As I expected I didn’t reach 100 people sketches in 5 days, but I still intend to get to 100 sketches, so I’m plowing on. My hands are still wrecked with neuropathy so today’s sketches are all pencil sketches, all of them using various Blackwings. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to get back to ink and watercolour, but if not I’ll break out my vintage pencils and give them a spin.
My hands have been absolutely dreadful today, and it’s been a real pain to draw. I used a Sanford No-Blot pencil to get at least a few sketches done, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to get a few more done.
The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood is one of my favourite pencils. There are those who hate its burnt caramel smell and have nicknamed it “the stink wood,” but I am not one of them. I love how the Swiss Wood smells like, how it looks like, and especially how it writes like. The pencil is a joy to hold, the tip lasts forever, and it puts down a dark and smooth line that is great for writing and sketching. Its only real downside for me is its price — the Swiss Wood is expensive, and only getting more expensive with time.
So when I saw that Caran d’Ache was creating a Swiss Wood in collaboration with Nespresso, I added it to my Cult Pens basket together with the Nespresso Fixpencil. What can be more cool that the Swiss Wood with a Nespresso theme and some added recycling thrown in? This three pack of pencils was very expensive, but I decided to treat myself.
Boy do I wish I hadn’t.
As with the rest of the Caran d’Ache x Nespresso collaboration, the pencils come in a 100% recycled box. The box is cleverly designed with coffee bean shaped cutouts that show glimpses of the pencils inside, and debossing that shows off the pencils’s shape and coffee beans to highlight what the recycling story in this collaboration is about.
The rest of the “recycling story” is in the pencils’ lead, which is made of 25% coffee grounds. The pencils are made of FSC certified beech wood, which is the same as the normal Swiss Wood. You can find all this information on the back of the box:
Inside the box are three very expensive pencils. They look (and smell) just like the Swiss Wood except for the imprint on the pencil body, and the dipped end-caps.
The end-caps are metallic, and come in golden yellow, light green, and a bronzish red. They aren’t metal end-caps, but simply end-caps dipped in paint, just like the red Swiss Wood end-cap, only in different colours.
The imprint on the pencil is very similar to the original Swiss Wood, with the addition of the Nespresso logo, and the sentence: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”. The imprint is very crisp, and I like the font they chose for it.
Here is where things started to go downhill. The clever and beautifully designed box that holds the pencils chipped into one of them, taking out a chunk. Not great for such an expensive set.
The end-cap is only dipped in paint. For this collaboration, especially considering the price, I expected the end-caps to be made of aluminium from recycled Nespresso pods. As it is, painted end-caps are a disappointment. Here are a bunch of modern and vintage pencils that cost much less and have better end-caps than the Nespresso Swiss Wood:
Here’s a close up of the end-caps. From top to bottom they are: Nespresso Swiss Wood, Tombow Mono 100, Eberhard Faber Colorbrite (vitage), Mitsubishi Hi Uni, General’s Kimberly, Eberhard Faber No Blot (vintage). If they could do it why couldn’t Caran d’Ache?
Here’s the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood next to the original Swiss Wood. They look very much alike, apart from the imprint and the colour of the end cap. However, it’s not what’s outside that makes or breaks the pencil (pun intended) — it’s the core.
The core of the Nespresso Swiss Wood is made of 25% recycled coffee grounds from Nespresso capsules. The Nespresso Fixpencil had a similar recycled coffee ground core and was terrible. Is the core in these pencils as bad?
It’s not that bad, but it isn’t great. The original Swiss Wood has a dark and smooth core that holds a point for a long time. The Nespresso Swiss Wood has a fragile core that is scratchy and lighter than its counterpart. It isn’t unpleasant to use to the point of being unusable, but it feels cheap, it looks cheap, it’s everything but a premium pencil in a world full of excellent premium pencils that cost less. There are actual white streaks in the writing it produces. If I want white streaks in my writing I can pick up a cheap ballpoint. For the price of these pencils I expect a better writing experience than the Swiss Wood, not a worse one.
The Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 collaboration produced some stunning pen designs. So far the pencil part of the collaboration hasn’t gone so well. I’d buy the Nespresso Fixpencil and toss out the lead, but I’d utterly avoid the Nespresso Swiss Wood. You get a worse pencil for a higher price, and the veneer of being good for the planet. Reduce, reuse, recycle are said in that order for a reason. In this case reduce, as I wish I had.
Caran d’Ache’s Fixpencil is their legendary clutch pencil offering. While the classic Fixpencil has a plastic body, the Fixpencil 22 is made of aluminum, giving it both an added weight and a more luxurious finish. The Nespresso Fixpencil 22 is also made of aluminum, hence the 22 in the name, but it’s aluminum body is partially made from a recycled Nespresso capsule, and it comes with a lead that’s partially produced from recycled coffee grounds. Just like the previous Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 pens, this brand collaboration is all about recycling with class.
The box that the Nespresso Fixpencil arrives in is similar to its 849 counterparts: it’s made of 100% recycled cardboard and there’s a Nespresso capsule shaped cutout in the box that shows off the colour and texture of the Fixpencil. Clever embossing and tasteful design and branding make this a superb gift to give to someone who enjoys using pencils (with a caveat that I’ll get to later). The box is the most recycled thing about the product (being 100% recycled), but at least Caran d’Ache is honest and transparent about the quantity of recycled materials inside the fixpencil and lead: 25% of each, respectively. So there is a fair bit of “greenwashing” going on here.
The clever design of the box continues once you open it. It really shows off the beauty of the Fixpencil design and just how vibrant and warm the orange “ochre” colour is. It glows. You can also see the subtle texture the Fixpencil has.
Here is my first, albeit minor, quibble with this product: it’s not ochre. It’s reddish orange. It’s mandarin. It’s anything but the yellowish brown that ochre brings to mind. I have no idea why it was so poorly named.
Caran d’Ache 849s and Fixpencils normally have very little branding on them. The Caran d’Ache brand is tucked discreetly under the clip and generally all that you see is the “Swiss made” with a white border around it just above the clip. The Nespresso collaborations are different in that Caran d’Ache adds an additional imprint to the pen/pencil: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”.
Of course the normal logos are where they usually are, with the addition of the Nespresso logo to the Caran d’Ache logo under the clip.
The Fixpencil is a joy to use because of its form factor, which is just like the 849, and the wonderful finish on the pencil body, which adds subtle texture that makes the Fixpencil fun and easy to hold.
And now we come to the worst part of this collaboration: the pencil lead. The Nespresso Fixpencil doesn’t come with the normal fabulous Caran d’Ache pencil leads. Instead it comes with a pencil lead that has 25% coffee grounds in it and is supposedly a B grade lead. It’s terrible. The lead is scratchy, so light that it writes like an F or even an H grade lead, and hard to erase. After testing in on my standard pencil testing Baron Fig notebook, I threw it out and replaced it with a standard 2B lead from my regular stash. Not recycled, but actually usable.
Here’s a close up where you can see in the word “scratchy” where the lead actually dug into the paper.
The Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil is a joy to use and will make for a fabulous gift once you pair it with a box of good quality B or 2B pencil leads. It’s a beautiful take on an already great product that I just wish also included the normal Caran d’Ache lead lineup.
Today is national pencil day, which is just an excuse to showcase my latest vintage pencil finds from visiting a very old local stationery shop. Oftentimes shops like these still have new old stock of vintage pencils, and in my case I’m usually looking for local Jerusalem Pencils, but I often find other interesting things along the way.
In this case I got a very large haul of Eberhard Faber Mongol #2 pencils, which I think are really good looking in terms of typography and ferrule design. Most of them are unsharpened, which is a bonus treat, although as usual with vintage pencils time has rendered their erasers unusable.
The real find for me were some very old Jerusalem Pencils (based on the logo), in this case coloured pencils (black and red). These are very waxy with relatively little pigment, but I don’t intend to draw with them anyway, and it just tickles me that didn’t translate “sunset” to “שקיעה” (or sunset in Hebrew) but rather chose to transliterate it, to give the pencil a more cosmopolitan feel.
Carpenter pencils are something I rarely find in stationery stores but do sometimes find in flea markets. In this case I lucked on three perfect Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 pencils.
Even rarer for me are these Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red and blue dual pencils. One of them is badly warped and another is slightly warped, but they still have their handsome imprint with an art deco-y font.
