Write 4th of July.

One of my favorite things about Write Notepads & Co is that they can just drop a small batch of limited editions when inspiration strikes, since everything is actually made by them, in house, in Baltimore. This is not to minimize the work that goes into bringing these editions out. The last “just because” edition was the Keats, and it was a thing of beauty. This edition is no less well-planned or well-executed. I love it.

The latest is the 4th of July edition, dedicated to that day in 1776, when we, ahem, told George that we did not wish to play with him anymore. Or, if you will, when we flipped the British the bird. Being from Baltimore, where we fought off the British at Fort McHenry, feelings run a little…strong. (I’ve become an Anglophile as I hit middle age, and not just for the tea and the good TV, but I don’t advertise this around town.)

From Write:

For this pocket notebook edition, we reprint parts of the 1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence on three notebooks. Each book was then hand sewn with red thread and trimmed and collated by us. Therefore, each book is identical yet slightly different in its unique way 鈥 a kind of perfect imperfection.An interesting fact to note: The second printer commissioned by Congress in 1777, was Mary Katherine Goddard, a publisher and postmaster in Baltimore, MD. Her reprints called the Goddard Broadside was the first to include the names of the signatories. 

What’s really different this time around is the sewn binding. These are put together by hand right here in Charm City, in red thread. The result is gorgeous notebooks, with lovely belly-bands to boot.

Jon and Chris and Co. kept this run to a small 243 packs, and they went fast. Make sure you’re on Write’s mailing list for the next surprise edition. And, remember, their summer release is yet to come. (More images below, with matching Blackwings (Volumes 73 and 16.2 and the TWA collaboration).

[Disclaimer: While I bought these books with my own money (and they were even delayed because they fell out of Chris鈥檚 car on the way to the PO), I have been writing for Write鈥檚 blog and am, in some small capacity, on their payroll. This does not influence my reviews; I鈥檓 not sure that Chris and Jon read this blog. But I thought I鈥檇 put it out there. (See my first two pieces here and here.)]

Blackwing Volume 811.

The Library Pencil is here! A tribute to libraries, the number of this edition references where in the Dewey decimal system one might find works by Dr. Maya Angelou. From Blackwing:

In a speech delivered at the New York Public Library in 2010, the late Dr. Maya Angelou poetically described the humble library as a 鈥渞ainbow in the clouds鈥 so that 鈥渋n the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times鈥 at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.鈥滭/span>

The color of the pencil is a reference to the iconic green lamps found atop the tables in a lot of old library buildings. I doubt that it is accident that this pencil looks so beautifully when placed atop an old volume of lore (forgotten or otherwise).

We were lucky enough to have Blackwing’s brand manager, Alex, on the Erasable Podcast last night. Andy and I had a great time talking with Alex about this pencil and about all things Blackwing. But this is really a pencil you have to see with your eyes.

I find it difficult to really capture the color of this pencil. The gradient runs from an emerald green near the ferrule to a pale green near the business end. Alex tells us this was accomplished with a roll-on printing process. However, only with bright light, close examination, and knowing that it’s already there can I find any seam at all. I thought it was just a few coats of lacquer.

The the gold stamping looks specially crisp on top of this green, and it perfectly matches the ferrule. The pink eraser looks great, but I wonder if yellow wouldn’t bring to mind the lamp after which this pencil is designed a little more. As it is, the pink looks fantastic. The core is the same “Firm” that Comrades can find in the Blackwing 602.

While the color is beautiful and perfectly spring-like, I think the green might be a little too cold/blue to perfectly match a little/banker’s lamp. But I could be totally wrong, and it’s danged close enough at any rate.

The the other way in which this pencil references lamps is that it actually lights up; glows in the dark! Alex told us that this pencil is slathered in phosphorescent paint, and it shows. This glows in the dark much more brightly than any other toy that I remember having as a kid. I had very little trouble getting a picture of the glow with a smartphone in a dark room after “charging” it for a few minutes in sunlight. The gradient of this finish, mixed with extra coats of clear lacquer on top, results in a nice matte finish to the eyes but a somewhat slippery finish to the fingers. It is a little bit of a paradox, but I got used to the light slipperiness as quickly as I got used to the slight grit of Volume 4.

