Yellow Rhodia Paper.

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The good folks at Rhodia Drive were kind enough to include me on a list of folks to provide feedback about the yellow Rhodia pad.

Shameful admission: I did not even know it existed.

Early conclusion: This is the nicest yellow paper I have ever written on!
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Despite the reviews on this site for less-than-cheap papers, I actually like legal pads for the yellow paper and the format. Problem is, the paper often has a combination of too much tooth (soft pencils get eaten) and too much dye (lighter pencils don’t show up). As a result, I usually resort to white paper legal pads, even though I’m not sure they are still technically legal pads.

I have used the No. 19 lined pads of white and yellow paper for podcast notes over the last two weeks, to really get a feel. Backtracking: the Cold Horizon from Field Notes was, I think, a lovely notebook. But I hated the paper for pencil. The subtle dye in the pages repelled graphite enough that a quarter of mine are filled with…INK.* I tested the yellow Rhodia pad a lot before concluding anything because I was suspicious that my first impressions could not be true, that this dyed paper performed just like it’s bright-white counterpart.
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But it does. I have never used yellow paper like this, and I will be a repeat user of this book for sure. I’d mention the smoothness of the paper and the solid construction of the Rhodia pads themselves. But, well, we all know this already. I really like the No. 19, coming in at 8.25 X 12.5 inches, with perfectly spaced lines, generous margins and printing on both sides.

My only qualm, and it is minor, is that the orange of the cover clashes with the yellow, chromatically. I understand that this orange is part of the Rhodia identity. But maybe using their black covers would be workable. Or, better yet: white covers with black printing? (Swoon.)

Thanks to Stephanie and Karen for the great notebooks to review, and definitely pick one of these up if you are even a remote fan of yellow paper.

*[Don't tell anyone.]

Review of Staedtler Wopex HB.

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I have been meaning to review the Staedtler Wopex for a long time. But it is a pencil about which I have thought so much that it became a daunting task. For starters, this is not the kind of pencil I expect to like. I usually like something a little darker, and the fake wood angle is not one that attracts me.* The lead feels waxy, but in a tacky – not necessarily smooth – way. And it was, until recently, difficult and/or expensive to build a Stash of them in The Archive. But there’s something about this hard-to-sharpen and heavy pencil that pleases me to no end. On yet another Snowday at HQ, I thought I’d sit down and write about it.
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The Wopex is an extruded pencil made of recycled wood and plastic. This is nothing new. Nor is the finish being part of the extrusion new. But Staedtler has improved on the process, in my opinion. For starters, they released the Wopex during a time of greater ecological consciousness. I was young when Eagle came out with their extruded pencils, but it was certainly not a time of great eco-attention. One of my least favorite things about the older plastic pencils is their flexibility. Not only do the barrels feel like they might snap under my meaty grip; they actually bend when I write with them using anything but the lightest touch. The fact that these older plastic pencils have such light-marking leads that they require significant pressure for legible writing exacerbates their shortcomings, in my experience. The Wopex is dense, heavy and rigid. It is very comfortable to write with.
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I bought a 10-pack from Amazon, at the end of summer 2013, for around $8-$9. These have the same subtle glittery-sparkly finish as the European models which Matthias was kind enough to send me. The feel is very…grippy, but not in the sticky manner of some grippy pens which attract lint and pieces of coffee grounds like Silly Putty. The newer Wopex pencils that I found at Staples this winter are a much brighter green, and the sparkles are gone. They have a nice, tactile sensation to their finish, but it is no more than half as tacky as the few European Wopexen I have or the eraser-tipped version I bought on Amazon a few months ago.
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The lead is extruded with the barrel, and it is a plastic/graphite composite – similar to the leads for mechanical pencils. As I mentioned, it feels tacky and produces a light line. However, as several other bloggers have pointed out, this pencil’s marks stick to the page. They do not smear or transfer (ghost) easily. As such, I find that they make excellent pencils for pocket notebooks, and I keep shorter ones on my person.** I am surprised by how much I like it for Pocket Writing.