These are more modern, as they have the Pan Art imprint, which means that they were likely made after Jerusalem Pencils was forced to rebrand itself after its bankruptcy. They’re charcoal pencils, and it will be interesting to give them a spin. I love the font selection here as there’s a lovely flow to it.
These are the last Jerusalem Pencils of the bunch, Pan Art coloured pencils from the 1000 and the Al Greco 6000 line. These are quite modern but I still haven’t seen them too often so I added them to the pencil pile.
Here’s a pencil that I’m pretty sure was made by Jerusalem Pencils, but there’s no telling it if was under that name or Pan Art. It was sharpened at both ends so you can just make out that it’s an HB pencil, and enough of the imprint is left to know that it was made in Israel and is called Oriole.
And here we enter the realms of the unknown pencil brand, where I just bought pencils for their imprint and style, such as this Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil:
Which was made by the Pai-Tai Industrial Co LTD.
These Student 101 pencils from a Croatian company called TOZ Penkala (thank you to a penaddict slack user for helping me with this):
These L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils that just have the best imprint font and logo:
These Marco 4100 coloured pencils which I bought for the Comic Sans “Superb Writer” imprint, it made me laugh.
And these random pencils all bought for their imprints: Springer, Factis “Eraser Pencil” 3012, and Warm Heart Color Pencils.
Of all of these I’ll probably only be using the Mongols, but I find having the others fun, and I may be able to swap a few of them for some other vintage pencils that I can enjoy.
Happy national pencil day!
If you follow any makers on YouTube you probably saw this ugly yet somehow charming little mechanical pencil in action. The Paper Mate SharpWriter is a strange beast, full of surprises. It’s a mechanical pencil with a twist mechanism in the tip instead of a click mechanism under the cap, it actually has a serviceable eraser, and it’s non-refillable. It’s as if Paper Mate saw the “Think Different” ad and said, “yes, but how can we apply that to a mechanical pencil?”
First of all, you can buy the Paper Mate SharpWriter in many different widths, as long as they’re all 0.7mm. This has the added value of saving Paper Mate the need to indicate the lead width on the pencil, because there’s only one width to rule them all. I can’t honestly fault them for that. It’s a pencil that’s meant for students and bills itself as having less lead breakage, and so 0.7mm is the way to go.
There are some interesting things going on with the business side of this pencil. First and foremost, that’s where the lead propelling mechanism is, which caught me by surprise. It’s a twist mechanism, and it’s pretty sophisticated as it allows you to easily extend and retract the lead to suit your needs. The second part is the “lead cushioning mechanism” which means that the lead springs up and down as you right, preventing you from breaking it if you exert too much pressure. It works, but I’m not a fan as it makes me feel as if the lead is broken inside and I have to extend it to get rid of the small broken piece and reach the “real” lead left inside. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to it.
The eraser is downright phenomenal, as it actually erases things quite well, and doesn’t tear into the page. The lead itself is a solid HB 0.7mm lead that is smooth and on the slightly darker side of HB.
The Paper Mate SharpWriter isn’t a pretty of fancy mechanical pencil, but it’s comfortable to hold, lightweight, and has a playful colour scheme that recalls a woodcase pencil. And like a woodcase pencil, it’s disposable, which is where my only real beef with this pencil lies. Yes, this is a student pencil, and so it’s likely to get lost or somehow broken (it’s far from flimsy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way), and if the pencil won’t be lost, the leads will, and yet… The last thing the world needs is more plastic waste.
So, do I recommend the Paper Mate SharpWriter? No, and not because there’s anything wrong with the pencil, it’s just that there’s very little justification for a disposable mechanical pencil when there are cheap, good and even great refillable options to be had in the market.
But I do understand the makers who have fallen for this ugly duckling.
I was going to write a blog post reviewing the Viarco 3500, and so I started writing a page of notes in my usual pencil review notebook (the Baron Fig Confidant). Once I started writing I realized two things:
- The Viarco 3500 is a good looking but boring pencil. It’s an HB/No. 2 pencil that’s slightly gritty, slightly dark and soft and not much different than other branded pencils of its kind, like the Ticonderoga or the Palomino Golden Bear.