This edition is a clear winner in my book. (See what I did there?) over the last few years, some of the editions in the Volumes series sold out really quickly, while some stuck around for a bit. We’re not sure how many of any individual edition Blackwing ever made. So if you like nice pencils, the color green, the library, and things that glow in the dark, I’d hurry and grab a set of these — before they burn out.

In a dimly-lit room, this pencil glows it bit.

Lead on, Macduff.

[Today’s post comes from guest writer Lara Connock who lives and writes in South Africa. Many thanks to Lara for this wonderful essay about the virtues of journaling in pencil!]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good notebook must be in want of a pen. Then, having secured the pen (by which I mean a fountain pen) he or she will want ink. And so begins the eternal – some might say infernal – quest for the perfect combination of paper, pen and ink. I have spent the majority of my writing life on such a quest and have left in my wake a brace of abandoned pens, innumerable bottles of ink and teetering piles of nearly-new notebooks in which the quick brown fox features over and over again.

鈥淎re you ever going to write anything real?鈥 my exasperated husband said one day. 鈥淚 hate seeing you wasting your time and talent like this.鈥滭br>
鈥淭hen don鈥檛 look!鈥 I snapped back. 鈥淭his is important!鈥滭br>
Although I hated to admit it, my husband had a point. My focus had always been on the form, so I鈥檇 never really got down to the function; you know, actually writing stuff (apart from that wretched fox/dog scenario). See, I鈥檓 a perfectionist with OCD, hence the search for the aforementioned combination that would ensure that my notebook would be uniform, consistent and, well, perfect. I tried to explain this to my husband but he wasn鈥檛 having any of it. 鈥淚f you really wanted to write, you鈥檇 write, and it wouldn鈥檛 matter what your notebook looked like. Imagine if Shakespeare had messed around the way you do!鈥 Naturally I ignored this.

A couple of days later I was testing a new pen, ink and paper (again). The nib was an extra-fine, the ink the driest I could get, and the paper easily ten times more absorbent than Kleenex. There was ink everywhere 鈥 on the paper, the desk, the wall, the cat, my fingers, my clothes. And. I. Was. Done. I could not, would not, waste another moment more on such an utterly pointless exercise. The pen went into the pen coffin with all the others, ditto the ink, and the notebook went into the bin.

They say that sometimes, when one gives up hope, one feels so much better. It鈥檚 true. Having crossed that particular Rubicon, I really did feel a sense of relief 鈥 but it was short-lived. You see, I still wanted to write. I just had to find something to write with. My husband鈥檚 groan of despair could be heard three provinces away. 鈥淛ust use a damn ballpoint!鈥 was his suggestion, which, though kindly meant, was patently ridiculous.

Honesty compels me to admit that I actually quailed at the thought of having to try out all those gel pens, liquid ink pens (isn鈥檛 all ink liquid?), rollerballs and fineliners. When did writing instruments get so complicated? One鈥檚 writing life in days of yore must have been so much simpler when all one had to write with was a bit of graphite and a raggedy old piece of vellum or whatever. Come to think of it, I鈥檓 pretty sure the Bard himself would have tossed his goose quill in the quill coffin, along with his iron gall ink and all its attendant issues, the moment he found out that he鈥檇 have far less hassle writing those plays of his with a stick of graphite wrapped in string. 鈥淥ut, damned quill! Is this a piece of graphite which I see before me, the sharp end toward me? Come, let me clutch thee.鈥滭br>
And there was the solution to all my problems. So simple. (My husband鈥檚 sigh of relief was deafening.) I bought a cheap notebook and an equally cheap pencil. Indeed, a pencil. Which, come to think of it, wasn鈥檛 actually that cheap. If I was going to be writing with a pencil, it had to be a good one. The art store offered two choices: locally produced pencils or imported German ones. It was the proverbial no-brainer, my thinking being that since this particular German company had been producing pencils since 1662, they had more than likely perfected their craft by now.

Pencils have, um, revolutionised my writing and journaling. They have taken away all the pain and left only the pleasure. I did get a bit sidetracked in the beginning by the myriad grades of hardness and darkness; my own fifty shades of grey, you might say. I settled on F-grade pencils, the baby-bear鈥檚-porridge grade: not too soft, not too light, just right. (FYI: an F pencil is a #2.5 in the US.)

