Things have been tough lately and I haven’t been in the mood to draw anything, write anything, post anything. So I decided to make myself create something, as silly and small as it could turn out to be, just to see if I can draw myself out of the funk.
I dug into my largest art and stationery supply drawer, and picked out three random items: a Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil, a TWSBI Jr Pagoda 0.7 mechanical pencil, and a Pilot Juice Up 0.4 in blue ink. Nothing good could come out of this random draw, I thought to myself, but I’ll draw something anyway:
The Koh-I-Noor Magic pencil comes in many varieties, some of the actually pragmatic. This Magic pencil is just ridiculous. It’s a giant, glittery, neon mess that makes me smile.
The TWSBI Jr Pagoda is a solid mechanical pencil, but in the battle against the Uni-ball Kuru Toga or any kind of drafting pencil it is always going to lose. I enjoyed using this underdog, and I think that design-wise it’s a very good mechanical pencil.
The Pilot Juice Up is excellent, and Pilot should replace all of its Hi-Tec-C pens with this refill (and perhaps even with this design). The refill gives Uni-ball gel refills a run for their money, and the barrel design is both sleek and ergonomic. This is a phenomenal pen that I really need to use more.
This turned out to be a fun exercise in creativity, and it made me smile for a bit. Will I do it again? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
It’s National Pencil Day and I decided to celebrate. Last year I picked up some vintage pencils in a stall in Spitalfields market in London, and they’ve been languishing unloved in their box ever since. The truth is I felt that they were too pretty to sharpen and use, which is both understandable (I mean look at them!) and silly. Pencils are meant to be sharpened, period.
So I broke out the “Corgie” (à Paris) 907 pencils, which are natural pencils coated with a thick layer of lacquer that makes them both shiny and satisfying to hold. The French appear to be more restrained in their choice of imprint fonts, but they go all wild when it comes to the wrappers around the pencils. Behold, creativity let loose:
Here’s the imprint (it’s hard to photograph, as the lacquer gets in the way. There are basically two fonts in use, and a very charming bugle logo. The Corgié à Paris factory was active from 1923 to around 1986 (thanks Brand Name Pencils) and if I’d have to venture a guess I think that these are from the ’60s, but it’s really hard to tell.
The grain on these pencils is fantastic. Just look at that:
Unlike some vintage pencils whose wood has dried out and become brittle with time, the Corgie 907s sharpen like a charm. They’re not very nice smelling (they just smell old), but there’s nothing to complain too much about.
These are No. 0 pencils, which makes them about 2B-4B, depending on the manufacturer. They’re soft and dark, and a joy to draw with, although they don’t hold a tip for very long. The graphite does smudge, but it doesn’t crumble, and there’s a good amount of feedback while using them. Here they are with some Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolour pencils in use:
Go sharpen a pencil, and have some fun drawing or writing a little something for yourself.
Continuing the theme of “vintage pencils are awesome” today I’m using the Eberhard Faber Colorbrite red violet 2154 (which proudly notes that it’s both “woodclinched” and made in the USA). I counted 5 different fonts on this pencil, not including the 2154.
The fonts are my favourite thing on this pencil, although the end cap is elegant too and the colour is really unique and vibrant.
Go have fun with some pencils and listen to the birds for a while. They sing some hope into these dark times.
This isn’t a review. It’s just to say that coloured pencils and vintage drafting coloured pencils in particular can be used to “spice up” your everyday notes. Also, vintage pencils are often stunningly beautiful, especially the Eagle ones.
Look at that beauty! The “dragee” box is also vintage, as are the market credit coins, so much more elegant than today’s cards and digital payments (if more unwieldy).
Here’s a writing sample and a quick update for today:
“Also ideal for marking blue prints” indeed. Who doesn’t need one of those?
After I reviewed the Waterman Phileas I noticed that I have hardly reviewed the writing/drawing tools that I use most. So I making it a point to start to rectify that, at least a little bit.
The Rotring 800 is Rotring’s high end drafting pencil, and it costs significantly more than its popular counterpart, the Rotring 600. It’s also my preferred drafting pencil, and the one pencil that’s a constant in my drawing kit. While I own the Rotring 600, and I agree that it’s a very good drafting pencil, I’ve abandoned it entirely for it’s more big brother, the Rotring 800.
The Rotring 600 and 800 are both full metal (brass) bodied drafting pencils. This means that they were built for drafting (architectural plans) and sketching, not so much for writing. You can use a drafting pencil for writing, but they’re not built for that (that’s what mechanical pencils are for). Drafting pencils are metal bodied with a knurled grip, a lead grade indicator, and a sleeve that both protects the lead and allows you to more easily use it with rulers and templates, and to get a better view of what you’re drawing.
Herein we get to the problem: both the Rotring 600 and the Rotring 800 are almost perfect drafting pencils. Each one has a significant flaw, which means that you have to decide when purchasing what are you willing to live without.
I think that the Rotring 800 is a slightly more good looking drafting pencil than the Rotring 600, and it weighs more than the 800. That’s nice, but that’s not “$20 more” nice. The reason to buy the Rotring 800 is the retractable tip. That’s it. The Rotring 600’s non-retractable, sharp-yet-delicate tip makes carrying it around an issue. It can bend and it can do damage – piercing through case fabric, clothes, and I wouldn’t carry it in my pocket (ouch!).