These pencils are marketed as eco-friendly because of the material of which they are constituted and because they are supposed to last twice as long as a wooden pencil. I have not found this to be the case. Because their line is a little light, I sharpen them more often. So whatever long-lasting properties the lead might have is rendered moot by its lightness. As the current price of $5 (US) for a dozen and a half, it is certainly an economical pencil. And I do not generally mind needing to sharpen a pencil more often.
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As Matthias points out, the Wopex is tricky to sharpen. There are sharpeners from Staedtler with a small W on the underside that are supposed to be great for the Wopex. The only reason I have found this to be partly true is that the blades are very sharp and are held fast to the sharpener body. Any KUM sharpener with a similarly new blade that I have tried has given me the same results. With care, I can get a nice point with a wedge sharpener, and it is what I often use to sharpen a Wopex. Burr sharpeners do no work as well. I lost a good inch and a half from my first Wopex last year by using a crank sharpener. The Wopex material gives the blades so much resistance that the auto-stop does not work. Using such a sharpener with care and not making the Wopex point into a plastic needle works satisfactorily, if one stops the sharpening process short. A Deli 0668 that Matthias sent me works great, with the point adjustor dialed back from the sharpest setting a bit. Also, I have been improving my knife sharpening skills lately, venturing into blade sharpening on occasion.
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The eraser is white and surprisingly good. It erases better than most of the Pencil-Mounted Erasers I have on hand, and even a few block erasers. To be sure, it’s no match for the Mars plastic eraser. But it does bunch its “dust” together into a tight ball in a similar fashion. It is soft, but stiff, and very securely clamped into the ferrule. I am trying to think of a pencil whose mounted eraser is better than the Wopex’s, and I am drawing a blank (or, at least, with a German 9H).

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What struck me about the new US version, aside from the brighter green, is the ferrule. I am not aware of owning other pencils with this feature. The ferrule is molded to both the eraser and the barrel. It is round where it holds the eraser. And it is actually hexagonal where it meets the barrel of the pencil. The result is an inexplicably pleasant feeling of Completeness. Please, Comrades, do not judge me too harshly for staring at one of these pencils long enough to find the source of this Completion Sensation. The other result of this Ideal Marriage of Ferrule Ends is that the ferrule does its job very well. You ain’t getting this pencil apart without large steel tools, several people or very very strong teeth.
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The Wopex is available in quite a few colors in Europe, and I have considered attempting to collect them myself. I am glad that it is finally available in the US at all, and I hope we get a few more hues. There’s a market for neon pencils, Staedtler! I am a huge fan of these pencils. Send us some colors, and make us Happy.

*But I have recently acquired some eraser-tipped Bic Evolution pencils, after a recommendation by Speculator, and I am enjoying them.

**Perhaps subconsciously, I matched the case for my recently-purchased Android phone to the green of a Wopex, since they often ride in the same pocket.

Vero and Pencils.

"As a young man just out of the Army and attending Mechanical Arts School, the teacher asked for a detailed drawing (of a mechanism) and I felt like doing a self portrait.  I got an 'A' for the class." - Vero

“As a young man just out of the Army and attending Mechanical Arts School, the teacher asked for a detailed drawing (of a mechanism) and I felt like doing a self portrait. I got an ‘A’ for the class.” – Vero

Mr. Vero Ricci wrote to us recently, telling us about rediscovering pencils and asking about a good electric sharpener for use with colored pencils. Alas, I only own one, and I don’t think I’d recommend it. But I had to share this essay on a life in pencil. If you grew up in the 80s, you almost certainly encountered Vero’s designs of such things as coffin candy (which a semi-creepy kid like I was couldn’t get enough of) and burger boxes, which I really enjoyed as well. Below, please find Vero’s essay (and be sure to check out the site devoted to his designs set up by his son Steve here).

Pencils, I guess we can go back to early childhood, say about 4 years old. I’d watch my aunt Gilda sketch while she played cards with my folks. She had a way of making amazing things appear on paper. With my eyes reaching just above the kitchen table, I copied her every move. She taught me how to make a straight line without the aid of a straight edge. This aside, I became attached to pencil and paper. God’s gift of allowing me to draw was evident when we replaced wallpaper in my home. My parents constructed the house in 1938-39. I was then 5 years old. I couldn’t resist the fresh plastered walls that took a year to dry. I sketched a 1939 Dodge automobile in all its splendor with my trusty soft lead pencil, 4 feet above the floor, smack in the middle of the wall. Evidence of this act came when the old wallpaper was stripped off some 50 years later. There it was in all its splendor, for anyone to see, my 1939 Dodge. The most amazing thing to me was the wonderfully accurate detail made by a 5 year old. God’s gift came when I was very young.

This was another idea that was similar to the snappy gator from Topps Chewing gum.

This was another idea that was similar to the snappy gator from Topps Chewing gum.

From that day on I sketched quite a bit, but it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. Baseball, football, basketball and the Cowboys and Indians lead the way. In High School my teacher pulled me aside and taught me to paint with oils. She taught well because I won 1st prize two years straight in the Philadelphia Gimble’s Art Exhibit.