Pencils are what an old friend of mine would call 鈥渨illing writers鈥? I know that when I put that beautifully sharpened point to paper (any paper!) it will write the first time. No skipping or hard starts because the ink isn鈥檛 flowing; no feathering or bleeding or ghosting either. I won鈥檛 be able to change my mind halfway through a journal entry about the colour of the ink or the feel of the nib or the tooth of the paper. And when the pencil has been worn down to the ferrule 鈥 having given up its life purely for my writing pleasure (cue violins) 鈥 there will be a quiver of its clones to choose from. They will all write in exactly the same way as their predecessor did, thereby ensuring that the pages of my notebook remain beautifully uniform and thus appealing to the twin gods of Perfectionism and OCD. (And did I mention the thrill of being able to erase mistakes?)

Consistency being a big thing for me, I like the fact that a 500-year-old piece of graphite (quaintly known as plumbago in those days) will write almost as well as a Koh-I-Noor or a Blackwing produced in 2019. (But I鈥檓 basing that assumption on the online community鈥檚 reviews of them, not yet having had the opportunity to test drive them myself.)


The world is a vastly different place now than it was when farmers in Britain’s Lake District, circa 1560, used the recently-discovered, new-fangled plumbago to mark their sheep. Fast forward five centuries and there are legions of six-year-olds clutching jumbo-sized, triangular-shaped pencils and learning to write their names for the first time.

Pencils have survived world wars, industrial and technological revolutions, feasts, famines, droughts and disasters, and are still here. Of course, in our digital world, Millennials, Generation Z鈥檚 and converts from Generation X might rather take notes on their smartphones or tablets, but that doesn鈥檛 mean that pencils have become obsolete. Far from it. People apparently love the vintage, the antique, the old fashioned things of bygone eras. (I suspect we may have Downton Abbey to thank for that.) Vinyl records have made made a comeback along with manual typewriters, fountain pens and 鈥 in certain homes 鈥 afternoon high tea.

Pencils have never really gone out, and in the last decade or so they have enjoyed 鈥 and are still enjoying 鈥 an increase in popularity. The difference now is that people are buying, collecting and using pencils because they want to, not because they have to.

No pencil article would be worth its weight in graphite if there was no mention made of those literary greats who loved pencils 鈥 Hemingway, Steinbeck and Thoreau, and, before them, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci. I鈥檓 not going to repeat everything that has already been written about John Steinbeck鈥檚 passion for Blackwings because any pencil lover who doesn鈥檛 know about it must be living on a remote, nameless island or in an underground bunker previously occupied by hobbits.

Today, more than 20 billion pencils are produced worldwide every year. Currently there are upwards of 40 blogs devoted to pencils, my host鈥檚 included. Online stores are doing roaring trades, as is the now famous pencil store in New York owned and run by Caroline Weaver. (One day, when I don鈥檛 have to pay 14 South African Rand for one US dollar, I鈥檒l make my pilgrimage. Until then, I鈥檒l just skulk around the place online.)

Don鈥檛 get me wrong. Just because I鈥檓 a new convert to pencils does not mean I鈥檝e fallen out of love with fountain pens. This isn鈥檛 a rebel song about their many vagaries or a protest march against the cost and elitism of fountain pen friendly paper. And don鈥檛 think I don鈥檛 see you glowering at me from the sidelines, you Pilots and Sailors and TWSBIs, and your besties, Clairefontaine, Rhodia and Tomoe. You all still have your place; it just isn鈥檛 in any of my notebooks. I tried so hard to love and bond with you, I really did, but I just don鈥檛 feel it. Now I鈥檝e lost my heart to the product of an old German family, the House of Faber-Castell, and I鈥檓 committed for life.

Even so, it isn鈥檛 happily-ever-after just yet. I still have to find the ultimate pencil sharper and the apogee of erasers, along with pencil caps, pencil extenders and a pencil case to carry it all. So, lead on, Macduff.

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: 鈥淢echanical pencils are bullshit.鈥滭/p>

For a while, I agreed with him. I鈥檇 fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils 鈥 and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college鈥檚 bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I鈥檝e always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees鈥檚 words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one鈥檚 going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and 鈥 as a bonus 鈥 I didn鈥檛 need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write 鈥 something I spend a lot of time doing 鈥 and I didn鈥檛 have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren鈥檛 wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn鈥檛 always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I鈥檝e discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I鈥檝e been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I鈥檓 here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren鈥檛 bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

Baron Fig Show & Tell.