- I wanted to reflect about the difficulties of drawing.
So here’s my page of notes on the Viarco turned into reflections on the drawing process:
This isn’t a “woe is me” post. It’s a “embrace the suck and take courage” post. Perspective is HARD. But it’s worth learning. And learning again. And learning again. And boy is it worth practicing. Why? Because while nobody is born knowing how to draw in perfect perspective, practically everybody can tell when the perspective is “off”. You can tell yourself that it’s an “aesthetic choice,” however, I do believe that you are cheating yourself out of something when you don’t even try to get the basics down. I know, I tried to do that for literally years. I have good enough hand-eye coordination that I could cheat some people some of the time. Then I tried learning it from books. I drew the boxes, the shaded ball, the room with the door and window, and I told myself that since I copied them so well, I now “knew perspective”. Hah. The minute a teacher sat me down and told me to draw the corner of a room, a still life of some boxes and a vase, and an old shoe the truth was all too apparent. I didn’t grok the principles behind those boxes and skylines and spheres and so I couldn’t extrapolate from them to the real world. I now have 11 plus years of knowing groking those principles and I still tell you that it’s hard.
You can cheat, and I did and sometime do cheat, the eye with colour and crosshatching, but it doesn’t take an art critic to point out that something is “off” in the drawing. The same goes for poor composition choices, muddy pigment mixtures, colours that unintentionally clash and cause unease. These are all very technical skills that require a good amount of studying and a great amount of practice to master. It doesn’t help that most of them are difficult to learn from books and tutorials and are still best taught in a live art class. It’s also frustrating that you usually work and work and work with little or no progress for some time and then suddenly your hand and eye and mind click and you jump forward a level or two. It’s so easy to give up before that. I have several times in the past. Then I found a new teacher and I got back to the grind.
Why do it? You don’t have to. Instagram and Facebook likes are independent of your drawing skills, and more related to tags, followers and how colourful and eye catching your work is. If you’re doing it for that, then there’s no point in doing it. But mastering the basics allows you to advance all your drawing skills at once, with great leaps and bounds. Every breakthrough I had with the basics allowed me to draw better, faster, with more confidence and to tackle subjects and locations that I otherwise would have avoided.
So, the Viarco 3500… It’s a good looking pencil to have around. Perspective, colour theory and composition? If you have any interest in drawing I highly recommend investing in mastering them.
So a few years back I was at the main branch of a local art supply change while they were getting rid of a large amount of inventory by slashing down its prices. I was there to stock up on art supplies, and most of the sale inventory consisted of poorly made knock-off pens and no-name novelty print pencils, so I skipped the sale baskets and made a beeline for the tills. As I was standing in line my eye caught a small basket in the corner of the nearest sale table. It looked like it was full of Faber-Castell 9000 pencils offered at a 10th of the price of a Faber-Castell 9000. I left the line and went to investigate.
Now my go to pencil for sketching is the Faber-Castell 9000, and although they are excellent pencils, they are not cheap, and I use to go through quite a lot of them. Here I was offered a pencil that looked like a Faber-Castell 9000, was made by Faber-Castell, at a “practically free” price. I couldn’t test them, as they were all unsharpened, but I dug in and grabbed a few of the weird assortment of harnessed on offer: 2B, HB and 4H.
They were Faber-Castell Regent 1250 pencils made in Brazil, and what little I could find about them was people saying that they don’t compare to 9000s. I of course planned to add them into my rotation, which is why I almost immediately lost them. This happens quite often with pencils in my house, since my cat loves to steal them and play with them, so I usually hide the good ones and let him play with ones that I care less about. The result is that when it comes time to looking for a certain pencil I only have a vague idea about the various areas it can be in.
Now that I’ve found them, to the review:
The Faber-Castell Regent 1250 are Brazilian made pencils that look like twins of the Faber-Castell 9000, minus the grey band on the tip. They don’t seem to be widely available outside Brazil, which is both frustrating and understandable. The Regent 1250 poses a risk to the 9000 sales: it’s a much cheaper counterpart that offers graphite performance that’s on par with the 9000. Artists aren’t usually swimming in money, and if FC made the 1250 widely available my guess is that their 9000 sales would take a significant hit.