Most of my work was done when it was expected from me. While in the Army they nabbed me and I ended up drawing and painting just about everything imaginable. By profession I became an Industrial Designer. The tools that earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for me were my creative mind, a soft pencil, an eraser, a 3-inch triangle and a white 8 ½ X 11 pad of white bond paper. I prefer, to this day, soft lead. Most of the time I used the No. 2 Dixon Yellow Boy pencil with the endless aid of a rubber eraser. I enjoy simplicity and well-thought-out drawings that possess intelligent use of line.

In recent days I joined an elderly group of artists that holds drawing classes every Friday afternoon. I embarked on the use of colored pencils and have not yet come to terms with it. The points break too often, and sharpening the things breaks the points just as well. I know there are good answers out there and I’ll eventfully find the solution. Great pieces of fine art have been made with colored pencil. So hopefully there is a chance for me to enter the arena. Unfortunately, colored pencils don’t result with the contrast I seek. The black pencils are not dark enough. As a result, I started to use a 6B lead pencil to achieve the desired darkness. Unfortunately, the soft dark lead smears the soft pastel color work.

Boy, do I remember these?! Candy out of a trashcan was pretty fun.

Boy, do I remember these?! Candy out of a trashcan was pretty fun.

My life can be defined by drawing, painting and product design. All being inter-connected into a single 80-year-old human, and distinguishing one from the other is not possible.

Read more about Vero Ricci on the website created by his son here. If those little plastic coffins are a design by Mr. Ricci, then I have eaten my own weight in sugar from one of his creations.

Your Ivory-Topped Pencils — Mr. Selfridge.

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We caught up on some series we’d missed this spring at Pencil Revolution HQ lately, including the first season of Mr. Selfridge, the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge and his London department store. Being a period drama set in the early 1900s, there are pencils and stationery goodness everywhere.
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Episode seven actually features pencils as part of the plot. Frank Edwards (played by Samuel West) breaks his pencil while trying to get a quotation from Mr. Selfridge on a busy morning.

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He goes to the accessories counter and states, “I’d like a set of your ivory-topped pencils please.”

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These pencils come in an ornate box that is, well, probably the envy of most Comrades reading this site.

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Later, Kitty (Amy Beth Hayes) receives a note and suspects Mr. Edwards. “And look. It’s in pencil — maybe even the one[s] I sold him.”

I hope I’ve avoided spoilers. It’s definitely a show worth checking out!

I fear I’m totally copying from Matthias, who writes the pencil-featuring posts that make me jealous of British television. If so, I do apologize. :)

Writing Makes Us Smarter?

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Via Comrade Brian.

Don’t trade in your pencils and paper for a keyboard just yet.

A new study that compared the different brain processes used for writing by hand and typing has found that there are cognitive benefits to putting a pen to paper. These findings give support to the continued teaching of penmanship and handwriting in schools.

Children who don’t learn the skill of handwriting, like generations before them had to, may be missing out on an important developmental process. Compared to using two hands to type out letters on a keyboard, writing with one hand uses more complex brain power.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Figure-Four Deadfall.

The following is some really cool artwork submitted by Jesse Patrick Ferguson. Many thanks to Jesse for reaching out and for allowing us to publish his work on our humble site. (Click images for larger views.)
Fig. Four Deadfall, Ferguson, Feb. 2013. A

“Figure-Four Deadfall is a piece of environmentalist visual art by Jesse Patrick Ferguson, a Canadian poet and musician who also dabbles in the visual arts. It was displayed in the Cape Breton University Art Gallery in February 2013, and it is based on the figure-four deadfall—a type of trap used to catch small animals for food using a baited trigger mechanism. Ferguson has replaced the usual heavy stone/log with a book on humanity’s environmental impact (Fragile Earth, 2006). He has also replaced the usual rough sticks that make up the trigger mechanism with wooden pencils, and he has replaced the food bait with a Canadian one-dollar coin. The symbolism is fairly simple: if a person makes a hasty grab for the money, the trap activates and the “fragile earth” falls in on him/her, literally rapping the thief’s knuckles. The message is that short-term financial gain often results in long-term environmental problems.
Fig. Four Deadfall, Ferguson, Feb. 2013. B
The pencils used are a Papermate Canadiana (not a very good pencil) and two free promotional pencils (fairly decent writers, actually). The pencils are carefully notched to form the figure-four shape, and the erasers help by providing friction on the book and the pedestal.”

(Text and images, JPF. Used with kind permission.)

Hipsters and Pencils.

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I certainly don’t mean to open a Hipster Shooting Gallery, firing at hipsters or other people. Nor — given the fact that hipsters seem to adopt things I like (beards, rye whiskey, bikes, etc.) and the subsequent fact that I probably look like an older and wider hipster — do I necessarily exclude myself from the School of the Hip. Even if I’d rather be counted out.