聽Baron Fig continues their indefatigable series of limited edition releases with their newest Confidant, the Show & Tell:

In collaboration with Dribbble. Designed to give you the space to express your ideas through image and words. Half blank, half ruled.

First, the cover is gorgeous! Like the Blackwing 54, this color seems difficult to capture in a photograph. I’ve seen it range from a very dark blue-violet to lavender. I think an apt description would be be Deep Purple (as opposed to Dark Purple). It’s gorgeous. As soon as a I saw a teaser of the cover, I had to have one. But the attractive cover is only half of the draw of this addition for me.

Some of the Confidants that came out a year ago drew criticism for having interiors that were too weird to be useful. I’m not sure I agree ; I enjoy their experimentation. This edition has an usual format, and that’s half the other half of the draw for me. Trying to kick-start myself into some creative endeavors with little success this winter, this spring-like notebook with a format for someone working on a project involving visuals and text looks like just the thing to get the graphite flowing.

My daughter turns 8 next week, and she is a Serious Creator of graphic novels and cartoons, and I already ordered another of these to accompany the set of Blackwings with some other writing/drawing supplies in store for her. (Their cards are nice, too, and I picked one of them too.)

Go here to read more of our thoughts on the Confidant in general (tl;dr: cuddly book with very graphite-friendly paper).

Grab your Show& Tell while they’re still available, and do some showing and telling of your own.

(This edition was received for free from Baron Fig, but that has not influenced this review. We have bought at least one more so far!)

A Box of REAL Blackwing MMX Pencils.


I’d been having a stressful few weeks, with school being back in session, a death in the family, my son starting his first day of pre-school, sickness descending on the family early this year. I came home to a box from CW Pencil Enterprise. I’d ordered something, but my package had already come. This was a surprise.

So I hurried to open the box and found a wrapped package with a gift tag. Inside I found a box of Blackwings, the ones I am a crusade to get renamed the MMX. Someone had written “MMX” in gold on the box, but I still wasn’t ready for what I found inside.

My friend Lenore had ordered a box of Blackwings with “MMX” stamped on them with the Kingsly machine at the pencil shop by Alyx. I sat in my dining room chuckling for a long time before dropping Lenore a message to thank her, whereupon I sharpened one immediately.

We talk a lot on Erasable about how great the community that’s sprung up around Pencil Life is. So I feel silly repeating it maybe. But because of these activities, I have made a lot of wonderful friends, one of whom would order some Blackwings made just for me with “MMX” on them — the only REAL MMX BLACKWINGS in existence. Thanks again, Lenore!

In Defense of Doodling.

[This wonderful post is both written and illustrated by Pencil Hero聽Vivian Wagner. Many thanks to Vivian for allowing us to publish this fantastic piece!]

I doodle. I admit it. I doodle a lot. In fact, around a third of what fills my notebooks when I鈥檓 presumably writing is actually doodling. Drawing circles, squares, wine bottles, flowers, scribbles, bird silhouettes, random buildings, peculiar faces. Sometimes I just use whatever I鈥檓 writing with 鈥 often, lately, a pencil 鈥 to fill in an area with cross-hatching. It鈥檚 what I do. I can鈥檛 imagine writing longhand without doodling.

What I鈥檓 finding is that though doodling might seem secondary to the work of writing, it鈥檚 actually central to my process. It gives my brain a chance to pull away from whatever I鈥檓 focusing on, become a little daydreamy. And in that liminal, relaxed, seemingly unfocused space, I make connections. I have new thoughts. I imagine different directions. And I return to my writing refreshed, calm, and ready to think about it anew. Doodling is like a little vacation, but without all the hassle.

I鈥檓 realizing, too, that my affection for doodling is one of the main reasons I like to write longhand. Sure, there are ways to doodle on a screen. There are apps for that, and I鈥檝e experimented with them, especially on my iPad. But there鈥檚 something vital about the visceral laying down of graphite, ink, or pigment. This, too, is part of the process. The physicality of writing and doodling on paper keeps me grounded and helps me remember that I inhabit a body, that I live on a planet. My hand鈥檚 movements across the page link me to the electricity firing in my brain, to the sound of rain and wind, to the feel of my chair sliding on the floor.

