic cursive typeface. In the photo below, the General’s Layout finds its place among my bookbinding and paper conservation tools. Just a few sharpening turns, and the Layout joins my lunch break journaling.

For a typical restoration project, it is vital to have a marking pencil that is as bold as it is fine. I have to measure materials as diverse as coarse bookcloth and thin kozo tissue with great care so that all the parts fit precisely together. The photo below shows a before-and-after of a 19th century casebound book’s textblock, with the early stages of case (cover) restoration.

In the next photo (below), the Layout is still sharp enough after marking the replacement fabric to provide bold and easily-followed marks on bristol board (for the new spine) and on smooth Permalife paper (for the new endsheets). The first photo in this pair may remind faithful pencil-users about the ways many of us perpetuate the practice of holding a pencil behind an ear. That’s a uniquely pencil-using and ancient gesture, keeping the writing instrument instantly at the ready. The Layout’s thickness, round contour, and glossy finish make it really hold well behind my ear! There’s plenty to be said for “stick-to-it-iveness.”

There’s also plenty to be said for having the right tools for the job. Here (photo below), the Layout has helped me get the restored spine to the exact size needed, such that I can graft it beneath the original 1880s board cloth. I maintain as many of the original components as possible, so that the book maintains its intrinsic grandeur while also being strong enough for library patrons to leaf through. We archivists like to refer to “preservation and access” as principles to our work.

Layout pencil back in the tool box (or perhaps over my ear), the book is all done and ready for the drying process. Notice the original spine-titling has been adhered to the new spine (of course with acid-free PVA + methylcellulose adhesive I mix myself).

By now, you can guess that I give the General’s Layout pencil the highest marks (indeed, bold, jet-black, and thus paradoxically rigid marks), also recommending you buy a bunch of these — so that a few are left in a tool box, your desk, a pencil case, kitchens, musical instrument cases, etc. The best sharpeners I’ve found for these are the small, handheld steel pointers (I use a Staedtler), which can encompass the Layout’s contour. If you need to erase some of those bold marks, white plastic erasers work best (and are archival, too). Happy Writing! Bonne Ecriture! Think of the upcoming Spring season as a layout for new written ventures. Are your pencils sharpened?

[Text and images, Speculator.  Used with kind permission.]

Interview with Mr. Aaron Draplin, Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes Brand (Part 2).


(Continued from Part 1.)

4) I’ve read about your extensive bullet pencil collection, with considerable jealousy. What attracts you to this type of pencil, and how did you build your collection?

First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.

I’ve kind of given up on erasers of any sort in these little guys, as the kind you’d score from a junk store or estate sale are old, old relics and the erasers are dried way up and dead. Rock hard, usually. So, there’s this certain model that didn’t come with an eraser, and just had a plastic tipped end. I collect these ferociously, with a good 20 or so hoarded away. Now, the classic type with the erasers, shit, I’ve got a couple hundred of those bad boys.

What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.

I’ve built my collection junkin’ across America—scouring the dirtiest of estate sales, garage sales, junk stores, antique malls and the occasional eBay lot. You can score them in the Midwest pretty regularly, across the rustbelt and great plains. Farmers used these things. I guess a lot of them are collector’s items. I could care less. I use the things, and never pay more than eight bucks or so for them.


5) Despite the return of the famous Blackwing, pencils in America seem to be on the decline today. Models are canceled, and most companies have moved their production out of the USA. Can you comment on the current pencil offerings available in the United States in 2011?

I’m no authority on this stuff, so I’ll tread lightly here. I know this much, it’s harder and harder to make an American Made promo pencil. And, with good imprint applications that aren’t stock type crap. I was lucky enough to get a monster order in just before Christmas and man, love these things. Hex pencils, people!


6) The Field Notes pencil is downright gorgeous. With its round shape, lack of paint and green eraser, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into it. Can you tell us a little about the design process and what made you choose its current form?

Like all Field Notes products, we started with the direction that the thing had to be natural at all costs. Finding the source with the green eraser was a happy accident. Plus, the cedar wood just smells so nice. Those things take a beating, just like our memo books! I have a pile of them all beat to shit, still kickin’ after a couple years on the scene. Those pencils WILL NOT disappoint.

7) Are there any upcoming pencil accoutrements from DDC and/or Field Notes to which Comrades might look forward? Pencil clips? Bullet pencils? Brown sharpeners with black Futura print on them?

After an exhaustive search for the perfect pencil sharpener from existing sources, we gave up on that shit and started drawing up plans with a couple Midwestern Tool & Die manufacturers to craft the ultimate hand held sharpener unit. We’re still at the point of initial CAD drawings, blade strength options and ballistic grade metal sourcing. If we can pull these little buggers off, man, they are going to rule. Just you wait. They’ll be something to marvel at. And, get the job done for the ages!

We’ve got some leather stuff coming down the pipe for Field Notes made right here in Portland by our friends at Tanner Goods. Very, very excited about this project. And yes, there’s Futura Bold on these new items. You can take that one to the bank.

MANY MANY thanks to Aaron for helping to spread writing/noting/drawing joy, the world over!

[Images, A.D. Used with permission.]