But I have noticed something that I’m sure many Comrades have noticed. There’s this whole “artisanal” and “craft” and “small-batch” movement going on. There’s no question. But I’ve noticed that pencils are fitting into this in bigger and bigger ways. Pencils are showing up more and more in advertising for products and services aimed at the hip crowd. I read somewhere (I forget where) that a lot of the low-fi stationery trends are “hipsterish” and that brands like Field Notes have been extra successful as a result.* To be sure, the shops that seem to cater to hipsters around my house all have a decent stationery section.

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If paper is cool, certainly no ordinary writing implements will do. No Bics or gel pens. Wood and graphite and the accoutrements/accouterments thereof all the way! Take this ad (above) from a local watering hole in Baltimore. There are myriad examples I will let Comrades find on their own, for enjoyment and/or scoffing and/or edification.

I live in a pretty hip spot, and there are benefits (good coffee shops, stores with stationery) and obnoxiousness (kids telling you about the neighborhood in which you grew up like their discovered it). I’m waiting to hear someone in expensively battered boots wax philosophical about the benefits of using a “simple” pencil’s eraser as a smartphone stylus in our of our hipper coffeeshops.

I’ve been known to employ Blackwing erasers on my non-smart-but-touch-screen-phone. But never in public.

*[I might point out that Field Notes have also been successful because of their level of service.]

Dawn’s Office Supply.

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[Please excuse the bad phone picture.]
Seen while taking a nice three-mile stroll on a lovely day in Baltimore (lower Charles Village/Old Goucher). Dawn’s used to have really interesting window displays. They have either stopped doing this or were between displays today. I’m not sure any person can go in and browse (or if there is browsing to be bad), though I might reach out and see what kinds of pencils they have just for fun.

Lisa Cargile’s Pencil Photography.

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Photographer Lisa Cargile sent us a link to her excellent pencil photography project, and we had to share it with our Comrades. These are excellent photos, and I see some rare pencils and some I’ve never seen before. From Ms. Cargile:
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“I’m a corporate employee by day and a photographer by night ;-) The pencil project is just something that I started last year. It started out to be a ’365 project’ but life happens and I didn’t make it the entire year. Jan 1st I started the pencil project again so I’m posting those on my Facebook page.  Anyways …glad I came across your site.”

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Check out the pencil photo series here, including many more than we’ve posted on this blog.

(Images, text, L.C. Used with kind permission.)

Sanford American Pencils: Found at the Folks’ House.


While looking for pink pipe-cleaners (!!) today at my parents’ house in Baltimore, I happened upon a box of Sanford American pencils, circa 1999, with half of the dozen left. Two were obviously sharpened with some kind of point-stopped electrical sharpener (which I’m not aware that my parents have ever owned), but the other four were just factory sharpened. I was gladly given the box.

While I grew up with an older version in the 1980s, the color of the paint, the plain ferrule and the typography warm me up on a surprisingly chilly Maryland evening. One is behind my ear right now.

Field Notes, at the State Fair.


For my birthday two weeks ago, I was treated to a night at the Maryland State Fair by my family. I couldn’t resist breaking in my last County Fair edition between packs of the Day Game edition, for my Fairly Pocket Notebook. This was a Thursday.

That Sunday, I got caught — sans umbrella — in a long and heavy downpour and was soaked to the skin. Even my hardier cargo shorts were no match for this deluge. There were a few notes in this book in pen, and liquid inks (Flair, Zebra Regal) just made a huge mess, some enough to not be able to make out what I wrote. Everything in pencil (at least 90% of the book) was Okay.

One of my favorite things about the County Fair edition and Field Notes in general is how much better they look when they get worn-in. For instance, the corners and edges of these linen covers lose their floodcoated ink and aged in white, while the covers developed some prominent creases. I was sorely sorry when this was full.

This is also something I have always liked about pencils: they are not [always] neat. I catch myself trying to put an end to GHOSTING and things like that. But, in the end, anything but water/fade-proof ink on waterproof paper (can you combine them?) is going to look beat-up after some time in one’s pocket.

Why not embrace it?

Vintage Sharpener at St. Francis, Baltimore.


Comrade Dan (a very good Comrade of mine) sent some photos of a sharpener at the school he went to, in its present state.

He tells us that this sharpener has been there since he was in school. Mr. Dan and I are…not so young these days; it’s been there for quite some time!

I love the groves worn into the wood from decades of turning the crank.

[Images, D.K., used with kind permission.]

Surveys From H. D. Thoreau.