The Regent 1250’s body is where is where it falls short of the 9000, though I sincerely believe that not enough to justify the reviews that it has gotten so far. The 1250 is cheap and offered in Brazil because it’s made of abundant cheap Brazilian wood. The result is a pencil with a woodcase that doesn’t sharpen as nicely or easily as a 9000, and that has a somewhat rougher finish when it comes to the lacquering.
The wood is not terrible, and it doesn’t chip and break in large chunks. You just have to put a little more elbow grease when sharpening with a sharpener. If you sharpen with a knife you probably won’t feel the difference at all. The lacquer isn’t pretty: you can see pits and bumps in it, though they are not deep enough for you to actually feel them. The wood on the pencil isn’t consistent in its looks or particularly attractive.
These pencils only look premium from a distance. Up close they look battered and bruised. However, these are meant to be artist tools not museum pieces, and what’s most important about them is their graphite. Everything else has to be good enough, and so far it’s been good enough.
I doubt that if I saw two sketches, one made with 9000s and one made with 1250s, that I could tell the two apart. The graphite looks and behaves practically the same, both in drawing and erasing.
It’s so tempting to look down at these pencils as cheap trash, but look what you can create with them:
The graphite is smooth, the pencils hold a point for a long, long time, and they’re a joy to use, especially since I don’t have to feel so precious about them.
If anything I wish I could have purchased a wider range of Regent 1250, but seeing how they work I doubt that FC would ever widely offer them outside Brazil, as they would cannibalize the sales of their 9000.
It’s frustrating knowing that a company has the ability to offer a good product for artists at a non-premium price and chooses not to. I understand the market forces at play, but I still find them annoying. And to all those who had a chance to use a 1250 and looked down on it: don’t judge a pencil by its lacquer.
Since I’ve been working from home I’ve had more time to dig into my stationery and art supply stash and add new things into my rotation. My favourite lead holder is a vintage Eagle Turquoise Prestomatic 3377, which is all metal and a little on the heavy side, but it’s a fabulous sketching tool. If I want to carry something lighter around I fall back to the all time classic Staedtler Mars technico.
I use these lead holders as sketching tools, and so they normally hold B or 2B leads from Staedler, Mitsubishi, or Caran d’Ache. Good quality leads aren’t cheap, so I expect any lead holder I use to protect them sufficiently well, as well as provide a solid grip that works in many drawing angles. Any added bells and whistles, like clips, a lead sharpener or a built in eraser, are just not things that I’ll use, so I don’t take them into account when I decide whether to purchase a lead holder or not.
The Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is not a new lead holder on the market, but it is a new lead holder for me. Something about its price range and design made me think that it’s a lead holder for people who like to write with lead holders, not so much for people who like to sketch with them. Lead holders ordinarily have a very functional, “tool-like” vibe to them, and not a lot of polish. Contrary to that, the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is a sleek and polished thing of beauty.
Having used the Caran d’Ache 849 I was worried that the Fixpencil would have the same slippery texture, with a grip that isn’t up to the task. If I’m drawing with a lead holder, then I’m working fast and loose, and the last thing I want to worry about is the holder flying out of my hands. Unlike other lead holders, the Fixpencil doesn’t have a knurled or striated grip, but rather uses a sandpaper like texture on its grip section instead. As I shift my drawing angle a lot, I find that texture really unpleasant. I also wonder how superficial it is, and whether it will wear down to sleekness after a relatively short time.
The Fixpencil is a thing of beauty, with the same minimal branding as the 849, and the same clip and body design. Apart from the clip, there are no bells and whistles here, but that doesn’t detract from the holder. It comes with a B Caran d’Ache technograph lead, which is excellent.
I watched an live streamed concert from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, and sketched the singer using the Fixpencil and a Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook and it worked well. I would never use it as my main lead holder, as I don’t like the grip, but your milage may vary, especially if you plan to write and not sketch with it.
If you’re just starting your sketching journey I’d recommend the Staedtler Mars technico line, whether vintage or new. They are ugly ducklings, but they are great, relatively cheap workhorses. I’d recommend trying the Fixpencil before you buy it, as you may find its grip section as unpleasant as I found it, or it may be one of your favourite tools.
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.