Usually, even when I鈥檓 composing on my MacBook Air 鈥 which I鈥檓 doing with this essay, in fact 鈥 I鈥檒l have an open notebook next to my keyboard, along with a few sharpened graphite and colored pencils and pens. Every few minutes, I鈥檒l stop typing, turn to my notebook 鈥 in this case Baron Fig鈥檚 Metamorphosis, which, by the way, has wonderful paper for both doodling and writing 鈥 and absentmindedly scratch out a few lines and shadings. Sometimes, too, I鈥檒l flip back to earlier doodles in my notebook, looking for pencil drawings that I can fill in with color. In this way, my doodles become my own self-created, anxiety-relieving coloring pages.

I usually don鈥檛 show anyone my doodles. They鈥檙e not art, really. They鈥檙e not meant for any outside audience, any more than my unedited handwritten pages are. But they鈥檙e a record of a mind at work, and an integral part of my creative process. Nothing that I write and publish is ever done without the shadow world of my doodles behind it, and I鈥檓 grateful for all the analog tools that allow me to experiment, to assay my way through my thoughts and world.

Probably most people doodle, secretly, on the corners of to-do lists or the backs of envelopes. I鈥檇 like to just give all of us permission and encouragement to keep doodling. Keep making marks. Doodling is like doing yoga, meditating, vacationing, brainstorming, improvising, daydreaming, and even sleeping. It鈥檚 not secondary to our real work. It is our real work.

And, besides, it鈥檚 fun.


Vivian Wagner writes and doodles in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.

The Fitzgerald Pencil Collection.

[This article comes from Jan Jeffrey Hoover, who recently visited The Fitzgerald Collection聽at Jackson, Mississippi. Many thanks for letting us share this piece and these photos!]

For more than 40 years, from the 1930s until the 1970s, Frank Stanley Fitzgerald and his wife Erva Mae Fitzgerald collected Americana, now housed in a single rustic building at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. Their 鈥渃ollection of collections鈥 includes arrowheads, flatirons, guns, glass insulators, hand tools鈥?.and pencils. According to the museum, their collection of more than 7,000 pencils was once cited in the Guinness Book of world records.

The Fitzgerald pencils are displayed in a single glass-fronted case in the middle of the exhibit. There are no labels or information cards, but specimens are arranged in broad categories and are turned so that their imprints are clearly visible for enthusiasts. The top shelf is a hodgepodge of writing implements obscured by the upper surface of the cabinet, but the lower shelves are easily observed. Extemporaneous cell phone photography can be challenging, but a low conveniently-situated rail encourages visitors to try pictures from various angles.

Many of the pencils, and most of those of those on the second shelf, are promotional, principally from Mississippi-based businesses and officials, particularly those of the Delta which was home territory for the Fitzgeralds. They represent the diverse commerce of the region. Numerous pencils promote agriculture- and forestry-based interests, while others promote products available in feed and general stores. Oversized pencils are well-represented. One appropriately colored pink-and-black pencil bears the imprint 鈥淪incerely Yours Elvis Presley鈥 but is sub-titled with the name of a business.


The third shelf contains specialized material. There聽is a collection of 鈥渉ammers and nails鈥 鈥 mallet-shaped with perpendicular double erasers and metallic-colored with flat-caps and lacking ferrules. Not surprisingly, some of these advertise lumber companies. Also pictured above聽is a collection of 鈥渂ullets鈥 鈥 always appealing to the pencil connoisseur.

The bottom of the case functions as a bin 鈥 holding a voluminous, colorful scatter of pencils. Some are familiar national brands, but, like the bulk of the collection, are largely聽representative of Mississippi Delta business and industry that thrived during the mid-20th century. The Fitzgerald鈥檚 pencils then are not just a testament to a couple鈥檚 unusual hobby. They represent a tangible and enduring historical record of the Delta economy.

[Text and images, Jan Jeffrey Hoover, 2017. Used with kind permission.]

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 4: Accoutrements.


(Continued from 2010, Part 2: Pencils, and Part 3: Paper, and the original post in 2010.)

We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.

Sharpeners
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.

Erasers
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.

Blotters
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.

Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?

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 聽can allow聽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 聽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 聽your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that聽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聽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聽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聽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?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 2: Pencils.