This is only slightly pencil related, and I thought twice about posting it.  Still:

1) Thoreau made pencils.
2) Some of these surveys still have pencil marks on them.  And who doesn’t enjoy a good chart of a woodlot?
3) Why not?

“The Concord Free Library received some money from AT&T to scan and host actual hand-drawn maps from Thoreau, with his notes in pencil (his own?) and ink, in his very…difficult handwriting.”

(Read more.)

[Image, P.  Used with permission.]

Review of Whitelines Perfect Bound Books.

A month or so ago, we received a package of books from Whitelines (see also the US site), a Swedish company who makes very fine books with a unique feature: WHITE LINES. That’s right. The lines are white, while the paper is a very light grey. Does it make a difference to this pencil user? Read on!

Vitals:
Cover Material: Coated cardstock.
Paper: 80 g acid-free; grey-tinted paper with white lines.
Binding: Sewn.
Size: Assorted; A5 and “pocket” as tested.
Page Count: 48/36 sheets (96/72 pages).
Unique Characteristics: White lines on grey paper.
Origin: Sweden.
Availability: Online, even on Amazon.

We were sent two of the Hard Bound books and two of the Perfect Bound books, one each in black and white. What’s immediately striking about Whitelines books is both the color scheme and the construction. Covers are strong. Corners are rounded precisely (even more than Moleskines and Field Notes, to tell the truth). The bindings are tight. The package containing our four review samples was actually pretty badly damaged by the mail service; the stuffing was everywhere from a large hole, etc. The A5 Hard Bound book suffered minor damage, but the A4 Hard Bound book had two corners badly crushed. I know this was not Whitelines’ fault at all. I mention it because, although the package went through hell, the large book’s binding was completely intact. Intact enough that we’ll do a second review of the Hard Bound Whitelines in the near future, featuring more of the company’s history. These books merit it, for sure.

What I’ll mention in this review of the Perfect Bound books is a little about the concept behind Whitelines.

“Whitelines® is the new generation of writing paper. The concept is patented and yet very simple: Since markings from pens are dark they interfere with the traditional dark lines of ordinary paper. On Whitelines® there is no visual interference between the lines and the pen colour. Whitelines® makes your writing and sketches stand out.” (More.)

The lines also disappear under copymachines, and the paper comes lined or with a graph print. We tried both. The graph spacing is just right, and the lines are also very well-spaced for graphite writing.

I have to admit that I was skeptical of two things. First, I didn’t think that slightly grey paper and white lines would really be easier on my eyes. On the contrary, I assumed that they would be more difficult to see (especially since my daughter broke my unbreakable titanium glasses, and I haven’t had time to go to the eye doctor yet). I was also nervous that graphite (which is grey-to-black) would not show up on grey paper very well.

I was wrong on both counts. The lines are not difficult at all to see, and the paper just seems, for lack of a better word, mellow. Rather than shining up at you, begging you to write on it, it’s just grey and relaxed. And, while I was afraid that graphite marks would be more difficult to see, the opposite was somehow true. I checked with my wife, and we both agreed that writing stood out at least as well as on white unlined paper – perhaps more. (If more, don’t ask me how that works. My degrees are in philosophy, not physics or physiology.) In my own experience, the claims of the benefits of Whitelines’ paper prove wonderfully true.

But how does the paper handle graphite? Ghosting is not perfect, but it’s on the better side of standard, that is, very good. Graphite ghosts less than Field Notes (way less than Moleskines) and us up there with much thicker paper like EcoJot‘s recycled paper. To be clear, I’ve never found anything (even cardstock) that doesn’t ghost at least a little with some of my favorite softer pencils. The texture of the paper is similar to a Field Notes book, which is to say smooth, but with a nice tooth. Writing in a Whitelines book is as easy on one’s hands as on the eyes. Aside from Whitelines’ own special features, where this paper really shines is its smearability, which is on par with Rhodia paper – paper that lots of us know is very very smear-proof. It took some very soft leads and hard rubbing to product any smearing at all. In short, Whitelines books have nice paper that resists ghosting and smearing much better than most papers, with gentle white lines and grey paper to boot. You can’t lose.

Add to this the tight and durable binding of the Perfect Bound book (which spent no less than two weeks in my backpack) and the thoughtful sizing, and you’ve got a very nice book. The A5 we tested fits well for meeting and reading notes; that’s what I used it for during the test period. The “pocket” size is similar to a Moleskine or Field Notes, only thicker. The pocket version is no less durable than the A5 version. As we promised Whitelines, I beat them up quite a bit. And they survived, looking pretty new, too. And stylish.

In our up-coming review of the Hard Bound books, we’ll talk about Whitelines’ environmental commitment also. Stay tuned.

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