I carry my Rotring 800 in a Nock Co Sinclair, together with the rest of my sketching kit, and I really needed the retractable tip. For that I had to pay extra, and I also had to give up on a crucial drafting pencil feature that the Rotring 600 has and the Rotring 800 doesn’t have: the lead grade indicator. This is a basic feature of drafting pencils, and I have no idea why Rotring didn’t add it here. It doesn’t bother me too much as I don’t switch lead grades that often, but it’s still a baffling choice on Rotring’s part.
I love the texture on the pen grip and the pen itself: it’s beautiful and functional at the same time. This is a pencil that will not budge from your hands as you’re working with it. Also, the added weight of the retractable mechanism means that it’s perfectly balanced and you need to apply zero pressure on the lead.
The Rotring 800 is a handsome, heavy and expensive drafting pencil. If you’re just getting to know drafting pencils the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is what I’d recommend (it’s cheaper, lighter, has a great design, more tip sizes, and a lead indicator), as it really works as an excellent mechanical pencil as well as a drafting pencil. The Rotring is what I use because it aggravates my RSI least (YMMV),the added weight lets me work faster and yet retain control over my line, and I really needed the retractable tip (I ruined a Rotring 600’s tip). If you’re wondering whether to purchase a Rotring 800 (or 600) I highly recommend testing it out first, especially if you have small hands or have a “non-standard” way of holding a pencil, since you may find its weight uncomfortable.
My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.
The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.
The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.
The navy core, almost black in appearance:
Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.
Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.
The navy tip of the pencil:
The red tip of the pencil:
The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.
I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.
I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.
The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:
The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.
A box of these beauties was languishing together with other art supplies in a stall in London’s Spitalfields market. I saw the box, saw their name, “The ‘Golden Master’ Pencil” and I couldn’t resist.
Just look at this design:
Who doesn’t want “Silken Graphite”? Or “A High Grade Pencil in Hexagon Cedar”? I’ve rarely seen a company take such pride in a pencil, outside of the Japanese market.
British made, from an era where Britain made things — and in London, too!
The pencils aren’t really Golden Master HB, but 2B (a bonus from my point of view). They’re labeled as such on the pencil, and strangely enough as two Bs on the box. I’ve never seen 2B pencils labeled that way. I wonder if they printed six Bs for their 6B pencils. I doubt they’d have room on the box.
In any case, the pencils slide out of the box in a sort of cardboard tray that is pretty robust. It works just like an old Eagle Pencil box, and I wish that more modern pencil makers would use this design.
The pencil itself has a good coating of yellow lacquer that has withstood the test of time, and has “Made in England”, “Golden Master”, “Silken Graphite”, “Pencils LTD.” and the grade stamped on it in gold foil.
The hexagonal shape is sharper, has sharper edges, than more modern pencils do. It doesn’t cut into your hand, but you feel it, and I have a feeling that without the lacquer this pencil wouldn’t be as nice to use.
The pencils come unsharpened in the box, and they’re a standard pencil size. As you can see there’s no eraser and no ferrule, but I don’t mind that. I rarely use pencil erasers, but rather keep a block eraser on my desk, or scribble things out if I’m writing.
I drew a journal comic with this pencil. It’s very smooth and holds a point forever, but it’s not a 2B pencil in terms of darkness. It’s closer to a standard B, but there’s a chance that time has done wonky things to make the graphite lighter. It erases well, and every core in the box that I have is perfectly centred. If you can get your hands on these, I recommend giving them a try. They’re great pencils, and I wish that they were still in production today.
It’s the insane, glow in the dark Blackwing, and I managed to snag a box!
OK, enough with the hype. Plenty of other reviewers have given this limited edition pencil a spin, but my experiences and thoughts about “The Library Pencil” seem to be different enough to warrant a few quick words about the Blackwing 811.
First of all, the pencil is attractive. It’s darker than a banker’s lamp (I have one, so I checked), and the gradient is very well done. This could have looked cheap and tacky but it doesn’t. I would have liked a darker ferrule and I think that the pink eraser is ugly, but even so it’s a pretty attractive pencil.
The lighter part of the gradient disappears for the most part on the first sharpening, so that’s a shame. The coating on the pencil is grippier than the coating on the Blacking 54, 56, 24, 725 and 530 (and lacquered pencils in general), but less grippy and gritty than the coating on the Blacking 4. It has a matte feel.
It’s got a “firm” core, which means it has the Blacking 602. I absolutely hate that Blackwing doesn’t write its firmness on the barrel, or use “standard” hardness ratings, or makes it easy to see what the core grade is on the box or on their site. That’s like buying a fountain pen and not knowing whether you’ll get a fine or a broad. It’s bad enough that manufacturers play fast and loose with pencil grades within the standard 10H-10B range. Having a company invent its own grade and not even have it make sense, and then not even make it visible is a big no-no in my book.
Here’s a sketch of my banker’s lamp (which is a bit wonky after my cat dropped a giant pile of books on it) done with the Blackwing 211. I’d say it’s a B or a 2B, depending on the maker, but in no way is it a pencil that I’d call “firm”. It’s great for quick sketches, but I wouldn’t recommend it for under-drawings.
I found this beast in a dusty corner of my favourite vintage shop in Jaffa. It’s far from pristine, but it’s so overbuilt that it still works. The body is Bakelite and somehow still whole, and even the green shavings receptacle isn’t cracked. I haven’t been able to find anything about the Faber Castell 52/18 (except for an eBay listing that says that it’s rare), but I love the design enough to wish that they were still being made today. Something about that green cutout in the black body just works.