According to this blog’s stats, the post from 2010 about long-term writing and pencils is one of the most visited posts on this site. While we are behind in answering mail, we recently, we heard from Don, who asked

“I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to what kind of pencil lead to use for a high quality, long lasting journal?”

I think this is something to explore further, since some pencils (and some papers) perform better than others at聽keeping your writing safe for the future. Today, let us take a look at what makes a pencil effective for long-term writing, since (as we all know) Pencil is Forever. We’ll cover paper and accessories in two subsequent posts.

When I think of 聽good Journaling Pencil, there are some considerations I like to, er, consider. In re-reading this list, it could also serve as a Guide to Selecting the Write (!) Pencil in general, in some ways, though the models on that list might be somewhat, or even very, different if that was my intention here.

Darkness
While a German 4H will lend itself to an extreme degree of smear-resistance, it will not make a suitably dark mark for most users’ readability. While a hard pencil’s marks might actually be there on the page, I’d prefer to read them with the naked eye. And as I quickly approach Middle Age, that naked eyesight is not getting better.

Point Durability
A pencil is more likely to continue to make crisp lines if the point is durable and keeps its sharpness without crumbling and making a mess on the paper. I seldom聽go for the softest聽option. I like a point that stays crisp and clean for journaling.

Smoothness
A smooth pencil requires less pressure to make a mark. It聽indents the paper less, and that is always a good thing if you are being careful about your writing — not to mention fighting hand fatigue.

Smear-Resistance
Hard pencils resist smearing, but they can indent the paper due to the pressure required to make marks with them. However, some soft and/or dark pencils resist smearing more than others. This is a sort of Grail to which a lot of individual pencil models seem to aspire, along with a blend of darkness and point retention (a term I do not like).

Ghosting/Graphite Transfer
Almost all pencils and almost all bound books I have used involve the transfer of graphite between pages to some degree — at least when writing on a page which has writing on the other side. I always use a sheet of smooth paper between pages in such instances. A custom-cut piece of an outdated map (a method I’ve used for years) will last through several notebooks, and paper from a Rhodia pad cut to size works very well, too. Please note that cleaning the “blotter” sheet periodically with an eraser will yield maximum results.

Balance
What I look for is a pencil that is a good balance of darkness, smear-resistance, and smoothness. This is difficult to quantify or even to qualify. So I will list some examples of pencils which I personally find to be useful for long-term writing.

Staedtler Wopex – While there are many Comrades who eschew this extruded piece of weaponry, none can deny that the damned thing just won’t smear. It is also difficult to erase (possibly marring a journal full of mistakes, but maybe we shouldn’t run from our mistakes). You cannot have it all. But you can have this fantastic pencil in more colors if you buy from European sellers on eBay.

Blackwing (Firm or Extra-Firm cores only) – For some reason, the Balanced core in the Pearl (and 725) seems to smear more than the others. It has become my least favorite core for journaling. The MMX is lovely, but you can kill a quarter of a pencil writing about a good camping trip. The Firm core in the 602 (and 211, 56, and 344) and the Extra Firm in the 24 and 530 are both smooth and do not smear readily on good paper, though I learn more toward the smoother side of the spectrum of acceptable papers for long-term pencil writing.

General’s Layout – This pencil is oddly smear-resistant, with a durable point, for a pencil which produces such black marks. The slightly wider, round body is a bonus for True Writing Comfort.

Camel “Natural” HB – There’s not much to not like about this pencil. It definitely makes a much lighter 聽line than most Japanese HB pencils I use, but the point durability and aesthetics are top-notch. And I don’t always want something so soft and/or dark.

Faber-Castell Castell (9000 in the B-4B range) – This pencil can run easily through the 4B range without becoming a blunted, smeary mess. The exact grade you might enjoy will depend on how much darkness you demand and what paper on which you are writing. Try a 4B on Moleskine or Field Notes paper (see the next post), and you will understand that of which I speak.

General’s Cedar Pointe HB – This is a great all-around pencil. When I first tried them circa 2005, the leads were too hard for journaling. But they have softened the formula since then, and this is one of the most balanced cores I can think of. This certainly extends to long-term writing.

Premium Japanese HB – I cannot decide between the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Both make smooth, dark marks that stay put.

I am sure that I am forgetting some, and I know I am leaning heavily on pencils I have used recently.聽What are some things Comrades consider and some favorite journaling pencils among us friends?